Fast start

6-12-04, 9:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

As Marvin Lewis heads into his second season as head coach, he remains the Bengals' modern-day version of the old West's traveling medicine man.

He is part psychologist, part interior decorator, part weather man, part camp counselor, part screenwriter, part philanthropist, part comic, and full-time coach in his 24-7 effort to quick fix Cincinnati into a Super Bowl. He let Bengals.com shadow him during Friday's opening day for the mandatory minicamp as he sets the tone for a team looking to get over the 8-8 hump in Year 2. **

7:05 a.m. _ ** The cup of coffee from the Madeira Starbucks is almost all gone on the drive into the stadium, and Lewis is in his office hunched over his laptop getting the latest news from the league and the newspapers. In 90 minutes, he is going to tell his team they have to get off to a quick start, that 4-0 is a goal this season (the Jets away, Miami home, Baltimore home, Pittsburgh away) and so he's getting off the dime early himself this morning.

"Who won the Stanley Cup?" he asks and then goes to NHL.com to find out about the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He clicks into a roar of the crowd and sees the Cup being skated around a rink underneath joyous players. "Cool," he says, and picks up the phone to call video director Travis Brammer. Maybe Brammer, known as something of a do-it-all guy himself, can help Lewis put this clip in the presentation he's going to give his players this morning.

"I didn't know you were a hockey guy," someone tells Lewis.

"Not a hockey guy," he says. "I'm a winning guy."

**

7:50 a.m. _ ** There is a 10 a.m. practice and a 3 p.m. practice. Not much time to do anything else. Lewis likes to get in the locker room as much as possible, even if it's just to do what he does now, which is walk in and say, "Rookies, get taped before special teams (the 8 a.m. meeting) or you're not going to have time."

"Think about it," he says later. "If I don't do it, which will? Someone has to do it. That's my job."

Lewis then ducks into the training room to get a who's who from trainer Paul Sparling, and then heads upstairs to the top floor to check in with the Brown family on any lingering football matters.

But things are smooth enough this morning that Lewis and director of business development Troy Blackburn end up talking more about their golf games than anything else. There is an update on the Daryl Gardener situation (nothing new) and the possibility of a young wide receiver getting cut from another team (probably not), and a weather forecast (OK in the morning, maybe not in the afternoon). If it sounds routine, it is. The Bengals have been doing this for a month in their voluntary on-field coaching sessions with virtually 100 percent attendance. The only thing different about this weekend is the word, "mandatory."

If there is a major difference between this regime and those in the past, this is it. Many players have been here since late March. Everyone has pretty much been here since mid-May.

"It's not like we're starting from scratch," Lewis says. **

8:30 a.m. _ ** Which makes the team meeting business as usual. Lewis, who always points to a Power Point screen to emphasize his ideas, calls this particular session, "Housekeeping." Such as reminding his players about the basics. Such as:

"Hey," he says. "Let's not get lax in the parking thing. There was a pink car last week in the wrong place. We're not going to do this."

A minor thing is never minor to Lewis. He posts the top bowling scores from yesterday's team outing and then moves on to a fairly important topic. He gained a reputation last year for never failing to remind his players when he saw something in the media he didn't like from them. He points to the screen again and reminds them, "Just play."

Then, he runs through the goals that have now become automatic. Start fast, win the division, go undefeated at home, win the Super Bowl. And Brammer has come up with a big win, cutting and pasting Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup into the end of the presentation.

"Look at their faces," Lewis says. "Think what it must feel like."

Brammer has one more trick in his bag. Lewis is always asking him to put together a highlight film to channel the positive vibes into a visual. This morning, Brammer has opted for a three-minute clip centered around a scene in the movie, "Ronin." It stars Robert DeNiro and involves a rescue mission that requiring speed, daring and courage, and Brammer has inserted corresponding plays from last year to match the mood

The men like it. They give it a big cheer at the end as Lewis announces, "Break it up," and the meetings begin. **

9:30 a.m. _ ** Lewis is putting the finishing touches on a coaching tape for Deltha O'Neal, the new starting cornerback acquired in a trade with Denver. He has turned to his other computer to get video of the last on-field session from last week. O'Neal had a good day, picking off a Carson Palmer pass in the two-minute drill and almost getting an interception in seven-on-seven. But Lewis is also using bad plays, as well as going back to last season with the Broncos, he has pulled a tape from the Denver-Oakland game.

"It doesn't matter if it's a good play or a bad play," Lewis says. "What we're teaching is technique. That's the only thing that matters."

Later, Lewis will end his day in a news conference praising O'Neal effusively for his work ethic and desire to improve that technique.

10:05 a.m. _ Lewis likes the way wide receiver Peter Warrick is looking during warmups after sitting out the last two coaching sessions resting his rehabbing knee, and asks, "Pete, where's your jersey?" which is the signal Lewis wants him to get in some drills.

You've got to keep a close eye on Lewis because he tries to get everywhere during a practice. Even during stretching. He shakes the hand of free-agent offensive lineman Justin Sands, just arrived from NFL Europe, and then chats a bit with franchise quarterback Carson Palmer about Friday night's charity event the team is going to attend at the stadium for the Freestore/Foodbank.

And if you're going to spend time with Lewis, be ready to laugh. He can tell a good story and he likes to hear them. He looks up about 30 minutes into the practice and notices the beat reporters from the local papers have yet to arrive, which isn't unusual because the interviews aren't until after the workout. But he is in a needling mood.

Lewis, perhaps remembering what happened in Dallas this week when some news broke about coach Bill Parcells' run-in with wide receiver Antonio Bryant during practice, has a plan for a practical joke on the media guys.

"Let's get them at the news conference and make them think they missed something," he says. "Ask me if I thought about stepping up security after the incident." **

10:45 a.m. _ ** But Lewis can turn his well-known cackle on and off. Most of the practice it's off, and he's yelling about details.

To the defensive backs in the backpedal drill: "Work harder, you're stepping on your toes. He's eating you up."

To an offensive lineman playing defense in a walk-through drill on run blocking: "Don't line up offsides. You're giving him a false look."

To wide receiver Chad Johnson: "Keep running and catch it. Don't stop. Keep running."

How many times does Johnson come up to Lewis and start talking during a practice?

"Twelve," Lewis says. "That's all right. You wish everyone had that enthusiasm."

Then he turns off the cackle, looks at the end of practice stretching drill and barks to a rookie, "Get your stretching in. Get a better stretch. That's why they're catching the ball on you."

11:45 a.m. _ Lewis calls up his team in a huddle after practice and reminds them they've got a special teams meeting (punt return) at 12:45, other meetings at 1:15 and back out at 3. The detail guy isn't happy with the detail.

"We're basically wasting time out here. If we're wasting time, we're taking away from our bodies, which isn't right," Lewis says. "Let's be a team that takes the extra step, not the half step. If not you, then who? If you're not going to get it done, who is? Let's get it done.' **

1:45 p.m. _ ** Lewis is trying to get it done with business manager Bill Connelly. Connelly is proud of the electric Countdown Clock he has had made at Lewis' request. It counts down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds to the 1 p.m. kick off against the Jets in New Jersey that starts the regular season, and they are looking for a spot to put in the locker room while everybody is in meetings.

Connelly suggests one column, and Lewis says, "That's good, but we'll have to get another one and put it at the other end so everybody can see it."

Connelly understands, but now the hunt is on for an electrical outlet that is also in full view. They think they have found one by the door leading out to the field. Connelly plugs it in and gets 92 days, 23 hours, 13 minutes, and 45 seconds. 44, 43.

They also check out the refurbished media room after Lewis requested he sit while being interviewed instead of standing behind a podium. Assistant director of public relations P.J. Combs presents him with a stage big enough to put on a Broadway show for the next three years.

"Beautiful," Lewis says. "That turned out great."

Details. Details. **

2 p.m. _ ** Lewis heads into the defensive meeting.

"Can't go in," he says, "see you on the field."

Another detail. **

3:30 p.m. _ ** "C'mon, Coach. I need to stay in the game. I need it. I need to play. I need to stay in the game."

It's Chad Johnson again, and chattering and up in the face again, and he's trying to talk Lewis into letting him field some punts.

"Take it easy," Lewis says. "Relax. Go get some fluids." **

4 p.m. _ ** Lewis has now wandered into a seven-on-seven drill and he lines up next to the center, so he can get a better look at the drops of the linebackers. In the morning, he had been on middle linebacker Nate Webster to run with the man in motion.

"Don't wait. You have to run with him," Lewis says, and Webster thought about that after the practices.

"He's smart," Webster says. "Smart. You have to stop him from going over the middle. He's going into a zone, so if you take him away, the quarterback has to go to his second and third option, and, that means you've go more time to get to him. All you need is four seconds." **

4:50 p.m. _ ** Lewis calls up the huddle a little bit earlier than the 5 p.m. finish. He's a little bit happier after this one and he's urging his players to take ice baths. He reminds them it starts at 8 a.m. Saturday with the special teams meeting. He reminds them about the Taste of the NFL at the stadium tonight which is going to raise money for the FreeStore.

Details.

"After I'm done talking at 7, 7:03, you can leave," Lewis says. "I appreciate you guys (for being there). It's raising money to help the disadvantaged, helping people eat."

But the quick start is never far from his mind.

"We're going to find a way to go 4-0," he says. "Whatever it takes to do it. We're going to try every route. Whether it's how we meet, how we practice, how we dress, we're going to find it. We don't want to start out in a hole (1-4) like last year." **

5:30 p.m. _ ** Lewis finishes his news conference, and then snaps his fingers. He forgot his practical joke. Now the guy who is supposed to throw him the set-up line tries anyway and he can't keep a straight face. But Lewis won't give it up. The scribes don't know quite what he is talking about, which is the way Lewis always likes it.

"Missed it," he says laughing. "We're on the field tomorrow at 8 a.m. See you out there."

Not a bad try. But Lewis figures to get on his straight man about the details that would have made it a better joke.

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