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Feet at the fire

With coaches and players both having their "feet at the fire," head coach Marvin Lewis is looking at an offseason of both continuity and change in an effort to end a three-year drought in the postseason.

During Wednesday's session with beat reporters at Paul Brown Stadium, Lewis reiterated what Bob Bratkowski said last week in anticipating the biggest overhaul in his nine seasons as offensive coordinator. Lewis wouldn't say his coaching staff is set, but did say that he believes continuity is a key in the NFL.

He also said on-field discipline "eroded," and that the team's good players have failed to step up and play like they can.

"I think some of our better players have not played up to the standard they need to play to," Lewis said. "When you have injuries, that means other guys have to rise up and play better. You just can't play the same. You have to go play better. That's what good teams do. I think we have fought through mediocrity because when mediocre people have mediocre success then they feel like they've done more than they have really done."

Lewis wouldn't get specific on names. Or the types of changes he envisions for an offense that finished last in the NFL for the first time in history.

"That would be stupid," he said of discussing the changes, but he allowed there would be "a little different look."

"We have to have a big change. Our type of runs, our style of passing game, it all has to change because our players have changed," Lewis said. "We continue to adjust and there will be some areas we need to get some players that fit what we need to do."

Lewis said the Bengals have to be proactive when free agency starts Feb. 27 because they have several players heading into free agency themselves, headlined by the team's third all-time leading receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and its all-time most accurate kicker, Shayne Graham. Lewis wouldn't say if the club will use the franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh, Graham, or anyone else for that matter.

"We'd prefer not to use it," he said, "and sign them both."

With quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese under consideration for the job of Tampa Bay offensive coordinator, the offensive staff looks pretty intact but Lewis stopped short of saying it was. He says an old staff can teach new tricks and with a 16-28-1 record since a 3-0 start in 2006, they don't have a lot of time to get it fixed.

"Continuity has proven in the NFL the best way time and time again, whether it is system or coaches," Lewis said. "There are a lot of areas we need to improve in and we've got to get it done; both coaching-wise and playing-wise our feet are at the fire and we've got to get some areas fixed and be better than what we did last year. I feel comfortable that will happen in both change of what we do and how we do it.

"Same coaches? It's what any team would want: Continuity. They said there were 21 different defensive coordinators in the NFL this year. Come on now. Please. That's somebody throwing up their hands. It's somebody that really doesn't understand saying, 'It's not my fault.' We're in such an age of instant information and everybody wants to throw somebody under the bus as quickly as they can. Sometimes with changes there is a little bit of a transition period. So you don't reap the benefit of it right away, unfortunately. We've been through this for three years now and we haven't been in the playoffs and we were one and done in the playoffs, so that's not good enough."

The same staff is also going to have to stop some of the same stuff.

"From every level. From blocking to finishing plays, to your wide receivers blocking and being in the right depths on routes," Lewis said. "The discipline of the guys playing in the spots have to improve. They eroded and it really hurt us and it got our quarterback hurt and we've got to get back and doing it the right way."

Echoing what he said at the end of last season, Lewis is still looking for the unselfish mindset his team had at 3-0 before heading into a Monday night game against the Patriots in 2006.

"Then everything got big. Everybody felt like they had the answer and they were the reasons," said Lewis, who said he has purged players and "the process will continue."

"I like our football team because I knew the guys we finished with would play hard," he said. "We added guys that had the mindset we had in '03, that we're going to play hard, that we're going to practice and we're going to do it."

Also, Lewis said that quarterback Carson Palmer continues to do fine in coming back from his injured elbow and he's on course for a normal entry into the '09 season.

He also said that Bengals president Mike Brown, along with Lewis, is concerned with the club-record list of players on injured reserve this past season and the team plans to examine the issue.

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