A noticeably more relaxed Andy Dalton began his second season as the Bengals quarterback walking over to new teammates like Jamaal Anderson on Monday and introducing himself before hosting a breezy 10 minutes with the media in what is now clearly his locker room.
As he stood in front of his corner locker at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time since throwing two Pro Bowl touchdown passes and 10 days away from the Bengals getting one of the guys they traded for Carson Palmer, Dalton is in a much better place than last July's welcome.
It's also his first time back since he was the franchise guy modeling the new Bengals uniform in Nike's New York City extravaganza two weeks ago.
Dalton was shoved in the back row of that picture with the Urlachers, Roethlisbergers, Wittens and Andre Johnsons, and had to keep telling the cameraman he couldn't move closer because he'd fall off the riser. But he has much more sway at PBS.
"I walk into the locker room for the first time and I know everybody here rather than walking in and trying to meet everybody. I'm definitely a lot more comfortable now," Dalton said as he recalled last year's lockout that eliminated any meet and greets. "The biggest thing is I know my schedule. I know when I have to be here and all that stuff. It's definitely easier coming in this year than last year."
The club's voluntary workout program began with the Bengals volunteering the optimism of a team seeking its third playoff berth in four seasons with a slew of newcomers hungry for a second chance.
Newcomers like Anderson, a defensive lineman coming from the Colts who opted to sign with the Bengals because in the wake of the 2011 AFC reshuffle Cincinnati is more stable than Indianapolis.
"That was a huge influence; that had to do a lot with why I chose the Colts last year," Anderson said. "Obviously that didn't happen once I got there. You definitely look at that. You want to be on a winning program. You don't want to be part of a rebuilding mode. You want to contribute to a team that already has the team pretty much set in stone, and you just want to add what you do to that team."
The emergence of an offense led by a pair of Pro Bowl rookies in Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green is a major reason the Bengals have reached relative NFL stability. And the fact they did it without an offseason to ease them into new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's scheme has Dalton excited about the next two months.
"I think just for us to get in here and have this time during offseason to get work, get throwing, is definitely going to make us better," Dalton said. "For us to spend time together in the film room, the little things that we didn't get to do last year.
"With the little things, we're going to start over, get back to square one, make sure we have all the ins and outs. I may have known it last year, but it just kind of speeds up the whole process. It comes down to comfort level. We're not learning a new offense; we're going into the second year. I feel real comfortable and excited to get out there and get into the classroom with these other guys. It will be good for us."
Not only is that going to be different, but Dalton's offense is going to have a different feel with three new veteran free agents figuring to be regulars. Former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is pegged to replace Cedric Benson and guards Travelle Wharton and Jacob Bell are looking to replace, in some fashion, Nate Livings at left guard and Bobbie Williams at right guard.
"I'm excited. I feel like we've done a good job, especially offensively," Dalton said of the transactions. "It's unfortunate we lost Nate, but we've brought in two guys and I think they're going to help this team and make us better, so I'm excited about what we've been doing."
Green-Ellis, assigned No. 34 in his fresh start from his No. 42 Patriotic days (although that could change because it's not official), said he met Dalton right about the time he walked in Monday morning. But the nice thing about NFL veterans is they're used to introducing themselves.
"It's like that every year," BJGE said. "Every year on every team there is a lot of turnover so you've got to learn new guys every year no matter where you are at so that's just a part of it."
In The Marvin Decade a fresh start usually means a new T-shirt and strength coach Chip Morton had them hanging in the lockers when the players showed up Monday morning.
On the front is "Bengals Strength," and on the back is a Zig Ziglar quote circled around WIN: "Born to win. Plan to win. Prepare to win. Expect to win."
And in true Lewis fashion, he's mixed it up. He's got yoga and stretching as well as hand fighting, mixed in with more classroom time than usual to counteract the new collective bargaining agreement rules that prevented any coaching supervision until now.
Dalton has been watching plenty of tape himself, the latest vintage in the theater of his new Fort Worth, Texas home. His number one priority is improving his deep passing. And he says it all starts with his footwork.
ProFootballFocus.com had him hitting just 46.7 percent of his deep passes (28-for-60) last season and they accounted for five of his 13 interceptions. But they also accounted for seven of his 20 touchdown passes and the site rated him the eighth-best deep passer in the NFL and ahead of fellow AFC Pro Bowlers Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
"I think the biggest thing is I was just kind of watching my footwork and things like that, cleaning up my drops and stuff like that," he said. "I think I struggled a little bit last year with my deep ball. I've been working on that. Hopefully that will improve this year and I'll work with these guys and we'll get it going."
Dalton and his receivers can't be under coaching supervision on the field for a couple of more weeks. But they can immediately crack the books with them. All the more reason for Dalton to feel much more at ease. "I think everybody in this locker room and everybody in this organization has high expectations for us," he said. "I don't think there's any added pressure. It's what we expect to do. So we're ready to get back to work and get this thing going."