4-12-03, 5:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
On his first day of turning around the Bengals, Marvin Lewis turned the tables.
All eyes were supposed to be on the club's new head coach. Instead, his eyes were on everybody else:
"Get your eyes off the quarterback," he told linebacker Adrian Ross in 11-on-11.
"You're taking too long. Just go," he said to wide receiver Chad Johnson trying to get off the line in 7-on-7.
"You got to block somebody," said Lewis on a whiff in the running game period.
"You got to do a better job running down the field and turning with your shoulders and arms," Lewis told the cornerbacks. "That's why we're doing that in the individuals."
"Hey," Lewis told a reporter breaking one of his new rules after practice . "You can't talk to the players on the field. You have to wait (until they get to the sidewalk)."
When quarterback Jon Kitna finally reached the sidewalk, he said, "he sees everything. It's nice. A lot of times, people think they don't want to be led. But the thing you most want is a leader. Somebody to tell you when you're wrong, when you're right. That's what you want."
And that's what the Bengals, rudderless since Norman Julius Esiason won four of the last five games in 1997, got Friday in their first two practices under Lewis. They were workouts praised as crisper, quicker, and more intense than what has transpired here in recent memory.
And Lewis called that the right way to do it.
"We can't back up, we re going up a hill and we have to keep pushing up that hill," Lewis said. "We have to be able to practice this way in November and December if we want to finish where I think we can finish.
"We're going to take the pads off during the season and this is the way you practice every day. We can't take a step backward from this point on. Because we always have this standard. I've got it on tape, and there's that excitement and the enthusiasm that you have to have every day because that's how good teams practice."
Then the Bengals were a good team Friday. They ran after breaking the huddle. They ran between stations. They finished plays and when they did, they knew, because there was Lewis, in a black sweat suit, carrying his practice plan, and clapping, "Way to finish, that's what we want. Like that."
After being admonished by Lewis on one of the finer points, and after hearing it from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and secondary coach Kevin Coyle, the cornerbacks found themselves looking at each other.
Lewis reminded them he had been sitting in the meeting room when the point that had been missed had been covered.
"Before, we got coached, but this is an aggressive style of coaching I witnessed today," cornerback Artrell Hawkins said. "We even mentioned it today. We said to ourselves, 'They're kind of aggressive with us,' and that's good. It gets guys on their toes, it keeps guys sharp."
After working for the first time with an offensive coaching staff that included new quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese (late of the Rams' Super Bowl offense) and receivers coach Alex Wood (off of four seasons with the high-powered Vikings), backup quarterback Akili Smith waxed nostalgic.
"I wish it was like this when I was drafted," said Smith, heading into his fifth season. "There are new faces, guys who have succeeded in other places."
The players liked the organization. Right from Lewis' crisp presentation Thursday night in the meeting room with the power point that Smith called "very professional, right off the laptop computer," to the role of the kickers.
"It was more structured," said punter Nick Harris. "Last year, we just used to do it when we wanted to and now it was this, that, this, that."
Right tackle Willie Anderson was like most of the players. Once a new man came from outside the organization to run the show, they felt like the tide would turn. Thursday and Friday validated it in Anderson's mind.
"He's a well-disciplined, educated man and that's how he wants his players to be," Anderson said of what he got out of the opening meeting. "We're all part of a 2-14 team last year. Nobody can say, 'I didn't do this, or I didn't do that.'"
He said everything, the format, the routine, was different. But Anderson said the major difference is in the mental approach and the emphasis on individual drills.
"That's what he talked about after practice," said Anderson after the morning workout. "About getting our initial burst, go to the football. We can't bang on each other a lot in the team stuff, so he wants to concentrate it more on individual (drills). The individual period is where you get all the fundamentals and basics down. Usually (we) haven't had that much time in individuals."
Lewis said this is no different than how he's coached while coordinating defenses in Washington and Baltimore the past seven seasons. He said it's been fun learning the offense's call and being able to critique on both sides of the ball.
"Hopefully I'm adding some insight to what the defense is seeing and how they approach it," Lewis said. "We've got to coach the guys. They're our players and this is their football team and we're here to get them to play as well as they can play.
"Maybe how things have been done aren't quite the way they need to be," Lewis said, "and the tempo and why, and so forth."
If Lewis passed his first test, then so did his players as they responded with a surprising bounce and enthusiasm that bounded out of the depths of a 2-14 season that ended 102 days before.
"Hopefully, we can maintain being positive. They were excited," Frazier said. "It not so much surprised me. Marvin really emphasized that in our team meeting and they responded. You put the (last season's) tape on and see some things that concern you. But after watching us practice today, if we can maintain that same enthusiasm and attitude, we'll be good."
Lewis felt the same way, although he admitted it is going to get harder each day. But the tempo was pretty much where he wanted it.
"They're giving our program legitimacy," Lewis said. "There are going to be some times where they're going to try and go back and I have to remind them