12-17-03, 5:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
A delighted Marvin Lewis took his team on a field trip to practice indoors Wednesday and returned to Paul Brown Stadium with what he thought was one of his team's crispest practices in weeks.
And, some of the old hands such as business manager Bill Connelly and trainer Paul Sparling said it wasn't the team's first indoor practice in Cincinnati. They remember coach Forrest Gregg taking the Bengals to the University of Cincinnati's old field house the week after they won the 1981 AFC championship in a 59-below wind chill factor.
"It was work on good surface. You need to have that," Lewis said after his team's debut at Wall2Wall Soccer in Mason. "You need to have the speed, the tempo that you practice with. You can't have a bad field. You don't play football on Sundays on a bad field. You play on a good field. You can't be worried about the elements."
The Bengals go back Thursday and share the building with the High Kicks soccer league of four- five- and six-year-olds, and a Moms' Aerobics class, but no one is going to notice in a place that is 110,000 square feet. On Wednesday, Lewis had a typical practice, and loaded up the loudspeakers to blast at his players in an effort to simulate the din of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
"The good thing is that we will be indoors the next couple of days," said quarterback Jon Kitna of a building the Rams have won 13 straight. "They are going to have the noise in there (at practice). I hate that noise — it drives me crazy — but it does make things easier on game day."
Some players think it would be a lot easier if the Bengals just built their own indoor facility at Paul Brown Stadium. The topic comes up every year and while Lewis won't talk about it, his players will. The subject figures to be talked about internally in the offseason.
"It would be great," said right tackle Willie Anderson, who remembers in the recent past how many December practices would be cut way back because of the cold. "That's a lot of money. Where it's going to come from, I don't know. Just to be able to get inside and get your work in would be big. You stand around out there in the cold and your mind wanders. Maybe that's more with the smaller guys. The big guys, we've got the girth to protect. It's a smart decision (to go indoors). It's going to get us ready for fast conditions."
The players like how Sunday's conditions can be simulated, right down to the crowd noise. Left tackle Levi Jones (knee) may not practice at all this week, but at least he thinks the offensive line is going to be better prepared than in its last dome regular-season game, the nationally-televised 30-3 disaster in Atlanta last year.
"If (the tackles) have to turn their head to look at (the snap), (the defensive end) is already up field on you because you have to jump back out," Jones said. "Especially with these ends. They're fast."
Jones is one of the guys lobbying for an indoor facility ("because I'm from Arizona, where it was 65 yesterday"), because part of the thinking from some of the players and coaches is that you need to go indoors some times even during the weeks you play outside to cut down on illness. That's one of the reasons Lewis went this week and it's one of the reasons he may go next week (depending on the weather) even though the Bengals are at PBS against Cleveland.
Lewis said the flu-like symptoms aren't as bountiful as they have been the past few weeks, but guys like running back Corey Dillon are still bothered by them.
The field trip seems to be a fitting way for Lewis to end a season in which he has convinced his team he's doing things the right way.
"All the success that we have had this year goes right back to Marvin Lewis," Kitna said. "The way he has handled the personnel decisions, how he handles practice, the way he handles road trips and now we are going to have a change in our schedule. He never lets anything unnerve us or bother us. He tries to give us the best opportunity to be prepared for Sunday when we go in there."