On the eve of Friday's opening of his first minicamp, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com to discuss his agenda.
Hobson: The theme for this minicamp seems to be that all 22 jobs are up for grabs and everyone has to be held accountable.
LeBeau: The main theme is no one is happy with what our record has been in recent years. I'm trying to make everyone aware what this franchise has been and wants to be again. To do that, things have to change. We have to progress. Attitude, accountability. It's all a part of it for all of us.
Hobson: You seem to be stressing aggressiveness, competition, urgency . . .
LeBeau: Football is a game of energy. You have to approach it with energy, focus, and a hell of a lot of hard work. It can't be any other way.
Hobson: This team has been banged during the offseason for not making any major moves, culminating in the draft. The argument is you got some second tier free-agents and didn't pick up any difference-makers.
LeBeau: I think our offseason was very positive. I think it's been very productive for the talent level of our roster. We have added a playoff quarterback (Jon Kitna), two NFL starting defensive linemen (Tony Williams and Kevin Henry), and have now added a many-time Pro Bowl left tackle (Richmond Webb). We have signed a kicker who at one time was one of the top percentage kickers in the league (Richie Cunningham).
I don't know what other teams have done because I don't waste my time looking at what they do in free agency. But I know I'm very happy with what we've done and I think anyone who looks at it objectively as I have just defined would have to agree we have improved our situation.
Hobson: You've done (15) minicamps here with three head coaches (Forrest Gregg, Sam Wyche, Bruce Coslet). How will yours be different?
LeBeau: A minicamp is a minicamp. We're not playing football games until the fall. So we're not going to try and play football games in this minicamp. We're going to try and establish a tempo in a learning operation. They're going to be taught a new offensive philosophy. They're going to be introduced to some new defensive philosophies. It has to be a good work environment, but a learning environment. In that way, all minicamps are similar. I do regard this as just another step to get where we're going.
Hobson: People are looking for that big name free agent to come in here and turn the image all around. In the game, as far as accomplishing things, Webb is as big as it gets.
LeBeau: We don't pay attention to the perception. What we have steadfastly said is that we'll build the talent level and fully recognize that we're not going to get everything we need in one month or one year. But we think we've taken some real strides toward doing that.
If you add the draft, where we hit the pass rusher, the pass receiver, another good pass rusher and another good pass receiver down in the draft, and a solid starting offensive lineman in a major conference, we've built our talent level. And I would remind you the free agency period is not over. We could very likely add a player or two.
Hobson: Akili Smith and Jon Kitna are here at quarterback, but people forget Scott Mitchell finished last season 2-2 as a starter. You're a big Mitchell guy and kept wanting him to come back even after signing Kitna.
LeBeau: My regard for Scott Mitchell comes from the fact how he approaches his job. He's very professional. He diligently prepares without complaining and he performed even though he was injured. His contributions were many fold. We've got two very good quality veterans and a very good talented young guy.
Hobson: Any of those three could be starting Opening Day, couldn't they?
LeBeau: I feel good about the quarterback situation. Do I wish we had a guy who was really productive last year? Sure I do. But I do think the chances of improving dramatically at quarterback are very real.
Hobson: It looks like (new offensive coordinator) Bob Bratkowski is bringing the same concepts you've preached on defense. Multiple formations so you dictate instead of being dictated to. Aggressiveness.
LeBeau: We meet and talk philosophy often. We support his attack mode.
Hobson: Is your role different with the defense now that Mark Duffner has the title of coordinator?
LeBeau: As the head coach, you have to delegate. I'm still going to be involved, but not be involved to the degree I have been. I really tried to delegate as much as I can. It's his first year as a coordinator in the pros, so I would hope he would use me as a resource, a sounding board if you will. He'll call the football game. I may have a suggestion or two.
Hobson: Like when you remind the offense to run the ball?
LeBeau: Here and there, but he's calling the game.
Hobson: Last year when you took over for Bruce, you kept calling the game.
LeBeau: We had to do it given the circumstances of how I took over the head coach. It was disruptive enough. We had to keep as much continuity as we could and that was me running the defense and Kenny (Anderson) did a good job despite getting all the offense dumped on him in the middle of the season. He applied himself and worked hard at it. I was proud of the staff and the players for getting through that.
Hobson: The team also got ripped for standing pat with the coaching staff last season. But I think you felt a bit of loyalty to people, especially on offense, and you felt that they hung with you and got four wins in a tough situation looking back where it was on Sept. 25.
LeBeau: I thought the coaches did a good job and we did make changes. We have added four people around here (on the coaching staff). You can make changes by adding as well as subtracting and the other coaches deserve this opportunity and we tried to go out and give them help with more assistant coaches. Management was generous enough to allow us to do that. It was an expanded budget in the coaching area.
And it has already helped us in the day-to-day workings.
Hobson: When it came time to make that second-round pick, you had three coaches in the draft room (Bratkowski, receivers coach Steve Mooshagian, new offensive assistant John Garrett) that were giving information, as well as the scouts. You had (Oregon State receiver) Chad Johnson analyzed and dissected.
LeBeau: We were as well or better prepared for this draft as we've ever been since I've been here and I think the extra coaches helped. I think we were as ready as anyone to draft. We all know it's an inexact science, but the extra manpower allowed us to keep a classroom situation (while the coaches scouted).
We were teaching a new quarterback just signed, a young quarterback coming into his third year in Jon Kitna and Akili Smith and we still kept our draft assignments. We could have gotten it done, but it was facilitated a great deal by staff expansion.
Hobson: It was your call to keep the coaches, right?
LeBeau: No question I put the staff together.
Hobson: You wanted these extra positions. How did that work with (Bengals President) Mike Brown?
LeBeau: The staff is my idea. Mike Brown is my boss. I have to go to Mike and talk about things and everything that gets done has to be agreed to by Mike. He has essentially OK'd any budget expansion. We've been in this together and he's great to work for. He's pretty much given me what I've asked.
Hobson: Why did you add Rodney Holman (as an assistant strength coach)?
LeBeau: It makes the operation smoother with two people in there. We've got two guys who know what they're doing and it just gives us more flexibility and makes us function better. I think most teams have two people at that spot.
Hobson: The one area you haven't addressed is cornerback. Does it worry you?
LeBeau: It does not because I feel that we have a lot of young talent there who that progressed last year. We were better at the end than at the beginning. There was a point in time we were way off base as far as points yielded, but now we're getting pretty close to where you have to be and our corners were a part of that.
But are we happy where our corners are? No. We know we need to get better, but we think for that improvement the people for it are here and not necessarily some place else.
Hobson: Do you still want a veteran corner?
LeBeau: It would depend on who the corner is. It would have to be a fit. I'm very anxious to see what Mark Roman and Robert Bean can do. Charles Fisher. We've got good veteran corners here. It's crowded. You could always use another good one, but I'm very anxious to see how the young guys develop and that means they have to have practice and playing time.
Hobson: I could ask you some depth chart questions, but I think I know what you'll say. I don't think you get wrapped up in that stuff.
LeBeau: I don't get wrapped up in that stuff. I'll stress to the team that the depth chart is just something you have to have to put the names on. It's just a piece of paper. You have to perform to remain the No. 1 guy. Until that time, the depth chart is all pretty much relative.
Hobson: Are all 22 spots up for grabs?
LeBeau: We'll play our best people who are producing. You can say all 22 spots are up for grabs. Sure, the lineup isn't set yet. If there's a guy playing and producing and he's behind someone else who is playing better, we'll probably move him to a different spot because there's always room for a guy playing well to get on the field.
Hobson: What's going on at safety, another spot that's been kind of quiet in the offseason. (Note: Chris Carter replaced Cory Hall in midseason at strong safety and Tremain Mack backed up Darryl Williams at free safety all year.)
LeBeau: We've got four good veteran players there. We're going to mix and match to see what's the best combination. All four guys are solid, productive players who can play both spots.
You could even see Chris Carter and Cory Hall in that first group
And Tremain and Darryl in the second group depending which day we're working on what. It's not written in stone who is going to be out there after the first day. I want to see who produces.
Hobson: That seems to be keeping with the theme that you're keeping guys on their toes about keeping their jobs.
LeBeau: I think they already know that.