Lewis, Bengals all in


Marvin Lewis

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On Tuesday, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins talked about teaching the rookies "The Bengal Way," and second-rounder Devon Still, the guy that backs up Atkins on that enormously talented defensive line, defined it as such:

"As far as on the football field, making sure you do everything the right way. Taking a lot of mental reps and making sure you don't have lot of mental errors. Off the field, it's just being a grown man and knowing your responsibilities and taking care of them.

"That's something the whole team talks about. That's something Coach (Marvin) Lewis really emphasizes during meetings. 'Doing it the Bengal Way.' "

In the end, "The Bengal Way" is going to be Lewis's legacy more than any winning percentage or Super Bowl title, and it got extended through 2014 on Tuesday when Bengals president Mike Brown kept him for the same reason he gave him the four previous extensions.

He appreciates how Lewis restored order and pride in those first hectic days of 2003 when the franchise reeled from its worst record ever and how he continues to set a tone that has helped make the Bengals competitive in the NFL's toughest division. A culture where the Bengals are one of only 10 teams to have reached the playoffs twice in the last three years, one of just 15 to make it three times since 2005, and just one of two AFC North sweeps ever in 2009.

"The Bengal Way" has four Pro Bowlers all age 24 thanks to A.J. Green's 24th birthday Tuesday, a locker room that veteran cornerback Leon Hall says "has no bad seeds," and a playoff team that has a head coach and its offensive and defensive coordinators locked up through 2014 together as Brown finished off the NFL's busiest offseason with Tuesday's announcement.

Last year, Lewis's comeback slogan was "All in." In 2012, they all are.

From moving training camp to Paul Brown Stadium, to signing or re-signing 14 unrestricted free agents, to making three trades that helped shape one of the more acclaimed drafts, some national pundits were calling for Brown to be Executive of the Year even before those bevy of offseason moves culminated in extensions for Lewis, Zimmer and Gruden.

"A great offseason," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said after Tuesday's practice, "but now it's time to put it all together."

Go ahead and say it. What a difference a year and a half makes. And you'd be right.

Back when Lewis re-upped for two more years after the 4-12 implosion of 2010. Back when quarterback Carson Palmer released a no comment as his reaction to the news and then demanded a trade week later. Back when Chad Ochocinco's outside ventures symbolized a distracted locker room.

Fast forward to Tuesday's reaction to this extension.

"Thank God," said defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "I couldn't see myself playing for anyone else. When you come to Cincinnati, you know Marvin Lewis is a hell of a coach and he's going to look after his players. That's what kind of coach he is. A player's coach."

Whitworth: "There's been a new energy. We don't have a choral of things that don't matter. It's just fun to see guys competing and competing and competing. Some of our best players out here are taking the most reps because they want to get better and that's a neat way to practice. It's only going to make us better.

"Really excited. Couldn't be happier for a guy that does things the right way. I've been with him going on seven years and I'm excited he's going to be here longer. We're excited about the future of this organization now with Jay (Gruden) and (Mike) Zimmer signed on as extensions."

Is there any more proof of the change than Lewis's training camp Twitter ban causing barely a blip?

At Tuesday's news conference, Lewis indicated the 2011 season showed how much he and Brown were on the same page as they swept out the offense and brought in Gruden.

"I will say that Mike and I are extremely comfortable working together. We can go in and discuss every morning what's going on and come to a conclusion, and both know the conclusion and feel good about it," Lewis said. "There was a lot of confidence gained through last season in a lot of the things that we were doing. From both sides. I think everybody feels good about that."

Lewis had to laugh when asked if he would still be the coach if he owned the team. He has no playoff wins, a fact that very much drives him these days.

"Probably not," he said. "Somebody that isn't around (Brown) every day might not know that he takes more responsibility when things don't go right. That's probably where his patience comes in. There's times when he's a little bit more patient than I am, I should say.

"There's nobody in Cincinnati that wants to win more than that man upstairs. And that's my job to get him there. That's what I'm committed to keep doing."

Lewis has been able to re-implement "The Bengal Way" in the locker room after it got sidetracked in '10, when The Ocho and T.O. Show convinced both Lewis and Brown that enough was enough.

"The biggest thing that we have done differently now is change people. We've changed a lot of people. That is apparent," Lewis said. "Then we continued in this offseason to take a critical look at where we felt like we needed to get better. And you've got to give Mike (Zimmer), and Jay and Darrin (Simmons) a lot of credit for that, and to Mike Brown, for listening and saying, 'you know what? Let's go do that. Let's try to upgrade those areas.' "

The '09 AFC North sweep came on the heels of the first of four straight powerhouse drafts and on Tuesday, Lewis gave some insight into how the draft process has evolved since he arrived. He indicated that Brown has given director of player personnel Duke Tobin a lot of influence when it comes to organizing the nuts and bolts.

Bengals drafts were almost always driven by the coaches, the guys that always have a lot of sway with Brown. But Lewis indicated there is more byplay now with the scouts and coaches with the emergence of Tobin and the staff he oversees with vice president of player personnel Pete Brown.

"From the scouting staff, through the draft, we're kind of all in line with what we think is going to be a successful player in the NFL. I think everybody feels good about that. Duke has done an amazing job continuing to really shape the draft, massage the board and help get everybody on the same page as we cross-check and get input from the coaches," Lewis said. "And we all feel comfortable with what we feel like, and about who has a chance to be a successful player. And these young guys, they all have these same traits. And that's a good process.

"And Mike has been very confident in allowing Duke to keep pushing and pointing us in that direction and I think Duke has joined the two staffs together very, very well. Everybody feels real comfortable speaking their mind and talking about players and coming to a consensus on it, and obviously at the end Mike (Brown) makes the decision and we go forward. But I think everybody feels good about that process."

A legacy is nice. "The Bengal Way." But at 53, it sounds like Lewis isn't ready to have it inscribed in a gold watch. He desperately wants the ring to go with it.

"It's gratifying, obviously, to have that opportunity to be in place here now for 12 seasons," Lewis said. "But at the end of the line there is one thing that hangs over your head, and you've got to do that, and that's to win a championship. That's why we coach. That's why we do this. That's the nugget you keep striving for all the time. There are a lot of positives that go along the way, there are highs and lows. But that is the thing that keeps driving you. I am very pleased and flattered to be able to do it."

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