INDIANAPOLIS — Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis met the national media during Thursday's 10-minute session at the podium during the NFL Scouting Combine and did a 23-minute followup with the Cincinnati media.
LEWIS AT THE PODIUM
Any progress on your free agents or any decision about the franchise tag?
I think throughout the whole thing it's an ongoing process. I don't have any confirmation yet that we have signed anyone. We're working hard on it and there are some meetings and positive things that have to continue to come. Hopefully we have a number of guys who we have to get re-signed and we will work very hard at getting that done.
The progression of Trevor Robinson and Clint Boling?
Clint has done a nice job. He's really continued to progress. He's been a tough guy; he's played football through injuries. We're able to address some things with him physically and we're excited to see him come back for this third season. We're in good shape with the interior of our offensive line with Kevin Zeitler and now the emergence of Trevor Robinson who will compete this year with Kyle Cook at the center spot. He came in as an undrafted free agent and really hit the ground running and showed well. When he got an opportunity to get in there and play he really (rose).
Open competition at center?
Every job on our roster has to be open competition all the time, other than one wide receiver spot for a bit. Trevor did a nice job, Kyle came back and after you miss as long as he did it's a difficult thing. He worked his tail off to get back on the field. We owe it to the rest of the building to always have competition.
What areas or positions do you like in this draft?
I don't have enough information to give you an early look on anything. I've only watched eight players. From where I've started there seem to be some talented offensive tackles and people have told me there are some talented defensive players, but I haven't gotten that far. I've only concentrated on a couple positions on offense.
How do you characterize Andy Dalton's second year?
He continued to grow and become the leader of the team. That's what I challenged him throughout the year to do and he did a great job of responding to that. You have to give him the affirmation that he can do this and this is his team. I think as we go into Year 3 there are some things and some plays that we continue to leave out there. We want to get better at that. There some revisions that we have to make. We have to do better as coaches. It doesn't all fall on Andy. We've got a lot of improvement to make. We have to get better as a coaching staff; we have to get better in our planning and putting guys in position to make plays. I think Andy is excited for this offseason to continue to grow, get stronger, to get himself in position to play better and be the leader of the football team.
Dre Kirkpatrick's first year?
It was kind of like one of those college freshman redshirt years. He got an opportunity to get a sniff of playing, which worked out in our favor. We knew after the season that we would have to address his lower leg which we did a little earlier than we had hoped. He's doing fine now. The limited opportunities he got he played his tail off on special teams, he got some real positive snaps on defense, it was great to have him on the practice field to learn. He had a great group of mentors in that room with their leadership. He couldn't have been put in a better situation to learn how to be a pro.
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns:
They are inheriting a much better football team. They've done a nice job over the last couple of years of the addition of guys through the draft and watching them grow. Rob (Chudzinski) has been a productive guy as a coordinator. His coordinators are experienced. Mike Lombardi has had great experience in the NFL, Joe Banner. They have put together a group of people that have been successful and you come together and bring some ideas together. They are a much better football team than what their record showed. It was a team that was improving. In my mind they were going in the right direction. We have a tough division and have to play great football.
What do you think you have to do to get over the hump?
You have to have more points than the team you are playing in the playoffs.
Is the focus on the offense?
The focus is on everyone. In order to win games you have to make plays in all areas. We have to do a better job. We've had opportunities and haven't played as well in those games. I didn't think that would be an issue for us. We played the last half of the season like those were playoff games. We knew that if we lost the games we were going to be out of it. We put wins together but didn't go down in Houston and play well. We were relaxed but didn't have that resolve or attack.
Can Burfict play middle linebacker?
Vontaze can play wherever he wants to play and we'll play him where we want him to play.
This year's playoff loss more disappointing than last year's?
"I think anytime you fall off that cliff. It was disappointing. It's hard to gauge. I have a lot of disappointing losses. I remember them more than the wins. We've got work to do. I feel confident with our guys. We'll be a better team this season. Guys realize you don't get to start off where you left off. We're going to have change but whatever that is we're all going to have to get better.
WITH THE CINCINNATI MEDIA
Advantage of coaching at Senior Bowl?
You see a few players. It's really hard when you're at the Senior Bowl to focus much on anything. You're better served when you can get back and watch the tape of practices and individual drills. It's kind of an introduction to some of the players. But to me the recall of them is not as great as when you can sit and do it the right way. I don't spend any time talking to them at the Senior Bowl. Our coaches do that and the personnel scouts. When I come here I have an opportunity where they can map out a course for me. It's a better environment for me.
If you're coaching the Senior Bowl, it's a different situation. But that's not my goal, to coach the Senior Bowl. I don't want to be available to go to Mobile, to tell you the truth.
Ever get here and are shocked?
I don't have much preview of the guys. I've had a 30-second preview basically of some of the guys are here, mainly the junior players, before coming here. This is really the first step in the process for me. I can read the reports already written and that's about all the information I get. But when we sit down w some of these players, there are some impressive young men. That part is why we do part pof the process. Then as we go through it we'll say, OK, we need to go specifically see this guy on campus. We need to bring this guy to Cincinnati and spend more time with him.
Your recent drafts have been acclaimed around the league? Has anything changed?
I think Duke (Tobin) has done an outstanding job with the organization of things. He's done a very good job of putting the information together, t eh cross-checking of things, the organization of things. He's really streamlined it, I think both personnel and coaching-wise, we have a pretty good blueprint for what we're looking for what we do on offense, defense and special teams. We've shown some flexibility that for whatever reason we may have had a little higher grade on and were available to us when it was our turn to pick. We've done a great job of doing what those guys have done on their college campus and tried to give them at least that No. 1 thing to do when we got them on our field. So they know they've had a degree of success and as they become more well-versed in the other parts of their game, they need to get up to speed to be productive on NFL speed.
What is your relationship with Duke?
Any time you come into a new situation … I was in Pittsburgh and I was very familiar with how we did things there. Then I go to Baltimore and I became familiar with how we did things there, how certain guys looked at ability and talent. The same thing when I spent the year in Washington. Then I come over and I get to know how our evaluators do things. I've been very impressed with Duke from the very onset. He's continued to grow. Mike has given him a great deal of responsibility and put him in charge of a lot of things. He's my liaison as far as what we do on the pro side, when we have injuries and he's directing the scouting efforts throughout and making sure that everything's done and the cross-checks are done so we're able to do everything we have to to evaluate these guys.
You have two new scouts:
I think both Robert (Livingston) and Steve (Radicevic) have been outstanding. These are two guys Duke has hired. They're two young guys who were collegiate coaches so they understand these players. They had great ties to where they were working and they're excited about their jobs and what they'd done. We run across them once in a while at games on the road and you can talk to them about where they're been. They're excited about it. I think they've done a great job in the process. You listen to them last year as they'd read their reports. It was great to hear how they evaluated guys. I think one of the best parts of scouting is the ability to compare from last year and see what the guy did in the NFL. I always tease people that there'd never have been a Ray Lewis if there hadn't been a Michael Barrow or a Jesse Armstead because they showed me how good Ray could be because they were coming out my first two years evaluating guys in the NFL.
You have a lot of guys to sign, a lot of money under the cap. Do you feel as if you need to go that route or can you fill the needs with your own guys?
We don't have enough players to play right now, so we've got to get some of our guys signed back. We're excited about that process. That's the way you want to do it. We want to keep developing our guys in my way, our way. We want to be very sound with that. But in some cases we're going to need to move on parallel paths. I'm confident we'll get things done. I'm excited about it.
That seems to be the philosophy. If you're going to make a big move in free agency, it's going to be your own guys:
Right. It's got to be that way. There's been very few unrestricted free agents signed by a team and it's been that beneficial. I think it's better served that way. We have good players. We want to retain our good players and keep growing them up and keeping rewarding them for their maturity and the levels they play at.
What is Rey Maualuga's future?
e's one of the free agent players. Rey has played two different spots for us. He really grew in his role and leadership and so forth. We've been to the playoffs three times in Rey's four-year career. He's been a great part of our success. He's a free-agent player. He's going to have some opportunity, just like our other guys. We've just got to see what happens.
Are you still engaged with him? Do you want him back?
We want to have all of our guys come back. That's all we can do.
He said he felt the playoff game might have been an audition for this coming year. Is that an accurate read?
That would be Rey talking the way Rey talks. He just has to become more secure in his own skin.
It's impossible to re-sign all 23 unrestricted free agents. How delicate it is with salaries and the tag and knowing some of the guys you've got coming up in the next couple of years?
There's some work to do. To sit here and speculate … obviously I'm not going to tell you what we're going to do.
Do you think you'll use the franchise tag?
We hope that we don't have to use the tag. But if we have to use the tag, we'll tag somebody. We're going to retain our guys in every way possible. That's our option, and that's what we're going to work hard to do.
Are there some things you would like to change about the system that would help you guys in the way you evaluate?
I don't think that in depth about things. I think it's a good process. We added the extra day in order to provide for more time for guys to spend with guys so that the medical didn't roll into some of the other things guys had to do. I think that's been a positive step. The NFL Network's involvement has been a positive step because more kids are participating. That's the only thing at the Combine that you want: You want the guys that are invited here, if they're physically able to, to participate fully. That's the only change I would say. If you're not going to work, then let's leave your tail at home, because we want to see you work. If you're able to work, then let's work.
What about the addition of the second aptitude test?
I don't know enough about it, and it will be four or five years before we do. You can't just throw something out and say 'OK, this is a test we're going to do right now.' We don't have the background of it. It's going to take some comparison, just like you talked about with 40-yard dashes or vertical jumps or long jumps before you have some comparison to make on how things work.
When you hired Hue (Jackson), you indicated you wanted the offense to take a step forward. What do you want them to do?
I have to coach better and I've got to be demanding on the things I think are important. Everybody wants to start the year and we're going to be Star Wars and we're going to zip and zap the ball here and there. Then you look up and we're not very good. But when we got back to what the principles are of how you win, then we got better. You've got to be able to be physical, you've got to be able to run the football, we've got to be productive with the football, we've got to win on third down, we've got to get in third down situations that are manageable. And the same thing defensively.
We can't give up big plays if we think we're going to be any good on defense. So we've got to be sound in what we do, we've got to limit what we do and we've got to get sound principles of what we do. And I think Hue gives us another opportunity with another mind to help Jay with input. Jay does a tremendous job, and you always want to have as many people as you can that can provide the right input and also do a great job of coaching their position. And our coaches have done a nice job of that. We've got to keep pushing harder and harder because we're not satisfied with where we've been.
After losing in the playoffs to the Texans, do you challenge these guys to come back and continue to build on the foundation?
The challenge is we don't get to start where we left off. You have to come back in here and be ready to go. We've got to build and we've got to build the right way and we've got to do things correct more often. That comes from the way our players feel. It's a good group of guys that are pointed in the right direction. We've just got to keep aiding them and coaching them and getting them better.
Do you have to retool the running game?
I think we had a back run for over 1,000 yards again this year which is a pretty good accomplishment when we didn't run for as many early on. But we ran for whatever, four out of five or five out of six weeks throughout that stretch of the year. We've got to continue to do that. The running game comes from the running back, it comes from the offensive line, it comes from receivers. Those are the things we've got to re-tool. We've got re-tool coaching and playing. That's the re-tooling of the running game, and have the things that fit together well with what we're doing offensively as far as throwing the football.
In what ways to you have to coach better?
I just kind went through that. I know what I feel what is important for us to do win in the AFC North and I can't let us get away from those principles. We talked about those earlier. I know we're always going to be well-coached in special teams but we've got to keep making plays in special teams that help us win football games. We're going to devote the time, we're going to devote the resources and we're going to keep doing it.
Offensively, we've got to be able to take care of the football and we've got to win on third down and in order to do that we've got to be a productive team on first and second down by marrying the run and the pass. When we go vertically we've got to make vertical throws and catches. That's important. Defensively we can't give up big plays and we've got to win on third down.
Andy kind of QB can win with but need to have weapons around him?
Tell me a quarterback in the National Football League that wins without weapons.
How about play-action? Is that something you'll emphasize?
We do play-action but, again, we need to emphasize everything we do better and do it better. It's a broad question and this is the broad time of the year to ask broad questions. You get a very broad answer.
How important is the Combine interview for Manti Te'o?
I think for me the film starts it but I don't know that I can understand Manti Te'o in 15 minutes, I can tell you that. I'm going to let what he did on tape speak for him and be his calling card to start off and then we'll work from there.
Winning in Pittsburgh, is that as a step in the building process?
Those steps were lost last December. We start over again and have to make new steps. There's not much you can do. The football team knows what preparation, work and grinding is. When we get the football team back to together we'll get back into that mindset. That's history. That's water under their bridge, that's in our reserve tank but we've got to go back and do that again. What we did in Pittsburgh last year isn't going to be worth beans this year and we know that. We've got to start from scratch, we've got to get going again.
How close do you feel team is to taking that next step?
I feel the same. I don't feel any different. We've just got to do. There's 31 of us over here saying the same thing, we've got to do. Everyone has to take steps. Some steps are larger to take than others but you've got to take big steps in order to do big things.
Was it youth that contributed to the playoff loss after going 7-1?
I think a little bit of it is youth but I think also it comes back to me as the head coach. It's my job with how we prepare our guys to understand how important each and every play is. We have certain plays, certain isolation plays. We went into that game saying we're going to be able to do this and did. We've got to go execute it. However we unfolded, however we prepared to do that, we've got to do a better job of applying it so we get that kind of action when the lights come on and it's in that hostile environment we get it done that way all of the time. I think a little bit of that is repetition, maturity and so forth but it's also drive and want-to and anything short of this gets us beat and understanding that.
How is Dan Herron developing?
I thought Danny, when he got the opportunity, first of all he worked his tail off throughout the year so to bring him up and give him an opportunity was a great thing because he worked his tail off. I really think that getting himself in shape and preparing to be a guy in the NFL I think he showed on special teams. That's step No. 1. Then he got an opportunity and that's step No. 2 on offense. We look for him to have a big preseason.
Is keeping all the free agents like the 2005-07 period?
I think the biggest lesson is let's keep betting on our guys. Let's bet on our guys and move forward. Sometimes it doesn't work out the way you'd think. Unfortunately in this game guys get hurt but you can't let that pull you back. You've got to keep working. We've got to bet on them. We've got to bet on our process. We've trained these guys, we've grown these guys from the ground up (so) let's continue to bet on them and the process as we keep moving forward. We've got to know that if we're not successful we've got to be on a parallel path, whatever it may be. We've always got the draft to fall back on if there is a guy available that way that works that way. We've been able to do that just like we did a year ago with Nate (Livings) and Travelle Wharton. Those things have got to happen. Again, we were working on a parallel path there with one in and one out. Then you can fall back on the draft to back yourself up again. That's the way we have to go about it and continue to look at it that way. It's not going to be an emotional thing. I know at the end of the day that I'm going to be comfortable with those guys we put in that room and now we've got to coach them up. We're going to go compete versus the other guys.
Is this still the worst time of the year?
It's all speculative football. I know we're in the big show, but it's still speculative football. When we start doing football is when we get to July and August, that's fun. We get preparing for the season, that's the fun of football. Then we get there and it's, OK, let's get this over so we can get to the regular season.' It's exciting. When you think about our season last year and see the Sanus and the Marvin Joneses. Sanu's catching a touchdown and we've got nobody left and he's catching the punt. You look at what happened with Hawkins two years ago in those same situations. That's the fun of it.
We'll have another group of guys like that to see the emergence of Marvin Jones and Sanu now as they go into their second year. The fun part of these rookies, right now all they've done is trained to be here. But after that rookie year, it's like, 'Now I know what it takes to be a player in the NFL and then I can train myself to get ready for my next year. Similar to what A.J. went through last year.
Are you pretty much set with Sanu and Jones as the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers?
We're not set with anybody. We owe it to everybody to get better.
Everybody's up for a job but A.J.?
Pretty much probably. Even me.
What are your impressions of Aaron Maybin?
Aaron's excited about the opportunity. He feels like he's never been able to keep on enough weight to be a true 4-3 down end or be a big 3-4 265-pound linebacker. Maybe the outside linebacker in our scheme is something that will fit him well.
Are you looking for a backup quarterback in the draft?
Every time we go through the draft we look at every single position. We're not going to go into the draft and look for a starting quarterback. But I think, basically, every other position is open to be drafted. You can't get your sights set on this guy or that guy and that guy's not there and you pass on a better player. You need to draft the best players. At the end of the day you want to have the most talented team you can have.
Evaluation of Dalton?
He plays the position of criticism. Other than the head coach. When we don't win, the quarterback is going to take a little bit of flak. I thought Andy did a good job for us. When he holds that trophy, he would have done a great job and that's what we're looking forward to. Until he gets there, he'll always take that criticism. He's a great guy. He's our guy. He works hard at it, it means a lot to him. And he'll do nothing but continue to play more productively. We have to keep putting people around him and put them in the right spot to allow him to do his job without the worry of them not being where they belong.