7-30-04, 6 p.m.
7-30-04, 8:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made another statement Friday, this one on the eve of training camp. He let it be known as his rookie draft picks trickled into training camp that 100 percent means 100 percent.
"Why would we want anything less?" Lewis asked of the club's 100 percent off-season participation clause that made some agents pause before taking the rookie deals. "I have to be here 100 percent of the time."
He must have been pretty persuasive, because the six draft picks the Bengals signed Friday all have the clause.
Agents claim that while other teams ask their rookies to sign clauses that require them to pay back some of their signing bonus for missing any time in the 14 weeks, the Bengals are the only team requiring 100 percent participation because the rest vary between 80 and 90 percent.
The NFL Players Association may file a grievance because it insists they are only "voluntary," workouts. Still, only first-rounder Chris Perry and second-rounder Keiwan Ratliff are the only unsigned of the 11 draft picks as the Bengals prepped for Saturday's first camp practice at 8:45 a.m.
Lewis, through the club's negotiators, made it clear that emergencies and special situation would be handled with discretion by the head coach. He also said the unrestricted free agents the club has signed have similar language.
One agent said he opted to agree when the club pointed to a specific player allowed to make up a workout as late as Friday.
"I thought it was standard. I didn't think too much about it," said Madieu Williams, the second-rounder. "I just figured when you're progressing every year as a team, everybody needs to be there. It wasn't really a problem as far as contract negotiations go."
Rich Moran, the agent for one of the three fourth-rounders, Stacy Andrews, said he signed the deal after making sure there was language that workouts could be made up because of extenuating circumstances.
"Once we were clear on that, the 100 percent didn't bother me," Moran said. "We encourage all clients to be there all the time."
Lewis said the club adopted the language for rookie deals this season after watching other teams do it through the years.
"The question was put to me do we want to put it at 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent," Lewis said. "I said 100 percent because it is still up to me if we have a guy who has a legitimate issue or problem to allow him to do what he has to do to complete that. If it's 80 percent and the guy has the same problems, you still have to make a judgment and it's easier for me to make a judgment on 100 percent than 80 percent.
"If a guy has an issue, he has one stop. He comes to me and it's easy and that's kept it very, very clean," Lewis said.
Lewis clearly had an edge with the agents who know his work. One agent said when Williams, represented by Mason Ashe, and third-rounder Caleb Miller, represented by the office of Kyle Rote Jr., and Jimmy Sexton, agreed to it, the fourth-rounders had no choice because they are respected agents.
"I don't think it's as Draconian as some are making it out to be," Rote said. "I have faith that Marvin is going to administer the program fairly. If it had been a different head coach, it might be another story, but I trust him."
Landon Johnson, the third-round linebacker from Purdue, had some reservations, as did his agent, Andy Simms. Johnson said Simms spoke to Lewis and he felt better about it.
"I'd rather not have the 100 percent in writing," Johnson said. "But I have faith in my coaches and Coach Lewis would work with me if something were to happen. I know they would do that. Things happen. Emergencies happen. But they told us they're going to work with us instead of against us."
Simms said he thinks the NFL should file a grievance, yet he also has faith in Lewis.
"But the language is such that it gives so much power to the team that I think any agent would be hesitant about signing it," Simms said. "But after yelling about it for weeks, they made clear they weren't going to change it."
Agents argue that the voluntary workouts are not only becoming more mandatory as time goes on throughout the NFL, but the signing bonus should be guaranteed and not exposed.
Lewis argues the rookies are also getting paid ($100 per day), as well as the bonus.
"I expect 100 percent from them all the time, right?" Lewis asked. "Not for 80 and 90 percent, but for 100 percent. That's up to my discretion. All our other unrestricted free agents have signed a contract with workout clauses. That's what we expect.
"It's a new step for us," Lewis said. "It's a good thing. A positive."
SPECIAL GUEST:** Former Kentucky tight end James Whalen returned to the grounds where he stomped for a NCAA-record 90 catches in 1999 after passing his physical Friday, but head coach Marvin Lewis says he's doing more than visiting and can make a run at the roster.
The Bengals like the fact that Whalen is a versatile sort on special teams who can also long snap, which would give him an edge over the team's incumbent pass-catching tight end Matt Schobel. But Schobel has 51career catches and four touchdowns in two seasons. Whalen has just 17 catches in four years with the Cowboys, two pretty much wiped out by injury.
Ironically, Whalen barely played last year because of hamstring problems. Those have also hampered Schobel and though he's ready for Saturday, he missed quite a bit of spring camps with it and Lewis has noticed.
"He should be fine," Lewis said. "He has a history of the chronic hamstring thing. He's doing everything he can do, but it's an issue. It's something you have to look hard at."
After the Cowboys cut the 6-2, 244-pound Whalen earlier this week, he said he opted for the Bengals among five teams, "because of the opportunity." He apparently got a big boost in-house from scout Greg Seamon, his tight ends coach in Dallas in 2002.
And one from Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells.
"He liked me. That's why he cut me when he did to give me a chance some place else," Whalen said. "There was no personality clash. He's looking for bigger tight ends."
CANTON CONNECTION:** Vantz Singletary, the Bengals minority intern coach this camp, already arrived here Friday with some glittering NFL credentials. He was a factor getting his uncle, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, into coaching the Ravens inside linebackers last season.
"He's really like my big brother, my father figure, we grew up in the same house," said Vantz Singletary, the defensive line coach at the University of Hawaii. "I'd been talking to him all along, sharing so much with him. I knew that was his calling. Seeing me in it certainly influenced him to jump in it both feet and he's loving it. He hasn't looked back."
Vantz, 38, seven years younger than Mike, has a connection with the Bengals through defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Vantz was his defensive coordinator for five seasons when Frazier, a teammate of Mike's with the Bears, was the head coach at Trinity College.
He also coached two players last year at Hawaii, end Travis LaBoy and tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who played for the Bengals coaches on the North team in this past Senior Bowl. (LaBoy went to the Titans in the second round, Sopoaga to the Chiefs in the fourth.)
This is his fifth internship in stops with the Bears, Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Texans. He'll be working with D-line coach Jay Hayes, the man who recruits the Bengals' internship candidates.
"I'm looking to bring (Lewis') organization and professionalism and share it with the players and staff at Hawaii," Singletary said.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: A sampling of check-in day with the new quarterback, Slim Willie arriving in a long, thin limo, Marvin Lewis talking about avoiding 0-3, and Chad taking on the pre-season mags.
Right tackle Willie Anderson took a ride to camp worthy of his Pro Bowl status Friday when he went by limousine from Cincinnati. He admitted it was a little bit of gamesmanship, and gave fellow Pro Bowler Chad Johnson a hard time when they ran into each other at a Covington, Ky., gas station before the trip down 75 South.
"Chad was saying, 'I wish I had thought of that," said Anderson, who opted for the limo instead of riding down with Brian Simmons.
But Johnson didn't too badly himself in his classic pink Chevy. The speed merchant wasn't, though.
"I cruised down here," Johnson said. "Thirty miles an hour. Just cruising."
Yet he was jacked up when he arrived about the pre-season predictions.
"I like to read what's going on so I know what I have to work on," Johnson said. "The doubters. The doubters are taking my game back because of the new starter (at quarterback). No way. We'll show them."
Johnson showed up for Lewis' first meeting wearing a pair of brand new receiver gloves: "Have to break them in. This is going to be a hell of a year."
Anderson feels the same way. He is more relaxed than last year, when he didn't know what to expect from Lewis. He thinks for the first time in his career, he's under 20 percent body fat at 18. At 338 pounds, he's two under what his reporting weight is supposed to be.
"Everybody expects us to keep propelling up. It's the first time in awhile people have been expecting that," Anderson said. "The way you have to do that, you have to be able to make yourself good in the off-season workouts."
Of course, that is right from the mouth of head coach Marvin Lewis, who first had an administrative meeting with his team Friday night, and then a later one. He alluded to the specter of holdouts in Chris Perry and Keiwan Ratliff in how he would present things to the team
"We're going to cast our lot to go to Jacksonville," said Lewis, site of the next Super Bowl. "At that point it's fun to put down the slides and go forward. And that part is we were 0-3 for a reason. Let's try to do the best job we can. Right from the start of correcting those reasons. There may be some hitches here that are going to be perceived during the next two hours. But we'll overcome those. . .Let's find a way on the practice field and in the meeting rooms to do special things so we don't start 0-3 again."
Let it be duly recorded that Carson Palmer checked in as one of the first Bengals to report to training camp Friday morning, 37 minutes early. He signed up for his TV, wheeled in a suitcase, and went to work as the No. 1 quarterback.
"Pretty much only clothes. You can never have enough clothes. I just threw in all the T-Shirts and shorts I had," Palmer said. "No books. Your playbook is all you need."