Lewis: Looking to close the AFC North gap

3:50 p.m.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com this week to discuss his team as it prepares for the weekend's mandatory minicamp.

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GH: In your two years as head coach, the Bengals are 16-16 while Pittsburgh is five games ahead at 21-11 and Baltimore is three ahead at 19-13. Do you think you've closed the gap in the AFC North with the moves you've made?**

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ML:** You're not going to close the gap with people. You close the gap in how you do it. That's a copout saying you do it with people. You do it with how you do it, when you do it, and how good you are at it.

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GH: You're talking about execution.**

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ML:** Execution and coaching. Just pointing your finger at somebody else if you're saying doing it with people. (The other division teams) certainly are not necessarily doing it with people. Everybody is going to change every year. Everybody is going to get a little better every year.

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GH: I know the heat is always on the head coach no matter the year, but after two 8-8 seasons and now that the expectations are so big, is this an all or nothing year if you don't get any movement?**

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ML:** It's not all or nothing, but we want to make progress. The way for us to make progress is to get ourselves in the playoffs and go win a world championship. If we can't get to step one, that's to get to the playoffs, you can never accomplish the ultimate.

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GH: Given what you've done on defense, do you think you're better?**

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ML:** It's the same thing. I can watch five minutes of tape with David Pollack and he can fix our defense. He can tell you where the breakdown occurs. In five minutes. That's a guy that wasn't here. It's just playing together. Eleven guys playing together, doing it right, and doing what you're coached to do.

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GH: It sounds like you're almost pointing the finger at you and your staff.**

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ML:** That's what it is. It's our ability to get the guys to play the way they're supposed to play. And you change guys out that don't do it or can't do it. We've done that.

GH: It looks like you're going to be multiple on defense. **

ML:** I would beg to differ with you on that. We're going to be on defense as good as our players are. The better the players are, the less you do. I'm hoping our looks are not very multiple. The more offense and defense you have (is) because you're not very good at what you do.

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GH: How is your relationship with your new defensive coordinator, Chuck Bresnahan?**

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ML:** The relationship is great. He's been through the wars with this. A commanding presence in the room, that's important. It kind of hits our guys at a good time to have that. It's a little of a change from Les (Frazier). And he's been able to pick up where Les left off. Which is good. Anytime you make that change, you're looking to have a different presence.

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GH: Are you doing more, less? I know last year you got a little more involved. * *

ML:** I'm still as involved as I've been. Offense. Defense. Special teams. I enjoy coaching. If I'm coaching less, it's harder on me.

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GH: It seems that you are. At least on the field.**

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ML:** Not necessarily. You want to coach. Every afternoon when I get Odell (Thurman) and David to come up here and we sit and (I) coach. I can't be coaching them when the (assistants are) coaching them or they may lose their bite. I would say during the off-season program of last year I would have been the same. This is the time of the year for the coaches to better with their players.

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GH: As a guy who has coached a couple of different generations of NFL linebackers, how do you enjoy coaching Pollack and Thurman up here (in your office?)**

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ML:** They were well coached in college. They understand coaching. They understand defense. They're well schooled. We sit and watch tape and go through things. It's been great. They're put together the right way. We saw that last year in (fellow Georgia defender) Robert Geathers. They still have a lot to grow athletically and physically, but fundamentally they're very sound.

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GH: Obviously, you don't want to compare a rookie to a Hall of Famer. We can't and we won't. But Thurman does give you that same style of sideline-to-sideline, intensity you had in the middle in Baltimore in Ray Lewis.**

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ML:** Just like when you're in business or whatever you're doing, you're always going to be drawn to certain traits that you feel are going to be successful. In Odell, there are certain traits, just like with Ray Lewis there were certain traits. The magnetism of a Greg Lloyd. The ability to overcome obstacles and play football at a very, very high level. That's very similar to Greg. As you go forward and you look at guys, from Lloyd to (Peter) Boulware to Pollack, Kevin Greene, all of those guys. You're looking for the same kind of individuals.

GH: You just had Lloyd and Greene back here for your golf tournament last month. Linebackers that you coached when you were in Pittsburgh. **

ML:** Kevin wants to come back and spend time with David and that's a good thing. He's excited to do it. As a mentor/consultant type of thing. I think Kevin flirts with the idea of being a coach when he gets a little older. Last year he spent lot of time with Dick (LeBeau) over there in Pittsburgh. He was going to go for a week and ended up staying for three. So Tara, his wife, this year told him he can't do the same thing. Speaking with (Hall-of-Famer) Ted Hendricks, Ted Hendricks just loves David Pollack. He and his wife talked about how much they enjoyed meeting David Pollack (at the Anthony Munoz Foundation golf tournament).

GH: Last week you said Pollack and Thurman, look to be first day starters. Do you have a concern starting rookies at linebacker? Could it be the best move ultimately, but you may suffer in September and October?

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ML:** No.

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GH: At some point I imagine athleticism and speed trumps experience.**

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ML:** It's the ability to execute what you're supposed to do. It's what playing football is all about. I have confidence in these guys doing that.

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GH: Any surprises in the last month since you put on helmets?**

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ML:** (Wide receiver) Matt Cherry has really improved this offseason from where he was when we acquired him last year from Jacksonville. Jamall Broussard has grown as a receiver. (Cornerback) Brandon Williams, who we got late last year, is doing a nice job. He'll have an opportunity to compete to play. The move by Terrell Roberts and Reggie Myles from cornerback to safety will broaden their horizons. They both wanted the change. They can count. They both see that they were behind a player or two at cornerback, and now this broadens their opportunity to make the team and we'll have more versatile players depending on who makes it.

I don't think there's an area on our team where there's not a head-to-head competition to start. Maybe other than the tackle positions and quarterback. We're not getting any better if we don't. You need to let people compete, or your team doesn't get better.

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GH: (Rookie receiver) Chris Henry seems to have caught everything.**

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ML:** He's everything we had hoped he could be and more.

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GH: Has (veteran receiver) Kelley Washington responded?**

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ML:** Kelley has come back in tremendous shape. He's kind of transformed his body. To me, he's playing quicker. I really think he's working hard to compete and have a fair opportunity to compete for a job and playing time. He's a little lighter. It's not significant, but he's in lot better shape and conditioning.

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GH: Last month before the voluntaries began you said you were going to a little slower with the injured. Maybe looking at that quick start. We still haven't seen guys like Peter Warrick and Landon Johnson. What about this weekend?* *

ML:** They're not cleared. There's no sub-plot. They're not ready to participate. Until they've proven they're ready to go, they don't have an opportunity to compete for a job. They're 50-50 for (the mandatory minicamp).

GH: How has (running back) Chris Perry worked?

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ML:** He's doing fine with what he's supposed to be doing. The doctor hasn't cleared him 100 percent.

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GH: He's got to be frustrated.**

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ML:** He's only frustrated because people talk about him for no reason. That's where his only frustration comes. He can't miraculously make himself well. All he did was get hurt. He played great for us when he got a chance to play, before he hurt his abdominal muscles. Before that, he played outstanding. He did great things for us. Enough said.

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GH: If he's healthy, he's a big factor in the passing game, isn't he?**

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ML:** A big factor in everything. He's one of the most talented guys we have in this building. He has an opportunity to compete with Kenny, Rudi, all of them to see who the best guys are.

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GH: You seem to be at a point in the salary cap that the team is more geared to work on extensions rather than plucking veteran free agents.**

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ML:** Not many (available free agents) who are going to help you. You make sure you use your resources the best way for our team

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GH: Is that something the team is looking into? Wrapping up guys like Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, guys whose deals end in 2006?* *

ML:** It's difficult thing to work on extensions. Sometimes you can't agree to agree. Anytime a player is involved with that, you have to understand that part of the process. And it's just as likely you agree on something. Probably a 50-50 proposition whether it occurs or not. It takes cooperation and acceptance by the player, just like the same thing from the club. Both sides have to meet somewhere in the middle. Each side must give up something significant to have an extension.

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GH: Do think that's down the road, or is it happening now?* *

ML:It's always an ongoing process. All the time.

GH: You guys are set with contracts for the next few years. You basically have a two-year window.* *

ML:** You have to take your hat off to Katie (Blackburn) and the organization for those things and through Mike's (Brown) direction that we are in the situation we're in.

The No. 1 pick in the draft on our team from a couple of years ago that plays the position he plays (quarterback Carson Palmer). That's something you have to take into consideration. You have one of the best wide receivers in the leaguer on our team. You've got one of the best running backs in the league on our team. A pair of first-round offensive tackles. We've got corners playing in their primes. When you look at our team, I hope our resources are directed the right ways.

That's something Mike really feels strongly about. That we go out and try and, No. 1, take care of our own players, to develop our players, and teach our players from the ground up, and, secondly, spend those resources at the premium positions in the NFL.

GH: QBs, tackles, corners. Receivers. Running backs. You just made a pass rusher a No. 1 pick. **

ML:** Right. It's set up based on the salary structure that works in the league. The important thing for our players is you can't have the highest paid player at every position. You probably can't have the highest paid at any position and hope to be successful. It has to come from somewhere. The pie is only so big. I always thought (Ravens head coach) Brian Billick just did a tremendous job of explaining that to the players in Baltimore.

You would hope all of the players felt great about what they made. The reality is, it's only so big. Whether it's a decision by the club or player, there's always going to be change. Always a difference of opinion. But don't let that get in the way of winning football games because that's the business side of it. Lets focus on football . If you're successful, you know what? if we can't afford you, somebody else will.

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