Marvin Lewis is looking beyond his worst season as Bengals head coach.
At least in response to former Bengal Cris Collinsworth's call on the NFL Network during Thursday's 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh that the Bengals have to get stronger and tougher to compete in the AFC North.
"We'll get it back, though. I can promise Cris that. We'll be fine," Lewis said at Friday's news conference. "We thought we were the most physical team for a long time, but we lost that, because we lost to the Steelers twice this year."
Add another with Friday's promotion of rookie cornerback Simeon Castille to the practice squad to replace the IR-ed Johnathan Joseph and keep an eye on rookie defensive tackle Jason Shirley with injuries Thursday night to defensive ends Robert Geathers (hyperextended knee) and Frostee Rucker (hamstring). Shirley, a fifth-round pick has yet to play. Also rookie receiver Jerome Simpson (ankle) and second-year defensive end Eric Henderson (neck) are coming back from injury and need to be put under the microscope.
"I'm going to try to see as much as I can. We're going to try to get as many of the young guys involved as we can, to get their feet wet," Lewis said. "So their second year is not like they came off a redshirt, that they had a chance to get their feet wet and understand what it takes, the physicality of the AFC North Division and what it takes to play in it and win football games in it."
With two years left on his deal, speculation about Lewis' status surfaced when he told NFL.com this week, "It's not a shock to say that we have to make some changes for the future for me to remain here."
But on Friday it sounded like he was staying.
"I wish it wasn't quite framed that way," Lewis said of the quote. "The big thing is, for everybody -- Cincinnati Bengals fans and the organization -- it's important that all of us put together a better football team. We're going to continue to work at it these last five games, try to win these last five football games and end the season with a better taste in our mouths than we have right now after losing the game last night. So that makes a big difference. That's what's important to me: if we win these last five games, starting with Baltimore coming here next Sunday in front of our fans, who were very loud and disruptive a week ago against the Eagles."
And after those five games?
"After those five games, it'll be the offseason and I'll have to answer a whole different bunch of questions from you," he said.
Asked about changes, Lewis basically said his team needs better players and more of them.
"I think everybody had a false sense of how good some players and some positions were here," he said. "I think that is evident. We have to better job of looking harder, and pushing harder and getting people in the right spots all the time, and deeper, so when we have injuries, we can overcome that."
Bengals president Mike Brown has the final say in personnel matters, but Lewis has heavy input. While he pointed the finger at himself ("It's always my fault.I have a responsibility here."), Lewis talked about changes he'd like to see on the roster.
"Sometimes people make it through on what they did in the past, and you have to be careful to watch that," Lewis said. "We tried to change some of that, and we made some change, but you've got to be careful, and we've got to make sure of that. It is difficult because you can end up with some injuries at different positions as you leave training camp, so maybe you're not able to address an area that's weaker than you'd like it to be because you're too busy addressing an area that's injured right now."
Lewis has said all season he likes the makeup of this roster. Lewis likes to go with experience, but now the kids will be experienced. Of the Bengals' 22 starters Thursday, 12 had three years of experience or less. Last year in the 11th game it was half that with six.
"I think we've already addressed a lot of that, because we'll go into the offseason with a much younger football team because of all of the rookies and the guys we have right now that are playing, rather than some of the seven- to 12-year veterans we had a year ago at this point," Lewis said.