Lewis puts stamp on combine

2-23-03, 6 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ For the first time in recent memory, Bengals President Mike Brown sat in on Saturday night's interviews of the NFL Draft's top prospects here at the league's scouting combine.

And, the way Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, sees it, why not?

"He paid for the room," Lewis said with a smile of the setup at the downtown hotel hosting the NFL's job interviews.

But Brown continues to let his new head coach run this new gig his way. This week of the combine's new format of player interviews may seem like mundane, nuts-and-bolts for draftnicks only. But the meetings reflect the breadth of the changes Lewis is bringing to how the Bengals do business as they slowly shift the draft process from coaching to personnel oriented.

Lewis has sat in on every meeting, something Bengals' head coaches haven't done much of lately. Also at every interview is all the player personnel people who went out on the road during the fall to look at players, as well as new hires in that department in scout John Garrett and consultant Bill Tobin.

Plus, the coordinator for that position, the position coach for that particular player, and anyone else on that side of the ball is welcome.

It makes for a crowded room, but a thorough process.

"The whole staff was there. They look really hungry on what they have to do there," said University of Miami center Brett Romberg of his interview with the Bengals earlier in the week. "They're gutting it. They're looking to change everything around."

The new format of strict time slots has allowed Lewis the ability to structure the meetings closely to the way the Steelers, Ravens and Redskins did it when he was with those clubs. Each team gets to choose 60 players they want to spend 15 minutes with over six nights of the combine. That's the major reason the combine has been expanded from five days to seven.

In years past, the nightly interviews were every team for itself in a mad dash to talk to players. There were no time limits or guidelines and it was a tough deal for the Bengals' coaches. Because they did the bulk of the scouting on the road after the combine and before the draft, they had to use much of the time just to get basic information so they could get to the players' individual workouts.

Usually, the interview used to consist of three or four people at most talking to the player, and hardly ever one of the personnel people . With the Bengals, the coaches pretty much did it all.

"It's smoother now and a lot of that has to do with how the league has put in the new system," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "You can spend more time with a guy and you can ask more questions in a setting that's not as hectic."

Lewis said he wants director of football operations Jim Lippincott and director of player personnel Duke Tobin to lead the questioning of the prospect, and then go from there.

"They've been on the road. They've seen these guys. They've got the basis of the information for us," Lewis said. "Then you'd like the coaches to interject with things. It's a way to get as much information as you can in an organized way."

No one wants to overemphasize these interviews this week because they are so brief. During the week, a smaller group from the club meets with other players than the 60 during breaks in the workouts at rooms inside the RCA Dome. But with the expansion of the Bengals' personnel department, Lewis is able to begin to realize his desire of lessening the coaches' traveling and scouting duties in March and April.

"This is pretty much how we've done it at the other places I've been," Lewis said.

With the quarterbacks and wide receivers working out Sunday, the Bengals spent Saturday night talking to the top prospects at the those positions. Some of the coaches said Brown sat in for two hours of the four-and-a-half marathon, which consisted of quarterbacks and wide receivers.

But the staff has plenty of more work to do on those players. After Sunday, some of the people in the interview room will travel to see the players' individual workouts, as well as attend additional interviews with him on the road.

"It's a good start for us," Lewis said.

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