PHOENIX, Ariz. - Notes on a napkin from head coach Marvin Lewis' appearance at the Tuesday morning AFC head coaches breakfast at the NFL annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore:
-Yes Virginia, tight end Jermaine Gresham is still an option to re-sign with the Bengals in free agency. It still seems like a longshot because of Gresham 's health and spotty play last season, but Lewis bristled at the notions. He also downplayed Gresham's recent surgery.
"He's had inconsistent play but he's played at a high level, he's been a Pro Bowl player," Lewis said. "He's a man of many, many, many, many, many, many, many moods. But one he's consistent with is "I'm loyal to you coach." We'll see what happens.
The Gresham question is a handful. He's been brilliant at times and brittle at others and when he missed the playoff game with an injury as a late scratch, some observers thought it would be tough for him to return.
Apparently not. And the Bengals do have a need because they haven't replaced him. Lewis sounds like he's keeping Ryan Hewitt at H-Back, so they need a big blocker to team with receiving tight end Tyler Eifert. Lewis is talking to Gresham often these days. Gresham has also called right end Michael Johnson, whom no doubt extolled the virtues of staying at home.
"I had a premonition that this would occur with Jermaine," Lewis said, "because Jermaine is a homebody and they all watched what happened with Michael."
The other stumbling block is the Bengals don't have a lot of money left with the focus on their own 2016 free agents.
-Lewis said Jason Campbell, last year's No. 2 quarterback, is also still an option to re-sign, but the A.J. McCarron train is leaving the station. Even if Campbell re-signs, the No. 2 job is McCarron's to lose even though he was injured most of last year.
"A.J. McCarron has everything that you want in a quarterback, a successful quarterback in the NFL," Lewis said. "We'll have some additions to the position that A.J. will compete with and we just have to go forward that way."
-Lewis predicts defensive tackle Geno Atkins is going to return to the form that has brought him three Pro Bowl berths now that his ACL surgery is going on a year and a half. He also predicted the notoriously quiet Atkins would loosen up with everybody. Media included. "That's another head-nodder who went back into his shell a little bit. I think we'll all see the return of the pre-injury Geno this year as far as how he relates to you guys and everything else he's asked to do," Lewis said. "I think everybody would welcome that back."
When asked if he thought Atkins was worried about his knee last year, Lewis pointed to his play.
"Geno played his tail off against the run last year. He didn't have the production we'd like rushing the passer but I wasn't dissatisfied with Geno's season at all," Lewis said. " He'll go back to being as dominant as he was. He's just got to work through."
-Picking at No. 21, Lewis isn't looking for an impact starter as a rookie.
"I hope he doesn't have to but I know in the future he will," Lewis said.
-Lewis doesn't think the sudden retirement of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland after his rookie year because of health concerns is going to alter things much.
"Hopefully guys are evaluating good information. Each guy has to make decisions on his own," Lewis said. "I think people make these decisions all of the time. This one just got a little bit of publicity. "It has to be a commitment. It has to be a commitment all around. Sometimes guys retire and they forget to tell you they're retired."