PALM BEACH, Fla. — His 10th AFC coaches media breakfast here at the NFL annual spring meetings turned out to be like most of the others for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
While other tables were mobbed (new Dolphins boss Joe Philbin because of homefield advantage, and Rex Ryan and John Fox because of their new quarterbacks), Lewis hosted no more than four or five at a time during the one-hour availability.
» As the Bengals try to secure back-to-back playoff berths for the first time in his tenure, Lewis says this is a better team than the 8-8 underachievers of 2006 that followed up his best team of '05.
On and off the field.
"This team is much better because your leadership are stronger character guys. They are humble players and you are being led by the linemen," he said, referring to defensive tackle Domata Peko and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "We had guys beating their chest that they had arrived and then the Pro Bowl was the most important thing, not the Super Bowl. This group understands the most important thing is the Super Bowl.
"I think we're better in the secondary and up front. We're a lot better defensively and we have a chance with (new left guard Travelle) Wharton to be a lot better on the offensive line. Whatever development we have at receiver will be there. (Wide receiver A.J. Green) is so much better than everybody else that it doesn't matter. The stable of backs is probably a better group. ... The quarterback is exceptional playing quarterback."
» Lewis, recalling that Terence Newman has said he had his best years playing for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Dallas, said the Bengals hope to strike a deal quickly with the Cowboys cornerback. He also said they're still interested in re-signing starting outside linebacker Manny Lawson.
» Lewis indicated he backs NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his harsh ruling on Bountygate in New Orleans. When asked if Goodell is feared now, Lewis said, "There's no reason to be feared. Just do things the right way."
Lewis said he's never seen a bounty system on his teams during his 21 years in the NFL. He says the only time he discusses it is during his first meeting of the season when he goes over the fine schedule.
"I never felt like I had to because I think our coaches already understood," Lewis said. "That's one of the things in our fine system."
» When asked about the crop of running backs in next month's draft, Lewis reiterated the Bengals have all options open even with the signing from New England of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the return of Bernard Scott.
"I think it's got some guys that have the ability to be big contributors their first three, four years of their careers," Lewis said of the rookie-to-be backs. "I think they have opportunity to come in – they don't necessarily have to be the first-day starters – but I think as time goes on they'll develop into being great players.
"In signing the guys we've signed, we've made a commitment, but not overcommit," Lewis said of free agency. "And to really keep all of our options open when it came to the draft."
» Lewis wouldn't rule out re-signing wide receiver Jerome Simpson, looking at a possible suspension for a drug charge.
"I wouldn't rule it out because he is still available," he said. "He's got a lot of hurdles to go through. I think you have to evaluate from our standpoint is that the best thing for Jerome and us. We know the challenges he has ahead of himself. We know the challenges on and off on the field. So what is best for the Bengals."
» No change in his contract status as Lewis heads into the last year of his deal. Bengals president Mike Brown won't comment on it and like last month Lewis said, "The ball is in my court. It hasn't been mhy focus."
» For the first time in years the rookie minicamp isn't the weekend after the draft. Instead, it is the next weekend, May 11-13, because the rookies are allowed to start coming to the stadium after the first camp on May 15.