**Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis prepares for his second season of minicamps amid more changes than his first offseason brought. A new quarterback, 11 draft picks, and a restructured back seven on the defense highlight the adjustments the club has made since the 8-8 finish. Before he opens this weekend's minicamp for rookies, Lewis sits down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com to discuss how he plans to get his team over the hump and into the playoffs.
GH: With 11 draft picks added to all the people you have brought in, do you feel more comfortable with this roster?**
ML: The nice thing is we're bringing in young players that have a chance to play in the NFL as they learn from some good, older veteran players. We've got three levels of players. The 30-plus guys who have been through the wars, the 25-30 guys chomping at the bit to be known as the best and doing something special, and the young guys that just give you more.
It's important to have all three. We didn't have that last year. We had an older team compared to the rest of the league. We've transitioned out of that very quickly and that's good because you don't want to get caught at the other end and you have to flush the whole group. Now we have a good cycle of guys who are going to be here for a long period of time. **
GH: There are just 18 guys still on the roster who were here on the Opening Day 53 in 2002. Does that make it easier for you to operate with your guys?**
ML: Our guys. **
GH:** Are there things you can do now you couldn't do last year?
ML: I think at 12:30 when it's time to be in a meeting, we won't have guys in the lounge. That's safe to say. **
GH: Did that happen last year?**
ML: It might have happened a few times where we had to remind guys why we had those clocks. We'll have guys where they're supposed to be and that burden doesn't fall to the coaches and I'll have fewer burdens on that. Because that was my burden and things I dealt with because I don't want the coaches to have to deal with that.
It's not what we're paying guys to do. We have nice things here for our players and if they're not going to use them in the time they're supposed to be used, then we'll take those things away and we'll go to a stalag and be like a lockdown, and now they know that.
GH: That seems to be something you have established. Not letting guys do whatever they want.
ML: Once you give a guy an inch, then he takes a foot, then he goes to a yard, and the next thing you know, you're following him. That's the problem. You can't do those things alone. There is going to be other people following along. At what point does it get in the way of winning football games? That's what is important.
Everybody has their way of doing things. In Dallas, they took all the (recreational) stuff out (of the locker room). Here we left it in, but they were warned that if it got in the way one more time, it was done. It was going to be locked, and we didn't have a problem with it. I think people didn't realize that I'll go down through there every day. Not just once. I'll go every day and make sure everybody is where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be. That's what I think my role is. So the other guys can coach.
We're not going to get off on that foot with anybody. Nobody is going to be allowed that leeway from the start and I think that makes a big difference. Everybody will do what everybody is supposed to do all the time.
GH: That's the key to minicamp, right? Setting that tone?
ML: That's the key to everything. To winning football games. One of those things may have made a difference in us winning 10 games. I have to find a way to get us over the hump to win 10 games or whatever it may be. We can't let things get in the way of that happening. **
GH: What are the things that can put you over the hump?**
ML: We have to find a new energy. With Carson and Jon, we have to find a way to do better. That's our key. We've got to find a way to be productive early on. We have to start faster on both sides of the football. We have to create and return kicks. We have to block kicks. We have to change field position returning kicks all the time. I think we're set up to does that better and we've got to be just as consistent covering kicks and causing fumbles.
All the things we didn't do last year consistently, we've got to have, and that's what we're aiming for from the start. We've got to find a way to do something special, something different. We don't get just to line up and be 8-8.
**GH: The key is obviously how Carson plays.
ML: That's only one key. **
GH: Because you started 0-3, are you changing any of your pre-season preparation?**
I think we prepared very hard. I think the shock for our team was the things that we said if they occur, we'll lose, they occurred and we lost, so we'll be able to point to those things better because we found a way to turn those things around later on.
GH: Do you do anything like back off in training camp?**
ML: We were very focused and fresh. Now I don't think when the lights come on we'll be in awe. It was the here-we-go-again syndrome. I think we know how to overcome that. We don't have to fear that anymore. We still have to get over it again this year. We're going to have to get over it.
**GH: You know what it was like walking off the field after the last game of the year, the loss against Cleveland, and the morning after with all the questions. Is this a better team than then?
ML: We've improved ourself in every area. We progressed in our offensive and defensive backfields, we've improved both sides up front, added depth at linebacker. We've done everything we kind of set out to try and do. **
GH: You say you helped yourself in the offensive backfield even though you've traded Corey Dillon. What does Chris Perry give you that Dillon didn't?**
ML: We have a guy who can catch, who will learn how to protect, who knows who to block. He 'll know when to block them, he'll know how to run the right route. He'll know where he 's supposed to be in the running game all the time. Every play won't be the same play. He'll just do what's being asked of him from the coaches and we'll start all of our young guys that way. . .It's a definite upgrade of people who do things the way they're coached to do it. **
GH: Your two second-round guys (Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and Maryland safety Madieu Williams) are guys who have played a lot of different spots.**
ML: They significantly upgraded our speed and significantly upgraded our ability to anticipate and play the football. The secondary is a group we think can develop and become better tacklers, and we think they are two guys that can understand what we want to get done in the back. **
GH: With the draft and the Deltha O'Neal and Dillon trades, people seem to have forgotten this team didn't get Warren Sapp.**
ML: With Warren, we made a decision to go in a different direction at the 11th hour. It worked out great for us. I think we've added three or four players instead one. Obviously, things would have worked out differently down the line if we got Warren, but this way it kept us intact the way it came in and we were able to add 3.5 to four guys. We were able to add our safety (Rogers Beckett) back, add Deltha and (Eagles guard) Bobbie Williams right away and (backup center) Larry Moore. Right away, we were ale to use the cap savings (on Sapp) and spread it out. I think it was a good call to do. It was obviously not the chic thing to do, not the news splash, but down the line it looks like the best option.
I can remember once upon a time when (linebacker) Broderick Thomas went back to Dallas at the last minute (after a free-agent trip to Baltimore), and that led to Tony Siragusa, Mike McCrary and Peter Boulware. Brock Marion the same thing, and that led to Rod Woodson, Kim Herring. I think a lot of things occur that are good for you. **
GH: You've heard the criticism how you guys reached a half or a full round early on some of the first-day draft guys.**
ML: We didn't have guy that we ranked in the first two rounds get drafted in the fourth round. We only had 55 players ranked in the first two rounds.
GH: So how could you reach for guys?
ML: Right. And we didn't have a guy we ranked as a free agent drafted before the fifth round. So I would say I was very comfortable at the end of the draft of saying our people did an outstanding job putting together our draft board.
Everybody has a concern with the running backs. But I would say more than half of the teams had (Perry) ranked as the top running back. That's what the national people don't know. They don't take into consideration the one guy (Steven Jackson) played against New Mexico and against USC he got 12 yards. We're going to rank people the way we evaluate them. I've got a lot of confidence in our people. I've particularly got a lot of confidence in our running backs coach (Jim Anderson) of having a feel for what he thinks is the thing that fits the Cincinnati Bengals best. And that's the important thing. **
GH: You mentioned after the season you were going to get a little more involved in the defense. Did you spend more time there this season after getting your bearings as a head coach?**
ML: Yeah, I think we've gone through and made decisions of the way I want to see things played. I think my point of view of how things should unfold is there. **
GH: Was it a case of everyone learning a new defense on the fly last year?
ML: We were learning the defensive system that we installed with Les (defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier). We had the same thing occur when I was back in Pittsburgh with Dom (Capers) and Bill (Cowher). You try to go through things, and then you get into the season and you do what you do, then you have to come back after the season and decide and evaluate which way you're going to go.
GH: So they've got a clearer picture of what you want after everybody learning on the go last year?
ML: There were differences of how I anticipated things going, I wanted Les to be able to teach the things the way he wanted to teach them and he did. Since we came back, you evaluate just like you do after every season. Just like we did on offense. And there are things we're going to teach differently on offense just like we're going to teach differently on defense.
GH: Was it easier to find that time this year because you had your organization in place?
ML: I had more time because I had the job when we finished the season. We didn't have the advantage of being here last year.