3-21-03, 5:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
In a way, Monday is the first day of the rest of Marvin Lewis' coaching tenure in Cincinnati.
It's the first day of voluntary workouts in his regime, and his players' first brush with the Lewis style. They won't see him because he'll be 3,000 miles away at his first NFL meeting in Phoenix, but his strength and conditioning staff is going to make sure his presence is bench-pressed into the players' minds.
The working guess is that 30 to 35 players are going to show Monday, unheard of for a team that for years has had a hard time getting five to ten players here on a good day in March. Word is that attendees are to include players such as the new dean of the defense, linebacker Brian Simmons, to a guy who doesn't know if he'll be here after June 1 in quarterback Akili Smith.
"I'll be there at 5 a.m. if they want me," said wide receiver Chad Johnson.
Johnson won't have to be here so early. There are three lifting sessions, starting at 8 a.m. and running through noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. There are two running sessions Tuesday and Thursday, which is the kind of flexibility the players have sought.
"It's hard to understand," Simmons said, "why everybody wouldn't be here."
The players' first venture into "Lewistown," is to come in the overhauled weight room of Chip Morton and assistant Kurtis Shultz. Bengals President Mike Brown signed off on a transforming $250,000 renovation, and the gleaming inventory runs from more than 50 new
pieces with matching black-and-orange pads, to customized dumb bells complete with the Bengals' logo, to new lights, to mirrors, to Morton's wall-to-wall quote of "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
"It looks good," Simmons said. "I think it's going to be a place guys want to be in, and the stuff we're doing is going to have guys excited about going there to work out and feel good about what they're doing."
With the departure of Takeo Spikes, Simmons and cornerback Artrell Hawkins have started on this defense the longest. With center Rich Braham unsigned, right tackle Willie Anderson is the senior Bengal and he'll do something he hasn't done in his seven years and work out here starting Monday.
"It's going to be hard for some guys to get used to because it just hasn't been asked of us in the past," Anderson said. "It hasn't been expected of us. It's a change for lot of guys. Especially guys from the West Coast. Players have been used to letting their apartments or houses run out until they have to be back in May."
Anderson, who in past years has used a personal trainer in Atlanta that the club monitored, isn't sure how many players will show the first few weeks simply because it's new. But he thinks it's a good idea for everybody to get here at some point.
"He sounds like a wild man, he sounds like he's ready to go and that's great," said Anderson of his phone conversation with Morton. "I know everybody can't make it every day, but I feel like I've got to go early on to show guys that it is needed."
Defensive end Justin Smith, a legend in the University of Missouri weight room, has been waiting for Monday for a long time.
"I think we need to concentrate more on training than football, anyway," Smith said.
Lewis is on record saying he's not looking for every player to be at every workout, but he indicated he wants players to be at several of "the segments." For instance, quarterback Jon Kitna and cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn probably won't be here for the first week because of family obligations.
"You understand why some guys won't get here," Simmons said. "But we should average close to 100 percent every week."
CARSON SUMMIT: NFL.com confirmed Friday that the Bengals held a private workout with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in Los Angeles. The report said the USC quarterback threw to two of his college teammates, as well as Bengals wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer during the hour-long session.
The Bengals' contingent reportedly included head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, as well as club executives Katie and Troy Blackburn. Lewis had no comment on the workout as he prepared to hop over to Phoenix to attend his first NFL meetings as a head coach.
But Houshmandzadeh offered an endorsement of Palmer.
"I'm no coach, but he looked good to me," Houshmandzadeh said. "He threw the ball on the money. His arm is no problem at all. He made all kinds of throws and he was able to get the ball out there on the deep ball. He's a big guy (6-6, 235 pounds). Kind of like a tight end out there."
Houshmandzadeh estimated Palmer threw between 70 and 80 balls, and threw every route in the Bengals' playbook: Slants, outs, curls, come-backs, skinny posts, deep fades.
"And he made all the throws on the timing patterns and that wasn't easy because everyone was running at different speeds," Houshmandzadeh said.
The Bengals have been all over Palmer the past week. Bratkowski and Zampese met with him for three-and-a-half hours the night before USC's pro day last week. The coaches also took him to dinner this past Thursday night before Friday's workout.
It was Houshmandzadeh's first meeting with Lewis and the impression was made.
"I thought Coach Lewis was real cool, real smooth, but I could just imagine how that's going to change when we get on the practice field," Houshmandzadeh said. "You know he's going to make big changes, but I got more of a sense of that from talking to Brat and Troy. They've been there, and so have I."
Houshmandzadeh can't wait to get here Sunday for the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday. Fellow wideouts Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick are also expected.
NO MADNESS:** You'll have to excuse Kurtis Shultz if his mind has wandered a bit this week.
It's the first time in four years he hasn't had the best seat in the house for the NCAA Tournament. As the University of Maryland basketball strength coach, Shultz stretched out the Terrapins the hour before they beat Indiana last year for the national title and had to fend off CBS as it hunted around for some shining moments.
"I'm out there trying to get these guys ready and (sideline reporter) Bonnie Bernstein is asking me for some news," Shultz reminisced this week. "She went to Maryland when I was there, but I had to tell her, 'Hey, we're getting ready. I can't talk to you."'
Shultz, now the Bengals assistant strength coach, helped get the Terps ready enough to go to the last two Final Fours. Ready enough that they say he is missed for this trip, which opens Friday night in Nashville as Maryland takes on UNC Wilmington. Looming is Sunday's projected matchup against Xavier, from Shultz's new home of Cincinnati.
"Kurtis is the guy who helped our guards play so strong and with confidence," said Maryland assistant coach Dave Dickerson. "He got them stronger and he knew what was needed
because he knows what sets we run and how we run them and what is asked on defense. To have a guy so knowledgeable of the program was a tremendous edge for us."
That's because the 6-6, 290-pound Shultz, 31, played four years for head coach Gary Williams about 60 pounds ago in the early 1990s. Reconstructive ankle surgery, as well as playing behind future NBA players Joe Smith and Keith Booth, limited his time. But he was good enough to come out of Morgan Wooten's Washington D.C. basketball factory at DeMatha High School, and to play in two Sweet 16 appearances. But he's best remembered in College Park for chiseling Juan Dixon into his MVP run last year and NBA debut this year, as well as preparing current Terp guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas for the tournament rigors.
"My thing with Juan was that everybody was saying he needed to get bigger. No. He needed to get stronger," Shultz said. "When he got there, he couldn't bench 135 pounds, but at the end he was doing 205 pounds. You do a lot of shoulder work in basketball and he could swing about 70 pounds around his head, which is tremendous for a guy that size."
By the time the tourney came around, Shultz's job had been done for a long time. It was during the summer and fall that Shultz did things like whittle Lonnie Baxter's body fat from 22 to 12 percent in boning him up for a second-round selection in the NBA Draft.
"With the way Coach Williams plays, you don't want big bulky guys," Shultz said. "You want guys that can move. He presses all the time. Full court. Half court. All the time."
Since Shultz's work was done, his job during games was to make sure the half-time stats were right. That, and to sweat. During last year's nail-biter in the regional final against Connecticut, he figured he left the bench to go to the bathroom six times because of nerves.
He got a little nostalgic a few days ago watching TV when he saw a promo for The Madness. They showed the Maryland huddle and Shultz caught himself on the corner of the screen.
"Total chaos. You never know what's going to happen in the NCAAs," he said. "You'd go into the huddle and you wouldn't hear anything. Just the guys. Then you'd break the huddle and the noise from the crowd was unbelievable. But we were so focused, you didn't hear anything in the huddle."
Shultz is extremely worried about Xavier big man David West and thinks the shooting of the Musketeers' guards is going to hold the key to the game. But he also has faith in his guys who are going to be trying to shut them down, Blake and Nicholas.
But he would rather be here, watching it from his Hyde Park apartment. He knows the NFL equivalent of March Madness is something called Super Bowl Week.
"I'd much rather be here," Shultz said. "(Because) of where we go if we get to where we want to go."