Updated: 1:10 p.m.
LewisPHOENIX, Ariz. — The first time Marvin Lewis met the national media as head coach of the Bengals was here at the Arizona Biltmore four years ago. On Tuesday morning there was a reunion.
But instead of wanting to know if he was going to select USC quarterback Carson Palmer with the overall No. 1 pick, The Associated Press, The New York Times, and USA Today wanted to know Lewis' reaction to the Bengals as the poster children of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's new get-tough player conduct policy.
Lewis told them he welcomed it and that his own policy of taking away playing time could be seen as early as the opener and whether or not cornerback Johnathan Joseph starts. He also said the Bengals can't afford to draft "bargains," those players who are chosen later because of character issues.
In a wide-ranging discussion that consumed an hour at a breakfast of AFC coaches, Lewis also said that David Pollack thinks he can come back from a broken neck if he switches positions, from linebacker to end. But Lewis emphasized that Pollack and his doctors have yet to make a decision on whether he'll play football again, and he doesn't think the position switch would put him at any less risk.
"I don't think it's going to be any different or easy," Lewis said. "He wants to play football until they tell him he can't. There's no timeframe or timeline. I don't have to worry about (a position switch). It's a long way from that."
Lewis also allowed that he sees his team dead last in the preseason predictions for the AFC North and gave an indication of just how far that 2005 division title appears.
"Baltimore won it last year. We're looking up at them. And the Steelers (won) it the year before, right?" Lewis said and when reminded the Bengals nosed out the Steelers in '05 he said, "But they were the Super Bowl champs."
"If it's a (three-team race)," Lewis said, "there are three ahead of us. We're the last team in the division."
Last week Lewis said he's trying to bring to his team that same mindset of his first season in 2003, when the Bengals pulled off the biggest turnaround and went from 2-14 to 8-8. Now the 8-8 in '06 is deadly after that 11-5 North championship.
"We're starting over. Everything is new. We're going to change the way we do things. It's been four years and it hasn't been good enough," said Lewis, who wouldn't offer specifics when his team begins offseason workouts this Monday.
But he does believe the so-called "window" to win it all is open for the Bengals and it will always be there with Palmer.
"I think the window at least has got a door handle and the window is big, too, with Carson," Lewis said. "We're not going to allow the window to close. We're not going to get old. We're going to keep fresh talent and fresh young guys (cycling) through."
But even though the Bengals have ended the last two seasons with three straight losses, Lewis said he's not noticeably changing the Bengals regimen, which is regarded as a hard-changing practice philosophy during the entire season.
"We didn't lose to Pittsburgh because we worked too hard or not hard enough," Lewis said of the overtime loss in the season finale that cost the Bengals a playoff spot. "We lost because we got beat. We've got to mature through things and (handle) it. It's not over until it's over. It's not over in October and November. When we get to that point, we've got to refocus again, say, 'Look, here we are. Let's go.' "
JohnsonThe symbol of the December struggles has been Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson. He led the NFL in receiving yards last season even though in the last three games he had just 10 catches for 122 yards, no touchdowns and at least four drops.
"(If) he wants to lead his team where he wants to lead it," Lewis said, "then he needs to be the player in Week 15, 16, 17 that he was in Weeks 4, 5 and 6."
But the topic of the morning, indeed the day, week and offseason in Bengaldom and all through the NFL is player conduct. Even though a dozen players and coaches in the league have been arrested since Joseph became the ninth and most recent Bengal arrested on Jan. 20 for possession of marijuana, Cincinnati remains the touchstone for bad behavior.
"I don't want to have it," Lewis said. "It's a reaction to really one particular player (wide receiver Chris Henry) that had a bad run of bad, selfish acts," Lewis said. "I don't think it's a fair image for the entire (team).
"Any particular breaking of the law, none of it is good. The only thing that affects this stuff is play time. We've (sat out players), but you get paid, so we have to be able to combine a couple of things together. They have to know it's coming. The action has to be quick and it's going to get you."
Besides a possible suspension of Henry, the biggest fallout for the Bengals is going to be how they draft next month. Lewis acknowledged that the Bengals have a track record of looking the other way on character issues that goes beyond his term as coach.
Drafting a Chad Johnson or Corey Dillon in the second round doesn't look to be an option this April 28-29.
"There's a tendency to buy the bargain and we're not in a position to do that any more," Lewis said. "Mike (Brown) has given those guys a second opportunity. His father made a history of that and so that's what he knows and believes in that guy's (willingness) to take the initiative to further his career and turn a corner in their life and know it's a privilege to play in the NFL and they'll figure it out."
Lewis knows the Bengals may be taking themselves out of a Dillon or Johnson with what he calls "a new approach," which appears to be taking character questions off their draft board completely.
"That can be your choice. It's not a bad choice. There are a lot of good players," Lewis said of taking a player with baggage. "(But) there are too many other (good) guys. You're spending too much time trying to change habits instead of coaching the good guys."
As for sitting down Joseph for the opener like he has sat down Henry twice for games, Lewis wouldn't get specific but it sounded like he was thinking about it.
"That would be a fair thing I think," Lewis said. "That would curtail bad decisions. They're not thinking first and are getting caught up with the wrong crowd sometimes. It all tarnishes the image, the NFL, the team, and the player."