7-28-03, 5:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Two weeks before their first game in the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals gathered as a team to open training camp and dared talk about their new coach's goal.
Winning the Super Bowl.
"Around here, that's big news to say that," said right tackle Willie Anderson as he checked into his eighth Bengals' camp. "Make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. But every other team in the league talks it. From management on down. . .But we don't think like that. We never thought like that."
Quarterback Jon Kitna even uttered the unthinkable Sunday when asked if 8-8 would be a good season for a team that hasn't done that since 1996.
"That's unacceptable," Kitna said. "No one just wants to try and be OK."
As linebackers coach Ricky Hunley said, the players "have bought into," what Lewis has been selling since he took the job 191 days before his first training camp practice. The idea is not just to get by.
"The work we put in , we know how much work we've put in by the end of training camp, that we can come out and have the audacity to say, 'You know, we're going to compete, make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl,"' Anderson said. "That's why I like Marvin. He has the (guts) to say it."
They begin to find out how hard they'll work on Monday, when Lewis unveils the regimen they will pretty much follow here at Georgetown College, otherwise known as Camp Lewiston, for the next 24 days. They will have a two-hour-plus morning workout in pads, followed by a 90-minute full-speed workout without pads in the afternoon. Now the question is if a team used to just one practice and one walk through a day in the past several camps can adjust to a more frantic pace.
"We have no choice," said defensive end Justin Smith, who seems to have a pretty good feel for his coach. "He's all business. That's what he's all about, He knows where he's going. He knows how to go get there. If you're going to help him get there, fine. If not, he doesn't want to see you around."
Lewis wants to see Oliver Gibson around. But maybe not as much at first as, say, Gibson might like. Gibson, the defensive tackle who was the linchpin of the Bengals' line, before he suffered a torn Achilles' tendon last year in a Nov. 10 game in Baltimore and has been itching to get back on the field. Lewis is saying he wants him to take it slow and Gibson wants to come out of the box right away.
But Gibson knows who is the boss.
"Definitely," said Gibson when asked if Lewis is the right man for the job. "I'm not saying any knock against the former coaches, especially Coach (Tim) Krumrie and Coach (Dick) LeBeau, but I think that they were pro player coaches and, unfortunately, we've been down for so long, a lot of times we didn't know what it was like to follow through and do the things we were supposed to.
"But Marvin is incredibly meticulous," Gibson said. "Whether you like it or not, sometimes it is irritating, but that's his coaching style. I'm optimistic."
Of course, everyone was optimistic a year ago here. Heck, at their last Georgetown team meeting here in '02, they were 2-0 in preseason. But Kitna says the this Era of Good Feelings is legit.
"We're a lot further along than we were last year," Kitna said. "I think everyone is in better shape, we're feeling better. What's more important is that the attitude of the team. Everybody expects different things to come."
Kitna says the Bengals could still lose Opening Day, or start 0-2, and still go better than 8-8. But he also emphasized the importance of a quick start after last year's 0-7 opening run.
"The recent past has shown how teams can change it around quickly in this league, and I think the direction Marvin has us going, 8-8 wouldn't be acceptable."
Lewis, the first Bengals' head coach to coach on a Super Bowl winner since Sam Wyche, has been trying to tell his team how sweet winning feels.
"To get the chance to look around the room and look at each other," Lewis said, "and understand what a great thing and what a great ride it is."
Anderson isn't convinced that two-a-days is the magic formula, noting that perennial winners like the 49ers and Broncos are known for rarely wearing pads during the season. But if it attacks perception, he's all for it.
"We thought we were practicing hard, but people said some guys were standing around for a long time and not doing enough. People on the radio were talking about it" Anderson said. "That gives them one less thing to talk about.
"How does Denver never go in pads and win every year?" he asked. "The 49ers keep doing it. It's coaching, and preparing your players and players being (in shape) from the offseason up to now."
It's what the Bengals hope they get from Lewis. Starting Monday.