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Line in the sand

Posted: 2:50 p.m.

No one hopes more than Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis that the third time is the charm.

"I haven't gotten this right once before," Lewis said Wednesday when he introduced Mike Zimmer as his third defensive coordinator. "We needed to make a change. We needed to have some fresh life, some new life. I think that's important."

Lewis is asking the 51-year-old Zimmer, a 15-year NFL veteran to give the defense what apparently he didn't get from Leslie Frazier in 2003-2004 and Chuck Bresnahan the past three seasons.

"An identity for our defensive football team," Lewis said.

Lewis hardly dwelled on the past, saying only that the problem with Frazier was "My fault. Leslie's a good football coach," and "Chuck worked his tail off for us."

Lewis, who has known Zimmer since their assistant days in the Big Sky Conference at Idaho State and Weber State, respectively, said that Zimmer has agreed to work with the 4-3 foundation that is already in place.



"Neither one of us wants to reinvent the wheel," Lewis said, leaving open the possibility of a 3-4. "We don't want to have to go back and revisit some things. I think we've been through those points and we're looking forward now."

Zimmer, who has yet to study his new players in-depth, says it won't be entirely his playbook from seven seasons as the coordinator in Dallas and this past year in Atlanta.

"We don't want to take a step backwards in what they have done here," Zimmer said. "Some of the things I'm going to have to learn. Different terminology. We all play a lot of similar things anyway ... as far as getting down (to my style) technique that I believe in that you have to get done and taught the right way."

Zimmer, retained by Bill Parcells when the defensive czar came to Dallas in 2003, earned a reputation for being his own man despite the star power as head coach. But he's also used to working with a defensive head man. He doesn't expect Lewis to leave him alone.

"I don't think any head coach will just go ahead and (let you) do what you want to do, especially if they have expertise on that side of the ball," Zimmer said. "And I would want him to. I want the input and understand exactly what they want because, in the end, I'm working for him and I'm trying to do what's best for the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I think you have to look at the overall picture and the overall picture might be you have to get the ball back for the offense. Or the overall picture might be bend but don't break. Or blitz every down. It's a lot of things."



During 13 seasons as the coordinator or secondary coach in Dallas, the Cowboys went to the playoffs six times and Zimmer earned a reputation as an emotional stickler. He admitted Wednesday that he's a yeller.

"You have to coach tough to be tough," he said. "You have to have that mentality that, 'This is the line in the sand and not letting guys cross it.' I'm an aggressive coach and I think most of the players would say I'm a tough coach. Most of the time you play like you coach."

After Zimmer's first year as coordinator in Dallas in 2000, when Cowboys were dead last against the run, his line got ripped for playing as if it were on sand. Zimmer spent the spring visiting coaches he respected and spent a lot of time talking to Lewis in Baltimore.

"I was specifically going in there to talk about the running game and how we could work on the eight-man run fits and quite a lot of technical things," Zimmer said. "I tried to take everything that he said and use it as much as we could, and we did and things got better from there on."

In '01 the Cowboys literally turned the numbers from 31 to 13 against the run and fourth overall in the league and it became a key year in the way Zimmer viewed the NFL. He had few stars, but just a bunch of guys that did what they were told.

He and his unit took a lot of heat after the '00 debacle and he can relate a bit to the heat the Bengals defense takes, whether justified or not at times.

"I've been in situations before when you're on the side of the ball that's kind of getting kicked around all the time," he said. "If you've got a little success early, then a lot of things can change. We'll keep trying to build them up, tell them what we expect and how we can change the culture and fix this and fix that. It was like that my first year as coordinator in Dallas. They said we weren't very good on defense and from that point on, we were pretty good."

Lewis is hoping he'll say the same thing after this visit.

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