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Marvin Gardens opens for spring fling

Posted: 4 p.m.



As Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis prepares to welcome the defending AFC North champs to their mandatory spring workout that opens Thursday morning, closes Saturday morning, and encompasses five practices at Paul Brown Stadium, he sat down to talk about his team with Geoff Hobson of

GH: In the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's accident, the league and the fans are talking about player safety. How do you come down on it? ML:
Guys have to be careful about their profession.

GH: Do any Bengals have clauses in their contracts precluding them from doing dangerous activities? ML:
Everybody has that in their (standard) contract regarding an injury not related to football.

GH: What do you tell your guys about (off-field) activities? ML:
Guys know that they have to be in charge of their own corporation. Their health is important. That's how they make their living, so that's important.

GH: Do you talk to them specifically about motorcycles? ML:
No. They should be safe all the time.

GH: As you head into this mandatory minicamp, there should be a sense of euphoria since the Bengals are the defending AFC North champions. But the offseason that started with Carson Palmer's knee injury has had more news than last year's playoff run. There is a sense from fans, "Can it get back on track?" ML:
We've never been off track. Go play football. What we did last year doesn't matter anyway. We start over.

GH: Have you spun it for your guys in a certain way? ML:
Our guys understand that we play football.

GH: In the past, you've said you start every season at zero. Are you less than zero now because you don't have your quarterback? ML:
What do you mean we don't have our quarterback?

GH: Well, Carson's not cleared yet ... ML:
The quarterback is going to be fine. It doesn't matter who we play with, we'll be fine.

GH: Besides Carson, your top two running backs, Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry, have yet to be able to practice, although Rudi should be able to see some time this weekend. ML:
They're doing really well. We should have, hopefully, everybody ready to go come training camp (on July 29).

GH: Will Carson be cleared for camp? ML:
Carson clears himself every day. The only thing that matters is what Carson feels. We're not holding back Carson. It's up to Carson. When he's ready to go, he's ready to go. Every day they have a program ready for him based on how he feels. They've never had to back off one time. Every day he answers the bell. They continue to progress with him from one day to the next and he accepts the challenge every day and does fine. He was injured, he's recovering and he'll be fine.

GH: So someone will come to you and tell you when he's ready for camp? ML:
Carson will tell me when he's ready. Every day, he's been ready.

GH: Chemistry-wise, is this a different team? ML:
Every team is different, but I think our team this year is a more confident team. They're excited to play, they know their strengths and limitations.

GH: It's been in the fire of a playoff run, it has suffered a big loss at home in the playoffs, it's been through serious adversity. Has that made them tougher mentally? ML:
They answer every time we ask them to do something. They just go do it, and that what's good.

GH: After last season, you talked about how this team could no longer melt down in big games. ML:
It will be important that we play well in big games and we get a chance to prove that in the next 16 games.

GH: The character question has dominated the past few weeks (since the recent arrests of Chris Henry and A.J. Nicholson). Some of the criticism says the Bengals don't have enough scouts to get the correct information about character. ML:
We have plenty of scouts. I'm very happy with our college scouting staff and the work they do. That has nothing to do with it. These decisions that have been made to draft these guys where we drafted them, these things had not come up basically in their past that way.

Whether they're guilty or not, there has been an error in judgment on their part. Sometimes there is guilt by association. In my mind that comes with that a little bit. The way the league works, it has to be played out a little bit. See what happens. We were well aware of their backgrounds and all their incidents.

GH: So even if you had a bunch of West Coast scouts, you still would have had the same information? ML:
Everybody has the same information. We just don't have four (scouts) falling over each at a school the same day, which is fine and I'm fine with that. I'm pleased with the information that I have. Nobody has any different information than what our guys gather.

I think they work very hard at what they do. They may cover more territory. That means they really sacrifice more and so they're more devoted to their job, and I think that is something that is special. They bust their tails. It's not 15 (scouts), but it easily covers the country and provides the right information for our coaches to begin to do their film evaluation and things they're involved in. And provide enough information for me and (Bengals president Mike Brown) to make the final decision.

Mike is willing to give some guys a second chance. And I think that speaks volumes. He's been in the NFL a long time and he's not afraid to give a guy a second chance. And each guy is evaluated on that. They're not lumped into one situation or one thing. Each case is looked at and heard independently, and then he makes the final judgment on whether or not he's willing to take that risk.

GH: Do you have to change your philosophy; just don't take guys who have had problems? ML:
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. At some point we're probably going to ... but you never know. Anybody can have some of these things brought against them that have been brought against these guys.

Obviously, when a guy has multiple things, then there are things he's not getting right or understanding it. But anybody can level charges against anybody.

It doesn't affect our football team. These guys are very, very minor parts of our football team. We have enough skins on the wall, enough guys with substance to them that these guys don't affect them or what they're doing.

GH: You've taken a lot of heat over this. Are you surprised at how quickly the wind changes? ML:
I've taken no heat. There's only one person that can give me heat.

GH: You've been criticized ... ML:
Criticized by who? The same people who turn around and criticize somebody else the next day over something else? The same people criticizing are the same people that are giving us the pat on the back for how well we've done. They're fickle and they're cynical, and that's the way they are.

GH: You could decide to just red-flag those guys (in the draft). ML:
You can if you want.

GH: Would you do that? ML:
I'm not going to comment on what we're going to do.

GH: Nicholson had multiple stuff before the draft, right? ML:
He pleaded to a drunk-driving charge. That's all he's had. He had a girl in his room after curfew and he was wrong and he paid a heavy price (sent home from a bowl game and he was threatened with a sexual assault charge that never materialized). He made a big error in judgment. There are rules for a reason. Just like there are rules here.

GH: How is Henry's health? ML:
Chris is still bothered by his (sprained) knee, but by the time we open training camp he should be ready to go.

GH: Are you surprised that's still lingering (from the last game)? ML:
Well, he's got some things in there that don't need surgery, but you have to give it time to heal.

GH: I guess it's a PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), which can be bad. ML:
That's kind of his business.

GH: We won't see him this weekend? ML:
Probably not.

GH: Some of the other young wideouts have looked good. ML:
They've done really well. Reggie (McNeal) has been hampered by a sore groin (he should be back for the weekend), but Bennie Brazell has been outstanding. P.K. Sam, prior to him being injured, was doing well. Kelley (Washington) has come back and played outstanding. Antonio Chatman has done great. We're better than we were.

GH: Are you better on defense? ML:
If we improve our tackling, we'll be a better defensive team. If we don't give up big plays, we'll be a better defensive team. If we make more first downs on offense, we'll be a better defensive team.

GH: You basically pick up three new guys in tackle Sam Adams and safeties Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson. ML:
Three new guys that are competing for jobs, which is good for the other guys and adds some veteran presence. Two of the guys (Adams and Jackson) have won Super Bowls, so that's a good thing.

GH: They should add to that veteran-ship that gives stability. Plus, (backup quarterback) Anthony Wright started in a playoff run. ML:
All the guys we've added have been to the playoffs and they come in here with something to prove. And that's good.

GH: Any rookies stand out to you? ML:
I've been pleased with all of the rookies. You just have to get into playing games in the preseason when playing with pads, when things matter a little more. People get a false sense of euphoria on paper or in shorts. It doesn't matter. The NFL is played on Sunday.

GH: Should we get excited about this weekend, then, since it's not in pads? ML:
It's always exciting every time we hit the practice field.

GH: What can you tell without pads? ML:
You can tell what guys are learning, their jobs, their assignments. That's all we can do right now is learn what we're supposed to do and how we do it, then you have to apply it when it becomes live football.

GH: With Deltha O'Neal recovering from a knee scope, plenty of guys have gotten a look at the cornerback spot opposite Tory James. How has first-round pick Johnathan Joseph played? ML:
Jonathan has been outstanding. You've seen the things why we drafted him. He has the talent to be an outstanding corner in the NFL.

GH: Does he have a shot to be third corner? ML:
He should be competing for the first corner. You don't draft a guy to sit on the bench.

GH: Who would have believed a week ago that the Ravens would have the most stable quarterback situation in the division? How do you think the addition of Steve McNair helps the Ravens? ML:
That's their team.

GH: How does McNair going to Baltimore affect the division? ML:
That's their team.

GH: How do you see the division? ML:
We're all chasing Pittsburgh. We're all trying to beat the world champions.

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