3-23-04, 5:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Before he unveiled the Bengals' new logo Monday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis unveiled to his team his first and most important theme of the 2004 preseason on the first day of off-season workouts. Hopefully, it's more popular with the players than the logo is with the fans.
"You don't start out where you left off last season. We're not 8-8. We're 0-0."
That may be the best therapy for a team coming off the Warren Sapp miss in free agency. While Sapp, his agent, and Lewis insist it was all very real Friday night, the Bengals locker room never bought it.
In fact, Sapp stopped just short Monday of saying the Bengals pulled the proposal on Friday. But he did say they fudged it enough at the end that he felt like it was taken away from him: "They played with it a little bit. Played with this, played with that. Just made it an uncomfortable situation.
"It was real close with Cincinnati. It was just one of those deals that I didn't feel good about," Sapp said at his introductory news conference in Oakland. "I woke up the next morning, and Al Davis was on the line. ... I've always admired him from afar. His style speaks for himself. He's as smooth as all outdoors."
"You've got to play with what you've got. Plus a lot of guys, not just players, a lot of you guys (the media) knew that might have been a ploy to get a bigger contract. I'm not for sure," said Bengals safety Kim Herring. "I don't celebrate until the name is on the bottom line. Can't feel bad about it. We don't know what would have happened."
Lewis, who dearly wanted Sapp for psychological as well as game-plan reasons, continued to zip any frustration.
"We did what we felt was prudent for us to do as an organization," Lewis said. "It takes two to agree. It's a disappointment, but it's not the end of the world . . .I don't think there was any point they used us as leverage at all. There was sincere interest in getting it done. We just failed to meet at that point."
Lewis had no comment on running back Corey Dillon's bashing of the head coach and right tackle Willie Anderson last week on national TV, but he did.
"Did he say anything that surprised you?" Lewis asked when he said he had no reaction. "I really don't think Willie took much offense of it. I don't think he did anything that surprised you or the people in Cincinnati. (Or) anyone around the NFL that (has) followed him."
Lewis said Dillon's possible violation of the club's loyalty clause, "has not been discussed with anybody at any point."
Lewis said the club's new uniforms are going to debut April 22 and are "predicated more on movement, speed, and energy." Lewis said it's more than a subtle change, but not radical. But all indications are the striped helmet is staying the same.
FREE-AGENT CHASE:** The Bengals figure to be active for a right guard as well as a free safety in free agency now with no impact cornerbacks left. One of the agents for Eagles guard Bobbie Williams said his client is ready to sign, but is waiting to hear back from the club. Meanwhile, he is to visit Buffalo Wednesday, where he is expected to get an offer.
CH-CHANGES:** You think there were a lot of changes in Lewis' first season last year? There may be more roster turnover in '04. At least that's where it's headed. When about 45 Bengals showed up for workouts Monday, there were 12 guys on the roster
at the end of last season 85 days ago who weren't here because they either want out (running back Corey Dillon), went to new teams (guards Mike Goff and Matt O'Dwyer, safety Mark Roman, running back Brandon Bennett), or got released (cornerbacks Artrell Hawkins and Jeff Burris and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson), or are unrestricted free agents (safety Rogers Beckett, quarterback Shane Matthews, defensive tackle Glen Steele, linebacker Riall Johnson).
Some are probably going to re-sign, but remember this. By Cutdown Day a week before last year's opener, Lewis had cut 17 players from the 2002 Opening Day roster. Cutdown Day '04 is still more than five months away.
The Bengals open their pre-season schedule on the road at Tampa Bay the week of Aug. 12-16 before opening up their home schedule Aug. 19-23 against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. The fixed dates are to be announced later, as will the regular-season schedule. The Bengals go on the road at Atlanta Aug. 26-30 before ending the preseason at home against Indianapolis Labor Day weekend.
The team's new primary logo, designed at NFL Properties, is a block-lettered "B" filled in with black and orange stripes. The leaping tiger had been the primary logo since 1997, and will still be used in a secondary role, as will the tiger head.
From 1981-96, the Bengals' primary logo had been the striped helmet that was introduced along with new uniforms before the '81 Super Bowl season. From 1970-80 the logo was the team's original helmet with the block-lettered "Bengals," on the side. The team's first logo from 1967-69 was a running tiger with a football under its right arm and a white helmet with a tiger logo painted on the side flying off the tiger's head.
The roster changes represent Lewis bid to break from the past, not the logo: "It's just another mark for us."