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Not easy in the Big Easy

Marvin Lewis

Updated: 8:50 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS - With NFL officialdom gathering for the first time since the lockout descended Sunday here at the league's annual meetings, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis admitted it hasn't gotten "weird" yet.

But it will.

"It will get weird on Monday; Monday probably would have been the start of our offseason program," Lewis said before the meetings start Monday. "We haven't been affected yet. But after Monday we become affected."

Lewis, a member of the NFL competition committee, has used the group's light agenda to make more campus visits than usual to scout Pro Days. But he says it's not because they're looking at the most important position on the field.

"We look for quarterbacks all the time," he said. "Every year we evaluate quarterbacks, so it's no different. It's just the way the schedule has worked out."

But even though there are only five new rule proposals and/or modifications and points of emphasis, there are two major changes scheduled to be voted on by the owners this week. One is a massive renovation of the kickoff and the other stipulates that all scoring plays will be reviewed.

Lewis jokingly wondered Sunday if the same thing happens this week on the kickoff vote that happened last year, when the coaches were irked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pushed through the postseason overtime rule during the coaches' annual golf outing.

Like the OT rule, it is believed many coaches don't like the drastic changes of kicking the ball off from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, defenders prevented from getting a 15-yard head start, and touchbacks starting at the 25 instead of the 20 in a modification that curtails kick returns.

There is no golf outing this year at a meeting devoid of the usual resort/vacation feel, but …

"I think they're probably looking for a course right now for us," Lewis joked. "Send us to the zoo or something."

But Lewis understands the safety concerns that spawned the proposal from the powers that be.

"Everybody has concerns one way or the other," Lewis said. "If you've got an investment in a returner whether financially or draft pick-wise, I think you've got some concerns. If you've got a kicker that's a cut above, are we making the average guy better? I think the ultimate goal though, the charge has been, what is important. That this is the betterment of the game from an injury standpoint. That may put weight on how those clubs feel."

Like he does with all the rule proposals, Lewis consults with Bengals president Mike Brown before Brown votes. Both understand the need for more player safety, but the proposal may be too drastic for them to vote for it, although Lewis didn't tip his hand if he's for it or not. The Bengals went against OT last year. And now that some teams are even talking about abolishing kick returns, this just may be too radical.

"One person even made the statement if you were starting the game of football and inventing it would you have that play in it because of the injuries that can occur," Lewis said. "It starts at all levels and works its way through. It is an exciting play though I think it is something we would like to modify a little bit and keep it in the game. 

"We're asked to do drastic work and I think that's the directive that came through the office in New York that this is something we want to look at seriously and it may take a drastic change to affect it a little bit." 

Lewis said the balancing act is designed to slow down both returns and coverage. 

"It may do a little bit of both. We're going to slow down the guys covering a little bit and I think we're trying to do that. It's a combination," he said.

Part of the rule stipulating every scoring play gets reviewed in the booth is that it takes away a coach's third challenge if his first two were upheld. But Lewis thinks that will help even it up for the road team that is at a disadvantage because of how quickly they can see the review.

"Seventeen percent over the last four years have been on scoring plays," Lewis said of replay challenges. "The three challenges only 24 times in four years and they were executed three times and we were 0-for-3. The system is not used very often. It really is kind of a non-issue. This takes the challenge flag out of the coaches' hand on scoring plays and takes away the inequity on the road. We were trying to look at ways to make it more equitable for road teams. 

"This is one of the ways. Without mandating what you have to do as the home stadium and take away from what you might be doing whether it is advertising on your replay boards this is one method as an important play in a game to try and give some equity to the away squad."

Also Sunday, Lewis said:

  • The Bengals are prepared for free agency starting at any moment, although it appears nothing is going to happen until the April 6 hearing on an injunction lockout. He did say their priorities are re-signing their own instead of signing others with the top three targets believed to be cornerback Johnathan Joseph, running back Cedric Benson, and defensive lineman Jon Fanene.

"We have to be prepared to go kick off at any point. Everything could change April 6 or 7," he said. "We don't know that. At least I don't know that. I don't know if we'll pounce. Number one, the important thing, when things open back up is to get our guys. Whatever is going to happen to our guys that are potential free agents, whether it's them having an opportunity to test the market, come back and say, 'Here it is. Let's go.' However it transpires, that's the priority.

  • He doesn't know if the Bengals will stay at No. 4 in the April 28 first round of the NFL Draft or if they'll trade up into late in the first round to get two first-rounders. But he does think there'll be more trades on draft day if there hasn't been free agency. Lewis said the Bengals probably won't know until they're on the clock.

"I think we have to see what happens on the day. I don't think any team knows," Lewis said. "Particularly because you can't trade a veteran player. I don't see why teams would necessarily move around too much right now, but I do think it will be a draft where people will move if it does come before free agency. It may be a draft that has a lot of movement."

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