Updated: 4:55 p.m.
What Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hopes is another sign that his second division champion is more emotionally equipped to defend than his first came through silent and clear Monday when he welcomed back the Bengals for offseason workouts at Paul Brown Stadium.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who challenged his teammates last year at the Monday morning meeting with "Seize the moment," felt like he didn't have to say anything this day. And strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton didn't have to change very much "because it was like we'd only been gone a couple of days," he said. "They got right back into it. That's what good teams do; keep the consistency."
"Marvin (Lewis) came in and set the tone," said Palmer, who vows this team is more mature than the team that defended the last division title. "We're ready to roll."
"This team has come a long way down through the years," said Morton, in his eighth season with the Bengals and first with new assistant Jeff Friday. "As far as attitude and approaching work, we've got fewer people pulling at the fabric. Last year we had to grow leaders and they had success fitting into that role. The Andrew Whitworths and the Leon Halls, those guys. You always had that older core, the Chris Crockers, Roy Williams, but the middle group came into their own. They're not going to let things get too out of whack."
Morton's associate for the past six seasons, Ray "Rock" Oliver, moved to head the program at the University of Kentucky earlier this month and Morton has turned to Friday, his old boss with the Ravens. Last year the Bengals' regimen returned to a simpler, more fundamental approach with basic lifts and flexibility.
"This year we're looking to refine it a little more so we can keep improving," Morton said. "Keep the basics and build off those. We're going to refine the squat, refine the different movements, refine some of the different preparations."
With three different groups working Monday through Thursday (Friday is a makeup day), Morton is looking to keep the same competitive streak alive that marked last year's session. The offense and defensive linemen are the early group, followed by linebackers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks and specialists. The wide receivers and defensive backs are last.
"Bigs, mediums and fasts," Morton said.
No word yet if the Bengals will end it with the Olympic format like last year, which ended with the controversial tug-of-war and featured linemen firing up basketball three-pointers.
"A little early for that yet," Morton said.
ON A ROLL CALL: It looked like a good 90 percent of the stools in front of the lockers were in use during Monday's opening day. The Bengals don't give out attendance figures and some guys who have lockers are still free agents and not here, such as right guard Bobbie Williams and tight end Reggie Kelly, the two guys that, in the end, the club would like to get back.
Lewis has been sounding like he expects Williams to sign at any point, but the two sides are still in contract talks.
"I think things will continue to work out as they normally do; hopefully things will work out," Lewis said.
Two guys that Palmer hope are here soon are Williams and Kelly. Both are 33-year-old free agents that have meant a lot to this team on the field and in the locker room and while they don't have deals, their nameplates are still above their lockers. Palmer has lockered next to Kelly for five years, a stretch he has bounced all subjects off him ranging from "life, fatherhood, football, whatever it may be."
And Williams has been his only right guard. Palmer calls the return of Williams and Kelly "extremely important."
"Everybody knows Bobbie is a significant player for this team and has been for a long time," Palmer said. "He's a great leader, a great worker. He's a great example to young guys and he can still flat out play. He can flat move people. He was a big reason for the success we had in the running game and the year Cedric (Benson) had.
"Reggie is the same type of guy. A staple in the locker room where young guys go to with questions."
REY 'NEW MAN': After a monthlong stay at the Center for Drug and Alcohol Counseling in Charleston, S.C., SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga says "You're looking at a different man."
Maualuga sought help after a January DUI charge ended a solid rookie season on a downer.
"It was a life-changer for me," Maualuga said. "It was an eye-opening experience and blessing in disguise. I found out a lot about myself that I didn't know. I was able to sit back and listen to people's stories and they gave me good feedback about mine. But I needed to show it with my actions."
Before he broke his lower leg in the next to last game of the season, Maualuga had started every game and racked up 80 tackles. But he wants to come up with more than one interception and two forced fumbles.
"Give my body the attention it deserves, the mind, expand it with more knowledge," he said. "I took everything lightly. I was just going with the steps. Just doing what I was supposed to do. This is a different year. It's my year."
Maualuga is hoping his year starts on the first snap of OTAs in May, but he's not sure of the timetable for his rehab since he's taking "a day-to-day approach."
FAMILIAR RING: Andre Caldwell got turned on to boxing by fellow receiver Chad Ochocinco and has spent the offseason training in a gym in his hometown of Tampa, Fla.
"I do everything but get in the ring," he said.
RE-UP: In order to work out, you have to sign up and the Bengals signed four players Monday that they had exclusive rights to and one resticted free agent in backup middle linebacker Abdul Hodge. Hodge, a fifth-year player, played in every game last season and finished fourth on special teams with 11 tackles. Hodge, a third-round pick of Green Bay in '06, was most likely tendered $1.2 million.
The four exclusives were safety and special teams captain Kyries Hebert and No. 3 quarterback Jordan Palmer, as well as offensive linemen Nate Livings and Dennis Roland. Livings had nine starts at left guard and Roland had 12 at right tackle.