Marvin Lewis is doing two things he's never done in 16 openers as Bengals head coach and that's going with a rookie safety and two offensive linemen making their first NFL starts. You can't even get to rookie center Billy Price and second-year right guard Alex Redmond before he starts praising second-rounder Jessie Bates, the club's first Opening Day starting rookie safety since Tremain Mack 21 years ago.
"It doesn't matter what position. He'll play the way we expect him to play," Lewis said after Friday's walk through. "He started one game (in the preseason). That's why the moves were made. To give him the opportunity to start and not hurt anybody's feelings."
Bates got the nod against Buffalo after the Bengals released George Iloka, the starter the last five openers.
The Bengals have never really viewed Price as a rookie. They see him as battle-tested as they come after a school-record 55 starts for the always-under-the-microscope Buckeyes of Ohio State. Redmond is also far from a neophyte. He grew up in a big-time program at UCLA and has been around here for three years grinding his way up from the ground up twice under two position coaches.
"He's worked his butt off for this moment," Price said. "People don't know Redmond now. They'll know him Sunday."
Price is excited. Not nervous. His first college start came on an NFL field when the Buckeyes played Navy in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium. Everyone but left guard Clint Boling is new on this line that allowed five sacks in last year's opener. Go back to the 2016 opener and the seven sacks in the win against the Jets and they're looking for a much cleaner start with new line coach Frank Pollack's scheme, technique and personnel.
"The key is being on the same page and making sure we're communicating. I was just talking about that with Bobby," said Price of right tackle Bobby Hart. "Make sure everyone is on the same page. Make the call. Echo the call. Make the call. Then everybody goes execute. Then do it again. Do it again. Do it again. In the NFL, you can't have a bad play. A mental lapse is what gives you a sack or a fumble or somebody is unblocked. It's all about communication."
If it sounds like Price is a soothing force it's because he is. He and Redmond make for a unique tag team because Redmond's energy and passion can sometimes get him into trouble. And then there's Boling, the dean of the line with seven straight Opening Day starts. It's quite an interesting brew. Pollack is rolling out these three guys because he must think they give him the best chance to prevent the inside pressure that dogged quarterback Andy Dalton last season.
"Yin and yang. Yin and yang," Price said of him and Redmond. "Clint's his own character. It's going to be cool having (Redmond's) energy and having him coming in just smashing people. But let's do it controlled. Let's do it the right way. When he's 100 percent confident in what he's doing and where he's going, he's going to 'kill,' somebody. That's how he is. That makes us balanced. That's what is really cool about it."
HALF TIME: It's happened in exactly half of Lewis' 16 openers and it will happen again in Indianapolis Sunday against Colts head coach Frank Reich. He'll face a team with new a head coach and staff on Opening Day and has a record of 4-3 with all but one of those games on the road.
In 2009 at Paul Brown Stadium the Bengals were 11 seconds away from a 7-6 win over Josh McDaniels' Broncos before they allowed a tipped ball for an 87-yard touchdown play. McDaniels is one of three NFL rookie head coaches that have beaten Lewis in the opener with Baltimore's John Harbaugh winning in 2008 and the Bears' Marc Trestman in 2013. Lewis beat both Romeo Crennel in 2005 and Pat Shurmur in Cleveland to go 2-3 vs. the rookies with a chance to go to 3-3 vs. Reich. He's beaten veterans Herm Edwards (2006) in Kansas City, and Jack Del Rio (2015) in Oakland.
"No. We're not playing. Hopefully I make good decisions. That's all," said Lewis when asked if he's got the advantage Sunday. "You have to make sure you make the correct decisions about managing the game."
PRIME TIME: A tip of the hat to Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton and his staff. All the projected Opening Day starters and regulars made it to the Indy start line. Lewis said he can count on his hands the number of times that's happened in not just the opener, but all "15 years and week … (Thursday) we had all 64 out there," including the practice squad.
Morton doesn't point to any drastic changes, but chalks it up to a progression of learning and adjusting in the field of sport science. For instance, in the off-season workouts during the spring he amped up the volume of conditioning and lifting while also tweaking the weight room schedule so it was a better fit around the on-field practices. He also says he and assistant Jeff Friday improved their various stretching and techniques. And, the details could be as small but as big as battling this week's 90-degree heat in practice. For the first time they were on the field handing out fruit.
Trainer Paul Sparling's staff also has to take a bow. Friday's injury report is quite a testament to what Morton calls the group effort of everyone in the building, from the players themselves, management, coaches and trainers. Wide receiver Cody Core (back) was the only player limited Friday and listed as doubtful for Sunday. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (shoulder) and cornerback Tony McRae (ankle) were limited all week until they went full Friday.