Roster whirlwind

Posted: 11 p.m.

It looks as if the dust has settled in Bengaldom after two months of chainsawing the 2008 roster into bits of fine print.

If you thought last year's roster bore little resemblance to the team that blew a playoff spot with three straight losses to end the '06 season, get a load of this one 10 days before the Bengals take the field for the first time in voluntary workouts.

A total of 40 of the 86 players weren't on the roster a year ago when the club lined up for the first voluntary. There are 24 rookies, but it is the 16 veterans that have checked in that give this roster the biggest makeover in head coach Marvin Lewis's seven seasons when it comes to influence and impact on the field and in the locker room.

Two of the veterans, running back Cedric Benson and wide receiver Laveranues Coles, play marquee offensive positions. Only quarterback Carson Palmer will handle the ball more and maybe wide receiver Chad Ochocinco if he's healthy in mind and body. Two others, safeties Roy Williams and Chris Crocker, are already acknowledged leaders in the locker room. Two more, defensive tackle Tank Johnson and running back Brian Leonard, are second-round draft picks under the age of 28.

If it's not the busiest Bengals offseason in recent memory, it may be their most encouraging judging by the boards, the pundits and a franchise quarterback applauding the top two picks in a widely acclaimed draft.

After the emotional meltdown of '06, Lewis has been trying to clean out his locker room with as much Dr. Phil as filling talent.  The arrival of the coach-friendly Williams the same day the Bengals cut a guy, Levi Jones, that didn't always see eye-to-eye with Lewis provided symbolism.

Lewis alluded to the offseason whirlwind Thursday when he introduced Williams, the former Cowboy. He called it a "checklist" of priorities and Williams must have noticed the Bengals were doing something because after his March 19 visit they didn't sign him until this week.

The Bengals 24-7 offseason channel culminated Thursday with rarely seen footage from the '90s. When the Bengals picked up Leonard for backup defensive tackle Orien Harris, it was believed to be the Bengals' first player-for-player trade since they sent veteran linebacker Joe Kelly to the Jets for rookie wide receiver Reggie Rembert just before the 1990 season.

They won't know if all the activity has made them better for months. But the one thing they know right now is it certainly makes them different.

Criticized for ignoring defense and moving glacially, the Bengals deployed a full-court press that changed their DNA. The team that rides on the right arm of Palmer now teems with defensive talent and a rookie punter that can change field position like a politician changes any position.

"We said at the end of the season, 'These are things we want to add ... we want to do this, we want to do this, we want to do this,' " said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer of his consultations with Lewis. "And he's checked off about every one of them. Like I told him. He's done a great job getting the players that we want to get. Now it's up to us to do what we're supposed to do and coach these guys."

Bengals president Mike Brown oversaw the busiest offseason his club has had since he hired Lewis in 2003 during an uncomfortable climate. Against the backdrop of a spiraling economy, no salary cap in 2010, and a possible lockout in 2011, the Bengals doled out enough money in the first week of free agency to count about $15 million against the '09 salary cap.

With different cap rules this year that don't allow teams to spread money into future years via releases and incentives the Bengals continued cautiously but signed two defenders the coaches covet and change the way they line up in Williams and Tank Johnson.

Williams has his detractors, but he also has his five Pro Bowls and they certainly make the Bengals different if he's close to the same guy.

Different?

The Bengals have had collectively five defensive Pro Bowls in the past 20 seasons.

"We haven't had these many bullets in the barrel since I've been here," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle in reacting to the Williams signing as he begins his ninth season here.

And Brown, heir to the offensive fire-and-fall-back philosophy, is suddenly signing checks with a "D." The Bengals are still talking, this time to former Eagles and Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood as they search for a third corner. Hood visited Thursday and there were plans to touch base with his agent Friday.

Anything else on the agenda?

With $6.6 million set aside for draft picks and about another $5 million for injuries and incentives (Keith Rivers is set to get $3 million), probably not.

The one place no veterans have been added is the offensive line, although one former third-round pick, center-guard Evan Mathis, was signed during last season. The line is a huge question mark even though the Bengals used the sixth pick in the draft to address it in tackle Andre Smith. Since August, they've lost three tackles with at least 32 starts and they don't have a center who has snapped more than one series in the NFL.

But, unlike some of the other priorities, the Bengals had young centers in-house that had been in the system for two years and there wasn't a tackle in free agency that was affordable better than the top tackles in the draft. Free-agent options at center like Jason Brown, Matt Birk and Geoff Hangartner, they felt, would have prevented other moves within the cap. And Brown was a fourth-round draft pick, Hangartner a fifth, and Birk a sixth, and they knew they were going to draft a center fairly early. They did with Jonathan Luigs in the fourth.

Still, if Lewis has yet to run all 12-14 voluntary practices or a training camp, no one else has either and there could be some more moves. After all, the Sept. 13 opener is still 127 days away. It has been only 70 days since Crocker re-signed on the first day of free agency.

If anything, the Bengals have to unload six players because they need to go to camp the last week of July with 80.

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