8-7-03, 7:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The old Bengals saw the Forrest through the trees Wednesday night.
Jim Breech, Dave Lapham, and Anthony Munoz all played for Forrest Gregg in 1980, the first year of the winningest coach in Bengals' history in that season he strong-armed discipline into a listing ship off back-to-back 4-12 seasons. While they watched Marvin Lewis' first night practice of training camp, they couldn't help notice the similarities.
Paul Brown didn't always agree with the ferocity of Gregg's practices, but ex-players like Lapham think the owner accepted it because he knew order had to be restored.
"I haven't seen them doing the up-and-downs that Forrest had us do," said Munoz with a laugh as he recalled that rookie season of his Hall-of-Fame career. "I still think you need some of the hitting. You only have one padded practice a day, so it's not as demanding as it was. Even in 2003, you can double team with a live pass rush. I think some of these things are a necessity and that's what (Lewis) said he would do and we're having full contact now. We've been here year after year and that hasn't been happening until now."
The new Lewis regime continues to roll with Gregg-like intensity into Sept. 7 and the regular-season opener against the Broncos. On Wednesday night, a contingent of Bengals that have been hurting, such as wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) and left tackle Levi Jones (leg) returned to practice in some form or another. All but three Bengals are expected to play in Sunday's pre-season opener at Giants Stadium against the Jets.
"They'll find that out. We'll learn to go without guys (if they don't practice) because it's important to practice," Lewis said. "You can't play with them if they're not prepared. It's not fair to the rest of the football team."
That's a far cry from recent history, when the golf cart at practice often contained injured players who were going to play Sunday regardless. Now, there's not even a golf cart, and Lapham, the versatile offensive lineman who has been the radio analyst for the last 18 years and four previous head coaches, has noticed.
"I think Forrest's practices were probably even more physical, but these are the most physical since Forrest," Lapham said. "Paul (Brown) was not in concert with the physical practices. He was more of the mindset, 'Why beat each other up?' But I think he knew that had to happen to install the discipline. That's what is happening here. They're literally learning how to practice."
Breech, the club's all-time leading scorer, didn't do the hitting as a kicker. But he sees the similarities 23 years later.
"The intensity level and the attention to detail," Breech said. "It's continuous movement. Running from one drill to the next. Everyone's moving and everyone's paying attention, not just the guys (on the field). Somewhere down the road, something changed. It fell apart for a while for the last several years and it's something you can't really put your finger on."
Even until late in his career in the early 1990s under head coach Sam Wyche, Munoz remembers a good dose of contact he hasn't seen lately here in the preseason until now.
"Sam was here for eight years and I'd say for more than half of that we had two-a-days in full pads," Munoz said. "It wasn't until late when Sam was here that we'd go one padded practice, then helmets and shoulder pads. But even in my 10th and 11th year, the line was going full speed and contact in nine-on-seven and one-on-one. These are the types of things you need to do full speed, and then when you go team, you can still go at a pretty good pace, but not as intense as inside run or one-on-one pass. That's not the way it's been. The tempo hasn't been the same as it's been the last couple of days."
Lapham has noticed another trait from the Gregg era.
"There's a sense of urgency among the players," Lapham said. "There's the sense of, 'I have to perform.' The lifetime scholarship has been revoked."
Breech, in his first of 13 seasons with the Bengals in 1980, always remembers Gregg's insistence on preparation, and he sees the same effort in Lewis' camp. It has all greatly encouraged him.
"The biggest thing that really impressed me with Marvin is when free-agents took less money to come here and play for him," Breech said. "And he obviously does what he says when you come out here and watch.
"Every former player wants these guys to experience what we did in the '80s," Breech said. "There's nothing like the excitement in a city when teams like the Reds and Bengals do well. I'm very hopeful."
CAMP TALKS:** Georgetown College is encouraged Wednesday after meeting with Bengals' officials about extending the training camp contract beyond this summer. Stacey Varney, director of the college's Conference Center, said another meeting is planned next week before each side brings its case to Bengals President Mike Brown and Georgetown President Bill Crouch.
"The fact we're meeting again next week shows that both sides would like to get something done," Varney said. 'We don't have a deadline, but obviously we have to know some time very soon."
She said the visibility of Lewis has been a big factor in the school's attempt to see if the contract can be extended.
"Marvin is so fan-friendly and media-friendly and has so much charisma that I think you can tell by the people coming out," Varney said. "Whatever I've asked him to do, starting from speaking with the Chamber of Commerce, he's done it."
The Bengals confirmed talks are on-going.
BUBBLE TALK:** Marvin Weather struck again Wednesday night. It's that fortunate clear cell that seems to be sticking with Lewis during the 10 days of a rainy camp, as if emphasizing his desire for an indoor facility at Paul Brown Stadium.
"That's way out. We'll worry about that kind stuff after we win some football games," said a smiling Lewis, asked if the balky weather here this summer has underscored the need for a bubble at PBS and here if the contract is extended.
Asked if it would take a 9-7 record to get a facility, Lewis slapped both hands over his mouth.
Lightning forced the Bengals off the field about halfway through practice for about 20 minutes, and with one storm cell gone and another on the horizon, Lewis decided to send the team back on the field to see how far they could go. They were able to finish up with just thunder in the distance.
"We've timed it pretty well" Lewis said. "We wanted to work on moving the ball from the plus 40 in and have the offense get the substitutions with the defense, and then work on some goal line and kick some short field goals. Neil's been a little sore, so we cut back on that."
Kicker Neil Rackers took two shots from about 30 yards away, and appeared to hit a bomb that was good and just hooked the other one to either side of the left goal post. Lewis sped up the practice in shorts, shoulder pads, and helmets, once the bad weather asserted itself.
"We don't want guys standing around," Lewis said. "That sends the wrong message."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: RB Corey Dillon returned to practice Wednesday night after falling ill with flu-like symptoms that disrupted his stomach and drove him off the field Wednesday morning. He went to the hospital for treatment, took a nap in the afternoon, and "decided if he was going be out there with his teammates, he was going to go and get dressed," Lewis said. . .
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) isn't ready for prime time, Lewis said, but he returned to practice Wednesday night and Lewis thinks he can play Sunday. "Get his mind back mentally, trying to do what he can do, it helps you get the adrenaline going." TE Matt Schobel was dressed, but Lewis puts him in the doubtful category with S Deloise Moore and TE Derek Smith (ankle) . . .LT Levi Jones (leg) also returned after missing a day and should be ready. . .
The Bengals again took advantage of their first position in NFL waiver claims Wednesday and scooped Lawrence Hamilton, a college free-agent wide receiver from Stephen F. Austin who was with the Cardinals. He only played a couple games this season because of injury, but Lewis said they nearly decided to sign him after the draft because of his size (6-3, 204 pounds) and speed. Plus, with Ron Dugans slowed temporarily by his chronic Achilles' , Adam Ziesel's sore shoulder, and the release of college free agent James Adkisson, they could use some bodies at wideout.
DORSCH's CHALLENGE: The Bengals worked on punting deep out of their end zone Wednesday night, which gave Travis Dorsch a shot to show off his strength: The booming bomb. But he'll be the first to tell you he's the underdog in the competition with steady incumbent Nick Harris and special teams coach Darrin Simmons will tell you it comes down to performance in pre-season games and not so much drills like Wednesday night.
"I have the ability to turn the field over. I did it in college," said Dorsch, the only man in history to lead the Big Ten in punting and kicking while at Purdue. "I think I can do it here. It's a matter of refining techniques. The big things are probably my steps, my footwork. It's so much different than kicking. If it's one thing I've worked on this week, it's footwork."
Dorsch's story is well known. A fourth-round draft pick last season, the Bengals still kept him on the roster even though he didn't beat out Neil Rackers at last camp, and had him practice both punting and kicking. His lone appearance in 2002 was the unmitigated disaster in Carolina in which two of his line-drive punts were returned for scores.
No one has blamed Dorsch for that outing, and the first thing Simmons and head coach Marvin Lewis did was make Dorsch only a punter.
"You've seen him kick. Travis has ability," Simmons said. "He's going to get the ball down the field. He just has to do it more consistently. Nick is a steady punter and that's what Travis is trying to become. He's not there yet and neither is Nick. We're getting there. This is ultimately going to be decided on how they punt in the pre-season games. Let it play out."
Dorsch didn't think he was perfect Wednesday, but he also felt he did his job and got the ball away and out of trouble.
"Yes, it's an uphill battle. It's Nick's job. It's been his job the last couple of years," Dorsch said. "I have to outperform him. There's things that I can do that Nick can't with kickoffs and field goals, but they're happy with what Neil (Rackers) is doing, so I have to focus on my punting and getting it right."
Dorsch is grateful for the chance to watch Harris daily and since the competition began back in March, he has always felt that both of them will end up kicking in the league this season for two different teams no matter how it works out here.