Seeking the Marvintangibles

3-4-03, 5:15 a.m. Updated:
3-4-03, 3:55 p.m. Updated:
3-4-03, 11:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

How is this for the ultimate irony? The Bengals replace Takeo Spikes with his running mate since they came into the league, Brian Simmons?

That scenario was floated Tuesday night by ESPN.com in reporting that Cowboys linebacker Kevin Hardy is going to visit the Bengals Wednesday. The thinking is that Hardy could take Simmons' spot at middle linebacker and Simmons takes Spikes' spot at right outside linebacker.

Hardy confirmed to "The Dallas Morning News," Wednesday morning that he just arrived in Cincinnati and that head coach Marvin Lewis has talked to him about playing the middle.

Lewis has refused to comment on such position changes, but Simmons has said in the past he feels his more natural position is on the outside and his speed is a huge asset out there. The report coincides with the steady buzz that Buffalo is readying an offer sheet for Spikes, in which the Bengals would have seven days to match. And Lewis keeps insisting he wants Spikes back and given that they haven't signed anyone yet, maybe they're waiting for Buffalo to do something.

Or maybe not. Lewis and the Bengals know of Hardy, who turns 30 the week training camp starts, through his many years as a linchpin of Jacksonville's defense. He has had some injury problems, but he is a certified playmaker who has been to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Bengals confirmed four free-agent visits Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium, their first full day of market activity on site. One visitor really wasn't as Bengals four-year veteran Nicolas Luchey eyed the No. 1 fullback job with Lorenzo Neal's departure to San Diego.

Also confirmed was Texans receiver-returner Jermaine Lewis, but the emphasis continues to be defense. Two defensive linemen, Titans tackle John Thornton and Chiefs end Duane Clemons, visited the club, and two cornerbacks are on their way. Denver's Denard Walker is coming Tuesday night and the agent for Oakland's Tory James said his client is due Wednesday night.

Colts defensive lineman Brad Scioli, visiting the Giants Monday, had been headed to Cincinnati according to a report out of Denver over the weekend. But Scioli changed agents Sunday and his new representative said a trip hasn't been scheduled.

The Bengals said they would try to sign players before they left, but there was no word on any deals Tuesday afternoon.

The visits came in the wake of Monday's shifting landscape.

Shawn Barber went to Kansas City.

Marvin Lewis shrugged.

Daryl Gardener figured to go to Denver.

Marvin Lewis smiled.

Cory Hall went to Atlanta.

Marvin Lewis saw two anxious kids waiting in the wings.

It's that March song again, but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis refuses to be dragged down by the past. He remembers how he built the Ravens' record-breaking defense of three years ago with well-mixed chemistry instead of big-time money.

Call them the Marvintangibles. Brains, effort, youth, speed, athleticism. You better have two or three of the Marvintangibles. The prices are exorbitant in the first week of free agency, but when they come down, he's hoping there will be guys with the Marvintangibles.

"There's no curse here," Lewis said Monday. "There may be some old ship's pirate or some captain around? Some one who knows we're on his burial site or something? I don't think there's a curse here. These guys realize that. There are mature guys in the NFL that realize we'll change it. They know that. It's relationships between coaches and players."

A Barber at linebacker or a Gardener at defensive tackle would be nice. Lewis saw the seven-year deal averaging just more than $4 million per year that Barber got to play weak side linebacker for the Chief with a $5.5 million bonus. Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes also saw it.

"I'm in a higher market than him," Spikes said. "After five years, the Bengals know I'm a different linebacker. It doesn't take a rocket scientist for anyone to see."

A Spikes would be nice, too.

And maybe a Sam Adams at defensive tackle can still happen as the sides continue to trade proposals.

Lewis shakes his head about Gardener. Loves him like a son. But does he have enough Marvintangibles for the $5 million price? He is also talking to guys like Thornton, Walker and James. Not headline names. But talented players, and, like the first Lewis signing,

defensive linemen Carl Powell, they come with plenty of Marvintangibles.

Take Thornton. He's just 26, is a second-round pick of the Titans, is athletic and produces for a playoff team. Take Walker. He has just three interceptions in the past two years, but he's 6-1, 190 pounds, rarely gets beat in man-to-man coverage, and rarely gives up big plays, a pretty good fit for Lewis' defense.

"The best starters we ever signed were because we had the right value on the right guys at the right time," Lewis said. "We knew what we were getting, we coached the hell out of that guy, and he elevated his game because we knew what we were buying. . .He ended up coming back to our price and it was a good deal.

"We'll be in good shape. I think we're making a statement," Lewis said. "We want guys that have high energy, are coachable, and we can get done what we need to get done. We can't deter from our target, from that athletic ability, playmaking (skills). We're not just going to get caught up in the emotion (of the signings) of the moment. We'll be fine."

Lewis has supreme confidence in his ability to get something out of players that no one else can. He points to players like Adams, ,who bristled at times under his leadership, but went to a Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl with him for the first time.

"Guys that have a history, then all of a sudden, you're on that level," Lewis said with a smile. "You can make choices and decisions, but sooner or later, they'll be back to me."

He would like the chance to coach Spikes into his first Pro Bowl. He hasn't been there yet, and neither has Barber. Barber's deal works out to a $4.2 million average with the $5.5 million bonus. Spikes may be looking at Pro Bowler Keith Brooking's $5.7 million average and $10.6 million bonus.

"He's a playmaking guy who makes a lot of plays," Lewis said of Barber. "It's another barometer where things are. We've been in that mix. Not above them, but with them. It's another barometer where the linebackers are. Shawn is another guy who hasn't really been, by his peers, voted to a Pro Bowl level. But he's a very good player. That's where the level is as opposed to the other guys that have gone that way. it's a different level. These guys are rewarded that way. (Not until they get to) the upper echelon of the position."

Spikes isn't into Barber money. His agent, Todd France, wouldn't comment on the Barber deal. France said Monday he is working to set up a visit to Buffalo and that his client has had interest from "a handful of teams."

The Bengals introduced Powell Monday as Lewis' kind of player. He's 6-2, 274 pounds and is on his fifth NFL team. But he can play every position on the line and the Redskins had success when Powell played for injured tackle Dan Wilkinson this past season in the defense Lewis coordinated.

Ricky Hunley, now the linebackers coach in Cincinnati, coached the Redskins defensive line last year and said he may not be blessed with natural talent. But he's got an All Pro heart.

"He picked up the nickname, 'Company Man," Hunley said. "He's going to add energy and optimism to this organization. He's a good guy with a great motor. You like guys broke and hungry and he was out on the street a few times and he knows what that's like. It's good to have guys who have been broke and hungry. They appreciate where they are now."

Powell sat out all of 1999 after getting cut by the Colts and is now on his fourth team in four years. He had a shot to go back to the Redskins, but he wanted to play for Lewis.

"He's going to turn it around," Powell said. "We all have to turn it around together. If we're all on the same page, we can do it."

Lewis is looking for another guy with Marvintgangibles in punt returner Jermaine Lewis. He knows his family so well from Maryland and their days together with the Ravens that Marvin says, "I know where they shop." Monday's dinner and Tuesday's visit should be second nature for the Lewis guys.

Jermaine isn't known as a pass catcher these days (he caught just 10 passes last year for the Texans), but Marvin thinks he can be a threat there as well as returning punts and kicks. At 5-7, it would appear the only spot he could play is the slot position manned by No. 1 pick Peter Warrick. But Marvin said Monday that there's room for everybody.

"We can get everybody on the field," Marvin said. "Jermaine has a lot of upside as a wide receiver. When he worked against us every day in practice, he made us a better defense.

"I love his competitive nature," said Marvin, who also loves the kind of speed he calls "special."

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