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Sparking a revival


They're not looking for an explosion to jump-start a team that has been to the postseason four straight times. But they know they need something different to get that first playoff victory on the way to Super Bowl 50.

So Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis decided on a spark instead of a siphon. At least that's how quarterback Andy Dalton read the "Revival," T-Shirts hanging in each locker when they showed up Monday morning for the first day of voluntary workouts.

(Overseeing it all, of course, was the Super Bowl 50 logo on the locker room monitors.)

"It's kind of like what Marvin said. It's a spark for us," Dalton said. "There are some new things here that have been put in place that are going to help make things a lot easier for us. Just the schedule is one of the big things. Just a spark that going to get us over where we're going. We've been good but good's not good enough. We're trying to be the best we can be."

Lewis can use a bunch of sparks to get a blaze going that's not the campfire ending of last season.

He can start with a quarterback who has been reviled and is all in for the revival after the most committed offseason of his career.

Then he can move to his best player, vowing to become the NFL's best wide receiver heading into his contract season after what he calls his most disappointing year.

And there's another spark waiting to be torched in healthy wide receiver Marvin Jones, the man who didn't play a down last season after scoring 10 touchdowns in 2013.

Then there's their facility, which has undergone more changes than their roster. They got to use their more expansive weight room for the first time Monday, as well as a mini turf field at the foot of it, and a new players' lounge. A new cafeteria and kitchen should be done by June 1. The bigger space allows more guys to work together, so now everybody is on the four-hour morning shift instead of staggered stints.

And this from a schedule standpoint, where it's believed the Bengals are interested in practicing with the Giants in the preseason before they play at Paul Brown Stadium Aug. 14. The Bengals last did that in 2013 in Atlanta.

 "I think the biggest difference this year is we are all coming in at the same time. Previous offseason offense was early and the offensive line I wouldn't see them for maybe three weeks,' said safety George Iloka. "That's a little different, everyone comes in now around 8 o'clock and everybody is done around 12 o'clock. That will help the defensive guys and offensive guys more but I think the chemistry is good. 

"The theme is revival. We just are going to change some things up. It's working to get us to the point we are at but then we are going to have to do something different. I don't know what that would be. Right now it's the schedule, might be something schematic-wise, might be roster-wise, I don't know. It's early, day one. But by the season you will have a different and better product out there. "

If all that doesn't get some sparks flying, there's the internal combustible engine of the roster. Iloka is one of 14 starters or regulars on offense, defense and special teams heading into their contact years. That's a lot of guys trying to get a raise this season.

"It doesn't really concern me too much. If they come to the table, I am obviously open for that," Iloka said. "You have four years for a reason. You play it out and that's that then come to the table again. My mindset this year wasn't to get a contract done before the season my mindset was I have one more year to ball, put something good on tape then hit the market. You have to look at it that way because if you look at it like I have to get a deal done before the season you will be disappointed if you don't get one then you let it drag on you mentally through the season and you are affected by that. I got one more year left currently under contract and I am going to play my (butt) off for that one year. That's all I got." 

Iloka is open to listening to an extension before free agency and he'd like to stick around the team that "developed me and believed in me," but the idea in here seems to be if you take care of business, business will take care of you. Somewhere.

"Obviously the thing that everybody thinks about: you play good, you're going to end up in a good situation," said Jones of his contract year. "That's just how it is. Obviously we developed a family relationship and we're all brothers and stuff like that, so the possibility of us staying together -- whatever happens, happens. But we have a good thing going on here and I know we all want to stay together and obviously the business side of it makes stuff go the other way, so whatever happens it does happen, but we all love each other and all love this organization and being here and our families are here and we made a good life here, so we'll see."

That's why this season isn't starting with the old-window-is-closing story. If you're in a locker room, a window closes ever year. They don't buy the notion that even though they can't keep everybody that this is the last year for the core that was built in 2011-2012.

"Every year is different. Every year we have different people, personnel changes. So you don't go into every year saying we're going to have this exact team," Jones said. "Obviously stuff happens with the business side of things, makes situations different and you're not going to see the same people every year. So we know that and we're not naive to that: You can't bring everybody back. Everybody knows that. But all we can control is what happens in 2015 for the Bengals and how we carry ourselves and how we go play collectively to win the Super Bowl."

Dalton, who signed his long-term deal last year, has other matters on the mind.

"That's not the mindset, that's not what we're thinking at all," Dalton said. "Obviously we understand that there are a lot of guys who are going to be up, and certain things like that, but we're not thinking that this is the last chance that we've got as this team."

Dalton has emerged from Dr. Tom House's quarterback factory invigorated. Last year he spent five days at USC. This year he's already spent 13 and plans to spend a another week before training camp. House's staff is also going to make at least one House call during the season to check up on things at PBS. He reiterated what he said a few weeks ago during his last stint out there. Dalton's arm feels stronger than it has at any point in his career and he wants to make sure it doesn't tail off late in the season.

"They're not here, but they're still able to watch and see things. I should have been using them more as a resource.  Now I know," said Dalton, who looks slightly thicker around the shoulders and neck. "I feel stronger in the right way now. I would do a whole lot of stuff in the offseason. I'd lift weights, but now everything is carrying over to mechanics and things that help me be a better  thrower.  I've got a little more mass, I've gotten a little stronger, but I haven't put on any more weight.  I feel like I'm the right kind of strong."

So does Jones, who just standing around in one piece gives the Bengals a lift. The man who combined with Green for 21 TD catches from Dalton in 2013 is ready for regular work and is going to be on the field when the on-field practices start in late May.

He feels like a new man. First there was the ankle in March of '14. Then that day in early August he came back from the ankle, he broke his other foot. Then when he came back from the foot in late September, the ankle gave way again. By early October, they shut him down for the year for ankle surgery.

"It was a freak accident. That's how I hurt it. And it hurt the whole way. It hurt the whole way," Jones said of the ankle. "I was probably compensating, and that's why I hurt my other foot like that, but it had always hurt. But this was really the first time. I had bones flying around in (the ankle) the whole time; for nine months. This was the first time I feel great and I feel like I'm back to my old self and there's no fragments flying around in there. And I know that they're gone."

Jones went at it hard out in California in January and February, testing and strengthening his feet on the sandy beaches. By the time he came back to Cincinnati in March, his beach videos had everyone envious but encouraged. It was just him and his trainer at 5 a.m. four days a week.

"I'm an early riser. So he had to tailor his schedule to what I wanted. I'm the type of person that gets up at 4:30, and I'm ready to go at 5," Jones said. "We were doing a lot of stuff that was specific to my ankle and putting me in unstable situations like the beach and stuff like that, and really hitting it hard. It was a good time."

Hopefully good enough for one of those sparks.

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