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Talented kids keep Lewis fresh

Marvin Lewis

Updated: 3:40 p.m.

Andy Reid of the Eagles in his 14th season and Bill Belichick of the Patriots in his 13th are the only active NFL head coaches who have been with their team longer than the Bengals' Marvin Lewis, nine days away from starting his 10th season.

At 53, Lewis doesn't sound much different than the 44-year-old rookie who ended up second in the Coach of the Year balloting to Belichick when he led the 2-14 Bengals to 8-8. And even though his current Bengals are a lot better than that club as the youngest AFC team to make last season's playoff, Lewis compares that "excitement and intrigue" to that first season.

Sitting down with on Wednesday as he made final preparations for the club's first training camp at home, Lewis says guys like Pro Bowl rookies A.J. Green and Andy Dalton keep him fresh.

Asked to name the most exciting aspect of this 10th team, Lewis thought for a good minute before deciding, "The development and progress of our players. Whether it's the young veteran or the first and second-year guys. By having those kinds of guys, it keeps you fresh and revived. To have that new influx of ability and talent and expectations, that keeps you revived and new."

Lewis calls 2012 a year with the "most intrigue and excitement" he can ever recall.

"I think it's something we'll look back on when Labor Day rolls around where a lot will have been accomplished," Lewis said. "There will be some new ground set. It's as exciting and as intriguing as it's been. There's so much excitement for the growth."

Lewis says the biggest question facing his team is how it's going to respond right away in the regular-season opener that falls on Monday Night Football in the den of the defending AFC North champion Ravens, an opener he calls the toughest since his first game as head coach in Paul Brown Stadium during the 30-10 loss to Denver that kicked off the 2003 season.

But if there is the same kind of anticipation and buzz and mystery surrounding this season, the team is a lot different than that one because he says the best thing about coaching the 2012 Bengals is maturity.

"With our football team, a lot of it can almost be on autopilot in a lot of the stuff we're doing," Lewis said. "So we really get a chance to tinker with the fine points. The team has grown and matured in some areas so much that a lot of it is autopilot. We have a chance of really taking critical looks at the finer points of being great."

Lewis also likes the fact that key players such as middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, right end Michael Johnson, right tackle Andre Smith, and running back Bernard Scott are heading into contract years.

"We've got a bunch of guys and it's good for them; it's what it's for," he said. "It's the way the system works. It's play for pay."

It just so happens that Lewis is also in a contract year and he offered nothing new on the status of negotiations with a no comment.

"Mine is different than theirs," he said of the players' final years.

But no matter what happens, when Lewis coaches them against the Ravens in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale at PBS, it's going to be the first time in NFL history an African-American coaches 10 full seasons with the same team. Dennis Green resigned one game shy of a decade in Minnesota 11 years ago.

"Hopefully 10 years from now no one will ever have to think about that again. Hopefully, five years from now it will be a foregone conclusion," Lewis said. "(Green) made it to the championship game, not the Super Bowl. We have the same challenges here. This job is to win the Super Bowl and be world champions."

Lewis says this year that starts at the beginning, not the end. But that's also the Ravens. Sept. 10. In Baltimore. Where the Ravens have won 11 straight and have lost just once in the past two seasons, 13-10, to the Steelers on Dec. 5, 2010.

"The biggest question to me is we have to really be ready to go on all cylinders out of the box; it's going to be important," Lewis said. "At Baltimore. Monday night. Being able to go out and play relaxed and play aggressive, attacking football in week number one in what we know is going to be an unbelievable environment. We have to have the calmness to go play."

Because the Ravens won the North last year, he said everyone else is "looking uphill" at Baltimore. Lewis won't say this is his deepest team as it comes off three highly acclaimed drafts, but he won't highlight a roster battle, either.

"The thing about this team is there isn't a position where there isn't going to be a battle for a roster spot," said Lewis, although he admitted competition in a cornerback field with five veteran first-rounders and two impressive draft picks "is going to be big."

Besides the opener, Lewis's biggest concern is how his team is going to respond to the first PBS training camp.

He says it's extremely important the players still get into a training-camp mentality.

"It is going to be different but it still has to be training camp," Lewis said. "As an organization we have to learn and we have things in place to secure and shelter our players so they have the ability to learn and rest. And adhere to that and understand that. Everybody has to understand that. Everybody's got this feeling, 'we're coming back home.' But the only thing that's changed is the location.

"That's the benefit of training camp. That's why you go to training camp. That's what training camp is all about," Lewis said of the hard-bitten mentality. "You have to have a way to recharge your body and mind every day for practice. We have the learning environment and the teaching environment. That's superior in our facility. But now we have to do whatever we can with the rest environment and guys have to take advantage of it."

Veterans and rookies are going to be housed downtown at the Millennium Hotel for the three weeks of camp and are going to be transported back and forth to the stadium via shuttle buses.

But Lewis has proven more often than not to be effective getting his club ready for a season. Since '05 he is 12-9 in September and 4-3 in openers. It is December and January that have been the problems. In the same stretch he's 16-20 in the last two months.

"The only way to change that is keep going. Get guys to understand that when the time comes, you have to finish," he said. "We've controlled our destiny twice in this division and some of the games late in the year had a different feel."

Lewis harkened back to the 2009 Saints. They won the Super Bowl despite losing three straight to finish the regular season.

"If they had lost in the playoffs, that would have been the reason," Lewis said. "But when they became world champions, that all went away. At the end of the day, when you make the playoffs, you have to finish."

This is where training camp doesn't sound like it's going to be all that much different. Lewis's themes are pretty much the same:

"Bury last year. There has been some history there. There have been some lessons. You have to start over every year. And we have to be more urgent, play with less error and find different ways to do things."

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