'We're better at every position'
7/23/2004 - 7-23-04, 5 p.m.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com this week to discuss the state of the team as it heads to training camp and next week’s July 30 report date at Georgetown College.
GH: The biggest difference to me from this year and last year is the age of the club. It’s younger. The numbers aren’t that obvious now, but I think by the time you cut the team it will be one of the two or three youngest teams in the league. Obviously you’re comfortable with that.
ML: I think it’s good we’ve kind of transformed our team to younger and more athletic. That was our goal going into this offseason.
GH: Do you think that’s your strength as a team?
ML: I don’t know if it’s a strength. I think it’s a vision of the future.
GH: Is the future now? Are the playoffs now?
ML: I think the future is always now, but I mean, you put together a team over a three-, four-year plan. I think we have a good structure that way.
GH: Some would suggest that since Carson is your starting quarterback and you are young, Year Three is the year. Not this year. That this year is just another step and ’05 is the break-through year. I guess some teams have gone to the Super Bowl in Year Two of a plan.
ML: That’s our goal. It’s not Year One of our plan, it’s Year Two.
GH: Is it more reachable this year than last year?
ML: Yeah, we’re a better football team this year than last year.
ML: Athletically, experience wise, knowing what’s asked of them. We’re better at every position. We don’t have a position we’re not better at. We’re better at every position than where we started a year ago. What position aren’t we better at?
GH: Some would say you’re not better at quarterback.
ML: Why? We have two proven quarterbacks now. Two quarterbacks we have a lot of faith in. Last year, nobody had any faith in Jon Kitna and we had a rookie quarterback. Now everybody has a lot of faith in Jon Kitna and we have another starting quarterback in Carson Palmer who we know what we have.
GH: But you really don’t know what you have in Carson.
ML: Yeah, we do know what we have. We watched Carson every day for a year. We watched the other guy play and everybody says, “Boy, he’s a great quarterback,” so we know what we’ve got.
GH: So he’s better than Kitna?
ML: He’s better than Jon or he wouldn’t be the starter.
GH: Sports Illustrated called going with Carson the biggest gamble in the league this year. Do you agree?
ML: No. It’s not a gamble. People would have said it was a gamble last year, right?
GH: You said all along if you’re losing games because of one position, you have to make changes at that position.
ML: Correct. Just like we would have last year. That hasn’t changed.
GH: Is there anything to the argument that you have to keep Carson in there and take his lumps no matter what so he gets the experience?
ML: In what sport is that? You don’t learn anything from losing.
GH: You guys seemed excited about the revamped secondary.
ML: The change we made in athletic ability, and also the fact that we brought our own guy back in Rogers Beckett, and all of our other guys understand what’s expected and what they’re doing.
GH: Given how the season ended struggling against the run and you weren’t able to get defensive tackles Warren Sapp or Daryl Gardener, are you worried about the tackle rotation?
ML: Our defensive tackles had nothing to do with us giving up run yardage. The runs that we gave up were because of the perimeter of our defense, and getting 11 guys to play together. Nothing to do with how you play defensive tackle. That’s a copout. I’m talking about 11 guys, which is how you keep people from having 60-yard runs against you.
GH: You do lose experience at tackle with Oliver Gibson and Glen Steele gone. You’ve got a bunch of unproven young guys there in Askew, McCleary, Moore, Scott. Are you comfortable with that mix?
ML: It’s their turn to play. I think they’re athletic, I think they’ll be able to stay on their feet and get the job done.
GH: Is camp going to be different or structured differently?
ML: No, but I think everyone understands what is expected of them, how we practice, how the energy and the effort has to be there at all the times. Then you have to rest yourself to go again.
GH: Did you make any mental notes coming out of the last camp, and then when you started 0-3? Were you ready to go out of the gate?
ML: I think we had our legs and were ready to go. We went 0-3 because we didn’t make enough football plays early enough. We turned the football over and got ourselves in trouble with things like that. For whatever reason, you have to be able to approach the season and not have the giddiness we had last year.
GH: Giddiness? Just because it was so new?
ML: Our players were excited to do well. I think that was important to them. They were really looking forward to the opportunity, but we didn’t keep our eye on the target.
GH: Camp looked very intense last year compared to Bengals’ camps of the recent past. Same tempo this year, or do you want more?
ML: I think we have to keep the same tempo that we had. I don’t think we want the thing to tear away. You can’t go into the season and raise the level. You have to be able to practice at that level. You can’t turn it on and off.
GH: Do you think you’re going to be different because you’ve got a year under your belt?
ML: I don’t think so. I want to be more demanding than a year ago.
ML: Because it’s time to be. We’re going to be more demanding every year so you don’t go backward.
GH: Part of that thinking you don’t start 8-8.
ML: No, we don’t get to start 8-8, unfortunately.
GH: Who is the team to beat in the division?
ML: I don’t know. I don’t care about that. Regardless of what the division is, we tried to make ourselves stronger this offseason.
GH: What team do you think made the most improvement?
ML: I’m not going to comment on that.
GH: I could argue you did.
ML: I don’t know that. I don’t have to worry about that.
GH: You lost some free agents that you didn’t lose last year. Guys like Troy Vincent, Warren Sapp, Bobby Taylor Jason Gildon.
ML: We didn’t offer Bobby Taylor to get him. We didn’t want Bobby Taylor. We didn’t lose Bobby Taylor. We didn’t get Troy Vincent, we didn’t sign Warren Sapp. Those are two people we did not sign (but wanted).
GH: Would you throw Gildon in that mix?
ML: No, Gildon is an afterthing. That’s a luxury. Jason was something that we could provide an opportunity for him, and was good for us.
GH: What happened on Gildon? (Former Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon went to Buffalo on a one-year deal for $1.1 million and a $200,000 sack incentive.)
ML: The one-year deal wasn’t the best offer he had. He didn’t have a better two–year offer than the two-year deal we offered. They were willing to take the chances and the opportunity. It’s important for the player to pick what he thinks is going to be a good fit.
GH: Some would argue the Bengals didn’t do as well in free agency this year, but you had more money available last year.
ML: We had a better free agency than we did last year. We signed Chad Johnson (to an extension), OK? We signed Rogers Beckett on our team. I think adding Nate (Webster), the trade for Deltha (O’Neil), obtaining the second-round pick for Corey (Dillon), signing Bobbie Williams and Kim Herring, I think all of those guys provided an energy and filled some spots both athletically and professionally that we needed to have.
The remaining guys from 2003 that are still here through 2004, we have supplemented them. The Willies, the Brians, Richie, Rudi, Chad, Peter, all those guys, Jon Kitna, we have supplemented that with another group of professionals like we did last year with John Thornton and Kevin Hardy and Duane Clemons, and Reggie Kelly.
Now we know what Tony Stewart is about. We know what Matt Schobel is more about. Steinbach. Levi. We’ve helped those guys who truly want to win, and we’ve added some more guys to guys like Tony Williams. We added some more guys to help them.
GH: O’Neal doesn’t happen if Sapp signs, right?
ML: I don’t worry about that. We have to structure contracts so they’re comfortable for us. Free agency is a two-way street. It’s the player and the club coming to an agreement. We have to bring guys in here for a job interview. We can’t do it sight unseen. There have to be stipulations within those contracts that we feel comfortable with.
GH: There are only a handful of pre-Lewis era players left. (Five on defense.) There are probably more changes this year than last year. Clearly, you’re looking for the right chemistry on and off the field.
ML: I think we have a good chemistry in both areas. As you become more confident as a team, you continue to have more of that. I think we’ll continue to get there. I think we have some great guys. The Willies, and so forth. Jon Kitna. Guys willing to put things on their shoulders and take that responsibility. Chad. Guys willing to be leaders on the field as well as off the field and willing to grow with their teammates.
GH: Can Deltha come in right away and get back to that Pro Bowl form of three years ago after being moved out of the position last year in Denver?
ML: I don’t know what Deltha did on that. He has all the physical tools and ability to play as a fine, fine corner in the NFL.
GH: From what you saw this spring?
ML: That’s all I have to worry about. Deltha wants to intercept every pass. You have to remain a technically sound corner in order to be a productive player for us. You can’t play corner as a guesser. If you do, you’re going to be right and you’re going to be wrong. When you’re wrong, you hurt the team. But Deltha is smart enough to realize that he hurts the team when he does play like that.
GH: Being a defensive guy, do you feel pressure trying to get this defense out of No. 28 in the league so it can help Carson?
ML: No. Pressure is no different on anything. The bottom line is you have to win games whether your defense finishes first, 28th, or 32nd. The object is to win games.
GH: You talked about spending more time with the defense. Did you get that done now that camp is a week away?
ML: Yes. I just think for our players and our coaches, having everybody on the same page is the big thing. Players understanding you just don’t run around hoping to make plays. Go do your job. I think everyone understands that.
GH: You lost the team’s all-time leading rusher in Corey Dillon. Corey and Rudi Johnson combined for 1,500 yards last year. Do you think Rudi can give you that much?
ML: Oh yeah. I think our running backs will be fine.
GH: Do you think you’ll miss Dillon?
ML: Will we miss Corey? Yeah. Corey made a significant contribution to this organization. This is 2004. We don’t have to worry about that. We don’t have to worry about missing anybody. Everybody, as they say, we are all needed but nobody is necessary.
GH: Is the key part of the season the first four games before the bye week?
ML: How you play early is always important. You need to start fast. That’s our goal.
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