Saturday, April 26, 2003

Lewis changing Bengals' draft-day reputation

By Joe Kay
The Associated Press

Chad Johnson saw the room full of reporters and the microphone and couldn't pass up the chance to have a little fun. He walked to the podium and made an announcement.

"With the first pick, we're going to take the punter out of Miami," the Bengals' wide receiver said with a straight face.

Everyone giggled. When it comes to the NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals are usually good for a few laughs.

That's changing now that Marvin Lewis is in charge.

The first-year head coach was behind the push to get quarterback Carson Palmer signed as the No. 1 overall pick for Saturday's draft. Lewis knew the Bengals had to do it right to shed their reputation for bungling the draft.

It doesn't end there. Lewis also has changed the way the NFL's worst team evaluates players and makes its picks.

"We're displacing myths and things that were unfair, and we're getting it done," Lewis said.

That doesn't mean there won't be some surprising moves. Lewis figures the Bengals could use help at every position except tight end in the later rounds, and hasn't ruled out taking a running back to challenge Corey Dillon.

Now that they've gotten a quarterback at No. 1, the Bengals most likely will look for help on the defensive and offensive lines and at cornerback. The only position that Lewis feels confident about is tight end.

"We have needs at every position," Lewis said.

The difference this year is that everything the Bengals do will be scripted instead of made up as the draft goes along, which is basically how they approached it in the past. The Bengals have the NFL's smallest scouting staff and rely heavily on coaches to scout prospects.

Their draft days often resembled town meetings, with assistant coaches lobbying for the players they wanted. That's what led to some of their more infamous decisions - for instance, taking punter Travis Dorsch in the fourth round last season so he could challenge place kicker Neil Rackers.

In 2000, they chose receiver Ron Dugans in the third round after first-round pick Peter Warrick got to Cincinnati, walked into the draft room and lobbied for his Florida State teammate.

Lewis wants none of that. He told reporters this week that the team has already made its plans and its contingency plans as well. It will do no good for anyone to lobby on draft day.

"It's not a forum," Lewis said. "It's not like the floor of the Senate where we're going to be debating things. It's done. It's already been decided."

The Bengals have decided that it's a good year to stock up on linemen. They could fill in the gaps between left tackle Levi Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson, and upgrade a defensive line that needs help.

"This is a draft that has some defensive linemen in it," said Lewis, who coordinated the defense that helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl. "There are some people that will play for a while in the NFL."

The main focus for Lewis has been reforming the Bengals' draft planning and getting everyone to work together instead of having the customary free-for-all.

"That's the point I've really stressed," Lewis said. "We've had great meetings in the last week and a half. It's important that we're together."

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