Sunday, May 4, 2003
Bengals begin to take shape
Lewis: Competition determines starters
By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The depth chart is a football staple that ranks starters and backups at each position. But in the midst of his second minicamp as Bengals coach, Marvin Lewis doesn't yet have one.
Lewis is not obligated to release a depth chart, and one of the reasons he hasn't - besides not wanting to tip his hand - might be the intensity of competition at several positions.
"I would hope every position would have competition," Lewis said. "We've got a great competition at corner. We've got a competition at the offensive line. We've got a competition at defensive line and wide receiver, and I think that's a good thing."
In less than four months, Lewis has begun to rebuild the roster with his type of players - fast, athletic, intelligent. And he's not bringing them in to sit on the bench.
Lewis went after a speed wide receiver in the third round of the draft, Kelley Washington, who looks like the third man in the three-receiver set along with Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick.
Ron Dugans, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer are the other three receivers likely to make the roster.
"If it's a competition, I'm going to play. It's as simple as that," said Houshmandzadeh, a former seventh-round draft pick heading into his third season.
Lewis drafted two offensive linemen: a likely starter in left guard Eric Steinbach, and a seventh-rounder, Scott Kooistra, who has impressed Lewis at minicamp.
The staff already has shifted the three interior positions - moving right guard Mike Goff to center, left guard Matt O'Dwyer to right and inserting Steinbach in his most recent college position, left guard.
Former starter Rich Braham was signed as a backup at guard and center.
Willie Anderson and Levi Jones are locks at right and left tackles.
Lewis signed two probable defensive line starters in free agency - John Thornton and Carl Powell.
Powell is lining up at left end, opposite right end Justin Smith. Thornton is playing left tackle, next to right tackle Tony Williams.
Reinard Wilson, who had a team-high nine sacks in 2001, appears to be a reclamation project for Lewis and his staff. He could be the top reserve at both ends. Former starter Oliver Gibson, rehabbing a torn Achilles' tendon, and Glen Steele are the favorites to be in the rotation at tackle, although rookie Langston Moore could threaten for the fourth spot.
"There will always be competition, somebody will always be pushing you for your job," said Williams, a former Minnesota Viking entering his third season with the Bengals. "There is competition on every team."
The Bengals were ranked 22nd against the run last season.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said May is too early to start setting starting lineups and a depth chart, but the process has begun.
"You've got to get your best 11, and once you get them, you have to ask if you can win a championship with this guy at this position," Frazier said. "Once you get comfortable, then you have to start thinking about your second group. Are they good enough, if somebody goes down?"
Lewis signed one free agent cornerback (Tory James) and drafted another one (Dennis Weathersby).
The Bengals tied for the NFL-low with nine interceptions.
Hawkins looks to be starting opposite James, moving Jeff Burris - a starter for much of last season - to nickelback. Weathersby, expected to fully recover from a gunshot wound sustained two weeks ago, is similar to James. Coaches say Weathersby is good at jamming receivers at the line.
Said Lewis, "You don't get better as an NFL football team unless you provide and get competition set up as much as you can."
Coach Marvin Lewis wants competition for playing time and roster spots across the board. Four positions appear to be most contested - defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line. The unofficial depth chart:
LE: Carl Powell, Reinard Wilson
LT: John Thornton, #Oliver Gibson, Langston Moore
RT: Tony Williams, Glen Steele
RE: Justin Smith, Wilson
LC: Tory James, Jeff Burris
RC: Artrell Hawkins, #Dennis Weathersby
Flanker: Chad Johnson, T.J Houshmandzadeh
Slot: Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans
Split end: Kelley Washington, Danny Farmer
LT: Levi Jones, Reggie Coleman
LG: Eric Steinbach, Rich Braham, Scott Rehberg
C: Mike Goff, Braham, Brock Gutierrez
RG: Matt O'Dwyer, Braham, Thatcher Szalay
RT: Willie Anderson, Scott Kooistra
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