Sunday, July 27, 2003
Higher goals await Bengals
New coach reinvigorates playoff hopes, objectives
By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Optimism, like humidity, traditionally runs high at Bengals training camp.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is charged with turning around a program that went an NFL-worst 2-14 last season.
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In fans' hearts, every year could be the one that will snap the streak of losing seasons - which now stands at 12.
For a team coming off a league- and franchise-worst 2-14 record, the Bengals have great hope entering the 2003 season.
The reason is Marvin Lewis, the rookie head coach hired in January. Besides the Super Bowl ring he won as Baltimore's defensive coordinator in 2000, Lewis has brought reform and an outsider's perspective to the Bengals organization.
Lewis convenes his first camp today when players report between noon and 3 p.m. The first practice will be Monday morning.
Lewis' first Bengals camp will be the third for quarterback Jon Kitna.
More than the free-agent players and rookies Lewis has brought in, an attitude change is the coach's greatest contribution to date, Kitna said.
"People now know what is expected of them on Sunday and every day of the week," said Kitna, who will enter the season as the starter. "He's done a good job of changing the attitude. Nobody's in this to go 8-8 and squeak into the playoffs."
Lewis has established the AFC North division title as the team's 2003 goal.
His most important roster moves have been "taking care of the people who thought it would never get better. There are guys here now who believe it can be done," Kitna said.
The most notable subtraction from the roster is linebacker Takeo Spikes, now with the Buffalo Bills. Lewis chose not to match Spikes' free-agent offer sheet. Fullback Lorenzo Neal, the Bengals' only Pro Bowl player in 2002, also was allowed to leave via free agency to San Diego.
Lewis also has changed the structure of training camp. The most demanding practices will be in the morning. The team will have sessions of live tackling.
"I'm not a big believer that two-a-days (practices) make the biggest difference," Kitna said. "We did everything the same two years ago that we did last year."
In 2001, the Bengals started 2-0 and entered the bye week at 4-3. Last year, the Bengals were 0-7 before winning a game.
Kitna saw symptomatic problems in both seasons that Lewis has addressed.
"Two years ago, we had guys who were excited because they had never been 2-0. You could see it in their eyes," Kitna said. "We should have been 6-1 at the bye, not 4-3, but guys were happy about being 4-3."
Last season, the Bengals lost five second-half leads before losing. In another game vs. Cleveland at home, the Bengals were tied in the third quarter.
"Last year, we were in absolute control of so many games, nearly to the point of putting the game away with another score," Kitna said. "Then we would step on a landmine, and it was a different landmine every week. That's why it's attitude."
Lewis has signed veteran free agents who have won and been on successful playoff teams: Linebacker Kevin Hardy, Spikes' replacement, played in two AFC Championship games in Jacksonville. Defensive tackle John Thornton played in the Super Bowl with Tennessee. Cornerback Tory James played in the most recent Super Bowl with Oakland. Tight end Reggie Kelly played in two postseason games last season with Atlanta.
At the 2002 camp, the Bengals were riding high after finishing the 2001 season with consecutive victories and were looking forward to a big season from a defense that had finished with the league's No. 9 ranking.
But the defense finished 17th in total yards allowed in 2002, and the 456 points allowed were second most in franchise history. Special teams allowed five touchdowns. Three came on interception returns and one resulted from a fumble recovery in the end zone.
The Bengals also have a different attitude toward their opponents, Kitna said. Last year, some players might have been looking at the schedule and counting victories. This year, Kitna said nobody is doing that.
"There are no easy games," Kitna said.
When: Today-Aug. 21.
Where: Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky.
Parking: $10 per car, $25 per bus.
Up-to-date information: www.bengalscamp.com or www.bengals.com.
Today: All players report.
Monday: Practice from 8:45-11 a.m. and from 4-5:30 p.m.
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