Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis joined ESPN Radio's Mike And Mike In The Morning on Thursday discussing a wide range of topics from the team's early success, the younger players and the affect of Carson Palmer's trade had on the team. With the help of Cincy Jungle's own Ryan Harper, here's the transcript from Thursday's interview:
Mike Greenberg: Joining us now, he’s now become the winningest coaches in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise and he’s leading a team that has surprised a lot of people at 5-2, getting set to take on Tennessee this weekend. Here’s Marvin Lewis on the Subway Fresh Take Hotline. How are you coach?
Marvin Lewis: Good morning. How are you guys doing?
Mike Golic: Good.
Greenberg: Well thanks. And let’s start right there and a lot of people have referred to your teams’ success early this season as a surprise. Are you surprised?
Lewis: Actually, not as surprised as most. I felt like we had kind of retooled the football team. We had gotten better in a lot of places. They have gone out through their play and are proving it.
Golic: You know we’ll get to the offensive side, but your defense right now, yards per game, fourth best in the league. What’s been the biggest improvement there to put you guys in that situation?
Lewis: I think the biggest thing is that we’ve obviously matured through time and experience of guys in the system. But I think overall we made some personnel moves, moving Maualuga inside. We’ve added two outside linebackers in Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson. They’ve been very helpful. Adding Nate Clements in the back end. Our safeties have now been together for a bit. And with Reggie Nelson now being the starting player. And so we’ve done a much better job of limiting the explosive plays and played better on third downs starting out. And those are the things that as you go through the rest of the football season, if you want to make some noise you got to keep doing those things right.
Greenberg: And then on the offensive side, you know you’re being led by a rookie at quarterback in Andy Dalton. And all of the geniuses like me said, "This is the worst possible year to be starting a rookie at quarterback because of the lockout", and he didn’t have the OTA’s, and much less work, much less time with the coaches than a rookie quarterback would have in normal years. Why has he been as good as he has so quickly?
Lewis: Well Mike, I think the biggest thing is you know we started over on offense. And so basically with new system, new quarterback, obviously new skilled position players on the outside because of the addition of A.J. And just allowing the two young guys in Simpson and Caldwell, who have been here, to give them an opportunity to play. And so the offense was going to be what those guys are. And I think our offensive coaches, Jay Gruden, our coordinator and the rest of the coaches have done a great job letting the offense grow through these players. And so it wasn’t like Andy had to come in here and learn something that other people weren't further along on. We spent more time with Andy in the offseason then we did with our players. So obviously, he knew more about what we were going to do then our players did until after the lockout ended.
Golic: Looking at what Dalton’s doing -- doing a great job, leading receiver A.J. Green another rookie, what a great combination. Tell us over the years how it’s been though with guys you count on like this as rookies and a rookie wall. Do they hit a rookie wall week 13, 14, 15 when they start playing more games than they’re used to in college?
Lewis: Well I talked to them about that yesterday that we’re actually at the end of your college seasons now, guys. So let’s make sure that you know we’re doing the things, continuing to do the things that we have been doing: getting our rest, still taking our preparation in time, but getting our rest when we leave here in the evening so that you can come in here every morning fresh. I have to continue to adjust things. We’ve got a very fresh, useful football team right now and we have to keep that mindset.
Greenberg: Coach, here’s another thing that the geniuses like me said. They said, "That the specter of Carson Palmer’s retirement and the question of whether he would come back or not would be a major distraction for this team and one that would create a lot of major problems." Obviously it didn’t. How did you keep that from being something that affected your team?
Lewis: Well I think the biggest thing we had to do, I had to get the organization to move on and we were able to convince everybody of that. That chapter was going to be closing. And then I think the leadership of the veteran players downstairs were able to take care of the rest of that. And so they did their part in that and I think the lockout, in this case helped out because it helped polarize the guys because they had an opportunity to get to know our new, young players on their own terms without me or the other coaches saying "well hey this guy is like, this guy is like that," you know, those guys contacted those guys when they got together and had their work they did together after the draft and they had a chance to get to know them, get to learn them through their own eyes and through their own terms.
Greenberg: And we haven’t had a chance to talk to since it happened. What was your reaction to finally the trade of Carson to Oakland?
Lewis: Well, obviously we were pleased with the outcome. I think both, everybody benefits. I think we benefit with the way our team has started this season and played. We continue the opportunity to get better with draft picks down the line and I think the Raiders got what they wanted and Hue got an opportunity to work with a quarterback that he would like to work with. And it gives Carson an opportunity to get going in his career again with a coach he knows very well.
Golic: And quickly coach, you play Tennessee this week. As you’re looking at them, you’re thoughts on Chris Johnson not having the year most people, including him I’m sure, he thought he was going to be having at this point?
Lewis: Well Mike, you know like a defensive player you are I’m going to hope that Chris Johnson has a great game whoever they play a week from now and he gets right back to his form, but he’s one terrific football player and what he can do with a football. And we have got to do a great job of staying on our feet, standing our leverages, and getting the football cupped, and getting him contained and cupped each and every time they give him the football. I can’t worry what they’re talking about. Our job is to get him limited and stop him as much as we can.