Marvin Lewis The Builder: From A Two-Win Season To The Postseason

Matt Sullivan

Marvin Lewis might be an ordinary head coach when you look at his record, but he's also becoming one of the best at rebuilding teams in the NFL.

Marvin Lewis has become an expert builder. A rebuilder. Open-minded enough to apply evolving philosophies over time, incorporating personnel on the roster while silently rebuilding with an eye towards tomorrow, Lewis was the head coach that Cincinnati needed to repair nearly two decades of futility. For the first time during his tenure, and the first time in 30 years for the Bengals, Cincinnati reached the postseason in consecutive seasons. Actually it's the first time that Lewis' Bengals posted consecutive winning seasons.

It's perhaps his best roster yet, but it wasn't his first roster building project.

When Marvin Lewis was announced as the team's head coach on January 14, 2003, the former Redskins and Ravens defensive coordinator inherited a team that finished 2-14 in 2002. Along with revamping the coaching staff grandfathered into his regime, Lewis clearly set out to accomplish two things. Sign veterans to help rebuild the roster and draft for two needs -- now, and tomorrow. By March the Bengals applied the Transition Tag on Takeo Spikes and began free agency with a focus on veteran leadership by signing defensive tackle John Thornton and tight end Reggie Kelly. The Bengals also signed cornerback Tory James, who would start 64 games, pick off 21 passes for the Bengals and play in the 2004 Pro Bowl.

The focus eventually shifted to the NFL draft, finding their franchise quarterback in Carson Palmer, along with offensive guard Eric Steinbach and fullback Jeremi Johnson. Richie Braham, who entered free agency in March, returned days after the draft concluded. Cincinnati needed a kicker. They acquired Shayne Graham in September, waived by the Carolina Panthers. Graham would later become the franchise's most efficient place-kicker, converting 86.8 percent of his field goals -- the second-highest percentage is held by Doug Pelfrey at 77.3 percent (so it's not even close).

Within seven months, Lewis acquired eight players that would eventually make numerous starts on the 2003 Cincinnati Bengals that played with another team (NFL or college) in 2002.

Starting lineup comparison from 2002 to 2003 (note: players with the most starters at their respective position):
* denotes new acquisition

2002 2003
QUARTERBACK Jon Kitna Jon Kitna
RUNNING BACKS Corey Dillon Rudi Johnson
FULL BACK Lorenzo Neal Jeremi Johnson *
WIDE RECEIVERS Chad Johnson Chad Johnson
Peter Warrick Peter Warrick
TIGHT END Matt Schobel Reggie Kelly *
LEFT TACKLE Levi Jones Levi Jones
LEFT GUARD Matt O'Dwyer Eric Steinbach *
CENTER Rich Braham Rich Braham
RIGHT GUARD Mike Goff Mike Goff
RIGHT TACKLE Willie Anderson Willie Anderson
LEFT DEFENSIVE END Bernard Whittington Duane Clemons *
LEFT DEFENSIVE TACKLE Oliver Gibson John Thornton *
RIGHT DEFENSIVE TACKLE Tony Williams Tony Williams
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END Justin Smith Justin Smith
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Canute Curtis Adrian Ross
MIDDLE LINEBACKER Brian Simmons Kevin Hardy *
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Takeo Spikes Brian Simmons
CORNERBACK Jeff Burris Artrell Hawkins
Artrell Hawkins Tony James *
SAFETY JoJuan Armour Rogers Beckett *
Cory Hall Mark Roman

Despite opening the season losing three of the first four heading into the week five bye in 2003, the Bengals would recover by winning six of their next seven games to enter week 16 at 8-6. Losses to the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns -- with one lucky fan receiving Corey Dillon's entire uniform -- left Cincinnati at .500. An impressive six-game improvement from 2002 -- though a trend of late-season declines that would prove unfortunate over time.

ACQUIRING PICKS FOR MORE TALENT

The rebuilding project continued into 2004, adding an additional four starters starting with offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who would go on to start 118 games for Cincinnati. But it's the trades of 2004 that helped rebuild the team's roster that year.

However it was a series of trades that helped boost the team's roster. An upset Corey Dillon was sent packing to New England in exchange for a second-round selection. An unhappy Deltha O'Neal demanded a trade out of Denver. They accepted. Along with sending O'Neal to Cincinnati, the Bengals and Broncos swapped first-round picks and Denver gave Cincinnati their fourth-round pick (No. 117 overall). Cincinnati would later swap first-round picks with St. Louis, who also gave Cincinnati their fourth-round pick.

The Bengals draft order before and after those trades:

ROUND PRE-TRADES POST-TRADES
1st No. 17 No. 26
2nd No. 49 No. 49
No. 56
3rd No. 80 No. 80
No. 96 (Compensatory) No. 96 (Compensatory)
4th No. 114 No. 114
No. 117 (from Denver)
No. 123 (from St. Louis)
5th No. 149 No. 149
6th No. 183 No. 183
7th No. 218 No. 218

The Bengals acquired three additional draft picks within the first 123 picks, using those selections to grab safety Madieu Williams (No. 56), defensive end Robert Geathers (No. 117) and offensive lineman Stacy Andrews (No. 123). Those three players would start a combined 181 games for the Bengals during their duration -- Geathers remains with the team today. Linebacker Landon Johnson, selected in the third round, would also become a significant contributor from that draft class.

Now the roster was developing.

2003 2004
QUARTERBACK Jon Kitna Carson Palmer
RUNNING BACKS Rudi Johnson Rudi Johnson
FULL BACK Jeremi Johnson Jeremi Johnson
WIDE RECEIVERS Chad Johnson Chad Johnson
Peter Warrick T.J. Houshmandzadeh
TIGHT END Reggie Kelly Reggie Kelly
LEFT TACKLE Levi Jones Levi Jones
LEFT GUARD Eric Steinbach Eric Steinbach
CENTER Rich Braham Rich Braham
RIGHT GUARD Mike Goff Bobbie Williams *
RIGHT TACKLE Willie Anderson Willie Anderson
LEFT DEFENSIVE END Duane Clemons Duane Clemons
LEFT DEFENSIVE TACKLE John Thornton John Thornton
RIGHT DEFENSIVE TACKLE Tony Williams Tony Williams
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END Justin Smith Justin Smith
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Adrian Ross Kevin Hardy
MIDDLE LINEBACKER Kevin Hardy Landon Johnson *
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Brian Simmons Brian Simmons
CORNERBACK Artrell Hawkins Tory James
Tony James Deltha O'Neal *
SAFETY Rogers Beckett Madieu Williams *
Mark Roman Kim Herring *

And within three years, Marvin Lewis replaced 14 starters from the 2002 squad, giving him a roster that would become the base of his 2005 squad that would make the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

2002 2005
QUARTERBACK Jon Kitna Carson Palmer *
RUNNING BACKS Corey Dillon Rudi Johnson
FULL BACK Lorenzo Neal Jeremi Johnson *
WIDE RECEIVERS Chad Johnson Chad Johnson
Peter Warrick T.J. Houshmandzadeh
TIGHT END Matt Schobel Reggie Kelly *
LEFT TACKLE Levi Jones Levi Jones
LEFT GUARD Matt O'Dwyer Eric Steinbach *
CENTER Rich Braham Rich Braham
RIGHT GUARD Mike Goff Bobbie Williams *
RIGHT TACKLE Willie Anderson Willie Anderson
LEFT DEFENSIVE END Bernard Whittington Robert Geathers *
LEFT DEFENSIVE TACKLE Oliver Gibson John Thornton *
RIGHT DEFENSIVE TACKLE Tony Williams Bryan Robinson *
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END Justin Smith Justin Smith
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Canute Curtis Landon Johnson *
MIDDLE LINEBACKER Brian Simmons Odell Thurman *
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER Takeo Spikes Brian Simmons
CORNERBACK Jeff Burris Tory James *
Artrell Hawkins Deltha O'Neal *
SAFETY JoJuan Armour Madieu Williams *
Cory Hall Kevin Kaesviharn *
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