INDIANAPOLIS -- On Friday, Marvin Lewis walked up the stairs to Stage A at the NFL Combine to address the media and discuss the current state of the Cincinnati Bengals. While it's too early to expect a head coach to divulge information on free agents or the team's draft plan, Lewis did drop a few hints about his feelings on the team and the direction they may take this offseason.
The first question was the most obvious one: have the Bengals made any progress when it comes to re-signing any of their free agents?
"Well yeah, I think throughout the thing there's an ongoing process, but I don't have any confirmation that we have any of them signed today," Lewis said, like any other coach or team official before him did. "We're working hard on it and I know there have been some meetings and positive things that have to continue to come. We have a number of guys we have to get re-signed so we'll work very hard at getting that done."
Of course the main free agents that the Bengals need to get re-signed are defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Andre Smith, but the team would be wise to re-sign cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones as well as focus on special teams players like Mike Nugent, Josh Brown and Kevin Huber.
As it was clear that Lewis was going to keep his cards close to his chest when it comes to free agency, which is right on par with all other coaches, the next topic was the team's interior offensive line, specifically the progression of young guard Clint Boling and rookie center Trevor Robinson.
"Starting with Clint Boling," Marvin said. "Clint began the year as a rookie two years ago and started the first games for us. He's done a nice job, and last year, being the starting guard throughout the season, he's really continued to progress. He's been a tough guy. He's played football through injury. We've been able to address some things this offseason physically already so I'm excited for him as he comes back and prepares for his third season.
"I think we're in really good position right there with the interior of our offensive line, with the emergence of Kevin Zeitler and now Trevor Robinson, who will compete this year with Kyle Cook at the center spot. He came to us as an undrafted guy from Notre Dame and really hit the ground running and really showed well throughout our early work, training camp, the preseason and when he got the opportunity to get in there and play this year, he really continued to rise like we felt he would."
When asked to clarify whether the center position would be an open competition, he simply stated that every position on the football team would be an open competition and then laughed and said, "maybe other than one wide receiver spot."
He then made it clear that he is still fairly high on Cook at center.
"Trevor did a nice job for us," he said on Friday. "Kyle came back and obviously after you miss as long as Kyle missed -- 12 weeks, 13 weeks, whatever he missed last year -- it's a difficult thing. But he worked his tail off to get back on the field and get back out there."
The conversation then turned to the draft. The Bengals have several holes that need to be filled, namely running back, safety and linebacker and some depth at other positions like wide receiver and cornerback. Lewis made it clear that it's a little too early to know much about the current draft class, but he did say he has been taking a look at some of this year's offensive tackles.
"I don't have enough information to give you an early look at anything, I've watched eight players," Lewis said. "I don't have enough look to tell you much at all. From what I've seen, where I got started, I'd say there seems to be some very talented offensive tackles and offensive line position. People have told me there's some talented defensive players, but I haven't gotten that far yet."
Lewis starting his draft analysis at offensive tackle could be nothing more than coincidence, but it could also give us a good look at what the team plans to do this offseason. Andre Smith is a free agent and will likely look to net a large contract after a successful 2012 season. The team also has to re-sign Johnson, who will also look for a large chunk of change. Furthermore, left tackle Andrew Whitworth isn't getting any younger and his play, while still at a Pro Bowl level, slipped in 2012.
"I just know, from what I've seen, I think there's guys that, to me, just watching the tackles were impressive so far," Lewis went on to say.
Lewis focused next on quarterback Andy Dalton.
"In his second year he continued to grow and really become the leader of the football team," Lewis said. "That's what I challenged him to do at the beginning of the year and I think he did a great job of responding and doing that."
He also said that there is a lot of improvement that can be made when it comes to the team's offense, but that doesn't all fall on Dalton. Lewis said that he and the other coaches have to do a better job when it comes to planning and putting players in good position to make big plays.
Lewis also touched on Dre Kirkpatrick, saying that his fist year was like a college redshirt year. Lewis said that the second-year cornerback is doing well now and he was impressed with his body of work put in on both special teams on in the limited amount of snaps taken on defense. He also said that Kirkpatrick was lucky to have the great mentors surrounding him at the cornerback position.
"He couldn't have been put in a better situation to learn how to be a pro," Lewis said.
Lewis was also happy with another rookie, linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He wasn't short of complements when asked whether or not the young linebacker could play the MIKE position in Mike Zimmer's 4-3 defense.
"Vontaze can play wherever he wants to play," Lewis said, smiling. "He's got enough ability to play wherever he wants to play and we'll play Vontaze where we want to play him when we get started playing football.
Overall, Lewis seemed upbeat and excited about the 2013 football season and the Cincinnati Bengals. The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in professional football. The Ravens are coming off their second Super Bowl win, the Pittsburgh Steelers are always a tough opponent and the Cleveland Browns are an up and coming team with an extremely talented coaching staff. The Bengals do not have an easy road to the postseason, especially when you consider the fact they play the Patriots, Packers, Colts and the Bears along with some of the better offenses and defenses throughout the NFL.
He did, however, state that he's confident the 2013 Bengals will be better than they were in 2012.
"We have work to do," he said. "I feel confident in our guys in understanding that. Just like I did a year ago, we would come back and be a better football team. We did that and we'll be a better football team this coming season than we were last year. Our guys realize you don't get to start where you left off. We're going to have change, but whatever that change is, or whatever the same is, we're all going to get better."
Follow me at @JGarrisonSBN for live updates during the 2013 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.