Q: Is giving the franchise tag to Michael Johnson ($13-million plus) an option?
Marvin Lewis: Obviously anything is an option. We would hope to get a contract negotiated short of the franchise tag.
Q: You’ve had a couple weeks to work with Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther at the coordinator positions and then the other new assistants?
ML: It’s been great. With the changes we’ve had it’s been important for us to get back and get after football. It’s been great. I was ecstatic to fill the positions with the people we filled them with. I’m excited about our direction and how they’ve been working and evaluating our systems. We’ll have more opportunity to get a good foothold on everything before the players come back.
Q: Any plays to expand the roles of Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert?
ML: I don’t know how much increase we can get with Gio because he touched it two out of three times already. At this point you want to make sure you don’t pound one guy. I thought what we did last year was great. Tyler got a lot of opportunity to play and to grow. Guys earn opportunity. You earn it and we’ll give it to you.
Q: Safety emphasis on NFL and rule changes, what you make of the strike zone emphasis. Lot of players with knee injuries?
ML: We’ve made great progress in trying to take the headgear out of football as much as we can. You look at the numbers of what’s happening on the field and the numbers are reduced. We’re not where we want to be. Anytime something has changed we know the intended and unintended consequences. Despite what was reported there was not a spike a certain injuries. I think right now where the league is I feel pretty positive about where things are.
Q: QB evaluation of draft class?
ML: I’m sorry but I’ve only watched three college players. This was my time to evaluate my own players. My draft evaluation process will start after we leave here. I know there are some guys who people are excited about.
Q: So speaking of quarterbacks, how about an extension for Andy Dalton?
ML: As a football team we would like to keep to continue to keep our good, young players. The representatives from his side and our team will get together and try to discuss something. We feel good about what Andy has done the past three seasons and we have to continue to help him to continue to play better.
Q: What do you think he needs to do?
ML: We need to win a playoff game. We have to play better on offense, defense and special teams. We didn’t play very good and we got our butts whipped because of it. There’s no excuses about it. We didn’t play good from the QB spot, the defense spot or protection and you get beat when you do that.
Q: How about Mike Zimmer getting his shot in Minnesota?
ML: I’m so happy for Mike. He’ll do very well. I’m excited for him as he moves forward.
Q: What is the future of the extra point?
ML: The committee always gets the task and see if there is a better way without destroying the tradition of the game. But we now have kicking coaches, the fields are much better, things have improved over time. We had a little bit in the way of blocking a kick. We’ll continue to discuss as we go into our meetings in Florida. It’s something everyone is looking at. Can we make the game better without ruining the tradition?
If you had one blocked like we did this year, it is possible. When they occur as a negative in the game it’s a big deal. There may be some ways to enhance the game and we will continue to look at those things.
Q: What was the toughest part for you to move from coordinator to head coach?
ML: I think one of the tougher things to do moving from coordinator to head coach is you’ve got everybody that you’ve got to have a plan for. You had a plan as a coordinator but now you’ve got to have a plan for the entire football team. Offense, defense and special teams, everything has to fit together. They all have to work together. When you get injuries and so forth you’ve got to have the right guys putting the right people in place all of the time. But to me, the biggest thing is dealing with the injuries week in and week out.
Q: How do you think Jay (Gruden) will do? What are his biggest strengths?
ML: I just kind of answered the same question… Jay will do fine. Both guys will work their tails off and they’ll do fine. Jay’s got a great vision of things. He’s been a head coach. He’s been successful as a head coach and he comes in there with that kind of experience. He’s done the whole thing. He’s been the head coach and his own GM with what he was doing in the Arena League so he’s got some great experiences already under his belt.
Q: Concerned that there are nearly 100 underclassmen here this year?
ML: Look at this place. Who wouldn’t want to be here? I mean, I didn’t create this. (The media) did. That’s the thing. This has become quite an opportunity. It’s a big deal and the NFL is very proud of it. Yes, more and more guys are going to declare for the draft. I think the thing to look at it is in the end, how many of these kids that are juniors do get drafted? Are some of these kids coming into the league or declaring for the draft that actually should stay on a college campus? Because if they ask me I would tell them all to stay. It’s definitely the greatest time of their life when they’re on a college campus, so enjoy that as long as you can. None of us jumped up to go to work right away, did we? We were glad we didn’t have to go to work, so I don’t know why they would do anything different. But the problem is that right now they don’t see this as work. Believe me; we’re going to change their minds.
Q: Former colleagues Jim Schwartz and Donnie Henderson are now with Buffalo. What can they bring as a combination?
ML: They’ve got two gas throwers. Jimmy, first off, Schwartzie is a tremendous mind, ideas, energy and obviously I think the world of him. He’s done a great job as a coordinator and a great job as a head coach and now he’s taken a step back again and he’ll do this thing again. Donnie, I owe a lot to. He’s a tremendous secondary coach, does a great job with the players. He’ll be a great extension, a great resource for Jimmy on how to attack, how to defend and do the things that you need to do. That’s what you want. When you’re in that coordinator’s chair you want a guy that can come in and help you with the plan or you can ask a question and he’s going to give you a very credible answer and one that you can really rely on.
Q: Speaking of extra points, do you expect to get some blocks from Margus Hunt?
ML: We’d like to. I mean, obviously there is big difference between college football and the National Football League. Margus was with that in college but we’re excited about Margus. Margus got an opportunity this year through injury to play. When we started the season we didn’t know if he’d get that opportunity. Now, my boss would’ve been all over me to keep trying to get that opportunity for him but through injury we were able to get him some playing time and he did a great job of it. And also continue to do is work and develop and grow. He’s a hard-working kid. He’s one of the first kids in the building every morning. You can’t take that away from him, his work ethic, his ability to understand coaching and what the coaches are trying to do, but he continues to need time on task. This will be fun. This offseason and training camp will be great for him.
Q: Can he play inside and outside?
ML: I think he can do both, yes…
Q: Losing two coordinators but ability to replace from within was how important?
ML: It is a strain when we lose good people like we did but I was very fortunate to have good people in place in our plan and able to go to them right away and go outside and hire a couple of coaches on defense and another coach on offense that will really help us and elevate how our offense unfolds. We’re really fortunate but we had this plan in place and the timing of it fell into place pretty well. We’re pretty fortunate that way.
Q: Was that a long term plan you’ve been thinking about?
ML: Well, you try to but it doesn’t always go that way. Even the timing what occurred played well for the Bengals.
Q: Have you sat down with Hue and Andy about how the offense will be different and what’s expected?
ML: We’re not having a new system. We’re going to have a revision. We’re going to have a different set up, a different play caller and so forth but we’re not allowed to meet with our players this time of year. You’ll get me in trouble. Our guys are excited about the transition. They know what Hue’s all about. They’re excited about it. Andy and Hue have had numerous conversations about it. He’s excited. Nobody’s going to rest this offseason at all in our building.
Q: How much have you talked to Zimmer and what kind of advice have you given him?
ML: I’ve talked to him a few times. Mike’s been through this process so he understands it, but we have had an opportunity to talk quite a few times. He’s anxious to do football and at some point he’s going to get a chance to. I keep encouraging him that that’s going to happen, but right now he’s doing all the other things he’s got to get done.
Q: Is the Combine overrated? Is this more of a media event?
ML: Obviously for you guys it’s been tremendous. It’s awesome. I don’t think anybody was ever here but us dumb coaches. But now, it is. It’s a great opportunity. But what we get done is medical. For the 32 teams to get all the medical done and to take a look inside and under the hood is what’s important. Then there’s some affirmation, some confirmation of things as far as height, weight, speed and so forth, and strength. But the most important thing for a football player coming to the National Football League is what you’ve done as a college player. And that’s the thing we’re trying to look at. We’re trying to evaluate your tape on your college campus and what you’ve done. So if you think guys are going to improve that much after the season? That’s why later on you guys are disappointed after the season. I don’t believe in the guy changing much with what happens here. He’s already done what’s going to be the most important thing.
Q: You said you’re only focused on your team. What are you working on with your team?
ML: I never answer those questions because then you hold me to it. But the thing is after the season you need to take a hard look at yourself, and we need to look at the things we do and how we do them and why we do them and what’s productive, and what isn’t. And that’s the thing you look at every offseason and who are we doing it with and why are we doing it that way. You’ve got to continue to push forward all the time. We’ve got new coordinators. Offensively we’ve got a new direction. There’s some things Hue wants to do differently. There’s some things in our set up of things that we want to do differently. That’s the same thing defensively. You have to get a chance right away to do that. We’ve got two new coaches to immerse into what we do defensively. So we’re off to a great start.
Q: You have to be pleased with how you kept things in house. How much of a stamp are those guys going to put on things?
ML: They’re going to do great. Obviously I have that belief or they wouldn’t be in those spots. But they’re both guys with great energy. They’ve got great feel, great direction with what they want to do, and they meet my criteria of things.
Q: Does Hue’s new direction center on the running game?
ML: You guys, you can’t say ‘running game,’ because you have to be able to throw the football productively in the National Football League. So I’ve had to back everyone down off that stance. Everyone says San Diego, that they ran the ball. Yeah, but when they scored their touchdown in the third quarter, they threw the ball six out of nine plays. People don’t understand that. You have to productively throw the football in the NFL. You can’t turn the football over, and you’ve got to be able to run the football and be more physical. That’s all a part of what we want to do. But that’s not a change from where we were that’s just going back and putting a redirection on it, a target on it and let’s go.
Q: Is the playoff loss something you get over?
ML: You don’t get over it, and we’re not going to get over it until we get an opportunity to fix it. We’re not going to get over losing. But when we get back with our players, it just hurts, it aches. The only way to get rid of the ache is to get after it and to get going again. We’ve got to earn our way back, just like we said a year ago. We don’t get to start at the top. We’ve got to earn our way through it and continue. It’s great experience for us. We’re fortunate to be able to do what we continue to do, and we do it with great young players and we keep pushing ahead and accomplishing goals and we’ve got to keep working at that.
Q: Does it fade at all or is it magnified?
ML: It doesn’t fade at all.
Q: Final year of your contract. Does it feel different?
ML: Well, I’ve been in the final year a few times. So it really doesn’t matter much. My contract and us, it’s more about us and football. My contract will be fine. Things will work out the way they always do work out. I guess I have no concern about that.
Q: People talk about an extension and being a lame duck. Does it matter?
ML: I really don’t think it matters. I don’t see how it would affect a coach in the NFL where it’s a pay for play proposition anyway. How would it matter? Nobody is guaranteed the opportunity to be beyond next year anyway, as a player. I don’t see how that affects things. It’s different from some other sports. I really think the NFL is so different. Our players don’t know the status of my contract. They don’t give a shit. Excuse me.
Q: But your relationship with Mike Brown makes it seem things will work out?
ML: Yeah, and we had a lot to get done before with the other coaches. We had whatever 17 coaches or 18 coaches. We had to get 14 coaches signed or re-signed or hired and so forth. We’ve gotten a lot done since the end of the season and there’s time for me.
Q: What does Duke Tobin and his staff mean for you guys during this period?
ML: With the scouting staff has done, for the senior prospects, they had been through them for the fall. They’ve been through tape evaluation. They’ve been through them through the fall. They’ve written reports in the fall. They’ve been through tape evaluation reports; they’ve cross-checked reports. They’ve met already on these guys once. When we leave here, they’ll go back and the juniors have now been injected in this. And they’ll do the same thing, spending the next three or four days once we leave here, really looking at the juniors as a staff together. So that they get a feel for those guys and then being able to put them in our grades and then as we get involved, the coaches get involved and there comes in another grade of where things are as we got into the meetings that we’ll start in the middle of April going into the draft.
Update on Michael Johnson?
ML: Michael obviously is a player that we would continue to love to have back. We are going to do what we can to continue to sign our players as we have, guys we’ve targeted. We don’t have very many this year. We are fortunate they did a great job last year upstairs in signing our players. We hope to have the same success this year. We are going to work hard at it.
Q: Where is Andrew Whitworth going to play? Left tackle or left guard?
ML: Too much has been made of it. Andrew Whitworth has said many times during the season he’ll play where he needs to play to make the football team win which is the same statement he made to me and then now, someone gets one little thing and makes a mountain out of a molehill. Whit will play wherever he feels is best for the football team. He loved playing inside at guard; he’s been our starting left tackle. We he continues and will be a player for us somehow, somewhere. We’ll see how things shake out and what’s good for the Bengals. We have an opportunity to have some depth. We’ll continue to try to work hard toward having that kind of depth on our football team.
Q: Feel good for assistants moving on?
ML: You feel good for it. The whole city should feel great about the opportunity that was afforded them and how to take advantage of it and the things they did. Because people don’t come after people that aren’t successful. They have been successful at what they have done and everyone recognizes that. Both as coaches, both working with the staff internally.
Q: Offseason program now has later draft date (May 8-10). How does that affect bringing rookies in?
ML: Doesn’t affect the rookies at all because their time didn’t change. I don’t think that’s going to affect them one bit.
Q: Will you still do rookie minicamp?
ML: You can. Whether you want to or not, that is the thing. To me the benefit is to inject them with the other players anyway. The rookie minicamp, particularly when there was more separation of it you got a chance to get them an introduction, got their feet wet then they left for a bit and then they came back. Over the last two years we worked under different circumstances. This will be another slight change, possibly. We reserve the right to do it. We may or may not do it depending on how the draft shakes out.
Q: Hype about combine allowing underclassmen to come out way too early?
ML: Something does. We can’t determine that until we see how many of these guys are actually drafted and how many are left there. To me the proof is in the pudding. Does that percentage of guys continue to go up? If it does then that is not a good deal.
Q: Where do you need most depth in draft?
ML: The way we look at the draft, we are going to draft the best players that are available when we go to pick. I think we can take a player as we go through the draft at any position. I am probably not going to take a first-round quarterback or first-round receiver. But I think other positions are all open game. We are right where we are right now as a football team. I don’t know who is going to be available to me from wherever we are picking, which I don’t even know what number it is.
ML: OK, so whenever we are picking at No. 24 then we’ll have an opportunity to pick a player that will either add great depth to our football team or have a chance to come in and compete to start.
Q: How much can you find about character here? Where can you find out the most of what types of personalities fit your team?
ML: That’s got to be done through research. That’s got to be done through time on campus and with each player individually. Each player is almost got to be its own packet of information and you have got to evaluate it that way.
Q: How challenging to do that with so many guys?
ML: There’s specific people that have that task for us. That’s what they do. They spend a lot of man hours looking at that and working on that and then trying to make the best recommendations they can that way.
Q: Players in interview process are well-prepped. Have you been able to discern ways to find guys who fit your mold despite that?
ML: I am a football coach and not a psychologist. The first part is they’ll fit my mold by how they look later on tape and how they come across. Can they express themselves? You don’t want a dud. You don’t want dull people. Dumb players do dumb things. They have to have some intellect about them. They have to be able to express themselves. I’m not having them take for me an achievement test in that room. I’m asking questions; explain to me your day and things like that that are important. How does a guy go about his day, his body of work each day?
Q: Andy's three playoff loses — is this something that will drive him, don’t see him falling backward?
ML: You said the key word, playoffs. Not a lot of people can say that he’s accomplished. I think that’s the first step and the second step is to push over the hump. He is a driven young man. He’s been that way. That’s how he’s gotten to be where he is his internal drive. That is not going to change with Andy Dalton. It just continues to burn brighter.
Q: Are you convinced, he’s the guy that can take you where you want to go?
ML: I’m very confident. And totally convinced. I don’t know how much more convinced and confident I could be with that. He is our quarterback. He represents us. He’s the leader of our football team. He’s ascended into that. He’s done a great job doing that. We continue to back him but we have to do better things around him and not put him in position. There’s a lot of reasons why things break down. That’s the way it is. We lost.
Q: Do you talk to other coaches/assistants/teammates to discern how good of a teammate a guy is?
ML: Are you talking about a veteran player? There’s no question. We want to know that. A college player, we’re trying to find out from the people around him. the scouts have already been through there and they’ve already gotten the company line. Hopefully they know somebody else who can give them a little better indication. That’s why I like to send our coaches out to different schools so they can be around the young men and gather information and spend time with the player and get a feel for how his teammates feel about him. To me that was one of the most impressive things about Vontaze (Burfict). His ability to relate to his teammates was impressive. Although he didn’t do a lot of things I wish he would have done that day at his workout at Arizona State, like run the 40 again, he was engaged with his teammates and they were engaged with him. That went a long ways.
Q: What does Hue bring to the table?
ML: I remember the first time we sat down with Jay and we talked about installing a play. It could be a dive play when they hand the ball to the fullback right off the center’s right ankle. It’s got to be the best play ever designed in football. I think that’s what hue brings in as well. those guys when they install an offensive play it’s got to be, ‘this is the best play ever designed in football and this is why and this is how we’re going to go about it and do it.’ he brings that kind of energy to that. he’s able to relate to the play. He’s able to pull and drag out of the guy who is maybe not getting it done exactly with all his ability. He’s not utilizing all the fibers in his body. Hue has been able to bring that out of players. He’s got a great gift for that. When other players see that, they want to be part of that and involved in that. That’s the vision he has. To keep guys involved. That’s great. The more guys you have involved, the better football team we’re going to be and the better depth we’re going to develop as we go through a long season.
Q: Has he always been like that?
ML: My first experience coaching with hue was in Washington in 2002 and yes he was that way. That’s why when I had the opening in ’04, we got Hue here right away because that’s what he brought to the table.
Q: What does new secondary coach Vance Joseph add?
ML: Vance literally has a reputation of being one of the best secondary coaches in the NFL. That was a huge hire for us. Mike Zimmer had such an influence on our back end. By hiring Vance, we were able to upgrade our coaching staff. Vance has done a great job of being a man technician, coaching man-to-man technique. He’s been able to go in and understand the game plan and see how best to attack an offense and defend receivers and be a great resource for Paul Guenther. That’s the two-fold thing I had to get done – another technician on the back end and a guy who could help give input to Paul from another point of view. I was so pleased with that. Mark (Carrier) will spend more time individually with the safeties and Vance will spend more time with the cornerback position as they break things up individually. I couldn’t be more pleased. We left a lot of clubs with their pockets picked a little bit by getting Vance. He’ll be a coordinator very quickly in the NFL and one day he’ll be a head coach. He has great communication skills, he’s a bright guy, he’s a positive guy, he’s got great energy. I couldn’t tell you how many different people said, ‘Oh my gosh, you hired him?’ That kind of reaction. From the time they got let go in Houston, he was going to be my No. 1 target if we could hire him.
Q: What did Zimmer leave?
ML: The thing Mike was so good at is being able to coach everything. From soup to nuts,. From the step of the left end to the turn of the right cornerback and that's a great quality. As Paul continues to grow and mature as a coordinator, you have to have those kind of eyes. Offensive coaches at times want to fracture apart. Defense spends all its time together. That's the greatest lesson I ever learned in Pittsburgh. We spent time together so I could coach any of the positions. From end to tackle to the left cornerback to the safety, so when I became a coordinator that was a great asset I had. Hue is going to bring that to our offense. He sees it from the left guard to the X and Z wide out. Soup to nuts all the way through. Every step. Every hand placement and the way it should be done. That's what I want to have as a coordinator. That’s what I have in our special teams coordinator in Darrin (Simmons). It's your baby. Every foot, every hand placement is your responsibility. If it's not done right, that's your responsibility. To get the position coach to get his player to do it right. Or we have to make change. That's the impression Mike would have left on that room and on Paul and the other defensive coaches. This is the way it's going to be all the time and we're not going to settle for eight out of 10. We' going to have it 10 out of 10.
Q: How much of that is a testament to your plan as far as bringing these guys in?
ML: You have to have great value in your coaches. And the other coaches. Look at what Ken Zampese has done taking two young quarterbacks and having them ascend to a very high level and James Urban what he's done with our receiver group, Jay Hayes and the development of the defensive line, Jonathan (Hayes) at tight end. So I've been very fortunate to have guys that continue to become masters at their craft.
Q: Have you self-scouted more this year because of the changes?
ML: We've been more thorough and I've been more involved in the process and we're doing it differently. That's going to be good for us.
Q: You have the same personnel, so you're focused….
ML: We're focused on us. You start out in the spring and you have a certain plan. Then you enter training camp and you're going to have a certain plan. Then as you come out of training camp you say, 'Oh shoot, we're over here now and then you've got to get back on track. That's what I'm conscious with Paul about because it's his first time doing that. We want to stay on course. How we script. I want to go back and look at the script of the entire week. Take the Excel spread sheet and look, this is how many times we ran this, so after the game comes off we're calling the things in the game that we're practicing. We have a great opportunity here to start fresh, start new and get better that way.
Q: Narrowing things?
ML: Yeah, there'll be a narrowing of focus and I think that's good for our players. Because it has to be new for our players. When our players come back April 21, it's going to be a new room. The rooms are going to look different, everything is going to look different because we're not going to be the same, we're going to be different, we're going to be new and the organization is committed to doing that and I think that's important.
Q: Are you re-arranging the furniture?
ML: We're making some change.
Q: Do you believe in the term window of opportunity?
ML: No because if that, I never would have come to Cincinnati because everyone told me we couldn't win. I think you make opportunity. I really believe that. Look at what the Carolina Panthers have done. You make opportunity. Getting good young players and developing players to give them a great direction and allowing them to grow and do great things.
Q: How long do you want to keep doing this?
ML: I enjoy worth the players. I've got a new enthusiasm now working with new coaches. It's exciting.
Q: You refreshed a little bit?
Yeah, I got out of the cold for 10 days. It was great. And that's what we have to do. It was a season that sucked at the end. We had to refresh and recharge. I got shocked back in my system losing the coaches right away and had to work at that. We were able to put that together as good as we could as quick as we could. I feel really good how that came out. Now we're doing football again. We'll embrace this process through the draft. We've got free agency that will come up and getting our guys signed and re-done and putting our team together. We're in a good spot. We have to feel good about that. I think everybody should feel good about that. This is a record crowd here today.
Q: People will say is the same outfit that hasn't won a playoff game.
ML: That's true. This outfit continues to get to the postseason. The only way to win a post-season game is to get there and we've got to keep getting there.