Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

After 22 years as a college and NFL assistant, Marvin Lewis walked onto a football field for the first time Friday as a head coach.<br> <br> The Bengals rookie coach presided over his first two minicamp practices at the team's facility adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium.

"Now to pay attention to the offensive players and how they prepare and what they do in individual period, that's the biggest difference," said Lewis, a defensive coordinator with the Ravens and Redskins the past seven years. "Knowing when we call a play on offense, knowing what it is and understand who is supposed to be where. That part has been fun.

"I've enjoyed, since I've been head coach, learning our offense, learning what they're supposed to do ... and hopefully adding some insight to what the defense is seeing. Hopefully, I've been (a help), and not in their way that way."

The practice was crisp. Lewis moved from field to field and watched individual position groups. He then stood off to the side, injecting from time to time, during team drills. He let his coordinators, Bob Bratkowski on offense and Leslie Frazier on defense, run the plays.

Wide receiver Chad Johnson, in his third season, observed a difference between the Lewis practice and the ones he participated in under former coach Dick LeBeau. Johnson also got some advice directly from Lewis and a constant reminder from tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes.

"He was talking to me about using my speed more, instead of sitting at the line and making a move, just basically saying I don't have to do that, don't waste time," Johnson said of Lewis.

Hayes told all offensive players to "get a block" after every pass completion in seven-on-seven or full-team drills.

"He's not going to play any games out there," Johnson said of Hayes. "Defensive coaches are getting on the receivers. It's good. Everybody's working as a whole out there."

Lewis also had to address the absence of Corey Dillon, the only signed player missing from the voluntary camp. Lewis' mandatory camp will be in June.

"It's voluntary. We want to have our guys here. But we'll be fine. We're going to move forward and on," Lewis said when asked about Dillon after the afternoon practice. "I probably had a pretty good feeling where he'd be.

"We cannot require people to be here. We're right where we need to be. We'll move forward. His teammates are moving on and working and we'll fit the next guy back into the fold, whoever it is, from this point on."

Dillon, a three-time Pro Bowler, and linebacker Kevin Hardy, are the only all-stars on the roster. Hardy was a Pro Bowler while playing for Jacksonville.

Team Notes
--Friday's minicamp practices were an NFL first for linebacker Brian Simmons. They were his first without his former teammate, fellow first-round 1998 draft pick and close friend Takeo Spikes. Spikes last month signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills, an offer sheet the Bengals chose not to match. Simmons, a good friend off the field with Spikes, downplayed Spikes' departure. "Once you get out there, that's the guy you're going to sweat with, cry with, bleed with," said Simmons, has moved outside to make room for middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "That's where your focus has to be. You can't worry about who used to be there."

Team Skinny
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: The Bengals top three needs are defensive line, cornerback and the interior of the offensive line. The defensive line and cornerback have been addressed, to a point, in free agency. The team was thin on the defensive line, especially at tackle, where the return of starter Oliver Gibson is unsure because of Achilles' tendon surgery. Cornerback has been a problem area for several seasons, and despite the development of Artrell Hawkins, the signing of former Bills/Colts cornerback Jeff Burris last season was not successful. There are concerns about the health and durability of center Rich Braham, and right guard Mike Goff was pushed around in more than one game last season. The Bengals appear to have put themselves in a position to draft the best player available with the first overall pick, even if that player needs a year on the sidelines to develop.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Jason Perry, safety (late-season pickup to replace safeties on injured reserve; new coaches have no interest in bringing him back); OT Jamain Stephens (under-achieving former first-round pick sees days of easy paycheck with Bengals coming to an end); DT/DE Bernard Whittington (valuable, intelligent swing man is entertaining interest from other clubs but won't rule out a return to Cincinnati).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Rich Braham (team has refusal rights and would like to keep him at reduced price); WR Ron Dugans (tendered at $605,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation; improving receiver, key special teams player); WR Danny Farmer (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; plays well when healthy, injury-prone, could be let go by Lewis) PK Neil Rackers (tendered at $605,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation; revived career with strong third year, will be back).


PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LS Brad St. Louis (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); LB Armegis Spearman (RFA/matched Packers offer; $2.675M/3 yrs, $550,000 SB; 2003 cap: $541,667).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: FB Mike Green (waivers Titans); LB Kevin Hardy (UFA Cowboys; $14.4/4 yrs, $3.5M SB; 2003 cap: $2.975M); CB Tory James (FA Raiders; $13.575M/4 yrs, $3.6M SB; 2003 cap: $2.9M); TE Reggie Kelly (UFA Falcons; $6.8M/4 yrs, $2M SB); DL Carl Powell (UFA Redskins; $1.73M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $780,000); DT John Thornton (UFA Titans; $22.5M/6 yrs, $$3.75M SB/$1.25M RB; 2003 cap: $2.875M).

PLAYERS LOST: DE Vaughn Booker (cut); QB Gus Frerotte (UFA Vikings; $1.9M/2 yrs, no SB/$700,000 base guarantee); S Cory Hall (UFA Falcons; $12.25M/5 yrs, $2.75M SB); FB Nicolas Luchey (UFA Packers; $6M/6 yrs, $1.1M SB); FB Lorenzo Neal (UFA Chargers; $4.2M/3 yrs, $1M SB); LB Takeo Spikes (TFA Bills; $32M/6 yrs, $9M SB/$1.5M option bonus '04); OT Richmond Webb (cut).

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