Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is going into the final year of his contract with two new coordinators and three new assistants. For some head coaches that would cause some angst, but Lewis seems energized.
"I've got a new enthusiasm now working with new coaches. It's exciting," Lewis said. "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."
With Hue Jackson (offense) and Paul Guenther (defense) being promoted, Lewis has continued to stress that the overall schemes will not change. While a lot of attention has been paid to the coordinators, the more underrated hiring might be Vance Joseph as co-defensive backs coach. Lewis said that Joseph will deal with the cornerbacks and Mark Carrier the safeties.
Lewis said he has discussed an extension with owner Mike Brown, but those talks are in the early stages due to most of the coaching staff needing to be re-signed. When Lewis signed his recent extension in 2012, it happened during the first week of training camp.
In 2010, Lewis coached the entire season under lame-duck status before agreeing to a two-year deal to return two days after the season concluded. Over the past three seasons, Lewis has led the Bengals to the playoffs but they have lost in the first round each time.
Besides Lewis, the other possible extension on the mind of Bengals fans is quarterback Andy Dalton, who has been solid in the regular season but awful in the playoffs. Those discussions remain in the early stages as well.
There remains the possibility that both sides could elect to play out the final year and the Bengals could elect to apply the franchise tag. The one thing that doesn't waver is Lewis' support of Dalton.
When asked if he is convinced that Dalton is his guy, Lewis said: "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 a bad position."
--Defensive end Michael Johnson is unlikely to receive the franchise tag for a second straight season, but coach Marvin Lewis remains confident that they can re-sign Johnson despite high-priced extensions given to defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins last year.
This could be the first season since 2010 that the Bengals do not use the tag. Offensive tackle Anthony Collins and safety Taylor Mays are outside shots.
--The player that will receive the most focus during the combine though is Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who could become the first openly gay player to be selected.
When asked about Sam, director of player personnel Duke Tobin noted that the late Paul Brown, who was the franchise's founder, was a trail blazer in a lot of areas.
Added Tobin: "We discriminate against a lot of things -- size, speed, production, work ethic, quickness, balance. We've never discriminated against color, religious beliefs, or sexual preference. The things that don't matter on a football field we won't discriminate against. They don't matter to us. What we're focused on in every player is how he fits for us. One thing Marvin loves to say and he's 100 percent right is what kind of teammate will he be? It doesn't matter what his preferences are, what type of teammate will he be? He wants guys that will come in and be a good teammate. That's what we're really focused on. We keep our discrimination to the physical attributes and if the guy can do what we need to do.
"How good of a player he is? That's the lesson that Paul Brown taught us. Can he help us on the field and that's what we're focused on and will he be a good teammate? We have an obligation to put people in the locker room that will respect each other and be a good teammate and come together as a team. It's the ultimate team sport. It's not a collection of individuals but teammates."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bengals extended tender offers to wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher and linebacker Vincent Rey, the team announced Wednesday (March 5).
The three fourth-year players are set to become restricted free agents when their current contracts expire at Saturday's NFL deadline.
"This is part of the yearly process to help us retain our core of good young players," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Andrew, Vinny and Dane have earned the opportunity to look at the market, but we want them back with us. They are certainly in our plans."
Beginning Saturday, the three players have the right to negotiate with other teams, but the tenders allow the Bengals to match another offer. The deadline for a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet from another team is May 2. After that date, a player's 2014 rights revert exclusively to his 2013 team.
All three players received the lowest tender of $1.431 million. If an offer is presented and the Bengals don't match, there would be no compensation because the three players were undrafted.
Hawkins returned last season for the final eight regular-season games and the wild-card playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers after missing the first eight games with an ankle injury. He has 86 catches for 995 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with the Bengals.
Rey played in all 17 games last season and subbed for starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga while he was sidelined for three games with an injury. Rey's 54 tackles in 2013 included 4.0 sacks. He also had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
Sanzenbacher saw action in 10 games last season and started one. He had six receptions for 61 yards.
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
--LB Michael Boley
--OT Anthony Collins
--S Chris Crocker
--CB Brandon Ghee
--DE Michael Johnson
--S Taylor Mays
--P Zoltan Mesko
--G/C Mike Pollak
--OT Dennis Roland
--WR Brandon Tate
--TE Alex Smith
CORNERBACK: Still not a lot of young depth. Leon Hall is coming back from an Achilles injury while Terence Newman and Adam Jones aren't getting younger.
LINEBACKER: The Bengals signed James Harrison, but he didn't make much of an impact. They need an outside edge rusher that has been lacking.
QUARTERBACK: Andy Dalton is entering the final year of his contract along with the need to develop another young arm in case of injury.
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