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That annual talk-fest known as SEC Football Media Days kicks up the summer dust this week down in sweet home Alabama. In-state grid combatants Kentucky and Louisville meet for a friendly round of golf, with some coaches' comments mixed in, this Thursday at the University Club. The Cats then report to campus Aug. 4, before pulling on the shoulder pads a day later.
But first up is the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals return Sunday to Georgetown College for another go at training camp. First practice is Monday. So, as is their tradition, the Bengals brass put on a surf-and-turf media luncheon Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium to feed the need for a late-summer, pre-camp football fix.
Owner and president Mike Brown was there. Head Coach Marvin Lewis was there. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer were there.
Alas, a touch of the hangover from last season and a contentious off-season was there as well.
“We disappointed ourselves some last year and we disappointed our fans,” admitted Brown.
This is a new year, however. And as the temperatures rise, so does the anticipation.
True, the Bengals have posted mediocre 8-8 and 7-9 records in the two years since their 11-5 record and playoff appearance of 2005. True, the franchise still shows a few bruises from the national hits received over the character issues that surfaced to the point of embarrassment with various Bengals.
“But we got rid of those guys,” said Lewis, matter of fact, speaking of the likes of ostracized wide receiver Chris Henry and castoff linebacker Odell Thurman. “We've moved forward.”
Lewis on the state of this, his sixth team: “We enter this season as healthy as we've been in a long time.”
Lewis on the off-season trade demands, since recanted, by big-time wide receiver and distraction Chad Johnson: “Enough has been said about that. That's in the past. We're excited for him to cleanse his mind and getting back to playing football and having fun.”
Lewis on reports, put out by the troubled and now bankrupt Henry, that the Bengals would be interested in bringing back the troubled and now bankrupt Henry: “I'm not interested in bringing back anyone who is not productive for this football team.”
Speaking of production, offensive boss Bratkowski on running back Rudi Johnson, who dipped precipitously from 1,309 rushing yards in 2006 to just 497 last year: “I think he's a man on a mission. He's rededicated himself without saying much about it.”
Brown on Zimmer, the new defensive boss charged with fixing a unit that regressed, giving up 385 points last year, under former coordinator Chuck Bresnahan: “I like him. He's aggressive. He's hands-on in practice. The players know he's there.”
In fact, to hear Tuesday's happy talk, the lone Queen City controversy is quarterback Carson Palmer's comments to a Los Angeles radio station that he was sick of obnoxious Ohio State fans, who would learn the true meaning of college football when the Buckeyes visit The Coliseum on Sept. 13 to play Palmer's alma mater, USC.
“He might not know that my dad (Paul) coached Ohio State and that they beat USC two years in a row,” said Mike Brown, smiling. “I don't think anybody takes (Carson's comments) seriously. If they do, they shouldn't.”
Ah, but if some serious football trash talk has started, serious football can't be too far behind.
“It's time to play football,” said Lewis.
It is time.