Football

John Clay: Bengals coach perfect balance for a bombastic team

Marvin Lewis, the Bengals' low-key coach, didn't create many headlines at a news conference discussing the team's upcoming exhibition game.
Marvin Lewis, the Bengals' low-key coach, didn't create many headlines at a news conference discussing the team's upcoming exhibition game.

GEORGETOWN — Visited Camp Celebrity on Thursday.

Reason: Press conference. Subject: Coach Marvin Lewis. Media purpose: Find out what's going on with the must-see TV Bengals. Lewis' purpose: Tell the media as little as possible about what's going on with the low-key Bengals.

The New York Jets have a rather quiet team.

The Jets have the bombastic Rex Ryan as their coach.

The Cincinnati Bengals have reality TV stars Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens as receivers. They have the star-crossed Cedric Benson at running back and rehabilitating Pacman Jones at defensive back.

The Bengals have Marvin Lewis as their coach.

This is known as balancing things out.

Two minutes into his 12:15 p.m. media meeting Thursday to discuss Cincinnati's Hall of Fame Game exhibition Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis was dying to give up the stage.

"Anything else?" he said.

Question: How much will the starters play Sunday night?

Lewis: "They'll play until I take them out."

OK, OK, so Lewis said some other things before that. Not that those other things amounted to much. He is polite, yes, but he is also conservative and tight-lipped and would rather walk across a bed of burning coals than deliver a sound bite that might produce even the tiniest spark of a controversy.

Marvin Lewis is the anti-Rex Ryan.

For these Bengals, that makes him perfect.

This Cincinnati team is personality plus.

There's Ochocinco, last seen doing the Paso Doble with the lovely Cheryl Burke, then auditioning a bevy of VH1 bimbos for his dating show Ultimate Catch. (Not to be confused with Deadliest Catch.)

There's Benson, whose successful second act was nearly derailed by his participation in an unfortunate off-season punch-up in a drinking establishment. In a moment of mercy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to let that one slide.

Now add Pacman Jones, whose rap sheet is so detailed he hasn't lined up on a football field in two years. Throw in the less-objectionable, but much-louder T.O., a perennial nominee for best actor in an NFL drama.

Thursday question: How do you feel about Owens having a reputation for making up his own routes?

Lewis: "We have the ultimate maker-upper as it is in Chad."

Laughter.

Lewis: "(Owens) is not even on the same planet."

Magnificent Marvin. He has the players' backs. It's one reason behind his staying power. In the eight years previous to Lewis' employment, the Bengals had three head coaches. This year, Lewis starts his eighth season as Cincinnati head coach. He's following his second playoff appearance.

"We won a lot of games," said the coach. "But we didn't win the last one, and that's the one that counts."

Thus the Bengals are clearly "going for it," as former Bengal and NBC lead analyst Cris Collinsworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer upon visiting Georgetown College on Wednesday.

"It's the fact the Bengals made that bold a stroke," Collinsworth said of the T.O. signing. "The feeling amongst the fan base is, if it works or doesn't work, they went for it, and just having a go-for-it moment was exciting in and of itself."

That creaking you heard was the sound of Mike Brown opening his wallet.

Everything has to mesh, however. No spills. Only thrills. So far, so good, said Lewis. Owens is a veteran. He knows what's what. Plus, he's being pushed. Third-year pro Jerome Simpson is improving. Lewis praised rookie Jordan Shipley.

Lewis was asked how much No. 1 draft pick Jermaine Gresham, who got to camp Tuesday, might play Sunday.

"He'll play," said the coach with a smile, "until I decide to take him out."

End of press conference.

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