Lewis' first go at constructing his own team in 2003 was essentially a patch-work job that consisted of second-rate free agents and quick-fix draft picks. Only Carson Palmer, Brad St. Louis and Ochocinco—then known as Chad Johnson—remain from that season. Lewis tried to install new parts here and there along the way, and the results were occasionally promising. But by the middle of last season it had become apparent that the roster needed a dramatic overhaul and the Bengals think-tank went to work.
After months of negotiating, drafting, and coaching, the 2009 roster was unveiled Saturday, and, if nothing else, it appears much sturdier than that first attempt seven years ago. Outside of drafting Andre Smith in the first-round, Cincinnati seems to have made good decisions every step of the way during this offseason—Smith may still pan out, but his start as a professional so far has been laden with setbacks.
Further proof that the Bengals are on the right track came on Saturday when the team released its final 53-man roster that included all four running backs who were thought to be in a competition to make the team. Cedric Benson, Brian Leonard, DeDe Dorsey, and Bernard Scott, each showed a distinct, unique ability that proved too effective to release to another team.
Also this week, rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga told the media that he is scheduled to start Sunday against Denver. While this isn't much of a surprise, it's noteworthy because Rashad Jeanty had been atop the depth chart throughout the preseason. Maualuga is too talented to watch plays from the sideline. He still may be a little raw and will likely show some occasional growing pains, but last year's college defensive player of the year has tremendous instincts, plays fearless and brings a heavy dose of chaos to the field with him. Marvin once coached a player named Ray Lewis in Baltimore with similar characteristics and that worked out well for everyone involved.
Excuses are no longer tolerated on this team. Players who have survived the final cuts have done so because they practice hard and take the game seriously. Extra role models have been added to assist the younger players' maturation into the league, and to allow the coaches to teach more and babysit less. The idea is that the new team culture will permeate throughout the locker room and demand a sense of professionalism from the players all season long. No longer are the Bengals here for show or for fun or to simply get paid; they're here to work.
Lewis knows that he too is out of excuses.
“I get the blame now,” he told Geoff Hobson.
That is rather telling for such a short statement. It implies that in years past, perhaps he was not to blame, but rather his players were. It also indicates that he is finally satisfied with his roster and that the necessary pieces for success are in place.
Marvin Lewis is a man who is cautious with his words and is driven by principles. If, for the first time, he feels confident in his players' abilities and their emotional fortitude, it makes me believe in this team more than I would otherwise.
Mojokong—from the island of Elba.