More from Lewis interview
In an interview late this afternoon in his Paul Brown Stadium office, where he discussed the upcoming NFL scouting combine next week, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said:
-- The Bengals will use their franchise tag, though it would rather not. He would not say if defensive end Justin Smith, offensive lineman Stacy Andrews or safety Madieu Williams would be the recipient.
-- Smith and Andrews, as the team's own unrestricted free agents, play key roles in the two major areas of need heading into free agency and the draft, and those are the defensive and offensive lines.
-- Praised Andrews. "No question Stacy is a very important part of our football team," Lewis said. "We watch growth wherever we put him, left guard or right tackle."
-- The defense remains a base four-lineman, three-linebacker scheme, though that setup could change in the next two months depending on personnel shifts.
-- Injuries at running back make it an area where the team will investigate adding new players, though Lewis added that he is encouraged that Rudi Johnson will return as an invigorated, re-energized player after a 2007 season marred by a hamstring injury. Lewis called Johnson a "prideful young man."
-- The Bengals are hopeful to get production from oft-injured Chris Perry but were "a little bit unsure" about Kenny Irons at running back.
-- "(Pass) rushers on defense, that has to be a priority," Lewis said. "You have to be able to affect the football game by knocking the quarterback around."
-- Tight end is an area that the team might finally act on, adding an athletic pass receiving tight end and teaching him how to block as he matures physically. Still, Lewis praised the trio of tight ends who ended the season on the roster, starter Reggie Kelly and backups Daniel Coats and Nate Lawrie. "We might take a lesser physical player at this point and get a better receiver," he said.
-- The team would again, as it did in 2007, stay away from draft picks who have character issues. "You don't allow the discount (in where the player becomes available in the draft) to play a part in the decision," Lewis said.
-- The offseason strength and conditioning program is likely to start March 24.