- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
But the joy of the turnaround began to dissipate almost immediately when quarterback Carson Palmer went down with a severe knee injury on his first pass play in a wild-card playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. By the end of the 2006 season the Bengals were again an 8--8 team. And if that weren't bad enough, the franchise known for losing streaks on the field was in the middle of another one off it: 10 player arrests over a 14-month period beginning in April '06.
The run-ins with the law intensified the focus on the team's willingness to draft players like Henry, Thurman, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, whose backgrounds contained behavioral red flags.
Team and league sources say that the responsibility for the selections is shared by Lewis and Brown, but Brown has the ultimate say on personnel matters and a soft spot for talented players with troubled pasts. His father, Paul, was the coach of the Cleveland Browns during their run of greatness in the 1940s and '50s, when there was no Internet, no cellphone cameras, no instantaneous headlines when a player got in trouble. Problems were addressed quietly, and a boys-will-be-boys attitude prevailed.
But now the culture in the NFL has changed, with commissioner Roger Goodell cracking down on personal transgressions. Still, sources inside and outside the Bengals organization contend that Brown, because of the early lessons he learned, still thinks that players shouldn't be expected to act like choirboys. That's not to say he condones missteps; rather, he is more tolerant and patient than some other owners when players run afoul of the law.
"I guess the world is divided up between redeemers and nonredeemers," Brown said at his pre-training-camp news conference, which traditionally is the only time he speaks publicly during the season. "I happen to be a redeemer. I think people can be made better and right. If that's a fault, so be it."
That attitude can create awkward situations, as was the case last week when a representative for Henry said he had talked with club officials about the wideout's returning to the team. The Bengals released Henry on April 3, just hours after he was arrested for the fifth time since joining the team as a third-round draft pick in 2005, in this case for allegedly assaulting a man. The charge was later dropped after the jury failed to reach a verdict, but already on Henry's record were guilty pleas to marijuana possession, concealment of a firearm and providing alcohol to minors. (A 2006 DUI charge was dropped due to a faulty breathalizer.) Lewis told reporters on the eve of training camp that he was "not interested" in bringing back the troubled receiver, who has 17 touchdown receptions in 35 career games.
Multiple sources, though, say a team employee has been in regular contact with Henry's agent, Marvin Frazier, on Brown's behalf, indicating that the coach and the owner could be on different pages when it comes to the team's roster. (If Henry signs with a team, he faces an NFL-imposed four-game suspension for repeated violations of the league's personal-conduct code. Last season he was suspended for eight games.)
Lewis's new mantra following his only losing season (7--9) in five years on the job is that he wants players he can count on. Previously, he would allow injured players to sit out practice on Wednesday or Thursday but suit up on Sunday. No more.
"He is different this year," says eighth-year wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "In the past he would say certain things, and a lot of times you didn't know if the consequences he talked about were going to happen. I think now you're getting the sense that if he says this is going to happen, it's going to happen."
Just ask Chad Johnson. He's been working hard ever since he showed up—on time—for training camp.