The Cincinnati Bengals officially kicked off their 2013 season Tuesday with the annual Pre-Training Camp Luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium.
Not much about the event, including the menu, has changed over the years, which seems odd for a team desperate to break from a past that has failed to produce a single postseason victory in 22 seasons, the longest such drought in the NFL.
On the other hand, it all feels like a perfect metaphor for the 2013 Bengals, who are on a mission of contradiction this year as they try to reach new heights with a largely unchanged roster.
“We’ve got a number of young and talented players, and we went into the offseason with the goal of being able to go in and really work hard to retain the rights and sign our own free agent players,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve been able to go in and re-sign the guys who we felt were vital to us. We wanted to sign the guys we felt would make an impact on the football team, and we were able to get that done.”
The Bengals brought back 17 of a possible 22 free agents and will return 20 of the 22 starters on offense and defense.
The confidence the coaches have in that roster, both as players and people, is a big reason why the team signed on for another season of the HBO series Hard Knocks.
“We want (the fans) to see our people,” team president Mike Brown said. “These are good people, people that they should be proud to have represent them, to be the team from their city. That’s what we have, and I want the public to know it.”
In addition to the stabilized roster, the Bengals have a trio of coordinators who have been with the organization longer than most of the players they are coaching, despite drawing interest for head coach openings elsewhere the last two seasons.
“It’s great to have the continuity of the coaching staff,” Lewis said, referring to Darrin Simmons (special teams, 11th season), Mike Zimmer (defense, sixth season) and Jay Gruden (offense, third season).
“Particularly from the framework of the players, because of the emotional parts of going through the ups and downs and the grinds of the season,” Lewis continued. “They know what to expect from those guys and those guys know what to expect from two-thirds of the roster. I think that’s a good thing because you don’t have to go through the process of re-start, re-change.”
Some change, of course, is to be expected. The Bengals added 10 rookies in a draft class ranked among the league’s best by many pundits, and they landed one of the biggest free-agent signings in franchise history in linebacker James Harrison.
But in spite of all of the youth, talent and cohesion in the locker room, the fact remains that the team has gone one-and-done in the playoffs three of the last four years and is 0-for-4 in Lewis’ 11-year tenure.
The Bengals went into last year’s playoffs with all kinds of momentum, having won seven of their final eight games, but the familiar taste of defeat and regret reigned following a 19-13 Wild Card loss in Houston.
“It was a game we felt we were prepared to win and didn’t win it,” Lewis said. “We got our wings clipped a little bit. Through this offseason we’ve done a great job of coming back with that kind of attitude.
“It’s important that we know we have to do the work to get back. Nothing is given to us. Nothing is assumed. We’ve got some unfinished business and some unfinished work,” he continued. “Why we do this is to be world champions. We’ve got a talented football team and a great opportunity that goes along with that.”