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Lewis wants his team to follow Steelers

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Lewis wants his team to follow Steelers

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Al Behrman/Associated Press

Marvin Lewis, left, helps introduce free-agent signee Cedric Benson earlier this month.

DANA POINT, Calif. -- A year ago, Pittsburgh was in an uproar. Alan Faneca, a Steelers Pro Bowl guard and team captain, was allowed to flee in free agency without so much as an offer from his own team. The Steelers had lost in the first round of the playoffs under a new coach. The offensive line was a mess, the defensive line old and the free agent signings were minimal.

Now, the free agent signings are below minimal, they are nonexistent in Pittsburgh, at least when it comes to signing other team's free agents.

The view looks different today, though. Winning a Super Bowl will do that for you. Now, the Steelers are the model, from teams hiring 32-year-old head coaches who look like Doogie Howser to taking a laissez-faire approach in free agency.

Among them is division opponent and former heated division rival Cincinnati, which fell off the wagon for a while there when it tried to sign every bad boy who came through the system. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who grew up near Pittsburgh and coached on Bill Cowher's first staff with the Steelers, was not in favor of that then and finally has imposed his will about how he would like to fashion his team.

He wants to do it the Steelers way, and he believes his team is on the right track because of it after losing their way after their division title in 2005.

"It's hard to evaluate the past," Lewis said the other morning. "I think we're a little better than we were then because we don't have the fly-by-night attitude."

Without so much as naming Chad Johnson, Lewis said his players could have taken a lesson from the Steelers in acting like they had been there before after their successful 2005 season. Instead, they pounded their chests right into missing the playoffs in '06, followed by the plummet to 7-9 in '07 and 4-11-1 in '08.

"You had a bunch of guys who thought they were responsible for why the team had won,'' Lewis said. "And now they realize they really weren't. It takes a whole football team to do that. They were just one cog in the wheel, but unfortunately when you have a team that has success that hasn't had success, everybody wants to beat their chest."

And that brings Lewis to his example of how the Steelers operate. They like to keep their own players first, but won't give them everything they want. They're selective. Ben Roethlisberger needs a big contract, you give it to him. Alan Faneca wants one, too, they draw the line. Joey Porter becomes ultra expensive, go with little-known James Harrison.

"That's the thing that's proven in the NFL is you can't have a football team that has the highest paid player at every spot,'' Lewis said. "You need a team that has a lot of guys that play very well at a high level but yet know collectively they have a chance to be champions."

Getting to that point is the toughest job, especially for a team such as the Bengals. The Steelers have operated in that manner for years and it's become an accepted m.o. by their players and fans, for the most part.

"It's a huge job," Lewis said. "If you look around and look at the model of the Steelers, Alan Faneca wanted to be paid at the top. They moved on and became world champions. Hines Ward took less than those other receivers and he's a more productive player than them. He knows he's got a good thing going on a good football team."

The Patriots and Steelers operate in that manner, Lewis said, and they've combined to win five of the past eight Super Bowls. He believes it also has helped them attract other role players and to re-sign their own for less than what another team might have had to pay them.

"One dollar less is better than two dollars more if you're going to have the opportunity to win," Lewis said.

The challenge for the Bengals, he said, is building what the Steelers and Patriots have managed to maintain all these years.

"You have to let some key guys go, and replace them and continue to draft well and cultivate and mature and coach our guys into being the next good player."

And you cannot worry about public perception or even what the locker room thinks.

"You don't lose sleep over it. You do the next best thing for your football team and that's to continue to draft young players and coach their tails off until they're ready to play."

He said he can think of only one big-signing free agent who had any impact on a team last season in a positive manner, Michael Turner of Atlanta.

"He's the only one. That's the only team that added a [major] guy that went to the playoffs."

So, Cincinnati's Lewis presents the view from outside when some complain that the Steelers have signed no other free agent but their own and allowed a few players to get away: Count your blessings, it's a good thing.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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Great idea.

Start by hiring more scouts and by building an indoor practice facility.

Then bring in someone to do the contracts and evaluate talent that ISN'T related to the Brown family.

That would be a good start.

Until then?

I suspect Lewis' team will continue to "follow the Steelers."

Just wondering because I don't know

Do the steelers have a indoor practice facility? and where are they ranked on number of scouts?

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Just wondering because I don't know

Do the steelers have a indoor practice facility? and where are they ranked on number of scouts?

Cincinnati Bengals:

Jim Lippincott Director of Football Operations

Duke Tobin Director of Player Personnel

Greg Seamon Scout

Earl Biederman Scout

John Cooper Scout

Bill Tobin Scouting Consultants

Debbie LaRocco Personnel Assistant

Pittsburgh Steelers:

Kevin Colbert, Director of Football Operations

Doug Whaley, Pro Personnel Coordinator

Ron Hughes, College Scouting Coordinator

Joe Greene, Special Assistant

Mark Gorscak, College Scout

Phil Kreidler, Pro/College Scout

Kelvin Fisher, College Scout

Bruce McNorton, College Scout

Dan Rooney, College Scout

Dave Petett , Blesto Scout

Bill Nunn, College Personnel

Luke Palko, Player Personnel Intern

...and yes, they have an indoor facility. The Bengals are the only team this far north without one.

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