Dick LeBeau is trying to sell his players on the idea that times are changing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
At the team's minicamp in early May, he had video director Travis Brammer play the 1960s tune "Gimme Some Lovin'," by the Spencer Davis Group, as the players assembled for a meeting.
The Bengals' head coach then walked into the room wearing a 1970-ish Elvis Presley costume. He had a red sash, a cape, bell bottoms, and was dancing like an extra from Saturday Night Fever.
The players and coaches were stunned at first, but then started cheering and clapping.
LeBeau got the getup at a costume shop and it helped him get his message across: namely, that they're all in this together. The Bengals learned that last season by surviving an 0-3 start in which they were outscored 74-7. That prompted coach Bruce Coslet to resign and owner Mike Brown to elevate LeBeau from defensive coordinator to the head job.
LeBeau wasn't an overnight success. The team dropped to 0-6 before going 4-6 in the last 10 games. But things improved enough for LeBeau to get the job on a permanent basis and now he's trying to put his stamp on the team.
"Just trying to let them know it's going to be a little different," he says. "We're all in this together. Just give me some lovin'. Just give me some lovin'."
The players liked the message. "For guys who've been around here a long time it was a breath of fresh air," right tackle Willie Anderson says. The Bengals, though, know they need more than love and a coach who wears an Elvis costume. They've got to get better production, particularly at the quarterback position.
The Bengals not only passed for fewer yards (2,219) than any other team in the league last season. They passed for the fewest yards in a 16-game season since the 1979 Kansas City Chiefs. This is probably a make-or-break season for third-year quarterback Akili Smith, who was benched late last season for Scott Mitchell.
The Bengals demonstrated their concern about Smith by bringing back Mitchell and also signing Jon Kitna from Seattle.
Smith's 52.8 passer rating was the lowest in the league last season among quarterbacks who had enough pass attempt to qualify. He threw only 3 touchdown passes compared to 6 interceptions and was sacked 36 times. Mitchell struggled with a 50.8 rating, although he threw only 187 passes, leaving Kitna as the best of the group last season with a 75.6 rating for the Seahawks.
If the Bengals get solid play at quarterback from one of the three, they may have the makings of a potent offense. With wide receivers Peter Warrick and Darnay Scott, who's returning from a broken leg, joining rookies Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the only question about the Bengals' passing game is whether the quarterback can get them the ball.
Their running game should be as good as ever now that Corey Dillon has a new contract, and, along with Anderson, the signing of Richmond Webb gives Cincinnati a pair of solid tackles. LeBeau likes to run the ball and Dillon could surpass the 1,435 rushing yards he collected last season.
On defense, the Bengals drafted Justin Smith with their first-round pick and have penciled him in as a starter at right end. They also signed free agents Tony Williams and Kevin Henry to help improve the defensive line. The linebacking corps is solid with outside linebackers Steve Foley and Takeo Spikes flanking Brian Simmons in the middle.
The Bengals need to put heat on the quarterback because they have question marks at cornerback, where Rodney Heath and Robert Bean will go to camp as the starters.
The Bengals like to think they're going to take a step forward this season, but they still have a long road to travel to become a force in this division.
2000 Record: 4-12
Coach: Dick LeBeau 4-9 (2nd season)
2000 NFL Rankings
Offense: 29 (3 rush, 31 pass)
Defense: 22 (24 rush, 23 pass)