No Palmer, Chad, TO -- Bengals starting over

CINCINNATI - Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer decided he didn't want to play another game for the Bengals. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph headed out, too, looking for a chance to win.

Terrell Owens left. Chad Ochocinco got traded. Coach Marvin Lewis? He stayed, even though the owner insisted nothing significant would change.

Quite an offseason in Cincinnati.

The last-place team has started yet another makeover, one like so many others during its run of futility. The Bengals have only two winning seasons in the last 20 years despite changing quarterbacks, receivers, coaches -- everything except ownership.

Is there any reason for hope?

"I think some would say we've changed for the positive," said Lewis, who got a contract extension after finishing 4-12. "I've said it in January -- said it in December, actually. It would be a new beginning. I said if things worked out and I were back here, that I was going to do something that not a lot of people get to do, and that's start fresh."

Few coaches get contact extensions after managing only two winning records in eight seasons and going 0-2 in the playoffs and 60-69-1 overall. In Cincinnati, coaches are judged by a different standard -- loyalty instead of losses. So Lewis stays, and the Bengals remake their roster ... again.

"I mean, that was unexpected," offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. "But you know what? We've got a lot of guys that are ready to step in and play. It's time to let those guys get out there and shine."

They don't have a choice.

When Palmer decided he'd had enough, the Bengals drafted TCU quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round, ready to turn him into the next face of the forlorn franchise -- whether he's ready for it or not.

"We think he is promising for our future," Brown said. "Yes, he'll have teething problems. It won't be altogether easy for him all the time. But we're going to put him in there."

The rookie quarterback will be throwing to one of the least-experienced receiver groups in the league, the result of the Bengals' decision to finally rid themselves of divas. Lewis supported the decision to sign Owens and team him with Ochocinco -- they immediately put together their own reality show called "The T.Ocho Show" and bragged about glory days ahead.

The show -- and the on-field pairing -- flopped. So, it's on to a new season with role players rather than stars.

The offensive line returns intact. Running back Cedric Benson stayed with a one-year deal, giving the Bengals a run-first option in coordinator Jay Gruden's new offense.

"If there being a rookie quarterback causes them to rely upon me a lot more, then I'm excited," Benson said.

Dalton's targets include second-year tight end Jermaine Greshman, second-year slot receiver Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson, a fourth-year player with four career starts.

"Just keep faith in us," fourth-year receiver Andre Caldwell said. "We are a young team. We learned from those guys. We hope we can continue where they left off and do bigger and better things and have a better season than we did last year."

The defense is in transition. Rey Maualuga moves to middle linebacker with Dhani Jones gone. Outside linebacker Keith Rivers is sidelined after surgery on his right wrist. Joseph left as a free agent, deciding he had a better chance to win in Houston. He was replaced by Nate Clements.

Expectations are so low that players have tried to pump up fans' enthusiasm. Only about a hundred fans were in the stands at Georgetown College when players took the field to warm up for their first practice of training camp. They drew some of their smallest crowds ever for the workouts, then made matters worse by getting drubbed 34-3 in Detroit, the most lopsided preseason loss in franchise history.

"All I've got to say is there's going to be bright days on the other end," cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "I promise you we won't be 4-12 this year."

The odds are on his side. In the NFL, with the worst teams getting the top draft picks and the easier schedules, it's tough to go 4-12 in consecutive seasons. But if they do pull it off, it wouldn't be franchise first. They've already done it -- twice.


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