Lewis doesn't expect LB Thurman back with Bengals

Updated: January 2, 2007, 7:04 PM ET
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Coach Marvin Lewis refused to talk about suspended linebacker Odell Thurman on Tuesday, another indication that he has written him out of the Cincinnati Bengals' plans.

Odell Thurman
Thurman

Thurman was suspended for the season because he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy. He can apply to the league for reinstatement before next season.

Lewis has been upset with the middle linebacker's repeated off-field problems, and took his locker away when the NFL handed down its suspension. Lewis also told Thurman to stay away from the team.

"Odell is not a member of this football team," Lewis said Tuesday. "He's on suspension by the NFL. He's got a long road to go. I'm not even going to spend any time talking about Odell.

"We're talking about our '07 season. He's not part of this football team. We don't need to talk about it."

Thurman and receiver Chris Henry epitomized the underlying problems with the '06 Bengals.

Thurman was a second-round draft pick in 2005 and started 15 games as a rookie. He led the team in tackles, tied for the lead in forced fumbles, and had five interceptions, the most by any rookie in the NFL.

It appeared that Thurman, who came out of Georgia with questions about his character, was a defensive star in the making. But he got a four-game suspension from the league for missing an offseason drug test.

After a victory in Pittsburgh left the Bengals 3-0, Thurman was arrested for drunken driving that night. Henry, who has been arrested four times, was a passenger in the vehicle but wasn't charged.

The league extended Thurman's suspension for the rest of the season, and Henry was benched by Lewis for the next game. The league then added a two-game suspension for Henry, who has two court cases pending heading into the offseason.

Lewis originally hoped that Thurman could become a leader like middle linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Now, he appears to have written him off.

Asked if Thurman could be part of the team again, Lewis said, "I don't know that. I don't see it on our horizon."

Thurman's off-field problems forced the Bengals to rearrange their linebackers and repeatedly switch their defensive lineups. Although the defense improved overall this season, it faded during an 0-3 finish that cost the Bengals (8-8) a chance to make the playoffs.

Lewis said Tuesday that the defense was one of his biggest disappointments.

"Defensively, I think the thing we really have to do is develop an identity," Lewis said. "I think if you said what's a disappointment, that's a disappointment. We didn't develop an identity.

"We had a good start at it, we had a little blip in the middle, and I don't think we finished it off very well. I know we didn't finish it off very good. That's something that I've got to look hard at."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press