By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — Early in the morning, Marvin Lewis’ cell phone will ring. Without even seeing the caller ID, he knows who it is.
Who else but Hue Jackson?
“When my phone rings at 5 o’clock in the morning, I know it’s only one person,” the Cincinnati Bengals coach said. “It’s not Chad (Johnson), either. It’s Chad’s former coach, Hue. I miss the hell out of him. I watch their games every week and text or call him.”
They became as close as brothers during their many years of coaching, which included Jackson’s stint as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati before he accepted the job as the Cleveland Browns head coach in the offseason. They’ll go head-to-head on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium as division rival coaches for the first time.
They’ve cut back on the calls and texts this week, respecting each other’s privacy. But there will be more of those 5 a.m. chats after Sunday’s game.
“That’s the truth,” Jackson said, on a conference call. “You guys know my fondness for Marvin. Marvin raised me in this profession, especially in the National Football League. So I have a lot of respect for him. I trust him on so many different levels, and he’s taught me a lot. So I do bounce things off of him.”
Though separated by the length of a state, they’ve helped each other get through some tough times.
Jackson’s Browns (0-6) are the only winless team left in the league, off to their worst start since they were a first-year expansion team in 1999. They’ve used five quarterbacks because of injuries and dropped games in gut-wrenching ways.
With every injury and loss, their coach has gotten encouragement from Cincinnati.
“Everybody needs that from time to time,” Jackson said. “He’s been there for me and again, as I just said, I really appreciate that.”
It goes both ways. Lewis’ Bengals are off to their worst start since 2010, putting their club-record streak of five straight playoff appearances in jeopardy. He’s appreciated the pick-me-up messages, too.
“Our margin for error has not been very good thus far this season,” Lewis said.
Lewis is still benefiting from Jackson’s time in Cincinnati. During his two years as offensive coordinator, Jackson helped Andy Dalton develop into a team leader and one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Dalton leads the AFC in yards passing heading into their game on Sunday, carrying on with what he learned from Jackson.
“Hue really pressed on me to get the guys going, and I just think a little bit of his personality carried over,” Dalton said. “Last year was definitely one of my better years and I think it’s just the level of confidence I’m playing with.”
Jackson sees the carry-over, though he won’t take credit for it.
“I’m not going to say I gave him anything,” Jackson said. “All I ever tried to do for Andy is create the right environment for him to be the best that he can be.”
Notes: Heavy rain interrupted the Bengals’ practice on Thursday, forcing them inside Paul Brown Stadium temporarily. They’re the only northern team without a covered field. … TE Tyler Eifert had his most extensive practice since offseason ankle surgery. He was close to returning two weeks ago, but hurt his back. Eifert thinks he’s able to play on Sunday, although Lewis hasn’t given an indication of his plans. “In my mind, I’m ready,” Eifert said. “Two weeks ago before it happened (with the back), I was in really, really good shape.” … LB Vontaze Burfict was limping before and after practice, but participated fully. He suffered an ankle injury in practice on Wednesday, but is expected to play against the Browns. … C Russell Bodine, who suffered a sprained ankle at New England, also practiced fully.