Lewis: Thurman has chance to return if reinstated

Banished middle linebacker Odell Thurman will have a chance to resume his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, provided he is reinstated by the NFL following a one-year suspension, coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged Monday night.

The Bengals' starter in 2005, when he led them in tackles as a rookie, Thurman will be eligible for reinstatement on July 11, provided he has complied with all of the conditions of his treatment program.

"I have been in contact with Odell and he has an opportunity to be reinstated," Lewis, speaking for the first time about Thurman's future with the franchise, said on a local radio show. "He'll have had to ... [follow] the very strict NFL guidelines to get to that point and then, obviously, if he is reinstated, to go forward. And if that happens, he'll have an opportunity [to return]."

There had been some speculation that the Bengals, in part because of having experienced so many off-field issues over the past year, might cut ties to Thurman, even if he's reinstated by the league. That does not, however, appear to be the case, given Lewis' comments.

It is believed that Thurman has complied with the conditions of his rehabilitation and has a good chance to be reinstated.

Said Lewis: "He's doing very well. ... He's learned quite a bit about life, I'd say."

The team's second-round choice in the 2005 draft, Thurman was initially suspended for four games last July for a repeat violation of the NFL's substance abuse program. The sanction was subsequently increased to a year after Thurman was arrested on DUI charges Sept. 25.

If Thurman is reinstated and regains a spot on the roster, his presence would provide the Bengals an intriguing competition at middle linebacker and create excellent depth in general at a position where Cincinnati has attempted to get younger. Second-year veteran Ahmad Brooks, a third-round choice in last summer's supplemental draft who started for the Bengals over the second half of the '06 season, is currently projected as No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

Despite missing some of training camp because of a protracted contract impasse, the 23-year-old Thurman appeared in 15 games in 2005, all as a starter, and registered 148 tackles, 1 sacks, five interceptions, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles. The former University of Georgia standout was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.