CINCINNATI — Paul Guenther put a sign up in the linebacker’s meeting room the first day of training camp for the Bengals back in July. The position coach had a simple question for all of his guys to ask and answer for themselves.
How can you help us win?
Guenther didn’t care if that meant playing on special teams, as a backup, on the practice squad or if the player was a starter. He wanted each one of them to know there was a high standard expected of them regardless of their playing status.
“As the season goes, whether it’s through injuries or other things, roles change,” said Guenther. “As guys go in there, they understand that our standard doesn’t drop.”
There may be no better example of a player handling that change of role than Vinny Rey. The third-year player from Duke — hardly a bastion known for producing NFL talent — has gone from undrafted rookie on the practice squad to a core special teams player to now starting on defense. The knee injury and concussion Rey Maualuga suffered against the New York Jets on Oct. 27 gave Rey his opportunity.
What he’s done with this shot is exactly what the Bengals expect of him and all of their players.
Rey had a career-high 13 tackles against Baltimore to go along with three sacks and his first career interception in last Sunday’s 20-17 loss in overtime. He played in 71 of 74 defensive snaps against the Ravens plus another 14 snaps on special teams. He also started at Miami on Oct. 31, making five tackles against the Dolphins while playing 61 of 63 snaps plus another 16 snaps on special teams.
While everyone from media to fans is wondering “Who’s Vinny Rey?’ the immergence of Rey shines a spotlight on the team’s depth, the job the scouting department did in signing him and other undrafted free agents in the first place and the job the coaching staff has done with developing those players.
“Our coaches set the bar high and we set it high for ourselves,” said Rey. “The expectation levels never change regardless of who’s in there. It’s simply to stop the run, get off the field on third downs, play hard and play smart. That’s just what we have to do. That’s what each person is expected to do no matter who’s in or what position they play.”
The Bengals have lost eight players to injured reserve this season, all of them on the defensive side of the ball. Three of them — Emmanuel Lamur, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter — are linebackers the team lost during training camp. Lamur was expected to play significant minutes in the nickel packages while Porter was the team’s fourth-round pick this season.
The depth of Guenther’s position group has been tested throughout the season. Rey is listed as being 6-feet-2-inches tall. It’s a generous measurement. But height and weight measurements don’t make plays.
“To the finer points of what Vinny Rey did on Sunday, (it) was exactly the way he was coached to do it,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s been listening and intent as he is on fine points of things and it pays off. That’s what you want to have all the time for the production to come from that spot.”
Rey is playing in the outside linebacker spot previously held by Vontaze Burfict, while Burfict has moved inside to take over for Maualuga.
“This is coach G (Guenther) getting everybody ready,” said Burfict. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the sixth linebacker on the roster; he does a great job of coaching and getting us ready for the game.”
Burfict, Maualuga and Michael Boley were all on Wednesday’s injury report for the Bengals. Maualuga didn’t practice and is likely to miss his third straight game Sunday game at Paul Brown Stadium against Cleveland. Burfict (knee) also didn’t practice Wednesday. More will be known on his condition Thursday and Friday. Boley (hamstring) has missed the last two games but practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.
Despite all of the injuries, the defense is still ranked fourth in yards allowed per game (311.4) and the 18.6 points per game the Bengals have allowed is sixth best in the NFL.
“I’ve only been in Cincinnati for my NFL career and when I got here I remember the first meeting,” said Rey. “Coach Marvin Lewis said: ‘It’s not about how you get here, it’s what you do when you’re here,’ and I believed him. I see that year in and year out with guys who treat the game serious and work hard. Those are the guys that have the best chance of staying and contributing on the field.”