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Heated rivalry; Extra meeting

Posted Sep 15, 2009


Keith Rivers

Updated: 8:10 p.m.

The Frozen Tundra, of all places, is where the USC linebackers continue their heated competition this Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Bengals bring their starting outside backers Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga. The Packers have backup outside backer Clay Matthews, who shows up in the nickel package.

Leave it to Rivers, Matthews' old roommate, to break down the rivalry, which continues next month when Brian Cushing arrives with the Texans.

"Clay has always had a huge rivalry with Cush and I always had a huge rivalry with Rey," Rivers says.  "He gets all the pub with the hair and the name. We're just always competing and go after each other.

"To see who makes the most plays. 'On the sideline on Sunday (we said), 'How many tackles do you have? How many tackles do you have? More than you, bleep.' "

Rivers laughed because even though he's only played seven more NFL games than the other three, he's been in the league a year longer and is trying to help Maualuga through the rough spots. Rivers played with them all before the Bengals took him with the ninth pick in '08. Then this year Cushing went 15th to the Texans, Matthews 26th to the Packers, and Maualuga 38th to the Bengals.

Rivers knows that Maualuga is already stoking a huge bonfire in his soul over his second-round selection after the sparks were always there in the Trojans linebackers room.

"I would assume," says Rivers, indicating the rivalries weren't always the same. "It always seemed to me that Clay had a rivalry with Cushing and Cushing had a rivalry with Rey. When I was there, Clay wasn't playing as much and Cushing wanted the same type of hype Rey had and I was in my own little world."

Rivers thinks that comes out of the culture at USC stocked with blue chippers at every spot.

"The linebacker room is all about competing," Rivers says. "You've got all these guys. You want to be the best. If you're the best out of all these guys, then you're the best in the world. Everybody fighting to get the most tackles, the most 'atta boys.' "

According to Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald's film sheet, Rivers had the most pats with four tackles and three assists to go with Maualuga's five unassisted tackles Sunday against the Broncos. So they can argue over that.

Maualuga knows he wasn't at his best. On Sunday and Monday he talked about how excited he was in his debut and it prevented him from making some plays.

"I was thinking and finally after awhile I got it going and was just playing football," he said. "The coaches were talking to me and saying, 'What are you doing?' and got it."

FitzGerald and Maualuga talked it through during the game and he thought the rookie regrouped well. He also gave another high grade to Rivers during a season he continues to play solidly and productively after missing most of last season with a broken jaw.

"This is so important to Keith," FitzGerald said. "After what happened to him last year, he knows how quickly it can be taken away. And the rivalry stuff is great. They're good friends and great competitors. That's what you need to make everyone better."

MEETING OF MINDS: Tuesday is the Bengals day off, a day that defensive tackle Domata Peko often hits the golf course. But on Monday he said there would be no tee time because he and end Robert Geathers called a 10 a.m. defensive line meeting for Tuesday.

"No coaches, just the D-linemen," said Peko, a defensive co-captain. "We want to get a head start. Get a day ahead and see what these (Green Bay) offensive linemen are doing."

After watching film Monday, Peko said there were "little things"  to clean up but he was basically pleased with the communication. With defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer going with a four-down nickel package of Geathers and rookie end Michael Johnson teamed with Antwan Odom and Tank Johnson inside, Peko, second among NFL tackles last year in tackles, is playing only first and second downs.

"Whatever they want my role to be, that's fine," he said. "We played really well in the nickel. Zimmer told us we won our third downs."

LOOK SEE: According to a source in an NFC city, the Bengals brought in veteran tight end Leonard Pope for a visit and veteran cornerback Corey Ivy for a workout Tuesday. With no signings announced by the end of business, that would indicate the Bengals don't plan to move on them any time soon.

The 5-8, 188-pound Ivy, 32, is an eight-year veteran who has played 110 games with three teams and spent the last three years in Baltimore. Given Ivy's size and age, the Bengals may be more inclined to wait for David Jones' broken foot to heal. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated Monday that Jones is close to getting back.

The 6-8 Pope, 26, is an intriguing physical specimen cut by the Cardinals before the season. A third-round pick of Arizona in 2006, Pope left after 42 games (25 starts) with 48 catches for 476 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bengals are already grooming a young pass catcher in rookie Chase Coffman, so they are most likely looking for more of a blocker and that is not Pope's M.O. The Cards reportedly grew tired of his penchants for false starts.


 

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