Keith Rivers (Bengals photo)
Updated: 5:50 p.m.
Keith Rivers almost never follows football outside the locker room, but as he settled in to watch this past weekend's NFL Draft Saturday he got a call from his old linebackers coach at USC as Ken Norton drove to The Coliseum for the Trojans scrimmage.
"He asked me, 'Which of the boys is going first?' and we dissected it for awhile," Rivers said Monday. "We didn't really know. It was tough to say."
The one thing Rivers didn't expect is that he would wind up back next to middle linebacker Ray Maualuga at the WILL backer. Especially when Maualuga arrived in Cincinnati via the second round at No. 38. Apparently Maualuga didn't, either, with backer mates Brian Cushing going 15 to Houston and Clay Mathews going 26 to Green Bay.
"When your boys go ahead of you, he's a little disappointed," Rivers said. "But he's happy to be a Bengal and he's ready to get here."
As he watched teams pass on Maualuga, Rivers said he felt like he was Maualuga and agonized over every pick. But he's not a very good football fan. By the end Rivers was praying somebody would pick Maualuga so he could watch something else.
"Oh yeah, I was going to watch it until he got picked," Rivers said. "Those are my boys. I lived with Clay for three years. I'm not a GM. I don't know why (he lasted that long), but he's a hell of a player and we're glad we have him."
When centers Alex Mack and Eric Wood went off the board mid-to-late first, Rivers had an inkling Maualuga was headed to Cincinnati or Jacksonville.
"He brings fierce hitting. He brings another dimension to our defense," Rivers said. "Whether it is on special teams or at backer, he's going to bring it. If it's on special teams, that sets the tempo for the whole game, what type of day it's going to be. When he was first at 'SC that's the type of guy he was and he continued to do when he moved up in the ranks and started on defense."
Rivers isn’t so sure he's going to help Maualuga the most, or the other way around, but he knows who is going to help them both.
"I know Dhani is going to help him a lot because he did a great job helping me," Rivers said of middle linebacker Dhani Jones. "That's the guy who is going to help because Dhani knows how to play the game and he's a smart player."
With talk Rivers, Jones and Maualuga could be on the field at the same time, Rivers was asked if Maualuga could play SAM even though he only played the middle at USC.
"I think so," said Rivers, alluding to Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald. "If anybody can teach anybody to do it, it's Coach FitzGerald."
PERRY WISTFUL: After five seasons of heartbreak and promise in which he finished with fewer yards than Ki-Jana Carter, there was no bitterness on the part of running back Chris Perry when the Bengals released him Monday.
"I wished it could have worked out better," said Perry, who was going to make about $1 million this year. "I thank the Brown family for the opportunity they gave me to better my life. I'm thankful they didn't cut me while I was on one leg. I don't know how many guys would have had that opportunity. I wish I could have done more for them."
Perry's career in Cincinnati was controversial from the start when the Bengals were criticized for taking him in the 2004 first round out of Michigan instead of Oregon State running back Steven Jackson.
A sports hernia that limited him to just two games as a rookie fanned the flames, but his breakout year in 2005 doused them when he nearly broke James Brooks' club record for a running back with 51 catches and a 4.6-yard-per-carry average on 61 carries.
But he ended up playing only 19 more games over the next three years because of knee and ankle injuries and then a devastating dislocated ankle that wiped out his 2007 season. He finally became the Opening Day starter last year but was benched in favor of Cedric Benson after six games when fumbles and a 2.6-yards per rush doomed him.
Perry finished his run with 606 yards on 3.4 yards per carry in 177 runs with two touchdowns as well as 83 catches for 474 yards (5.7) and two touchdowns.
Asked if rust contributed to his struggles last season, Perry said, "Rust and being down a Pro Bowl quarterback, you kind of have one hand tied behind your back. But I let the opportunity slip through my fingers."
Also cut with Perry on Monday was another running back, Gary Russell, picked up on waivers 10 days ago. In the wake of the sixth-round selection of Abilene Christian's Bernard Scott, the Bengals have Scott, James Johnson, DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Watson backing up starter Cedric Benson. After getting cut for the first time in his life, Perry wasn't surprised.
"I think they like what they've got there and they've got talent. I understand it. It's time for them and me to move on," Perry said when asked about a change of scenery. "It can't hurt. There's a lot of things going on in the locker room positive and negative, so maybe it will help, but I wish everyone here good luck."
Perry says his Bengals career is going to be remembered for his injuries, but his 2005 showed what the Bengals were thinking when they drafted him. His ability to catch allowed them to use him as a receiver, and his injuries are a reason they've won 19 games since.
"I don't know if I was that important," he said. "But '05 was the Glory Day for everybody, just not me."
Perry leaves just as what he believes their best draft class in his tenure arrives.
"They addressed a lot of needs," Perry said. They got the middle linebacker. They got a tackle. They got a center, which was needed. They did a good job."
MORE CUTS: The Bengals on Monday also cut safety Mike Doss as well as two players that saw players taken at their positions in the third round Sunday in defensive end/linebacker Eric Henderson and tight end Nate Lawrie.
Henderson, a third-year player for ’09 also hounded by injury, played in his first two NFL games last year before an injury ended his season.
Doss, a sixth-year NFL player for 2009, joined the Bengals as a free agent on Dec. 9 of last season and played in the last three games. Lawrie, a fifth-year player for ’09, played in eight games for Cincinnati last season.
The real tough cut here is Henderson, one of the great stories in recent club history. After losing his mother and grandmother just before he went to Georgia Tech, he basically raised his younger brother while going to college. After not getting drafted, he had a very impressive rookie training camp in 2006 but could never get past the injuries. But he continued to be staple at community events.
Ironically it was a Georgia Tech guy that Henderson took under his wing that spelled the end of his career here when the Bengals took defensive end Michael Johnson in the third round. Like Henderson, the 6-7, 265-pound Johnson looks to be used as both an end and linebacker.
Henderson, naturally, called Johnson to congratulate him Sunday and then raved about him Monday.
"I know they talk he doesn't play hard all the time, but he'll give them everything he's got," Henderson said. "I showed him the ropes and I guarantee you if there's any draft pick they're going to like, it's him. He's a great kid, a great athlete and he works hard. He's a beast."
Henderson had a feeling watching the draft things might be tight.
"When they got the linebacker, you know the spots are getting filled up. I've been around here to long enough to know how it works," Henderson said. "I'm thankful to Mike Brown and the opportunity the people gave me here. They've been good to me. I understand it."
JONES NOT CUT: Kenny Zuckerman, the agent for left tackle Levi Jones, said Monday the club told him last month that they would trade him or cut him before the draft. But Zuckerman admitted Monday he's getting conflicitng reports from the team after head coach Marvin Lewis appeared on NFL Network during the draft and made it sound like Jones is sticking around. Given Jones' salary for '09 is in excess of $3 million and they drafted a guy with the sixth pick in Andre Smith that is going to start at left tackle or right tackle, the question could be if the Bengals want to see how Smith responds in workouts before they do anything.