All you need to know about linebacker Vincent Rey is despite starting the last 11 games of this past season, he still showed up for special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons' meetings.
"I knew I probably wasn't going to play that week on special teams. I just like to know my job, know what I'm doing," Rey says. "I've also desired to be a leader. Just trying to be a leader in my actions and I think I did a pretty good job of doing that. Trying to spur other guys on and motivate them and give them any type of wisdom I have."
And that's why Rey is the Bengals Defensive Player of the Year. His 121 tackles helped, but Rey is our man because he's the quintessential NFL role player, unselfish and unsparing. It caps off a brilliant season for him on and off the field. He was the club's nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his work in the community. And when left tackle Andrew Whitworth resigned his post as player rep to the NFL Players Association in mid-season, Rey was elected by his mates to fill the void.
A core special teams players and backup, Rey would have been among the least likely to win the award in a poll the week of the opener.
But a spate of injuries forced him into 952 snaps after he played a combined 461 in his previous four NFL seasons, according to profootballfocus.com, and he responded with those team-leading 121 tackles. According to NFL.com, that was good for 12th in the league, one slot ahead of the New England tackling machine, linebacker Jamie Collins, and just seven tackles behind Baltimore stalwart Daryl Smith at No. 10 with 128 tackles at linebacker.
"Smart guy. He's got a feel for the game. He takes good notes and he's a detailed guy," says defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "Coming into the season we didn't begin to think he'd have as many snaps. But he played hurt and he played reliably. You can line him up anywhere and that's very rare."
The Bengals Defensive Player of the Year was supposed to be WLL linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the NFL's leading tackler in 2013 who went to the Pro Bowl. But a series of injuries, ending with a knee problem that knocked him out of the last nine games, sidelined their captain and signal-caller and they had to turn to the busy Rey. Rey was already filling in for injured staring middle backer Rey Maualuga.
"To constantly be ready even though I might not play that week and the weeks can turn into months where you don't play," Rey says of the challenge coming off the bench. "But once your name is called, it can happen whenever. You have to go out there and excel. Not be a liability. You want to be an asset for the team."
Burfict was the one guy they didn't want to lose. He was not only a Pro Bowler, but he was Guenther's eyes and ears on the field. Still, with Rey calling the shots, they won 10 games. As Guenther says, with Rey wearing the helmet microphone they were good enough to go to the playoffs. For a guy who earned a University Scholar Athlete award from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame while at Duke, deciphering Xs and Os isn't a problem.
"The biggest adjustment was just getting a feel for the game," Rey says. "Being the guy to communicate with the entire defense, getting the calls from Coach Guenther and communicating it to the other 10 guys. Making sure everybody was on the same page."
The two guys that Rey filled in for, Burfict and Maualuga, are question marks. Burfict is coming back from an injury-riddled season and Maualuga is a free agent. But there is one thing that isn't in question.
Next season, Guenther only has to point at Rey to make a point.
"I tell these guys all the time," Guenther says, "it doesn't matter how you get here. It only matters what you do when you get here. Look at Vinny. He's worked his way up and has done everything that's been asked. You never know."