Bengals prime minister in special session

Cedric Peerman

In the world of Bengals running back Cedric Peerman, where he has a license to spread the gospel but a permit to wreak bodily havoc, this is a big week.

First, the Bengals are down a running back and his special teams units that have played such a big role in this comeback season are facing a day-long tractor pull with seasoned and productive Seahawks returner Leon Washington this Sunday (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12).

Plus, Peerman is set to lead the club's weekly Bible study Thursday before sharing his testimony in Saturday night's chapel service in Seattle, where his pastor that has shared the pulpit with him at Hills Creek Baptist in Gladys, Va., John Price Sr., guarantees he won't be the shy, soft-spoken young man his teammates see in the locker room.

"Believe me, he knows what's in The Bible," fellow back Brian Leonard says. "He's looking at it all the time. In the locker room, studying it before meetings. He doesn't force it on anybody. I've asked him so many questions about religion and life and he answers them all. He knows what's in there."

"He's the kind of guy," says punter Kevin Huber, "you sit down with him at lunch and you talk to him about life and it's like he's been talking to you for 30 years."

Peerman is also highly regarded in the ecclesiastic wing of the building, where last week the coaches made him the first back-to-back winner of a special teams game ball in the nine seasons of head coach Marvin Lewis and special teams coach Darrin Simmons.

He's the embodiment of what Simmons has got going on in special teams in 2011. For the first time, it seems, he doesn't have a signature player like a Kyries Hebert or a Marcus Wilkins like he had on the two division champions. Or Herana-Daze Jones's total of 33 tackles in the back-to-back seasons of 2006-2007.

But with four special teams tackles this year, Peerman is one of three players that has at least four. Last year's leading special teams tackler, backup middle linebacker Dan Skuta, is now one of four players tied with two on units teeming with balance.

"Kyries did a lot of great things for us, but I'd rather have 10 guys that are solid than have just one great one," Huber says. "What if guys get hurt? But now we've got backups that are just as good. We've got a great group of guys out there. They're meshing well. They're talking to each other. They know what everybody is going to do.

"Every time we're up in his office after a game, Coach Simmons is pointing out how hard (Peerman) is working and how much he's doing. I know he's saved my butt a few times. In Jacksonville he got there after a punt that wasn't very good and made a big tackle."

All of which is no surprise to Peerman's high school coach at the tiny Division A school of William Campbell. Brad Bradley remembers those summers in the small rural town of Gladys (pop. about 5,000) not far from Lynchburg when Peerman would get up at six in the morning to pick tobacco on his grandfather's family farm until about noon and then spend 3-9 p.m. at football practice.

"He'd get back up and do it again and wouldn't say a word," Bradley says.

The Bengals special teams have worked just as anonymously and well. There are no billboard stats. Cincinnati's only top 10 categories are touchbacks, punts inside the 20 and punt cover. But special teams have been so crucial because in all six games the Bengals offense has finished with an average drive start better than the opponent.

"That's the stat that matters most," Simmons says. "That's the only one I care about because it's a composite of everything and means so much to winning."       

Peerman's game ball against the Colts went for more than any in a Marvin Lewis charity auction. His game-changing, brain-rattling block that sprung Brandon Tate on a 33-yard punt return and knocked Colts linebacker A.J. Edds cold out of the game got him fined $20,000 for what league officials are saying was a blindside hit. It also had him thinking what kind of Christian it made him.

"I thought about that right after the game," Peerman says. "I know I was just doing my job. I wasn't trying to hurt him. Things like that happen in football. I don't think I did anything wrong. I'm still a Christian."

Leonard couldn't believe his ears when the first thing Peerman said to him after game is he felt badly about the block.

"What do you mean you feel bad?" Leonard asked him incredulously. "That's one of the greatest blocks of all time."

"I don't think he should get fined for it. His feet were on the ground," Leonard says. "It was a hard hit, but it was between the shoulder pads and the waist. He didn't hit him in the head or the knee. It was a clean block. And the first thing he said was he felt badly the guy got hurt. But it was a clean hit. I saw it on film. Don't know how he got fined."

Peerman is appealing it to a higher power, but that's not the highest power. Raised in Price's Gladys church his entire life, Peerman, now 25, felt like something was missing after his junior season at Virginia in December 2007.

"My walk didn't line up with what the scriptures said about someone born again, so I wasn't a Christian," Peerman says. "I realized the way I was living didn't match up. There was no desire for Christ. I thought I had to do something on my own to gain salvation. To get to heaven. I was living in sin and not repenting."

At one point early in his NFL career when the moves kept coming (drafted by the Ravens in the 2009 sixth round, picked up on waivers by Cleveland just before that rookie season, released from the Browns practice squad Oct. 27 of that rookie year, signed to the Detroit practice squad three days later, signed to Lions roster with three games left in rookie season), Price counseled Peerman not to give up the game. But he thinks Peerman has a future in the pulpit, too, where he sheds his shy demeanor yet, "he's not a whooper and yeller; he's strong" in the few times he's preached.

"Things weren't going the way he quite wanted and he talked about leaving football and going into the ministry but he still had a passion for the game. I could tell that," Price says. "I told him if he still had the ability to play, he should. He didn't want to be 20 years down the road saying 'What if?' "

Now Peerman is saying, "What's next?" In the last two preseasons with the Bengals he's averaged 5.2 yards per his 53 carries. He played in seven games last regular season and then this year just before the season started Simmons switched him to the all-important personal protector position in front of Huber calling the signals and getting the protection set.

"It's a huge job with the way teams try to foul up your offensive line so they can block it," Huber says. "It's great to have a guy back there that's smart, calm, and a guy the line trusts."

There has been the block for Tate and with the Bengals trailing, 13-7, in Jacksonville in the second quarter, Peerman topped off Huber's 55-yard punt with a tackle for a one-yard loss. If he seems comfortable playing defense, that doesn't surprise Bradley.

While Peerman was playing all four years for him and becoming Virginia's all-time scoring leader as a running back, he also played cornerback as a freshman, linebacker his last three seasons, and led the team in tackles as his senior middle linebacker. Somewhere in there Peerman scored seven touchdowns in a state championship game.

"He was a 100 percent football player," Bradley says. "Cedric just loved contact. There were times he could have run around a guy and scored a touchdown, but he took the guy head on. Full speed. Great contact runner. Everything a coach could want in a player. I remember when one of the TV stations gave him a Player of the Week award and when they came out, I told them, 'He's the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry.' "

With his minister's license, Peerman has the power invested in him to marry couples as well as oversee the sacraments of the church. But the pastoral duties don't seem to interest in him as much as the evangelical. He's preached a few times at Hills Creek and his favorite topic is the gospel.

"The gospel is the good news," Peerman says.

So it was no surprise last week during the Bengals bye that Peerman came home to visit Bradley at his game even though he's at another school.

"And after the game he spent some time with the kids and hung out," Bradley says. "That doesn't happen around here much when a guy playing in the NFL does that. That tells you a little something about him."

Peerman's teammates are going to be hearing even more from him this week. On the field, too, where Leonard thinks he'll get a few carries from scrimmage this week with Cedric Benson out.

"He'll be ready," Leonard says. "He's a great guy for this team."

Which in another way is good news, too.

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