Holding his one-year-old son Emmaus on Thursday, running back Cedric Peerman knew the journey is all about bridging generations. After he signed a one-year deal to return for his eighth season, the Bengals co-captain prepared to help special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons break in another new wave.
"If you don't have a great a lead singer, it doesn't matter if you've got a great band," Simmons said. "It's huge for us. He's a foundation of what we do."
When Peerman arrived as a waiver wire pickup in 2010 from the Lions, the Bengals leading special teams tacklers that season were Dan Skuta and Quan Cosby.
When Peerman flexed his muscles with 12 tackles of his own in 2013 that were good for second place, he was sandwiched between rookies Jayson DiManche and Shawn Williams on the list.
When he went to the Pro Bowl in 2015 during his second season as the Bengals special teams co-captain, his 17 tackles led the trio of Rex Burkhead, Tyler Kroft, and Emmanuel Lamur.
When Peerman missed the first 10 games of 2016 with a fractured forearm, Burkhead and wide receiver James Wright finished 1-2 in teams tackles.
Now Burkhead is in New England, Wright is in Cleveland, and Peerman and fellow special teams co-captain Vincent Rey are back looking at a list of runner-ups that include Kroft, Josh Shaw, Marquis Flowers, and an emerging kicking game star in 2016 seventh-rounder Clayton Fejedelem, a safety
"The guys that are coming back, I think we'll have a good core group," Peerman said. "We'll get guys in the draft.
"Losing guys is always tough but that's the nature of the game … I'm at the point in my career where guys are looking up to me, I think. I'm just looking to lead by example and give whatever knowledge I have to guys and hopefully help make the guys around me better players and better men."
Peerman has noticed Fejedelem. The rookie from Illinois played every game last season as a core teamer and his seven tackles were tied for fifth most with Kroft, Rey, and Nick Vigil and they're all back.
"You saw how attentive he is in meetings," Peerman said of Fejedelem. "And how hard he plays and how he sells out game in and game out."
It's been quite a journey for Peerman, the Bengals' spiritual leader who has preached to congregations from his home of Virginia to his adopted home of Ohio. After the Ravens took him in the sixth round out of Virginia in 2009, he was released four times before he found a home in Cincinnati. After he became the first Bengals kick cover player to play in a Pro Bowl, he rushed home from Hawaii to greet Emmaus, named for the town seven miles from Jerusalem where the Bible says Christ appeared to two of his disciples on the road after the Crucifixion.
"We've been through a lot of battles together," Simmons said. "I think he really turned the corner a few years ago when he went to the Pro Bowl and his commitment has been outstanding. It's great to have him as a leader and mentor for the young guys. It's tough to lose those guys. Now the next torchbearers are up. It's time for me to coach them up and cycle them through."
Such is the burden for NFL special teams coaches dealing with fluctuating rosters. Simmons has been here 15 seasons and Peerman is on the verge of becoming his first position player primarily a special teamer to play 100 games as a Bengal. Punter Kevin Huber is 32nd on the club's all-time list with 126 games and long-snapper Clark Harris is tied for 37th with 120. With 90 games, Peerman is trying to become the 72nd Bengal to play in 100.
"I don't keep count,' said Peerman, gamely holding Emmaus through the signing and two interviews. "I'm just thankful to be able to last that long in the league because a lot of guys didn't last like that."