Posted: 8:05 a.m.
After the win over Pittsburgh last month when Jonathan Fanene walked out of the Bengals locker room, Chris Henry's little son rushed to him and called, "Uncle, Uncle, where's Daddy?"
So Fanene did what he does best and offered a helping hand. He swooped him up and brought him into the locker room and presented him to his father.
"I'm not trying to be Chris' dad or anything like that," Fanene said. "I'm just trying to be a nice person or a brother."
Now Fanene, known as one of the nicest people in a Bengals locker room that has always admired and respected his quiet tenacity and toughness as he learned the NFL game while also helping people along the way, is being asked to help again. While the Bengals are chagrined at the season-ending injury to leading sacker Antwan Odom, they are also pleased that it is Fanene getting the chance as the guy that replaces him at right end.
"He's picked up his pass-rush ability. Even the coaches have seen it in practice. He's using his hands," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "He's really an underrated guy. People don't really hear a lot about him, but when he's in there he does a hell of a job doing it."
How quiet? While Odom shot to the NFL lead with eight sacks and won AFC Defensive Player of the Month, Fanene tripled his career sack total with three with nobody looking and now has four in five seasons and 43 games.
In vintage under-the-radar Fanene fashion, the statisticians missed one in Baltimore and gave it to left end Robert Geathers. But they fittingly rewarded him in the anonymity of a weekday announcement last week. Which couldn't have surprised left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
"He's quiet. He's a really good player. Every time he gets in a game he causes havoc," Whitworth said. "He might not get the sack, but he's knocking everybody around and opening it up for the other people. He's an effort guy. He's 110 percent. That's where he gets guys. He plays low and strong. A much different player than Odom. He's like Odom in that he's not really a speed guy, but with Fanene being an effort guy and if the inside guys keep getting a push, he'll have a chance (to get sacks)."
At 6-4, 290 pounds, Fanene is the first guy to say he's not Odom, a 6-6, 280-pounder that Fanene himself calls "a freak." Fanene sees himself as simply a soldier in a plan deployed by head coach Marvin Lewis, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
"I'm just a backup guy going out there and trying to finish what Odom started by doing everything right," he said. "By doing what Marvin, Zimmer and Jay tell me to do. Odom can go inside (to tackle) with that huge reach. I don't have that reach. I use my power and strength. It will come. Zimmer keeps saying if you work hard, stick with your technique, it will come."
Like Odom, Fanene can move into tackle when the Bengals go into their nickel package. He plays in virtually all of the sub packages and now he'll be getting plenty of snaps in base. If Odom was headed to a 15-sack season, can Fanene, Geathers, rookie right end Michael Johnson, and veteran Frostee Rucker fill in those sacks as well as get some of their own?
"I'll try," Fanene said. "Odom was a big factor in this defense, so we need somebody to do what Odom did. I'll try my best."
No one doubts that. Ever since he was selected in the last round of the 2005 draft, Fanene has been the picture of the team player Lewis seeks for chemistry and Zimmer uses to execute the defense. Lewis said earlier this week that he knows of no other player in his 18 NFL seasons that has improved more after getting into the league.
Fanene, a native of American Samoa, had just one season as a starter at Utah. He got here just a season before Peko, but he already had that old soul about him.
"From the first day I got here," Peko said, "he was telling me to hang out with the right people, letting me know how to stay out of trouble. He was a mentor right away and he's still a mentor."
It is natural for Fanene.
"People are always talking about the people we draft. How they come from bad backgrounds. I think they're good people," Fanene said. "I come from the Island. I see things every day. I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings about how I grew up compared to them. Try and show a good example. That you've got to take advantage of this opportunity."
Fanene has also quietly played a big role in Henry's turnaround off the field. He took it upon himself to approach Henry after the Bengals gave him a second chance last year.
"Chris Henry's my friend. We were drafted the same year," Fanene said. "When I first met him, he looked like a guy that didn't want to have a friendship. He had his little crew and everything happened to him. When (the Bengals) brought him back, I said, 'I want to talk to Chris.' I see a guy with so much talent.
"I said, 'Dude, did you learn from what happened or are you here just because they brought you back?' "
Fanene liked the answer and Henry responded to Fanene's outreach. He and wife Lori have invited Henry and his family for dinner and they've gone to the Henrys' to have play dates with their children. There is a bond with Henry's Polynesian fiancée Leini Tonga.
"I think it was natural that guys like Jon and Domata (another American Samoan native) would offer help to Chris and Leini and be a resource," said David Lee, Fanene's agent. "I've had the pleasure of meeting several Polynesian players and they are just such great people with a great sense of community. Everyone who has any kind of interaction with Jon always tells me, 'Fanene is such a good guy.' "
Fanene's door is always open. When defensive tackle Orien Harris arrived last year, Fanene invited him to stay in his home until he got settled in town. Harris came back this week after being traded in May and he's usually sitting next to Fanene as he gets readjusted this week.
Now, Fanene has been called to help again.
"I'm real excited for him to get this opportunity to start and really make a name for himself," Peko said.
Quietly, of course.