Darrin Simmons has another first in Clayton Fejedelem.
Darrin Simmons, the Bengals' meticulous special teams coordinator who has taken Cincinnati's kicking game to places it's never been during his 15 seasons, is shepherding another first with the help of new AFC special teams Pro Bowl second alternate Clayton Fejedelem.
He's pretty sure he's never had a core special teamer do what Fejedelem is doing this season. Play more scrimmage snaps (357) than teams snaps (317).
"It's of lot football," Simmons said Wednesday. "But he's had to do it because of the injuries and because he's effective … He's not a big guy (6-0, 205 pounds), but he plays tough, he plays hard, and it's important to him. He's a guy coming from no place."
With starting safety Shawn Williams battling a hamstring injury, Fejedelem has had to back off his kicking-game snaps to start five games. Now you can wonder how many those 13 special teams tackles would be. The only other player in double-digits is tight end C.J. Uzomah with 10.
"It's like Nick Vigil," Simmons said of the outside linebacker who has missed the last three games. "He still leads the team in tackles (77-75 over cornerback Darqueze Dennard)."
Simmons isn't surprised that Fejedelem didn't place in the top ten of the fan voting ("Nobody can pronounce his name"), but it does restore his faith in the system. He's not very happy that perennial Pro Bowl special teamer Matt Slater of the Patriots made it on rep after playing in just seven games. But Fejedelem got close with coaches and players, whom make up the other two-thirds of the vote.
"That's a big honor because besides playing for my family and for yourself, you play for pride," Fejedelem said. "When other coaches and players that you're battling with on Sunday see that, that's the ultimate goal. To get them to respect you."
Fejedelem, who went from Illinois walk-on to a seventh-round flyer, doesn't mind doing double duty. Between the injury to Williams and a pre-season knee problem with the other starter, George Iloka, Fejedelem knows both safety spots and is confident enough with the system that he says "I don't miss a beat when I'm in there."
But clearly he's got a knack for special teams. Even when he's playing defense he's usually punter Kevin Huber's personal protector.
"You can look at it both ways that it's the quarterback, just like when you're playing safety," Fejedelem said.
He'll continue to take snaps doing both and sees where it leads. More safety? More teams? And can he one day replace Slater? Simmons thinks if he didn't play as much defense this season he would have had chance to be the top guy.
"If I got that fan vote," Fejedelem joked, "that would have been nice."
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