Left end Robert Geathers, Dean of the Bengals with 118 games in stripes, is the textbook NFL warrior. Reliable and respected. Tough, smart, passionate. No flash. Just crash. If there's one guy that can answer the bell next Monday night in Baltimore (7 p.m.-ESPN) with nary a preseason snap, well, just ask his teammates.
"He shows us the way," says right end Michael Johnson.
"He's been playing football for 25 years. He'll have no problem," says defensive tackle Pat Sims.
"I've been calling every day, every night, making sure he's eating right," says WILL backer Thomas Howard.
As usual, Geathers hears them all and just smiles, shakes his head, and says just enough to let you know he's ready.
"It's time to go. T-Howard needs me," Geathers says.
But, seriously, he thinks he'll be OK. He had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his knee the first week of camp, but it looks to be in better shape than starter Carlos Dunlap's sprained knee because he practiced Monday and Dunlap didn't. That would be Geathers's 89th start since arriving in 2004 if Dunlap can't go.
"I'm on the roster. My teammates are depending on me. They're counting on me. It's time to go," Geathers said. "I should be fine. I've seen every block. I've seen every scheme. I've played against those guys."
Geathers knows all about Monday night ESPN openers and the Ravens. And, yes, it was Sept. 10, too. It was 2007 at Paul Brown Stadium and Geathers was one of the architects of the 27-20 win when he had a stat in every defensive category, capped off by returning an interception for 30 yards.
Of course, that was five years ago and not only are none of the Ravens skill players around from that game, but the Bengals have only two other defensive starters from Sept. 10, 2007: tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall.
If Dunlap can't go, the question is if the Bengals can get production when they rotate for Geathers and Johnson. Geathers is the oldest guy on the line at 29 and he may be relieved at times by one of the two youngest, 23-year-old rookie tackle Devon Still, as well as Jamaal Anderson, a rookie when Geathers had that big game. The Bengals may also give SAM backer Manny Lawson some work there.
But like his mates, head coach Marvin Lewis has no doubts that Geathers can roll off the injury list and give him a productive night on first and second down and maybe on third down if he goes inside. Lewis loves the fact that Geathers didn't get beat up during training camp.
"If last week were a regular-season week, Robert would have played and practiced, but it wasn't. Plus, we get him back moving and doing the things defensively he has to do back with the defensive guys and hold him out of the game," Lewis said. "We made progress. Same thing with BenJarvus (Green-Ellis). Those guys were at the point where you're ready to play, but we had the luxury of preserving them. I think it worked out well. But now we've got to get ready to play a very tough, physical football game."
STARRY, STARRY NIGHT: Marvin Lewis loves his middle backers. He broke into the NFL coaching them and coached the greatest of the 21st century when Ray Lewis roamed the middle for him during his six seasons as the Ravens defensive coordinator.
And one gets the sense Lewis has great hope for Vontaze Burfict, the rookie free agent from Arizona State that made the club as a backup in one of the best NFL stories of the preseason. Burfict went from being a top-round projection to going undrafted in spate of bad decisions his final year in college. But his climb back began when Lewis had a heart-to-heart with him at his pro day and the rest may be history.
"We've improved the interior of the defense at linebacker with Burfict," Lewis said Monday. "He has the chance to be a good player, and he certainly has been an upgrade on special teams. That's why he got to stay."
And, of course, Burfict grew up admiring Ray Lewis.
"What linebacker didn't?" Burfict asked.
"I've seen it on YouTube, but I've never seen it in person," Burfict said of Lewis's pregame dance. "It's going to be an experience just to watch him live on the sidelines during the game. That's going to be awesome."
Rey Maualuga, the starting Bengals middle backer, also has an affinity for Lewis and keeps his advice on "How to Intimidate Other Men" taped to his locker.
"It's always Ray. Not just this week," Maualuga said.
Burfict, by the way, took his new job in stride, which is how he got it in the first place. He made no effort to gloat about the critics.
"Not getting drafted just made me stronger. It made me work harder. That I'd have to go out there and get it," Burfict said. "It made me the man I am today. ... I'm happy it happened then instead of now."
LUCKY SEVEN: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden doesn't know how long he'll have seven wide receivers. It could be one day, one week, two months. But he doesn't know how the club could have cut any of them.
"I would have hated to have been the one who had to let one of those guys go because they did everything we asked them to do," Gruden said. "You don't need to keep a guy at another position if the other guy is better."
Both Gruden and Lewis said it's not so much activating different receivers for different foes. Gruden said it's keeping "the five" that are playing the most consistently, indicating two of them are going to be inactive Monday.
"It helps in practice to have all those healthy bodies running full speed," Gruden said. "(The defense) is going to see Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and that's going to help give them a good look each week. We could get somebody dinged up and they could go in. That's a good problem."