Notebook: Elastic Erickson; Simmons Says McRae Robbed

Tony McRae (29) is emerging as a special teams powerhouse.
Tony McRae (29) is emerging as a special teams powerhouse.

The subject is wide receiver Alex Erickson and after practice Wednesday Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons found himself quoting the late Pete Brown, the club's senior vice president of player personnel.

"The best ability is dependability," Simmons said of his returner.

During Sunday's last-second win in Atlanta you needed a score card to keep track of Erickson, devout Brewers fan. Not only did he deliver a huge 47-yard kick return early in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal and help break the Bengals' second-half drought, moments later he lined up at running back when rookie Mark Walton went out for a bit in the second half to get checked for a concussion. And when wide receiver John Ross couldn't go out for the last drive with a groin injury, Erickson went in.

You don't think quarterback Andy Dalton believes in him? The snap before he threw the winner to wide receiver A.J. Green with seven seconds left, he took a shot at Erickson in the right back corner on a pass broken up by cornerback Isaiah Oliver.

"He goes where he's supposed to go," Simmons said simply of his return abilities. "It's how he does everything else. He's done it since day one."

Erickson, who nearly went Division III for basketball until he walked on the football team at Wisconsin, was born versatile. It's why the Bengals extended his contract the day before the opener and why he is probably their emergency quarterback, too, in a pinch.

"The way the NFL rosters go with injuries here and there, there just aren't a lot of guys," Erickson said Wednesday, basking in a Brewers' postseason without the Cubs. "You've got to be willing to play different positions. It's something you do every day. You prepare."

The Bengals believe. When they got to the Atlanta 21 with 13 minutes left in the game he lined up as back and took a little pitch left outside for eight yards to get them in the red zone.

"I watch how the guys run their tracks," Erickson said. "But it's pretty much the same thing whenever you've got the ball in your hands. You're relying on your instincts and trusting what you see out there."

Erickson's return was mega. The Bengals had just fallen behind, 33-28, on a 30-yard stunner to rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley. But he trusted the blocks from linebacker Vincent Rey, wide receiver Cody Core and linebacker Nick Vigil, just to name a few, to quell the crowd and swing the momentum back.

But then, he's used to doing just a little bit of everything. With and without the ball. When he quarterbacked tiny Darlington High School he was named Wisconsin's Small School Player of the Year after a career he rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and 57 TDs and passed for more than 3,500 yards and 37 TDs. And he had 14 interceptions as a defensive back.

An eight-yard run? Try a 99-yarder.

"Junior year in the playoffs," Erickson said. "At Lancaster. We called a quarterback dive to get two yards. It wasn't a sneak. It was out of the (shot) gun. The tail back was the lead blocking back for me and I went off the guard. I made a move to the outside, the safety took a bad angle and it was off to the races."

Lancaster won. But Erickson is 1-0 as an NFL running back.

MAC ATTACK: There is safety Clayton Fejedelem who has solidified himself as a Pro Bowl special teams player and now back-up safety Tony McRae is emerging as a special teams maven. He's made his mark as a gunner covering punts and leads the team with four teams tackles already.

And Simmons says he should also have a blocked field goal. McRae looked like he made the play of the game Sunday when he screeched off the left edge untouched and blocked Matt Bryant's 37-yarder with 4:18 left. When safety Shawn Williams recovered it looked like all the Bengals needed was a field goal to win.

But McRae was called offsides and even though both TV and radio a nalysts agreed with the call, Simmons was adamant McRae's play was legit. He's in charge of sending in disputed calls to the league and believe that was on the list.

And he's not so sure McRae was offsides the second time, either, when Bryant kicked the 32-yarder to give Atlanta the 36-31 lead, which was the call.

"He's got all the intangibles you want," Simmons said of the 5-10, 185-pound McRae. "He's tough, he's a fighter. He's smart. He's got little man's complex. He likes it when people don't believe in him."

But the Bengals believe in him. It was as clean as a play as you'll get. McRae apparently timed it so well he even fooled the refs.

"Film study," Simmons said. "You can see that's a play where he clearly studied the tape. Ask him."

McRae, feisty as ever, shot back.

"No, no. Ask Darrin."