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On the bubble with special teams

Kyries Hebert

Special teams coach Darrin Simmons got a nice compliment in head coach Marvin Lewis' Tuesday news conference.

"I was told the Bills entire team had to sit in the special teams meeting prior to the game last week, because they were making a point about how our guys were playing on special teams," Lewis said. "That is a great testament to Darrin and the rest of the coaches and players in that area."

If there's one guy that can say this is truly Lewis' deepest roster in his eight seasons as head coach, it is Simmons, his special teams coach for the entire tenure.

"I don't know about that. It doesn't matter because we haven't done it on the field. Paper doesn't matter," Simmons said. "What I do know is that I looked back to that first team a few weeks ago and I would say we've come a long way. You're only as good as your 53rd player. And would think that we've got some pretty good players here and if they don't make it I would think they would end up in the league."

The depth is so good that special teams captain Kyries Hebert is staring at another cutdown day on the bubble even with safety Gibril Wilson on injured reserve. Hebert has led the Bengals with 31 special-teams tackles over the past two seasons, but as Simmons says, "If you're a special teams player, that's how it usually is."

It is nothing new for Hebert, 29, who came to the Bengals as the richest defensive player in the history of the Canadian Football League.

"This is my ninth straight year (on the bubble). It took me awhile to reach that (the richest defensive player) status," Hebert said.

With Wilson out, it looks like Hebert is battling 22-year-old Rico Murray for the fourth and last safety spot. They're always younger, it seems, and Murray can play both safety and cornerback and he leads the team in preseason with three special-teams tackles. But Murray has already been down this road, too, and he got cut last year as a rookie and didn't get picked up for the practice squad until two weeks later.

And the Bengals could always decide that they'll find someone else that isn't here, so Hebert and Murray are just not competing against each other, but guys on other teams. And Hebert, who has been around, thinks he's in a precarious position after he got a rare shot to play safety against the first-teamers in Buffalo.  

"If it were me, I don't think I'd be here after my last performance on defense," he said. "I was very disappointed in what I put on film. I lost contain on a couple of plays. At this stage in my career I should never allow that to happen. You can't just want to be a special teams guy your whole life. I want to do more to help my team."

Hebert thinks he was solid on special teams, but he listens to what Simmons says in meetings. You don't want to spend your whole career just on special teams.

So Thursday night's preseason finale in Indianapolis (Cincinnati's Channel 12) does mean something.

"If I'm lucky enough to be on the field to play against Indy, I have to put my best game out there," he said. "(My experience) helps me not to panic. In years past I've panicked a couple of times. I know what's on the line. I know what I have to do, so let's go do it."

It's that mentality that Simmons has brought to special teams. If Lewis had to clean house and change the culture of the locker room in 2003, then Simmons had to do that in miniature in the teams room, which had been largely ignored in years past.

But Lewis knows the difference eight years later.

"It has been important here, and everybody in this building knows it is an important part of our football team," Lewis said. "We take it seriously. We have everybody attend our meetings. We review game tape and everything. We want to show guys what our guys are doing. Sometimes our quarterbacks and receivers aren't as involved in that area, or maybe Cedric (Benson), but I want everybody to know what is going on. You see a lot of good. Jerome Simpson looked good going down (on coverage) last week. You see guys grow up and evolve in that area. I have been very pleased with the tight ends, the two young tight ends and how they have been able to grow up over time."

But it is still special teams and that means the bubble heading into the preseason finale.

"I don't have time to think," Hebert said. "It's time to play."

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