After three and a half seasons of biding his time, Cedric Peerman is giving the Bengals some precious moments in the nick of time as nerve-wracking November morphs into do-or-die December this Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in San Diego.
"Everybody is happy to see him running the ball," says linebacker Vincent Rey, one of his closest friends on the team. "He does it with a lot of passion. He wants to do everything as best as he can do in life. I really respect it."
Everybody includes Peerman's Wednesday night Bible study at Hyde Park Baptist Church on the leafy Eastern fringe of downtown Cincinnati.
"We have guys that can certainly relate to him," says Pastor Bill Rillo. "They might have been overlooked for promotions or something else. They see how he's handled it. How he's been patient and put it in God's hands and it's an inspiration."
After four teams, 23 special teams tackles, and two trick plays that jump-started road wins, Peerman has finally become part of an NFL game plan. He came into the last three games with 12 NFL carries, and 22 runs later his 157 yards helped grease a three-game winning streak.
It's a feel-good story in one of those breakneck seasons that often doesn't make time to feel good. But Peerman knows all about time.
"I've been praying for more opportunities and God has granted me those and he's granted me some success when I get in there, so I'm thankful for that," he says.
Peerman may be in the run of his life, but he walks the walk. He may be the change-of-pace guy the Bengals thought they'd never have this season, but Rillo says he's the son he never had.
Here's a 26-year-old pro athlete who this spring and summer lived with his pastor and his wife in their Mount Washington home until the Reds season ended. That's when he moved into a condo with teammate and roommate Ryan Whalen vacated by one of the baseball players.
"I always tell Ced if my two girls weren't married, I'd fix him up with one of them," Rillo says. "It's his character. For me, it's his pursuit of Christ. It's not just a religion to him. He just doesn't have a faith. It's how he lives his life. It's so rare today."
The Bengals have seen that passion ever since they picked him up off waivers from the Lions in the spring of 2010 after his rookie year bounced Peerman from a sixth-round pick of the Ravens to the Cleveland and Detroit rosters. Rillo saw it when Peerman showed up at his church not long after he arrived and filled out a visitor's card.
"He didn't say he was a Bengal or anything like that," Rillo says. "I thought he kind of looked like an athlete and when I saw the downtown address I told my wife, 'I bet that's the hotel where the Bengals stay.' He called me a few days later and we met for lunch. He was looking for a family, a home away from home and it was a fit. We're serious about our faith."
Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson is serious about the fundamentals, so that's a good fit, too. He saw the 93-yard run against the Colts two preseasons ago. He's seen the quick-thinking as the personal protector on the punt team that has resulted in fourth down runs of 48 and 32 yards this season. He's seen the tackles on the kickoffs and punts, a total of seven this season. Dots between the dashes, so Anderson knows the kid has been waiting.
"He doesn't mind doing windows," Anderson says.
"Even when he's not in there, he's taking a mental rep. He doesn't only do physical reps. He's a guy looking forward to taking advantage of every opportunity. He works at the game."
At 5-11, 211 pounds, Peerman uses what he's got. Really good straight line speed, good vision, and a lot of brains and toughness. He showed it on the 31-yard run against Oakland last Sunday when he burst up the middle, bounced off a big hit at the second level from a DB, put his left hand on the ground to keep his balance, and took off for the final 20 yards.
ProFootballFocus.com noticed in its report off the Oakland win:
"Peerman … had an Elusive Rating of 306.3, with four missed tackles and an average of 6.13 yards after contact on just eight carries."
Or, as he says, "I try to be coachable to a certain point. With what little bit of skills I have, they should take over when I get the ball in my hand and you're able to do your own thing."
Improvement? Take a look at the 2010 finale when the Ravens devoured Peerman on a fourth-and-one late in the game.
Don't tell his teammates about that "little bit of skill."
"I know he can make big plays," says running back Brian Leonard. "It's just a matter of getting an opportunity. There are a lot of good players out there. You may not get the ball one game, but the next week you'll get it 10 times."
On Sunday it was eight carries for 61 yards. Just about right for a change-of-pace back that gives the defense something to look at other than BenJarvus Green-Ellis's 220 pounds of grind.
"I've always felt like I could do a good job," Peerman says. "Certain people have told me to bide my time. It happens a lot (in the NFL) where people suddenly get a chance."
He's a popular option in the locker room. Peerman, Rey, Whalen and linebacker Manny Lawson take turns leading the Bengals Bible study after Thursday practice. But Peerman, who has a certificate to minister in his native Virginia, has an open door. Leonard doesn't go to the Thursday sessions, but he often finds himself talking to Peerman about the deeper things in life.
"The thing about Ced is that he'll talk to anyone," Leonard says. "He doesn't force anything on you. We've got all kinds in here. Believers. Non-believers. You can be a Christian or a non-Christian and he'll be your best friend. I have questions about his beliefs, Jesus Christ, God, and he tries to answer them. I'm trying to find what makes sense to me and he gives me information."
Rillo says, "He wants to be good at everything," so Peerman got him to teach him how to shoot clay pigeons and play golf, things he never got a chance to pursue as a youth.
"I'm 57 years old, so I've been doing it awhile and Ced is just learning," Rillo says. "So I'll kid him when I beat him. 'Ced, you're just a one-sport guy.' He wants to try some hunting, too."
But there is plenty of big game out there in December to run down. Truth be told, the guys in the Wednesday night group were wondering when Peerman was going to get the ball some more.
"Every time he touched it," Rillo says, "something good always seemed to happen."
Peerman smiles one of his soft smiles before moving on to walk the walk.
"Just being ready when the opportunity comes," he says.