ATLANTA — This trip south has had the feel of a family reunion rather than a preseason skirmish.
From Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is his Idaho State roommate) to the University of Georgia contingent (as many as five Bulldogs could be in the Bengals starting lineup Thursday night) to Bengals third cornerback Adam Jones (he became a Peachtree legend at nearby Westlake High School), the connections are rampant.
Here's another one to literally end with.
Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry and Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora are brothers-out-of-arms. When Gilberry broke into the NFL in 2008 as an undrafted rookie on Umenyiora's defending Super Bowl-champion Giants, he took note of how the veteran had a knack for stripping the ball out of the hands of quarterbacks and running backs. By time the Chiefs plucked him off the Giants practice squad in November of that rookie year, Gilberry had compiled enough research to head into this season with five career official forced fumbles and a slew of unofficials and close ones.
With Umenyiora watching last season at Paul Brown Stadium, Gilberry sacked and stripped Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the Bengals win that started the run to the playoffs. A month later he had a hand in his own 25-yard fumble return for the touchdown that blew open the win in Philadelphia.
"Wallace is my man; he's a great football player," Umenyiora said after he invaded Cincinnati's stretch that ended Tuesday's combined practice to give Gilberry some grief and hugs.
"He was a young guy and he was watching the things I do. When you get around the corner, you stick your hand out."
But they won't give up the secret. Gilberry showed a reporter what he tries to do to the quarterback when he turns the corner and made him drop his tape recorder three times.
"The way I look at it," Gilberry said, "it's good to get a sack but it's even better to put the offense back on the field. You just try to make a conscience effort when you get to the quarterback or running back, make it a point of emphasis to get the ball out. Sometimes it work, sometimes it doesn't.
"I give Osi the credit for that. When I was in New York he told me it's not all about the sacks, it's about putting your offense back on the field. We would always partner up and he'd show me if you hit them hard enough or just right, the ball comes out."
Umenyiora, playing his first game since his nine-season run with the Giants ended, says he's been cheering on Gilberry as he watches the sack cutups throughout the NFL. The student actually out-sacked the mentor last year, 6.5-6.
"A lot of times if you're back there within three seconds, the quarterback is cocking to throw the ball and you've got to get the hand out," Umenyiora said. "The quarterbacks don't grip the ball tight because they can't throw it that way. So any small thing is going to make it come out."
Gilberry, playing his first game since signing a three-year deal back in March, is probably going to play more than starting right end Michael Johnson, but not as much as youngsters Margus Hunt, DeQuin Evans and Dontay Moch.
But at the end of the game he hopes to be telling Umenyiora what he told him after the Giants game:
"I took a page out of your book."
PLAY TIME: Not expected to play for the Bengals on Thursday night were wide receiver Marvin Jones (hamstring) and left Carlos Dunlap (concussion). Both haven't practiced in a week.
Robert Geathers started for Dunlap while wide receiver Brandon Tate started for A.J. Green and left tackle Anthony Collins for Andrew Whitworth. Green and Whitworth are back home rehabbing knees.
Also not making the trip were wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (ankle), tight end Alex Smith (knee), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee), rookie right tackle Reid Fragel (knee), wide receiver Tyrone Goard (concussion), and fullback Chris Pressley (knee). Rookie defensive tackle Larry Black (leg, ankle) cleared waivers and is on season-ending injured reserve.
Three of the five Bengals game captains had Georgia ties; Geathers from the U. of Georgia, Michael Johnson from Georgia Tech, and Adam Jones from Westlake High School. Kyle Cook and Andy Dalton were the other two.