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Quinton Spain's Birthdays Help Age Young Bengals O-Line

Quinton Spain and his birthday hat.
Quinton Spain and his birthday hat.

The thing is, Quinton Spain didn't have to wear the Nickelodeon top hat sprouting candles. The one he might have worn on his third birthday instead of on his 30th that he celebrated last week.

It is something you might make a rookie wear in Hard Knocks hazing gone bad. But Spain, the starting left guard who stuck around to give the offensive line more birthdays, has been wearing it every Aug. 7 since his buddy Cody Ford gave it to him in Buffalo.

"My birthday is always in camp," said Spain after Wednesday's classic 92-degree dog days practice. "In Buffalo they bought me a big Happy Birthday hat, so I have to wear it every time now."

Like center Billy Price says, "When it's your birthday, you get to do whatever you want."

It will be recalled that Spain and Price teamed to give the Bengals one of last season's more remarkable parties back on Nov. 1 at Paul Brown Stadium when they beat the AFC South-leading Titans, ironically, the team that first gave Spain a shot all those birthdays ago.

Price came off the bench and Spain walked out of his five-day COVID protocol downtown Cincinnati hotel stay with just one Bengals walk-through under his belt ("and that was on the scout team") to help a re-shuffled line generate 367 yards. With four of five spots changed from the week before, it was the line's finest hour of 2020 as Spain checked in at left guard on the second series.

"Quinton's played a lot of ball with a couple of franchises," Price said of the day. "It was literally, 'tight zone left, tight zone right, sweep left, sweep right.' In the NFL, it's the same concepts, different words. He knows the code words now. He knows what the words are and the techniques are. He's a Bengal now."

Price got a game ball and the Bengals got some valued versatility. Spain started the next two games at different spots on the right side before he was even on the active roster. Even though he bounced around, he found a home.

"The fit about Cincinnati is they're young, they need older guys in the room to help the younger guys they have, teach them the way," Spain told the assembled media before Wednesday's practice.

That was after he told his agent back in March that no matter the Bengals' offer, he was coming back.

"And I felt like as me, being a good veteran, I should be able to do that. So I wanted to come back here and help. Like, the same situation I was in (at) Buffalo. When I came back to Buffalo after that year, you've seen what happened that year. So I got that feeling again. So I told them I want to come back."

Although Spain helped the Bills get back on their feet, he wasn't happy and he likes the fit here. (He's another example of why the NFL is all about scenery.) He also had to see an opportunity for playing time for a group in transition under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. He seems to have just the kind of mentality Pollack seeks, the age-old brew of smart aggression.

"Quinton's got a nastiness," Price said. "He's a vet. He knows how to get the job done. He's a great character in the O-line room. He's a quiet guy. A father. He holds guys accountable. He's the kind of brother you can lean on. He's the kind of guy that can get you through a day like today where it's a 102 heat index."

Spain proved worthy of sharing a foxhole during that trying November and now August is about doing the things he couldn't last year while learning the playbook on the run. No one has broken down the changes to the Bengals run game this camp more succinctly than Spain.

"It's the same system, but he's breaking it down how we can better ourselves," Spain said. "We can just run plays to run plays, but you've got to be footwork and proper technique. You've got to count on this guy, you've got to know you can lift this guy up on this block. If you take the wrong technique, you're behind him so the play's not going to work. It takes all five of them."

Spain is quite a resource for Pollack. He's got a couple of young, highly drafted players who are trying to become NFL guards in second-rounder Jackson Carman and Michael Jordan, a fourth-rounder from two years ago. He's also got a fourth-rounder from this year, D'Ante Smith, a tackle learning to play guard backing up Spain.

They can take a ton from Spain, a guy that has 74 starts after being undrafted out of West Virginia. He not only embraced it, he couldn't wait to grab the Twitter handle "Mr. Undrafted."

"As soon as I went free agent, I knew I was going to be Mr. Undrafted. That's my motivation," Spain said. "Every time I look at my Twitter, that's what I'm motivated about. Nobody believed in me. That's what I kept the Twitter name Mr. Undrafted to make sure I remember why I went free agent."

Spain has no qualms about telling the drafted kids, either.

"The vibe is different than what I've been in because I'm usually the younger guy in the room," Spain said. "Now, I'm, what, the second or third oldest in the room? So we have a lot of young guys. It's different because when I was younger, it was more of me learning. Now, it's more of me trying to help the young guys, let them see the route (and) the way I took. Because I came undrafted. I had to work harder. So I'm trying to give them knowledge how to stay in the league and what not to do and what can you do."

Make that the O-lineman with the second most birthdays, a few months ahead of guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and almost a year ahead of center Trey Hopkins.

And a lifetime on D'Ante Smith, Carman and Jordan. After starting his first game at tackle in his second game with the Bengals, Spain was able to walk D'Ante Smith through some things last week when Pollack suddenly moved the rookie to left guard from right tackle.

"I gave everybody advice. I played tackle, played guard but I didn't play center. I can't help you with center," Spain said. "I can't help you with that. When he moves to guard, I said it's a shorter space so everything is right there.

"As soon as you hike the ball, you've got a D-Tackle or a shade or a (three technique) right in your face. You can't be on the edge. As soon as he says, 'Hike,' the contact is right there. I just tell him to stay low because he's a great athlete, he's strong and he has got good hand placement too. Once you get the hands down, that's when you can dictate what you can do with your guys."

Spain and Price can laugh about the Tennessee game now.

"I didn't know the plays, I didn't know anything. I give the credit to Billy because when I came here he was playing the center that game because everybody was injured or something like that," Spain said. "When I came, they told Billy to tell me inside, outside, left or right and I knew what I needed to do."

During Wednesday's sauna of a practice, Price was looking to Spain like Spain was looking to Price back in November.

"I wouldn't want to go through it with anybody else," Price said.

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