The Bengals went through one of their less riveting practices Friday during training camp.
And one of their most important. Putting a team together for an NFL season is like building a house and sometimes you've got to watch the paint dry.
Unless, of course, you're special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and Friday was a day at Kings Island. There were onside kicks, and hands teams, and safety kickoff returns and even something called a fair catch free kick.
But if you looked closely enough, you could see a transition of power. A torch passed. As kicker Mike Nugent perfected his lob shot to the front line for an onside kick, linebacker Vinnie Rey kept recovering them. Meeting them at the right spot, catching them, and going to the ground straight out of the textbook.
"He's a great leader," Simmons said. "He's not only a guy that excels in the classroom; he brings it to the field."
No surprise that Rey is big in the classroom. The Bengals signed him after the 2010 draft as a free agent out of Duke, an academic oasis and football outpost. He was supposed to be a nice little story. One of the few NFL players from the City That Never Sleeps (Far Rockaway), he would hang around for a year or two and …
But the nice little story has used what made Rey a nice little story (brains, work ethic, hustle) and turned it into a staple. As he heads into his fourth season in the wake of linebacker Dan Skuta's departure to San Francisco via free agency, Rey has emerged as his replacement to be the de facto special teams captain.
And the way head coach Marvin Lewis talked the other night, it sounds like he's going to be a tough guy to move out of one of the most competitive positions on the team.
"Vinnie can get in there and play any of the spots; he's such a leader on the football team," Lewis said. "He's kind of the captain of the special teams. He basically assumes the role that Skuta had."
The Bengals figure to keep nine defensive linemen, six backers and 10 defensive backs when all is said and done. Rey is the sixth, joining versatile Emmanuel Lamur and fourth-round pick Sean Porter as the backups.
He's having a sharp, heads-up camp and the fact he's listed as middle linebacker Rey Maualuga's backup (and ahead of J.K. Schaffer) reflects how far he's come. For his first couple of years Rey just wasn't big enough to dish it out from scrimmage regularly. Maybe he could take a couple of snaps at WILL. But last season he made one start at WILL and was on the field enough to make 18 tackles to go along with his third-best 12 on special teams.
"You can tell he's in the playbook a lot and watching film," said punter Kevin Huber. "I'm sure he's getting reps at every position and he's very knowledgeable about them. And he knows what to expect from Coach Simmons."
Rey is another example of what good people in a locker room can breed. If John Thornton and Robert Geathers gave rise to Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins, then Rey studied under Skuta and Dhani Jones. Rey roomed with Jones as a rookie and took his jersey number when Jones left in 2011.
"Guys respect Vinnie because of how hard he works," Simmons said. "He may not be the most vocal guy, the guy that you follow because of what he says. But you follow him by what he does. He's got the respect of the younger players. He knows everything as well as I do. That's a calming thing."
Simmons would love to get Rey and the guys on the field in the preseason games. But after walking them through enough scenarios to fill a rule book, he's just hoping he can use even one of them in the preseason games.
And he knows he probably won't see Rey catching a lob from Nugent until it's for real.
"I hope that we get our hands team out there," Simmons said. "Head coaches don't ever want to go onside in a preseason game because it's a dangerous play and guys can get hurt, so they don't want to do that.
"All the situations you can get like that in a preseason game are awesome. Awesome. A couple of years ago the first kickoff return we had in the preseason happened to be a safety kickoff return. All the stuff you can get like that in the preseason, the better. Now you can coach off the tape."
Or watch Vinnie Rey.