Vincent Rey has seen it all in Bengals-Steelers.
Don’t look now, but the Bengals-Steelers rivalry isn’t as ancient you think when the two brandish their swords Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) at Heinz Field.
A total of 20 Bengals have never played a scrimmage snap in the storied series and that includes potential starters in linebacker Kevin Minter, right guards T.J. Johnson and Trey Hopkins, and cornerback William Jackson, as well as kicker Randy Bullock. Those five, as well as seven more figure to get significant snaps from scrimmage or special teams, or both, in Pittsburgh:
Rookie running back Joe Mixon, rookie pass rusher Carl Lawson, rookie right end Jordan Willis, rookie defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, rookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings, and rookie linebackers Jordan Evans and Hardy Nickerson.
“I recognized those guys this morning. They all know the message,” said head coach Marvin Lewis Wednesday when the veteran of 30 Bengals-Steelers games was asked if the new guys realize the context of it all.
But, hey, this is Steelers Week. Not a good time to ask Lewis about his messaging.
“I’m not going to tell you. You aren’t in that group,” Lewis said.
There’s even fewer left from the controversy-riddled, angst-laden Brawl in The Paul Wild Card Game of 2015. A total of 23 Bengals weren’t here for that crippling blind-side 18-16 loss in the last wretched minute and five of Sunday’s regulars who were rookies that day (starting left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, starting right tackle Jake Fisher, the top two tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah, nickel back Josh Shaw) played ten snaps or less that day.
But there are also 15 players left from the 2012 Wild Wild Card victory at Heinz that put the Bengals in the postseason and knocked out the Steelers. Meshing the two worlds of the kids and the vets is Clint Boling, the left guard that day who won’t be at practice Thursday because he’s welcoming his first child, Emma Marie, a rookie arriving Steelers Week with the benefit of a bye. Dad Boling is back to practice Friday and a trip to Heinz Saturday.
“I told Paul I’m going to have some Dad strength,” Boling said Wednesday of his conversation with offensive line coach Paul Alexander. “The bye week was nice in the sense we were able to get some things done around the house and get ready. We’re both excited. I’ll have a solid 36 hours with the child and head to Pittsburgh.”
So Emma Marie will get her first Steelers’ snap with a lot of the Bengals kids. But there are also guys like her father, like a seven-year vet linebacker named Vincent Rey.
“I love playing down there because of the history,” Rey said. “One time I walked out to the coin toss and on one side was Mel Blount and on the other was the great back from the ’70s. Franco Harris. It’s a great environment. I think we play well there.”
The Bengals are hoping they have just the right powerhouse brew of kids and vets. Rey figures about half the room wasn’t here for the ’15 game, but also he sees special teamer Clayton Fejedelem’s locker with the safeties.
“He’s made so many plays since he’s been here, it seems like he’s been here more than two years,” Rey said.
Rey’s locker is amid the backers kiddie corps of Lawson, Evans, and Nickerson. But nobody has asked him yet about “The Game.” But if they ask, this is what he’ll say:
*Nick Vigil is one of 21 Bengals yet to take a scrimmage snap against the Steelers. *
“We were built for games like this. We’ve got tough guys here and they’ve got tough guys there. The key is to keep learning on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday because knowledge breeds confidence. Marvin has been impressing on us because the way we started we’ve now got 11 one-game seasons. This one is important only because it’s the next one.”
Guys like starting safety George Iloka and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick can tell them all about the mindset. Kirkpatrick says with the guys like Jackson that have been on the sidelines but not on the field, there is a difference.
And since the Bengals have to live with blowing their cool because they lost the lead with two late penalties in 2015 (and took the Steelers off the hook because they won and didn’t have to answer for the semi pro antics of assistant coaches Joey Porter and Mike Munchak), there are always the questions about staying in check against Pittsburgh. And so the vets are staying in check publicly.
“You've got to grind it. We know it's going to be a physical football game. That's what the mindset is for this game. We know what to expect,” Kirkpatrick said. “At the end of the day, we've been playing this team -- I've been playing them -- for six years now. So I know what to expect … Nothing (is) changed. Like we did today, coach reiterated there are a lot of new guys in the room that kind of don't know the history, kind of don't know the magnitude of the game. We've got to carry those guys and carry everybody along. For the majority of the guys, we know what to expect.
“At the end of the day, we're going to keep it classy. We're going to keep it professional. But it's just one of those games. I don't want to elaborate on anything because it seems like everything gets thrown out of proportion. It's just one of those games.”
Kirkpatrick and Iloka were rookies in that 2012 win at Heinz. Like Boling said, “That was 2012? It seems like two years ago.” So there are guys who have been in the rough stuff.
“It's two teams that want the same thing. They're physical, we're physical. The same kind of guys we have in this locker room, they have in that locker room in terms of the aggression and the physical play,” Iloka said. “So that's just why those types of things happen. After the game, it's all willy-nilly and back to the next opponent.”
Clint Boling: a veteran welcomes a rookie during Steeler week.<br>
It’s one of those games that’s so big, nobody tries to downplay it. Rey says if the 2-3 Bengals can beat a team like the 4-2 Steelers on the road, ‘Our season will take off,” he said as he makes his hand like a plane.
“This game means a lot. Let's not take that out of there -- it means a lot,” said Iloka, who has emerged from enough of these tense, taut tinderboxes to know it does no good to sugar coat grime. “We don't want to lose because of the media or the fans. We don't want to lose because we know what this means to us in terms of trying to make it to the playoffs. That alone is enough motivation for us. Anytime we lose, we're pissed off and we're down on ourselves for a while because we know you have to beat your division opponents to set yourself up for success come the end of the year. The way the division's set up, everyone's in that race come week 14, week 15. These kind of games matter.”<br> <br> But they’ve also been around long enough to have seen the Bengals play the Steelers far too tight.<br>
“We're trying to win this game like we're trying to win any other game. At the end of the year if teams are tied, those division games come into play,” Iloka said. “But after Sunday if you get a win, they're only going to give us one win for it, or one loss, or a tie … It's a big game, but let's not make it more than it is.”<br>
Or as Kirkpatrick said, “We just need to play our football. It's just another football game. Just because it's Pittsburgh doesn't mean you have to go out there and crank anything. Don't do nothing different. We've been preparing ourselves the last two weeks pretty well. I feel like we need to continue to do that. It's just a normal game. It's a regular game. It's not like the Super Bowl or anything like that. “<br>
But it’s big. The vets know it and the kids will soon know it.<br>
“Tough guys were built for games like this,” Rey said. “I know they respect us. We respect them, too … But it’s a mean game and it’s going to be a mean game on Sunday.”<br> <br>