Updated: 5:45 p.m.
When Falcons tight end Reggie Kelly became one of the first major free-agent signings of the Marvin Lewis Era, the Bengals new head coach had more than Xs and Os in mind.
An impeccable team leader. A gamer and grinder on the field in one of the game's grimiest but necessary positions in the AFC North. Kelly was the kind of unselfish, committed player Lewis wanted in the program and he's lucky enough that he's ended up with another Reggie Kelly 10 seasons later.
Not only that, Bengals tight end Donald Lee is a Kelly protégé. When Lee visited Mississippi State as a high school recruit, Kelly was his host. When Lee arrived with a Super Bowl ring early last season from the Green Bay team the Bengals host Thursday in a 7 p.m. preseason game (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Lewis wasted no time asking him to pass it around for all to see.
Lee had no problem taking it out of the vault.
"It showed the young guys what hard work and dedication can do for you," Lee said before Tuesday's practice. "I think that motivated a lot of guys here. They were asking me questions about my experience in the Super Bowl and I told them it's one of the greatest feelings I've ever experienced. We've got a young team here. I feel like my responsibility is to kind of show these guys the way to the Super Bowl. That's why I come here day in and day out, work hard, and try to lead by example."
Lee turns 32 on Aug. 31, cutdown day, but it sure doesn't look like he's going anywhere. Not only is he a reliable blocker, but he's shown the hands this preseason that bailed the Bengals out of the Tennessee game last season with Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham injured. With Gresham again hurt last Thursday in Atlanta, Lee converted a third down for 22 yards.
"Donald has added a great example of how you practice, how you prepare," Lewis said this week. "And obviously he comes here with credibility. A huge one. He carries it around in a box. He keeps it safe. And that’s huge credibility when you can walk in with that Super Bowl ring. And I passed that ring around last year to show everybody what Donald had earned. And that's important.
"Donald approaches the game and his diligence and how he does things and the fact he stays and conditions himself after practice a couple of times a week. ... He's a great mentor for Jermaine Gresham and you see the growth of Jermaine and Orson Charles and Colin Cochart last year when he was a rookie also. These guys in that position group can say, 'Man this is how a guy does it 10 years in and on a very good team.' And now he's here doing it for us. Jermaine is out of the game, Donald is in regular personnel and we don't miss a beat."
Lee, a fifth-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 2003, arrived in Green Bay just before the start of the 2005 season when the Pack picked him up off waivers. As a young player he saw what it means to be mentored and it started from the top.
"Fortunately as soon as I got to Green Bay, Brett took me under his wing and kind of groomed me," Lee said. "We had a great tight end there by the name of Bubba Franks. He taught me a lot. I just kind of took what those older guys taught me, like Brett, Bubba, Charles Woodson, Ahman Green, I just took what those guys taught me and I just ran with it."
Lee, who grew up in Maben, Miss., about 90 minutes from Favre's hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., kept in touch with him for about six months after Favre left the Packers in 2007, "but I haven't talked to him in a minute."
He took a lot from Kelly, too, and saw him this offseason back in Starkville, Miss. Lee and his family went into a Wal-Mart and saw a long line and a lot of commotion. Wondering what could possibly be going on, he saw the line ending at Kelly as he handed out flyers touting his salsa mix he perfected while playing for the Bengals.
They hugged and reminisced. Gamers usually succeed off the field, too.
"He must be doing real well," Lee said. "A lot of people are buying it."
DEJA LOONEY: During Lee's first of six seasons in Green Bay, he was on the field that fateful Oct. 30, 2005 at PBS when Packers comeback artist Brett Favre had Green Bay on the Bengals 28 in in the last half-minute of a game Cincinnati led, 21-14, and he had just completed a 19-yard pass. With no timeouts he sprinted to the line when Lee says what happened next "is the craziest thing I've ever seen."
As Favre took a quick snap and dropped back, he heard a whistle and stopped. A fan had run on the field, and then took the ball out of Favre's hand before sprinting 50 yards the other way in a jaw-dropping display that just may have saved the Bengals. Duane Clemons sacked Favre on the next play for the win.
"I think it broke theirs," said Lewis after the game of Green Bay's concentration. "It was good."
Lee doesn't remember Favre being angry, but more perplexed.
"He said he thought it was the official grabbing he ball. He just gave the ball to him. No resistance ... I'll never forget it."
At that point, Favre had 34 fourth-quarter comebacks and it may have taken a 12th man to stop him.
"You never know," Lee said. "That's what you've got to love about the guy. He's not afraid to take chances. He's going to go big or go home."
INJURY UPDATE: After his first two days of practice, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) didn't work Tuesday in what Lewis said was a planned rest in his comeback. He won't play Thursday and Lewis ruled out two other cornerbacks, Adam Jones and Jason Allen, as they battle muscle pulls.
Cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) was rested while defensive ends Micah Johnson and DeQuin Evans with unknown ailments were out. Working on the rehab field were middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, running back BenJarvus Green Ellis and rookie safety Tony Dye, among others.
PATS CUT FANENE: Despite giving former Bengals defensive lineman Jon Fanene nearly $4 million in bonuses, the Patriots cut him Tuesday after his promising camp was cut short with a knee injury that has taken him out of the last 13 practices, accordingto ESPNBoston.com. Given that the Bengals are already saddled with two left ends that aren't playing because of knee injuries, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers, it's doubtful the Bengals would take on another one. At least not before Opening Day.
But it's anyone's guess. And things change all the time. Since the Bengals have a good relationship with Fanene and he's coming off a 6.5-sack season, it's certainly not out of the realm that they'd at least bring him in for a physical.