Bits From The Booth: Baltimore

This Thursday, the UC Bearcats played the first of three straight nationally televised weeknight games when they faced Memphis. Next Thursday, the Bearcats host the University of Miami, and 15 days later they travel to Utah for a Friday night game at BYU.

The non-Saturday games are probably not ideal for many Bearcats fans, but they are helpful to a certain broadcaster trying to get from one assignment to the next.

The BYU game is on the same weekend that the Bengals are in Buffalo. I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of “red-eye” flights from Provo to Buffalo.

So thank you ESPN for making my travel itinerary a little easier.

Now time for this week’s Bits From The Booth.

Dalton Defender

When Memphis beat Cincinnati 53-46 on Thursday, it gave the Tigers an 11-game winning streak.

Justin Fuente

Memphis is coached by Justin Fuente who was the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at TCU when Andy Dalton played for the Horned Frogs. Prior to Thursday’s game against the Bearcats, I asked Fuente about his former quarterback.

“He drove through Memphis not too long ago and we sat down and ate lunch and he seems to be handling everything in stride,” Fuente told me. “That league is so tough. I know that the people of Cincinnati are hungry for playoff success and I certainly understand that, and I know that Andy is too. I just hope that they can get to that point with a healthy roster and can really put their best foot forward because I think they have had some things working against them over the last couple of years. But he seems to be handling it well and I know he really loves living there and being a part of the Bengals organization.”

Does it hurt you when you hear or read people taking shots at him?

“Of course it does. Obviously I’m not his dad, but I’m close to him and I know what kind of person he is. It’s the same way I feel about our current players. But it’s part of the business. Right or wrong, that’s the way it goes – especially when you play that position. A lot of people say that you get paid good money not for the hits that you take on the field but for the hits you take off the field. That part if probably true, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t stick up for him because I certainly will.”

Every Play Rey

If you had to guess which Bengals defensive player has not missed a snap so far this season would your answer be Vinny Rey?

The fifth year linebacker has been on the field for all 127 defensive snaps in the first two games and clinched last week’s win over San Diego with a spectacular juggling interception.

“I’m thankful because there was a time where I would never get snaps on defense,” Rey told me. “I love being out there. I know that I need to continue to play better and I know that I can.”

“He’s tremendously valuable,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “He’s the brains of the operation out there and understands what we’re trying to get done. He’s a guy that can play all three linebacker positions and when Vontaze got hurt last year he stepped in and did a nice job for us. He’s carrying that over to this year so we’re glad to have him out there.”

Rey has gone from being an undrafted free agent…to a practice squad player…to a special teams standout…to an indispensable member of the defense.

I asked the former Duke captain to explain the key to his hard-earned NFL success.

“There are a lot of things that happened in my favor and were out of my control, but listening to the coaches and the authority figures has really helped me,” Vinny said. “They’ve been coaching and have been around the game for a long time, and listening to them and doing what they say over and over and over really helps.”

Takeo’s Takes

Former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, now covering the league for Sirius NFL Radio, was among our guests on Friday on the “Bengals Pep Rally” show (3-6 on ESPN 1530).

Takeo Spikes

Takeo spent a day at Bengals training camp in early August and came away raving about Geno Atkins. On Friday I asked Spikes how he could tell from watching one practice that Atkins was back to his pre-injury dominance.

“This was the first indication,” said Spikes. “It was 9-on-7 and they ran a power play with Jeremy Hill running to the right side. Geno was on the back side so the center blocks back on the three technique (Atkins). Geno literally ran through the center and made the play in the backfield for a tackle for a loss. I never had an ACL injury, but I’ve talked to plenty of guys that have and the hardest thing to do is to not only generate power, but to be able to redirect and get upfield. He did all of that on one play. Then another time on 11-on-11, they did a play-action pass where Geno kind of paused a little bit while he looked at the running back and diagnosed the play. Then he immediately got on his saddle, got back upfield and did a pass rush move where he spun his hips and cleared the offensive guard and put all his weight on the surgically-repaired ACL. I knew at that time that he was back.”

The Bengals are obviously hoping for a similar recovery by linebacker Vontaze Burfict when he returns from microfracture knee surgery. Burfict will be eligible to come off of the PUP list in time for the November 1 game at Pittsburgh.

“I love the fact that he plays the game with reckless abandon,” said Spikes. “He doesn’t even care about his body, so you know darn well that he doesn’t care about the person that he’s getting ready to hit. I love that about him. That may be the reason why he’s out right now. But he’s a relentless guy. He’s a tone-setter, and I love the way that he plays the game. When I watch him play he can probably come off as being a little selfish, but he wants to make every play and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an inside backer you have to feel that way. You have to feel like you’re the last line of defense. If they get past you, then chances are it’s going to be a score. I think that mentality is what makes him such a good football player. I wish he could stay healthy, because if he does, he would definitely be one of the better linebackers in the league.”

Several years ago when Bengals fans voted on a 40th Anniversary Team, Spikes received the second-most votes at linebacker behind Reggie Williams.

Willing To Share

In 2013, Giovani Bernard was the first running back selected in the NFL draft. The following year, Jeremy Hill was the second running back picked.

Last week’s win over the Chargers provided a reminder that both are among the best running backs in the NFL.

Hill was the league’s leading rusher over the final nine weeks of the 2014 season, but when he fumbled two times in 10 carries last Sunday, Bernard stayed on the field for nearly every snap and carried 20 times for 123 yards.

After the game, Hill didn’t complain saying that he deserved to be benched and that he was happy for Bernard. Gio deflected praise and said that Hill would bounce back quickly.

This week I asked Marvin Lewis if their willingness to share the load without complaint was unusual in this day and age.

“I think their humility and their ability to be good pros is exceptional,” Lewis told me. “That’s the key element for them to continue to be successful in the league – not only this year but in future years. It’s going to come to that for those guys. That’s where everything is headed. There’s too much pounding for one back to take and you have to feel like you’re a starter even if you’re not the first guy that runs out there because maybe the next time you are. So you’ve got to prepare that way each and every week.”

Quoth The (Former) Raven

Brad Jackson has a unique perspective on a Bengals/Ravens match-up.

Brad Jackson

The former UC linebacker spent his first three NFL seasons in Baltimore and was a member of Marvin Lewis’s record-setting defense on the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl winning team. Last year, Jackson worked with Coach Lewis as a coaching intern during training camp for the Bengals.

Jackson currently covers the Ravens for CSN Mid-Atlantic and described the mood in Baltimore after the team’s 0-2 start.

“Right now they don’t have their hand on the panic button but it is close by,” said Jackson. “There’s a lot of concern here.

“Right now there’s no identity. It week one they couldn’t do anything against the Broncos defense. In week two, the offense got it together and the defense didn’t even leave the hotel. Right now they’re counting on the home crowd here in Baltimore and they’re trying to find a way to get a win. Next Wednesday they have to get on a plane and go to Pittsburgh in a short week, so they could go from 0-2 to 0-4 very quickly, or they could have a chance to be 2-2. Iit all starts with trying to figure out that Cincinnati Bengals offense and defense come Sunday at 1 o’clock.”

It should be a great game. Andrew Whitworth is the subject of this week’s “Fun Facts” interview on the Bengals radio network pregame show. It should run at approximately 12:30.

Talk to you from the booth at Paul Brown Stadium. Hope you’ll be listening.

I’d love to hear from you at

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at

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