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Could This Be Keith Rivers' Breakout Season?

I'm not sure how many would assess Keith Rivers. During his rookie year, Rivers recorded 11 tackles in three of his first four professional games against the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns. Against the Cowboys, he recorded eight tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Unfortunately, Rivers' season prematurely came to a close in 2008 after a devastating (some call cowardice blindside) hit by Hines Ward, breaking his jaw.

The following year (that's 2009, keep up!), Rivers' overall production was solid, ranking second on the team with 101 tackles. Against the Chargers, Rivers picked off a Phillip Rivers pass with 14:11 left in the game. Three playes later, Carson Palmer recorded a touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles, followed by a Palmer two-point conversion that brought Cincinnati to within a field goal. Rivers would later sack Rivers (in a van down by the RIVER!) in the fourth quarter that would have eventually forced a punt, if not for a Brandon Johnson illegal contact that converted a second-and-18 for an automatic first down.

Save for the examples cited above, I've never had a reason to think of Rivers as a player that makes big plays. Is he performing at the level of a ninth round overall pick? Arguable. However, he's a solid linebacker that makes tackles. And if the preseason is any indication, Rivers is looking to be a more punishing tackler.

Lewis spoke of Rivers during a press conference on Wednesday when asked about his assessment of the linebacker.

Q: How would you assess Keith Rivers?
ML: “Well, I think I don't call Keith's name much out on the practice field, so that's probably a good thing. I think Keith's made a lot of progress on the little things that will enable you to play faster at linebacker. I think he's done a good job of that.”

Q: A lot has been made about his offseason workouts and him being meaner. Do you see that?
ML: “We're not going to promote Jay Glazer's business up here (laughs). I think that was all promoted by Jay, right, that he was going to be meaner? So I don't know. I don't know what mean means on the football field. You've got responsibilities and jobs to do, and I think Keith's been an aggressive player. He's a guy who, if he has a fault, it’s that he wants to do things too perfectly and maybe sometimes that's perceived negatively, because he is very conscientious, when really that's what you want. You've just got to be able to go break through that wall and go play at some point, and I think he did a good job of that last season for us, and kind of came of age a little bit.”

The truth is, Rivers has only played 20 career regular season games in the NFL, which is only five games more than Rey Maualuga. So while Rivers appears to be a veteran that's been here for some time, he's very much a young 24-year old. Say what you will about him, but Rivers could easily have his best season to date this year.