This offseason has featured a significant changing of the guard in Cincinnati.
The team parted ways with a few veterans, some by choice (Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko) and some not by choice (Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler). Meanwhile, the Bengals have gotten faster and younger (John Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis, Jordan Evans, Brandon Wilson, Kevin Minter).
Now, with Vontaze Burfict facing a potential five-game suspension to open the 2017 NFL season, the younger part of the change continues. Instead of relying on fourth-year linebacker Marquis Flowers during Burfict’s suspension, the team dealt him to the New England Patriots on Tuesday. And after years as the Bengals’ special team stalwart, Cedric Peerman was placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday, effectively ending his season.
The Bengals are getting younger and if Burfict’s suspension is upheld or even reduced but not rescinded, the Bengals will need to use a mix of veterans and rookies to replace his impact on the field. On the veteran end, there’s Vincent Rey. On the rookie end, there’s Carl Lawson and Jordan Evans who are roster locks. And then third year linebacker P.J. Dawson and undrafted players like Hardy Nickerson and Brandon Bell fighting for a roster spot. The latter three are only fighting for a roster spot if the Bengals keep six linebackers during Burfict’s suspension (not including him). But, according to Bengals.com, the team may opt to go with only five linebackers until Burfict’s return, pending the finalized length of the suspension.
On the bright side (depending on how you look at it) the Bengals have dealt with life without Burfict before and that will help in dealing with the situation again, if need be.
“We’ve been in this position before,” said Vincent Rey, who’s likely to pick up most of the slack with Burfict gone. “I’ll be there.”
The eighth year linebacker, who joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2010 has started 37 of the 98 games in which he's played, almost all due to injuries and suspensions to Vontaze Burfict. When Burfict was injured in 2014 and 2015, Rey started 21 games in that span. And then in 2016 when Burfict missed five games due to suspension and injury Rey started 12 games, some in place of Burfict in some with Burfict on-the-field.
“Maybe we’ll be doing it by committee as linebackers,” Rey said of how the Bengals will cope without Burfict. “We’ll know what to do when we come up against (Joe) Flacco or whoever is going to be at quarterback (for the Ravens).”
If Burfict is suspended, Rey will be a useful veteran voice among the young linebacker room and it sounds like he has some great insight to share with his teammates.
“Leaders lead and the young guys follow,” Rey said, sharing in the message defensive coordinator Paul Guenther tells his players. “He’ll ask the starters to stand and everyone stands up. Everybody has to be ready to play. Some have to play on defense and special teams. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when it’s coming.”
With Lawson and Evans suddenly staring down significant roles in their rookie season and second-year linebacker Nick Vigil slated to start, Rey’s experience as a leader of this group will be appreciated in Cincinnati this season.