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Vinny Rey has high praise for Bengals rookie LB Malik Jefferson

“He’s an AFC North linebacker,” Rey said of the Bengals’ third round linebacker.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

You’ll often hear NFL coaches and players talk about what it means to play AFC North football.

In 2017, ESPN’s Lisa Salters asked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to describe the “viciousness and brutality” of the Bengals vs. Steelers Week 15 game. His answer was simple.

“AFC North football.”

And this weekend, when Bengals veteran linebacker Vincent Rey was asked about his rookie teammate Malik Jefferson, he had a similar answer, which sheds a positive light on what to expect from the former Texas defender.

“He’s strong, fast, quick. He’s an AFC North linebacker,” Rey said of Jefferson, via “Those are the guys that come in. He will (learn the spot). He’s been doing that and he’ll continue to do that.

Per Hobson, Jefferson didn’t have the strongest performance during spring workouts in Cincinnati, but so far during training camp he’s been much improved.

“(The spring) was four weeks of going real fast. Learning the playbook in four weeks. It was frustrating. I knew what to do, I was just thinking too much about it,” Jefferson said. “Just over the break I got a better feel of it. Things slowed down from what I was looking at on film. I got lot better.”

Rey also explained what he thinks happened for Jefferson between the end of minicamp and start of training camp.

“I bet he took the playbook home and just went over it a whole bunch. I did that because it’s the NFL and this thing is not just line up and run (to) the ball,” Rey said. “There are way more plays, way more calls. Just knowing what you have to do, that’s tough on its own. Then trying to find out what everybody else is doing, it’s a whole other ballgame.”

Jefferson will need to fight hard this summer to earn playing time on defense this year. Ahead of him on the linebacker depth chart are starters Vontaze Burfict, Preston Brown and Nick Vigil. During Burfict’s four-game suspension, it’s expected to be Jordan Evans who receives more playing time. And, Rey remains a veteran presence in the linebacker room. Not necessarily ahead of him, but also on the linebacker depth chart are Hardy Nickerson and Brandon Bell (both in their second seasons) as well as Junior Joseph and Chris Worley, who joined the team in undrafted free agency this offseason.

Jefferson is already understanding what Burfict brings to the team and how things are different for the Bengals with him on- and off-the-field, “night and day”.

“We feed off his energy. We do everything he tells us to do,” Jefferson said of Burfict. “He coaches like Coach. He’s an expert. He knows exactly what to do. He’s really good to have around. It makes me challenge myself. I just try to imitate his game. Try to think like he does and play as fast as he does.”

Jefferson may see some snaps on defense during Burfict’s suspension and beyond that, but he’ll have to keep up the good work and play that “AFC North football.”