By the time David Cutcliffe took over as head coach at Duke in 2008, former Duke linebacker Vincent Rey was a junior who had suffered through two losing seasons and a combined record of 1-23. With the immediate turnaround Cutcliffe brought to the program – to the tune of four wins during Rey’s junior year and five the next – Rey was the beneficiary of a coaching staff known for its preparation and game-planning.
Perhaps that’s why after the fourth-year Cincinnati Bengals linebacker had the game of his NFL career with 13 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups against Baltimore this past Sunday, he heaped the credit almost entirely on the Bengals staff.
"It was the calls," Rey told reporters when asked about being able to make so many plays. "The coaches did a great job this week, and we practiced hard. I just happened to come free a couple of times.”
It has been quite a journey to Cincinnati’s starting lineup for Rey, who signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2010 NFL season. Rey was Duke’s leading tackler as a senior in 2009 and flashed his playmaking ability with 8.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions that year. But when the 2010 NFL Draft came and went, he was left on the outside looking in. The Bengals gave him a shot, and he responded with 18 tackles in the preseason, which was enough to earn him a spot on the practice squad until he made his NFL debut in week 14 against Pittsburgh.
Fast forward four years, and Rey has played in 44 consecutive games, primarily with the Bengals special teams unit. His performance against the Ravens this past Sunday came in only his third career start, an opportunity afforded, in part, by injuries to Cincinnati starting linebacker Rey Maualuga and Maualuga’s backup, Michael Boley. Absent one of their top defensive playmakers in Maualuga and the recently-signed veteran Boley, Cincinnati gave Rey the call prior to week nine against Miami. He delivered five tackles in a 22-20 overtime loss, but, more importantly, did enough to keep the starting job.
A full week of practice with the starters prior to the Baltimore game made quite a difference for Rey, who surpassed his NFL career totals for sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and pass breakups in that one game. He nearly met his season tackle total and, following the 13-tackle performance, has already set a career high with 30 tackles this season.
“He was on,” fellow Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. “At the beginning of the game, we were both a little sluggish and I kept telling him, 'Let's go. Your play is going to come.'”
It did, over and over, and if Sunday was any indication, they’ll keep coming whenever Rey is on the field.
“We could not be more proud of Vinny,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “His performance on Sunday against the Ravens didn’t happen by accident – Vinny has worked hard and prepared himself for these opportunities. He is the consummate teammate with his play on the field, character in the locker room and efforts in the community, and we’re proud to call him one of our own.”