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Finding a home

Posted Oct 11, 2013

In this age of server scouting and cyber cutups and free-agent fantasy, Bengals defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry is the index card that got lost in the shuffle.

In this age of server scouting and cyber cutups and free-agent fantasy, Bengals defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry is the index card that got lost in the shuffle. In the early 21st century, he's a mid-1950s retread in the grand tradition of Johnny U.

Not only did Gilberry not get drafted out of the University of Alabama six years ago, no one came after him in free agency last year. And when one team finally offered late in the game, it promptly put him in the wrong position before cutting him twice in two weeks.

Now on Sunday in Buffalo (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Gilberry, told recently by head coach Marvin Lewis that he considers him one of his nuts-and-bolts players, plays a prominent role in what could be his second straight start against an occasional zone-read offense that requires the defensive ends to play steady, disciplined and crisp.

"Over seven rounds I was looked over. Not like I'm not used to it. I kind of expect it almost, sad to say," Gilberry said before Thursday's practice. "And it's cool. You give me an opportunity; you give me six plays, out of those six plays I am going to try to make something positive out of those six plays. You give me 52 plays I will try my best to give you a reason to show you why I have earned these 52 plays."

His snap count reached 52 on Sunday and Gilberry isn't positive, but he's pretty certain those are the most snaps he's taken in 72 NFL games. When he helped safety Chris Crocker dump Tom Brady on New England's last futile drive last Sunday, it gave him 1.5 sacks for the game, 2.5 for the season, and nine in his 19 games as a Bengal.

Nine in 19 games? How about nine sacks in a total of 496 snaps as a Bengal, his play count attributed to Pro Football Focus? That works out to .018 sacks per snap.

The great Geno Atkins, the two-time Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle who has 16 sacks over his last 1,088 snaps the past two seasons, gets a sack .014 per play. Yes, an end should get more sacks than a tackle. But an end that is working on his fourth team, who wasn't re-signed by his own team in free agency, and who averaged 23 snaps per game last year?

"Nobody," Gilberry said of the teams that had interest in him in 2012 free agency when he completed a four-year run at Kansas City with 14 sacks, half of them coming in 2010.

"My agent was telling me the reason was because I was in a 4-3 system and 4-3 teams weren't sure if I could play 4-3 end. They've been saying since college, 'He's not fast enough to play end in a 4-3. Not big enough to play the 3-4.' What they don't realize is when they put the tape on, I'm making plays. I don't care where you put me at what position. I'm going to find a way to make plays."

HIGH EFFECIENCY

Gilberry made enough last year that he finally found a home in Cincinnati with a three-year deal earned with a remarkable 6.5 sacks as a member of the rotation. Now, with a season-ending injury to left end Robert Geathers (elbow) and starting right end Michael Johnson (concussion) missing his first game in 71 straight weeks last Sunday and not working in the first two practices this week, the 6-2, 275-pound Gilberry is getting more work than he ever has as a pro.

But he said he felt fresh Sunday in that vital fourth quarter as defensive line coach Jay Hayes rolled him through with starting left end Carlos Dunlap and rookie end Margus Hunt in his NFL debut.

"We are having so much fun. When you are having fun none of that matters," Gilberry said of fatigue. "We were having fun out there; that's what it's all about: having fun and doing your job."

It wasn't exactly fun in Tampa Bay, the club that signed Gilberry when free agency died down in June 2012. The Bucs then put him inside as a three-technique tackle even though he had never played there.

"It was frustrating. The whole situation. From the time I got there until the time I left," Gilberry said. "They released me twice. They cut me on the field at practice after the final cuts. I was on the field, ready to practice in pads and everything.

"I flew home to Alabama and they called me the next morning. 'We made a mistake. We want to bring you back.' They signed me back. I made the Opening Day roster."

Then the Bucs cut him Friday after the opener even though his salary was guaranteed for being on the Opening Day roster. That Sunday the Bengals lost backup defensive end Jamaal Anderson for the season when he tore his quad and Gilberry was headed to Cincinnati to get checked out.

Gilberry was on the list that director of player personnel Duke Tobin compiles of the best players still available, either in free agency or on each of the 31 other practice squads in the league.

After Thursday's practice, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis walked through the process.

"Duke gets me the list of names and then I go through the tape of the guys and then we decide which guys to bring in to work out," Lewis said. "I look at the players. Duke will look at them. I want to make sure I look at them so I know to compare them to what I see once we bring them here to work out."

PUSH-BUTTON VIDEO

Lewis makes the time at night or early in the morning to watch prospective veterans and it's not exactly 16mm projectors trained on shower curtains. He can log into the multi-million dollar Bengals video system, hit search, and pull any clip he wants. Any Gilberry sack or tackle or nickel rush he wanted to see.

"It's very easy to do. Whether someone creates the cutups for me, or I do it myself, I enjoy it," Lewis said. "The video process has gotten much easier with the capability of storage. We've been ahead of the curve that way."

Lewis liked the tape. And only the tape. He bristled when asked if he made some phone calls around the league to scout Gilberry some more.

"I don t believe in that. We have too many people that spend too much time talking to others," Lewis said. "I see with my own eyes. I thought he was very productive. I thought he played stout against the run. I thought there was an opportunity to play both inside and out and be a good inside pass rusher."

If Lewis liked what he saw, Gilberry liked what he finally heard from someone.

"The Bengals gave me an opportunity. It's different. Coach Marvin is a coach that if he tells you something, it's what he means," Gilberry said. "When he brought me in and told me about the opportunity, he said it's what you do with it. It's up to you. And they have given me the opportunity and I made the best of it. Here I am now a year (from signing) and I'm still in the same position. I'll do anything I can to help this team win. I'll do anything I can to help this defense win. Anything I can to help my D-line win, that's what I'll do.

"Everybody's got a reason why they're doing this and getting the opportunity to do that is a lot easier. I sleep good at night not worrying about coming to work and my locker is cleaned out. I'm sure that time is going to come, but between now and then I'm going to do everything I can to better myself as player, person and as a teammate."

Gilberry, 28, isn't afraid to speak his mind or go his own way. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer joked earlier this week that sometimes Gilberry drives him crazy with his chatter during practice.

"I probably get abusive with it at times," Gilberry said. "Even since elementary school I get the note going home that said, 'Excessive talking.' I don't intentionally do it, it's just my grandma has a big mouth, it runs in the family. I don't do it out of disrespect. I am not disrespectful at all. It's just who I am. But there's a time and place for everything."

So while Lewis and Tobin did their due diligence on the personnel side, Lewis and Zimmer did what good coaches do and didn't pigeon-hole Gilberry as a player or person.

"He's a great team guy," Lewis said. "There's a lot of man to him. He's a caring teammate. I see Wallace talking to the 63 guys or how many we've got in there, at any point. That's the kind of personality he has and I think that says a lot about him."

Gilberry has responded to Zimmer's ability to put him in the right spots (tackle and sometimes end in nickel and end in base) and to Lewis's it's-up-to-you challenge.

"That's what I like about Coach (Zimmer). He doesn't care about what round you got drafted in, he doesn't care about any of that," Gilberry said. "All he cares about is running his defense the way he wants you to run it and being productive in it. When you are playing for a coach like that it's easy to do because that is your job. If you take pride in your job coach Zimmer is a guy you want to play for."

Sunday's challenges are much different than last week. An obscure quarterback named Thad Lewis with one start giving the Bengals their first look this season at the zone read.

"They say he is a pocket guy. The guy had over 10,000 yards in college. So, he definitely can throw the ball," Gilberry said of Lewis's work at Duke. "You look at him on film, he does what they ask him to do. They wouldn't put him in there if they thought he couldn't get the job done."

Gilberry's first game as a Bengal turned out to be against a team that runs the zone read a lot more than Buffalo. And when Geathers got hurt in Washington on the first snap against Robert Griffin III, Gilberry found right away how much he was needed.

"This is the most disciplined game we'll have to play to date," Gilberry said. "This guy here, we are talking about a guy that runs a 4.9 compared to a guy that possibly runs a 4.3. it is two totally different speeds. At the same time it totally about being disciplined.

"We have to be technique-sound and disciplined. This is not one of those games where you can run up the field and try to make something happen. You literally have to wait and play your position and play your technique. If not, that Thad Lewis guy will expose you."

The one thing Gilberry does know. It's going to be fun. It has to be. This is the most fun he's ever had.

"Without a doubt," he said. "As far as coming to work with a smile on my face every day, it's definitely the first time I've been able to have a reason to smile."

 

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