New Cincinnati Bengals punter Zoltan Mesko was not a complete stranger when he walked into the locker room Wednesday after signing with the team Tuesday.
Mesko was a kicker and punter at Twinsburg High School in northeast Ohio and grew up an Ohio State fan before attending the University of Michigan. While still in high school, Mesko attended a few kicking camps held at Kent State by Bengals kicker Mike Nugent.
He also spent three seasons kicking for the New England Patriots and special teams coach Scott O’Brien, who is a mentor to Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons.
“That had something to do with it,” Simmons said of the team’s decision to sign Mesko after waiving Shawn Powell following Sunday’s Baltimore game in which he shanked a 10-yard punt.
“A 10-yard punt is like a blocked punt to me,” Simmons added. “When we’re playing critical games and field position’s such a factor, that figures into it.”
Another factor is Mesko’s postseason experience. He appeared in six playoff games for the Patriots from 2010-12. Linebacker James Harrison is the only Bengal who has appeared in more (12).
“Just because I have playoff experience doesn’t mean it’s going to pay off for me,” Mesko said. “The experience is always good. But I’m saying I have to earn it and we all have to earn this victory.”
Mesko averaged 44.2 yards on 175 punts with a 39.2 net in three seasons with New England. He put 71 punts inside the 20 with only 14 touchbacks.
After the Patriots waived him in August he signed with Pittsburgh and averaged 42.5 yards on 34 punts with a 36.7 net before being released after seven games. He hasn’t punted in a game since Oct. 27.
Injury update: Four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Bengals sat out practice Wednesday.
Left tackle Anthony Collins (ankle), left guard Andrew Whitworth (ankle), center Kyle Cook (foot) and right tackle Andre Smith (ankle) were among eight players who did not practice.
Wide receiver A.J. Green also sat out with what was listed as a knee injury, along with tight end Tyler Eifert (neck), defensive end Wallace Gilberry (concussion) and cornerback Terence Newman (knee).
For the Chargers, running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (toe) missed practice, while defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) and defensive end Kendall Reyes (ankle) were limited.
Slow sales: As of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Bengals still had 8,000 tickets available for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the San Diego Chargers.
If the game fails to sell out by 1 p.m. today, it will not be televised in Cincinnati, Dayton and Lexington.
The Bengals have the option of asking for a 24-hour extension, but only if they get much closer to a sellout.
Freezer reunion: The Bengals have invited local players who were part of the Freezer Bowl to take part in a recognition ceremony on the field prior to kickoff Sunday.
Director of Sales and Public Affairs Jeff Berding said the team has invited close to 20 players who live within driving distance of Paul Brown Stadium to be a part of the reunion and then watch the team’s first playoff game against San Diego since the 1981 AFC Championship Game, which was the second-coldest game in NFL history with a minus-9 air temperature and minus-59 wind chill.
Anthony Munoz, Dave Lapham, Pete Johnson, Louis Breeden, Jim Breech, Rick Razzano, Tom Dinkel, Robert Jackson, Mike St. Clair, Glen Bujnoch, Ray Griffin and James Brooks, who played for San Diego in the Freezer Bowl but later became one of the Bengals all-time greats, are among those scheduled to attend.