Veteran assistant coach says these Bengals have different vibe

No one on the Cincinnati Bengals roster or staff understands the weight of the playoff win drought as well as special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.

Simmons joined the Bengals’ coaching staff in 2003 and has served the organization for 19 years, including the seven seasons that Cincinnati got to the postseason but fell short of its first playoff win since 1991.

Each of the past teams that tried and failed had its strength and weaknesses, Simmons said, but this group seems different. The Bengals play host to the Las Vegas Raiders in a Wild Card game Saturday.

“I think it kind of went really in three phases for us in terms of those playoff runs and division championships,” Simmons said. “It started back in 2005 where that team learned how to grow together. Ultimately it didn’t end up in a win. I feel those teams were a little more experienced maybe than what we are in situations like this.

“I feel like this team, the vibe, the energy you can’t tell these guys they can’t do anything. These guys believe in each other, they believe in what we’re doing and that’s half of it, just buying in. We’ve been bought in, we’ve been bought in for a couple of years we just haven’t had all of those pieces in place. Now with some of the acquisitions we’ve made this past year they’ve come in and shown their worth. It’s a much different feel than some of those other teams. It’s a really, really good locker room. This is as tight, not that those other ones weren’t tight at all, but this one has a different feel to it. It’s younger, it’s vibrant. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but the locker room feels very young, very vibrant and very upbeat.”

Simmons also remembers how drained the teams felt as the 2011 to 2015 seasons produced five straight playoff appearances but still yielded no results.

“I could (feel that weight), especially as they started to wear on, and then ultimately culminating in 2015 I felt the weight had been lifted, finally, and then things fell apart at the end,” Simmons said. “I think the great part about this is there’s nobody that feels that around here but me. I’m the only one that was a part of that group so really I’m the only one that has to deal with that and that’s a good thing. I’m just excited to have this opportunity again. You never know when those opportunities come back up again, so I’m gonna relish in the chance of getting another chance to win another game on Saturday.”

Bengals players and coaches have said all week they already feel like they’ve won playoff games just in how they approached the two games leading up to the finale to clinch the AFC North title. A dominant victory against the Ravens on Dec. 26, followed by a second-half comeback to beat the Chiefs in Week 17 put them in a position to host Saturday’s playoff game.

It’s been quite a change from the past two years, which saw Cincinnati win a total of six games combined. Simmons said the biggest difference this season has been the front-line players staying healthy, but the culture of the locker room has been built for this.

“All those intangible things just keep adding up,” Simmons said. “What you envision what you put a team together in the offseason and I think when you put the 53-man roster together at the beginning of the season, you have all that stuff in mind and it developed. And we’ve been able to keep them together. It think those are big things.”

Player availability

After wide receiver Tee Higgins showed up as a surprise limited participant on Wednesday’s injury report, he was back to work Thursday and Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he is expected to play Saturday. Taylor said he figured Higgins had to see a trainer for treatment Wednesday so that’s why he was reported with a foot injury, but estimated he did almost every rep in practice.

Left guard Quinton Spain also is tracking to play Saturday, Taylor said, as he returns from an ankle injury.

Kicker Evan McPherson will be “all systems go” as well, Simmons said. He missed the finale with a right groin issue as most starters rested anyway.

“I think he feels fine,” Simmons said. “… He just had a little bit of an issue with his groin, had a little tightness in it. Based upon the situation we were in we thought it was best to give him a chance to rest; give him the most opportunity to be healthy this week. It was a good thing we were able to do for him last week, let him rest up and get right and he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”

Practice squad elevations reset …

Trent Taylor, the team’s new returner, will continue to be available as a practice squad callup without being added to the 53-man roster because two players can still be elevated for the gameday roster. The limitations on number of callups reset during the playoffs, coach Taylor said.

The Bengals likely will use both of those spots this weekend. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels could be another option with Josh Tupou (MCL) expected to be out.

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