After playing sparingly in the first eight games last year before being deactivated in the final eight, second-year defensive tackle Devon Still has been one of the busiest Cincinnati Bengals during the preseason.
A second-round pick from Penn State, Still was on the field for 49 of 75 defensive snaps Saturday night in the 24-18 loss at Dallas, and through the first three games he has logged 133 snaps, which ranks second only to Taylor Mays (138) among defensive players.
And Still has made the most of his extended look this summer with 12 tackles, a sack and a pass defended.
“I have a lot to prove,” said Still, a former Big Ten defensive player of the year whose permanent seat on the inactive list for the second half of 2012 was a result of teammate Pat Sims returning from the physically unable to perform list.
“From the accolades I had coming out of college to be inactivated during last year was definitely humbling for me,” Still added. “Nobody likes being inactivated, whether a veteran comes back or not. I want to go out there and show the coaches what I can do for this team.”
Still was not the only member of the 2012 draft class who sat out most of last season. First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick and third-rounder and fellow defensive tackle Brandon Thompson also saw limited action in what essentially was a redshirt rookie season for the trio.
So the plan coming into this preseason was to get all three plenty of reps, but Thompson injured his knee in the Oklahoma drill July 28 and didn’t see his first until Saturday.
Sitting around was tough, but Thompson said he learned to cope with it last year when he saw action in only three games.
“It was definitely a humbling experience,” he said. “Coming from Clemson where you were the man and now you’re sitting down watching, it took something out of me. But at the same time I knew my role and knew I had to sit back and learn. Now it’s time to play, so let’s get it.”
Thompson was on the field for 33 snaps Saturday night, with his lone tackle coming 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage against DeMarco Murray.
“That’s the exciting part of the preseason,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “You see some of the players who didn’t get an opportunity to play much the year before get an opportunity to play extended plays to get them ready for the upcoming season. That’s important.
“Some guys end up getting an opportunity to play as rookies and others don’t with the luck of the draw and how things shape out,” Lewis added. “There’s no doubt that those guys were going to be asked to play more.”
While Domata Peko and two-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins are firmly entrenched as the starters, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer employs a heavy rotation on the defensive line that will require Still and Thompson to provide more than just a breather.
“The big thing is consistency,” Still said. “Before this (Dallas) game I had a talk with Zim, and he just wanted me to play more consistent every snap I was out there. I think I made a big improvement from when we played Tennessee then when we played Atlanta.”
In addition to playing the same position and being thrust into the same position as rookies, Thompson and Still also have adjoining lockers, which has led to a tight friendship and built-in support system.
“Having someone else go through what you’re going through has helped a lot,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a good relationship. We play well together, so I’m looking for big things out of us. I demand a lot from him, and he demands a lot from me. We push each other to be great.”
Who: Indianapolis Colts (2-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
TV: Tape delay on Ch. 45 (11 p.m.) and Ch. 12 (11:35 p.m.)
Radio: 700 AM, 1530 AM, 102.7 FM, 104.7 FM