Super Bowl LVI: Bengals lineman to face Rams for second time in this year’s playoffs

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick, right, is pressured by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Zach Kerr during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick, right, is pressured by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Zach Kerr during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Zach Kerr was elevated from the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad when they faced the L.A. Rams in the first round of the playoffs. Now, almost a month later, he’s preparing for the Rams again but as a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals signed Kerr ahead of their divisional round game against Tennessee after Kerr was reverted back to the Cardinals practice squad following their 34-11 loss to the Rams on Jan. 17. He played about a quarter of the defensive snaps in each of the last two games to help Cincinnati punch its ticket to Super Bowl LVI.

“It’s been crazy,” Kerr said. “It’s been a whirlwind for sure. I’ve been in a lot of different time zones in a small time frame. And you know, at first it was kind of rough just adjusting mentally, like knowing, okay, this is where you’re at now, you’ve got to learn this defense, you got to learn this scheme, you got to learn this technique. But I mean, now it’s kind of like I’ve just been rolling.

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“It’s the first time in my career where I’ve been bounced around like this during the season. So, I just had to pretty much adjust my thinking and adjust my outlook on everything and kind of just roll with the punches, but it’s been crazy to say the least. It’s been really, really wild. You know, obviously it didn’t go the way we had wanted in AZ but now it’s like, you know, I’m a Bengal and we are in the Super Bowl, and I’m here to help them win a Super Bowl.”

The 31-year-old from Virginia Beach began his season with San Francisco but saw limited action. He played parts of just three games with Arizona and then immediately filled a hole for the Bengals, who needed bodies on the defensive line after Larry Ogunjobi suffered a season-ending injury in the Wild Card game and Josh Tupou was dealing with a knee injury.

Kerr and defensive end Damion Square, who played for the Raiders in their Wild Card loss to Cincinnati before signing with the Bengals, will be the first players in NFL history to begin the postseason with one playoff team and make the Super Bowl with another.

It’s not lost on Kerr the opportunity he has received and how fortunate he was to land – and stick – with the Bengals. He said he earned it by working hard and not getting an ego about not getting more chances elsewhere. He’s also spent time with the Colts, Broncos and Panthers in his eight NFL seasons.

“It’s difficult because the margin of error is like slim to none,” Kerr said. “In the middle of the season, a five-yard run hits your gap, it’s like alright, cool, we watch it, we’re going to correct it, and that’s that. But on this stage, that five-yard run could be the game-sealing first down and now your season’s over. So it’s tough when you go from (bouncing around in-season) to this because the margin of error is just so, so small. So you know, you want to be there for your guys and you want to earn the trust and you want to be accountable. And you know, it’s hard to do that in a practice, it’s hard to do that when you get 10 to 12 reps and it’s not too much going on, you’re not getting too much action. So, you’ve got to show it.”

Kerr said he immediately felt welcome with the Bengals, even though he didn’t know much about what he was walking into and what kind of role he would play. His first day in Cincinnati he already was spending time at nose tackle D.J. Reader’s house and getting to know his new teammates.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the quick transition for players like Kerr and Square is a tribute to the work defensive line coach Marion Hobby and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo put into helping them prepare. However, he also credited the players for being the “right guys in those depth positions that have been able to handle those responsibilities” and really helped the team “not miss a beat at all.”

Reader said both Kerr and Square fit right in with the guys that have been there all season.

“Those guys just coming in with a selfless attitude and just knowing they were gonna get in where they fit in and just do whatever they need to do to help the team,” Reader said. “And I think as a team we kind of have that mentality of next person up. Whoever comes in, we’re gonna make sure that guy’s coached up. We’re gonna believe in him and his ability. We’re gonna jell with him.”

That’s a big reason Kerr believes the Bengals have made it this far.

“I was surprised,” Kerr said. “… When I got in the building, I realized why they were in that position that we’re in now, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is something really good to be a part of.’ Because you see the focus. When you’ve been playing in the NFL for a long time, you see different things that are important to a lot of football teams, a lot of different players. And there’s just a lot of that stuff that’s just not important to these guys. They just want to play football and win. It’s like a breath of fresh air. And that’s no knock to any other place I’ve been. But it’s just you can see that from these guys, … and I think that’s the cool thing in this team.”

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