Who is Thad Lewis? Bengals LB knows

CINCINNATI -- Among the media who were in the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room Monday afternoon the most asked question was: Who in the world is Thad Lewis?

Whether you're a Bengals fan, Buffalo Bills fan or somewhere in between, you may be asking yourself the same question.

Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey needs no introduction to the man who Monday was named Buffalo's starting quarterback. The two played together at Duke University from 2006 to 2009.

"That guy's a competitor, No. 1. I give him that," Rey said. "I just remember being at Duke and he had just like a no-lose mentality. He's going to fight until the end."

Sunday afternoon when the Bengals travel to Buffalo will be the first time the two have played against one another since their professional careers began in 2010.

Fresh off a 13-6 win over the New England Patriots, Cincinnati will be looking to extend its positive play against a Bills team that lost its starting quarterback Thursday. First-round draft pick EJ Manuel injured his knee in the loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Back to the mysterious Thad Lewis.

While Lewis and Rey were at Duke, they were part of teams that went 0-12 one season and 5-7 another. They did not reach a bowl game in four years, but they were guinea pigs in an experiment that eventually resulted in one. Last season, three years after the duo left for the NFL, the Blue Devils ended up making their first postseason trip since 1994. Quarterbacks guru, coach David Cutcliffe hired after Lewis' and Rey's freshman season, eventually carried the often forgettable football program to the Belk Bowl last December.

Although they were friends while in school, Rey contends he and Lewis keep in contact now mainly because there are so few Blue Devils in the NFL ranks.

"We've been following each other with how our careers have been going just because it's not many guys from Duke in the NFL right now," Rey said.

Along with Rey and Lewis, there are only six former Blue Devils on active rosters. Titans linebacker Patrick Bailey, Rams safety Matt Daniels, Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly and Falcons quarterback Sean Renfree are the others.

Until Monday, Lewis was not even on an NFL roster. Before being named the Bills' starting quarterback, he had been on their practice squad. Brought to Buffalo early in training camp, he has spent time with the Lions, Browns and Rams. It was with Cleveland last December that he received his first, and only other, career start. In that loss to the Steelers, he was 22-for-32 and threw for 204 yards and a touchdown and an interception. That was the only game in which the former undrafted free agent recorded stats.

Much like another Browns quarterback, the now injured Brian Hoyer, Lewis provides the Bengals with very little game tape to watch as they try to prepare for him. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said his staff will scrounge up as much film as they possibly can on Lewis, but they know how real of a challenge he can be. After all, little-known quarterbacks like Hoyer have been the Bengals' nemesis in recent games. Cincinnati lost to Hoyer two weeks ago after he replaced starter Brandon Weeden.

Conversely, since the middle of last season, the Bengals have beaten five quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. Including Tom Brady on Sunday, they have knocked off both Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.

"My feeling on quarterbacks is the reason why they're in the NFL is because all of them have won games in some time in their career," Zimmer said. "So whoever they are, we have a lot of respect for them."

Lewis commanded a level of respect when he was at Duke. He threw for more than 300 yards seven times during his senior season. That includes a four-game stretch in the middle of the year that included wins over Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina State and a loss to defending-conference champion Virginia Tech. The win over NC State came against former Wolfpack quarterback and current Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson. Lewis threw for 459 yards that day.

"[Wilson] was having a great game so subsequently, we weren't playing so well," Rey said. "But Thad kept coming back and completing some nice passes. ... That was one game where he just kept fighting to the end. It was like touchdown for touchdown."

The game was tied at 21 at halftime, but Duke ended up pulling away, 49-28.

His 10,065 career passing yards ranks 79th in college football history. It also ranks ahead of the likes of Chris Weinke, Andrew Luck, Daunte Culpepper, John Elway, Matt Ryan and Dan Marino.