We're not entirely sure if it was the long-con, the plan established on a napkin at a local diner during the offseason. By gambling that Taylor Mays would step up, or that the safety position would encompass young and eager safeties with Jeromy Miles designed to produce, the team decided to neglect the position during the offseason. Sure they drafted safety George Iloka 167th overall, however the Boise State rookie, currently backing up free safety Reggie Nelson, hasn't participated on defense despite playing five games in a special teams role (two tackles).
It's entirely possible that from the start Cincinnati wanted to "check out" the pups at safety, using Nate Clements as a "plan B" of sorts if Mays and Miles struggle. And that's exactly what happened.
STRUGGLES IN THE RUN GAME
Now obviously when you move Nate Clements from cornerback, a position he's played for 11 seasons since entering the league in 2001 (and the years before that at the currently undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes), you're going to have transition pains at safety. And Clements has had issues, per Pro Football Focus, especially in the running game.
He still moves up to cover the slot in sub packages, but Clements has seen significant snaps at free safety since Week 2. Clements has generally been one of the better tacklers in the league, never missing more than seven in a season since 2008, but he missed seven tackles in his first three games at his new position. In addition, you see plays like last week against the Steelers where Clements’ lack of play recognition allowed for an easy 21-yard run for Pittsburgh running back Jonathan Dwyer. Though Clements fits the mold of safety-converts, it’s been a difficult start as his -4.4 run grade attests.
THE SLOW DEPARTURE
Clements has seen a significant drop in contribution on defense. During his opening four games, including the Week Five game against the Dolphins due to missing the previous week with an injury, Clements participated during 96.7 percent of the team's defensive snaps -- playing safety, cornerback, nickel. During Cincinnati's two most previous games, against the Browns and Steelers, Clements' participation has taken a significant hit, playing during only 58.6 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
One could argue that it's the result of Chris Crocker's return, signed prior to Week Four against the Jacksonville Jaguars as a result of injuries in the secondary. Crocker has played four games this season. During the first two games, against the Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, Crocker played a total of 22 defensive snaps.
Against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, where Clements' participation dropped to 58.6 percent, Crocker's rose, playing 40.7 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
CROCKER'S TIME FIGURES TO INCREASE
Despite playing only four games and a total of 79 defensive snaps, Crocker leads the team with two interceptions. The first, against the Jaguars, gave Cincinnati optimal field position on Jacksonville's 16-yard line that led to a Mike Nugent 35-yard field goal. The second, last week against the Steelers, occured in Cincinnati's endzone, preventing the Steelers from scoring that could have led to a 14-3 lead ealry in the second quarter.