CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Taylor Mays #47 of the Cincinnati Bengals draws a pass interference call while defending a pass for David Gilreath #12 of the Indianapolis Colts in the first half of an NFL preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
If one were to ever get a candid answer out of defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer about Taylor Mays, you'd probably find out the the ol' ball coach loves the young safety. If you remember, stories circulated about Zimmer standing on the table for the team trade up in the second round to grab Mays in the 2010 draft. When they missed out on him, Zimmer made sure that Bengals management lunged at what seemed like a more than fair trade for the former USC Trojan last offseason.
By now, we all know the book on Mays: extremely athletic and naturally gifted, but still has yet to grasp the mental aspect of the game. Mays is currently slotted as the team's starting strong safety, but Zimmer recently told the media that no one really has a clear cut edge on the competition. It's this competition that has Mays particularly fired up about things, especially with the work he's able to get in this offseason.
Paul Dehner, Jr., of CBSSports relays that Mays is enjoying this offseason so much more than that of 2011 and he's having a much easier time adjusting to things.
"(Having no real offseason) Made it a little tougher last year trying to learn it on the run, especially when pretty much we was already in Week 1 of the season. Now, having an offseason and these OTAs and these meetings with our coaches, where (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) can really go over the defense, and get the reps and walkthroughs on the field during practice makes a big difference."
Though most Bengals fans had hoped for more, Mays had a tough go of it last year because of circumstances out of his control. Aside from the lockout which hindered nearly every young player's progress (save for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green), Mays was traded to the Bengals late in the offseason and really only hit his stride at the end of the 2011 regular season. He was able to get some spot duty in some late games and his play was up and down.
For now, he's been entrusted with a starting role and he knows that the pressure is on. Not only is there pressure to perform as the starting safety, but there is pressure if he doesn't because of a lot of young players breathing down his neck. Mays is relishing this:
Finding the position under heavy scrutiny from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is just how Mays prefers it. "Zim expects a lot out of us," Mays said. "So, we got to really be able to perform at all times in all situations. That's really the best way to play safety, under pressure and under fire. That's the way I would want to play."
Hopefully Mays rises to the occasion and realizes the great potential he showed coming out of college. If he does, the Bengals may have yet again bolstered their defensive unit. If he doesn't someone like George Iloka or Robert Sands will need to step up.