Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp Preview: Safeties

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 24: Reggie Nelson #20 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after a sack against the Arizona Cardinals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Cardinals 23-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Of all the most neglected positions on the Cincinnati Bengals roster, most fans would likely agree that safety has been the "red-headed stepchild" of the team. For so long, the Bengals have felt comfortable with older, injury-prone players whose best days were behind them or with players who wouldn't have much of a shot at a starting role on other teams. To make things worse, the Bengals repeatedly passed up opportunities to draft safeties with one of their early draft picks. Granted, there were other needs and they did a good job at filling those needs, but the safety position was left to has-been's and never-will-be's.

To continue our training camp preview, we take a look at the Bengals safeties.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Taylor Mays 24 3rd '10 Draft (2nd) USC
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Run D '11 PFF Pass D '11 PFF Pass Rush '12 Salary*
-2.0 -0.8 -1.3 0.1 $540,000

This is likely going to be the biggest year of Mays' career so far. He was drafted in the second round by the 49ers in hopes that he would become a future starter in the secondary but failed to meet expectations and was eventually traded to the Bengals for next to nothing. Bengals fans were high on the hard-hitting safety heading into the '10 draft and many are excited about him now, including coaches. It's likely, with the team's decision to release Chris Crocker and the fact that they didn't use a high draft pick on a safety that they'll be starting Mays to start the season.

If Mays lives up to his pre-draft hype, he could easily be the steal of the century for the Bengals. However, if he fails to live up to expectations, he could just be the next strong safety in a long line of recent disappointments.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Reggie Nelson 28 6th '07 Draft (1st) Florida
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Run D '11 PFF Pass D '11 PFF Pass Rush '12 Salary*
-3.1 -3.8 1.5 1.5 $1.45 million

Nelson was one of the biggest free agents for the Bengals to re-sign heading into the 2012 season. After being considered a bust in Jacksonville, he revitalized his career in Cincinnati by being a hard-hitting free safety who was also able to hold his own in pass coverage and helped strengthen a secondary that was weakened by the injury to Leon Hall. Nelson drew interest from other teams, but in the end it was the Bengals that Nelson chose over the New York Jets, who were also trying hard to sign him.

With a healthier and more talented core of cornerbacks and a more talented strong safety, Nelson has a chance to go all out and really show what he can do in 2012. Nelson has a guaranteed spot as the starting free safety for the 2012 Bengals, the only question is who will be with him in the secondary.

The other safeties that are currently on the roster have literally little to none experience in the NFL. Jeromy Miles, who is in his third season in the NFL, only played in four snaps in 2011 and Robert Sands, who was drafted last year out of West Virginia, didn't do much more outside of special teams. The other two safeties on the roster are both rookies. First, there is Tony Dye, an undrafted free agent out of UCLA, and then there is George Iloka, who was the team's fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Boise State.

While it's likely that the starters will be Mays and Nelson, there's always an outside shot that the Bengals will make a surprise move by signing a veteran safety and changing things up a little. With the way that has worked out for them in the past, though, especially at strong safety, it wouldn't surprise me to see them stick with who they have right now.

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