As the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the team will anticipate some changes as players battling for vacant starting positions will take shape. Since one can only learn so much during training camp, these preseason games hold extra meaning when determining who makes the roster and even who starts at contested positions.
The most intense battle that hasn't determined a player distancing himself from the others, is strong safety. Taylor Mays, rookie Shawn Williams, and second-year player George Iloka are neck-and-neck... and-neck.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was asked about Iloka during Sunday's presser and offered a rewarding perspective.
Marvin on S George Iloka: "He’s really emerged as a guy we can count on."— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 4, 2013
When the Bengals released their first depth chart on Friday, Iloka was listed on the first-team unit at strong safety.
Iloka, who has having a great training camp, spent the offseason committing the entire playbook to memory with help from defensive backs coach Mark Carrier and assistant coach Adam Zimmer.
"If he couldn't find me, then he'd find Adam and he did a great job transferring the board to the field," Carrier said via Bengals.com. "You can see that he was really learning the ins and outs of the defense. We gave him extra reps and he put in a lot of extra time and had a productive spring."
"Everything has slowed down," Iloka said via Bengals.com. "Everything last year was so fast. I didn't pick it up as quickly as I needed to, but everything has slowed down now and that's what you want. Once you get in the league, it's how fast you can play; if you can process things mentally. You can be a 4.3 guy, but if you're moving at 5 flat, you're going to be slow."
One person that he credited for helping him was former safety Chris Crocker.
"I’ll be the first to admit that last year I didn’t grasp this defense as well as I needed to in order to contribute," said Iloka. "I didn’t realize that until I saw Crocker. You can’t just rely purely on your athletic ability as this level – especially at the safety position in this defense. You have to know the checks, and you have to be consistent because you’re not just playing for yourself out there.
"What really made me gravitate towards him was the fact that he got an interception in his first game back. He was basically on the couch and didn’t go to training camp or anything. It’s not like he did anything spectacular – he just did his job. He made the right reads and did the things that Coach Zimmer taught him and the pick came right to him. I said, ‘I’d better start watching this dude and picking his brain in order to learn as much as I can.’"