For all of the coaches out there reading, remember the player that you kept on your team because you knew the potential was through the roof, but you worried and/or had doubts if said player would ever reach it? Such is the case for Bengals "hybacker", Taylor Mays. He is truly at a crossroads in his NFL career, coming off of a somewhat promising season in a new role that was cut short because of injury.
Last year, in an effort to find a niche for the up-and-down youngster, Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther all came up with an uncharacteristically creative role for the defensive back out of USC. The mental aspects of the safety position and the responsibilities on pass coverage proved to be too much for the uber-talented Mays, but they knew that they wanted to hang on to him. So, they came up with a position that had the looks of a linebacker when lined up, but had some additional safety-like responsibilities.
It's possible that the Bengals' staff adopted some of the concepts for Mays from a few of the Steelers' packages that they have with Troy Polamalu. For half of the regular season, this "rover" position worked relatively well and we saw a comfort level in Mays that wasn't recognizable the previous three years. He only had 19 total tackles on the year and wasn't spectacular in any way, but it was the most steady football we had seen out of him. An unfortunate shoulder injury disallowed Mays to continue to grow into the role the rest of the season. Even so, the team decided to re-sign him on a one-year deal this offseason.
What Does The Future Hold?
By putting Mays on this list, I'll either look like a genius or an idiot. While most are hopeful that he can continue to contribute in 2014, others are certain that he'll be a roster casualty. Though Mays was a Zimmer guy through and through, I still think that Guenther and Lewis want to see this experiment go a little longer.
Linebacker and Safety are both jam-packed right now, so Mays will have to show the rare athleticism that was constantly on display at USC and/or land on the roster because of injury. We should all hope for the former and not the latter. He will also need to be a willing an able participant on special teams in order to be considered as a final roster lock.
What Needs To Happen:
It's also on the Bengals' staff to continue to develop Mays into this unique role and put him in the best situations for success. It's clear that though Mays is an enforcer of a strong safety, he simply isn't consistent enough with deep coverage responsibilities. Perhaps he has grown out of some of that in his fifth season, but with George Iloka beginning to emerge and Danieal Manning coming on board, his time at safety would be extremely limited.
Given the shortcomings that we have seen from Mays in his NFL tape, it would be best for him to be in charge of short areas for coverage, while continuing his hard-nosed approach in run support. This "hybacker" position would allow him to use his explosive straight line speed in short areas, which would allow for quicker recovery reaction time, if he did mentally slip up.
In short, the "hybacker" position and its responsibilities plays to Mays' athletic strengths and allows more room for error than at the true safety position. It's because these responsibilities showcase his rare athleticism that Mays has a place on this list.