Starting strong safety Taylor Mays is having the ultimate growing pains this season. A year after being traded from the San Francisco 49ers for a seventh round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Mays was finally declared as a starter against the Ravens, resuming that role last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In between he was demoted to zero snaps against the Cleveland Browns, then forced into a backup role against the Redskins (though he did play 43 snaps).
According to Pro Football Focus, Mays has allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 149.3, including a 34-yard touchdown to Anquan Boldin in week one. On the other hand they've only tracked three passes this year that Mays was forced to defend.
Yet Mays tells Kevin Kelly with the Cincinnati Enquirer that he wants to be that imposing figure on defense, an enforcer that generates teeth-shattering hits, eventually becoming a growing shadow in the back of receivers' minds.
"I want to be an intimidating presence," Mays said. "I’m a big safety, so I feel like I should. Most of my favorite players are big, intimidating safeties. That’s just the style of defense I like to play."
Additionally there's the liable perception that Mays is drawing penalties due to the detonation style of his hits, giving an opposing offense 15 yards, a new set of downs and a greater chance to score. However Mays has only been penalized once this year, a 15-yard helmet to helmet against the Baltimore Ravens which Mays was fined for.
"I think earlier in the season, and at the end of the preseason, I ended up hurting the team by getting personal foul penalties on hits," said Mays, who was fined $21,000 for unnecessary roughness for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Sept. 10 season opener against Baltimore. "I can’t get the personal foul penalties, because when that happens you’re pretty much setting the offense up for a score. That’s too much of a liability to the defense."
The Cincinnati Bengals haven't employed much consistency at strong safety, rotating between Mays, Jeromy Miles and even Nate Clements, who clearly needs more time before making the adjustment as a more confident tackler against the run. That being said Mays' age and athleticism makes him a prime candidate to establish some long-term foundation at the position. But it's all on him at this point.