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[Bengals Training Camp Preview] Bengals Safeties

If you’re a Cincinnati Bengals fan who wasn’t happy with last April’s draft, it was probably because the team didn’t address the safety position. Many fans coveted USC safety Taylor Mays, who almost made it to Cincinnati in the second round, but was snapped by the 49ers five picks before the Bengals went back on the clock.

But while the Bengals didn’t end up using a premium pick on the position, they did shore it up with the acquisition of veteran Gibril Wilson in free agency. Last season, the Bengals went with five corners and five safeties on the final 53-man roster, and Wilson, along with Roy Williams, Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe have to be considered favorites for four of those slots this year. Who’s No. 5? Good question. Let’s look at the players.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Roy Williams
Height: 6-0
Weight: 220
Age: 29
Experience: 9
College: Oklahoma
2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
4 28 19 9 0 0 2

For the second straight year, Roy Williams missed most of the season with (the same) broken arm. After missing just one game in his first six years in the league, Williams has played in just seven games over the last two years, and fans are understandably concerned about whether he can stay healthy. Williams will be wearing a protective device on his arm this season, which will hopefully prevent another recurrence of the injury.

Williams’ loss just four games into the 2009 season is one of the more-overlooked reasons for the way the Bengals petered out last year. Roy brought an aggressive, physical presence to the defense and through four games was on pace for a 112-tackle season. Preseason conventional wisdom was that he would be a liability in coverage, but that didn’t appear to be the case last September. Indeed, his familiarity with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s system allowed him to contribute at a high level immediately.

Chris Crocker
Height: 5-11
Weight: 202
Age: 30
Experience: 8
College: Marshall

2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
13 51 40 11 0 2 9

Journeyman Chris Crocker’s arrival in the midst of the 2008 season was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable campaign. Like Roy Williams, Crocker isn’t afraid to lay some wood and play the "enforcer" role that the Cincinnati secondary has rarely had.

However, also like Williams, Crocker has had some injury problems in recent years, missing a couple games due to a knee injury in 2007 and three more last year because of an ankle injury. Crocker was still rehabbing his ankle in May, though he finally got out on the field in early June. Crocker also missed a pair of games in 2008, though that was due to switching teams in midseason, so the bottom line is that Crocker hasn’t put together a complete 16-game season since 2006.

PROJECTED BACKUPS / SPECIAL TEAMS

Chinedum Ndukwe
Height: 6-2
Weight: 224
Age: 25
Experience: 4
College: Notre Dame
2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
16 89 63 26 2 1 5

When the Bengals nabbed Ndukwe in the seventh round of the 2007 draft, the shorthand description for him was "a poor man’s Roy Williams." Which, of course, makes it all that more ironic that he first lost his starting job to, and then regained it from, Roy in 2009. Ndukwe is a prototypical strong safety type, built like a linebacker and very effective in run support. In fact, he might actually be a tad better in run support than Williams, at least in my humble opinion – but it scares the heck out of me whenever he’s in coverage.

Gibril Wilson
Height: 6-0
Weight: 210
Age: 28
Experience: 7
College: Tennessee

2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
16 93 73 20 1 0 8

From New York to Oakland to Miami and, now, to Cincinnati, Gibril Wilson has certainly been getting around. A former Giants’ fifth-round pick, Wilson has been a contributor wherever he’s been, generally piling up 90+ tackles and grabbing a couple picks each year, but has never been a standout. However, that hasn’t prevented him from cashing in the last few years, when both Oakland and Miami paid through the nose for a guy who lasted just one season with both organizations.

While I think that Wilson will stick, it wouldn’t blow my mind if he didn’t make the final roster, either. He brings experience and proven, if unspectacular, production, but it isn’t like the unit is loaded with noobs. An argument can be made that the Bengals would be better served to focus on giving opportunities to younger players like Murray, Nelson or Miles versus going with a guy who will turn 29 in November and is here on just a one-year deal.

Kyries Hebert
Height: 6-3
Weight: 222
Age: 29
Experience: 3
College: Louisiana-Lafayette
2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
15 20 14 6 0 0 0

CFL veteran Kyries Hebert arrived in Cincinnati in 2008 and quickly became a key special teams cog. Hebert was voted the special teams captain by his peers last season, and was the coaching staff’s choice as the special teams player for the fans’ Pro Bowl ballot. Hebert is a tough, physical player who has kept his head down and shoveled since being given a second chance in the NFL, and I have no reason to expect he doesn’t make the team again this year.

PRACTICE SQUAD MATERIAL

Jeromy Miles
Height: 6-2
Weight: 215
Age: 23
Experience: R
College: UMASS
2009 (UMASS)
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int FF
11 62 -- -- -- 2 2

A post-draft consolation prize for Bengals fans who wanted a safety much earlier in the draft, Miles was viewed as one of the best remaining prospects after Mr. Irrelevant was announced. He comes with an impressive resume and, given that the Bengals are hardly loaded at safety, could challenge for a roster spot. However, my bet is that the Bengals will try and stash him on the practice squad this year.

Rico Murray
Height: 5-11
Weight: 200
Age: 22
Experience: 1
College: Kent State
2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int
4 1 1 0 0 0

Rico Murray spent most of 2009 on the Cincinnati practice squad, but got an opportunity late in the year due to injuries to players like Crocker. Since he appeared in just four games, he’s still eligible for another year on the squad, and my bet is that if he sticks at all, that’s where he’ll start the year.

IT'S BEEN FUN

Tom Nelson
Height: 5-11
Weight: 200
Age: 23
Experience: 2
College: Illinois State
2009
Games Tackles Solo Asst Sack Int PDef
12 25 20 5 0 1 2

Tom Nelson is last year’s Jeromy Miles: a well-regarded undrafted college free agent who signed with the team and whom fans got to know through his Hard Knocks-televised roster battle with Corey Lynch. This year, he gets to play Lynch’s role, battling for a roster spot. His ability to play some nickel adds to his case, but a lot will depend on his ankle, which he injured late last season and which he was still reportedly rehabbing in May. While that could lead to him getting PUP’d or IR’d, my bet is that the Lippen-Turk will come knocking on his door before camp is done.