During final cuts last year, the Bengals kept only three safeties heading into the 2010 season, which included Chris Crocker, Chinedum Ndukwe and Roy Williams -- all of whom missed significant playing time due to injuries. For that reason, it was surprising when the Bengals decided to keep cornerback David Jones on the roster after he only contributed towards 36 defensive snaps in 2009. Soon after the final roster was announced, the Bengals announced a completed trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, bringing safety Reggie Nelson over in exchange for David Jones and a conditional draft pick.
Nelson played all 16 games this year (solely on special teams early in the season). As injuries accumulated in the secondary, Nelson was given an increased role on defense. He never allowed a touchdown against receivers he covered, lead all safeties with two interceptions and posted a jaw-dropping 30.4 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. Along with Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, Nelson was one of a handful of defensive players that stepped up in the second half of the season. David Jones didn't work out so much for the Jaguars, allowing a quarterback rating of 114.6 against receivers he covered, playing so poorly he was eventually benched, not taking another snap from week eight until the final game of the regular season.
The Bengals obviously won the trade, especially considering that the conditions weren't met that would have sent Jacksonville a conditional draft pick.
Since Roy Williams isn't expected to return, Marvin Lewis has already admitted that Nelson and Chris Crocker are expected to start for the Bengals in 2011.
Not only that. Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who says that Nelson didn't have much time to get acclimated to the system last year, is looking forward to another season with Nelson.
"I expect big things out of Reggie Nelson," Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle told PFW on June 9.
"He can make plays at a really high level," Coyle added.
The Bengals roster at safety is scary thin. With Williams not expected to return and Ndukwe a free agent, Crocker and Nelson remain as the team's only signed safeties heading into 2011. West Virginia's Robert Sands, drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals, is expected to contribute quickly and Tom Nelson is an exclusive-rights free agent. Don't be surprised if the Bengals sign a couple of undrafted free agent safeties and maybe a veteran safety when the new league year begins.