When Chris Crocker was released by the Bengals earlier this offseason, many thought that it would pave the way for the team to find a younger, more dynamic and athletic player for the spot. As it turned out, the 2012 offseason was slim pickings for quality safeties. There just weren't very many available on the open free agent market and there seemed to be even fewer in the draft. The Bengals did draft one at the end of the fifth round though, in Boise State's George Iloka.
Still, many fans assumed that Taylor Mays would get a stranglehold on the starting job opposite Reggie Nelson, with others like Iloka playing roles in nickel and dime packages. Unfortunately, it sounds as if defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer isn't very pleased with the group's progression in the early part of the offseason. Along with discussing the linebackers and his displeasure with second-year man, Dontay Moch, Zimmer talked to various Bengals beat writers and other media members about the safety group.
As expected, free agent re-signee, Reggie Nelson, has done well and that's about all of the positivity that Zimmer would allow.
Reggie Nelson is doing well at one safety, but those vying for the spot next to him have been up-and-down and he indicated no one has an edge.
Unfortunately, it would seem that those hoping for a giant leap from Mays this offseason are set to be disappointed. The big knock on Mays is that he has all of the physical tools, but he has yet to soak in the mental aspects of playing the position. Zimmer offered another telling quote on the performance of the safeties attempting to grab the starting job:
As for safety he said, "We've got to find out who is going to be the most consistent. Who can make the decisions on the run. ... The guy that gives me the most confidence for the other 10 guys on the field (is going to play)."
Going into his third year, many would have hoped that Mays would have a better grasp on the NFL game at this point, but Zimmer still seems to feel that he and the others are unreliable at this point. Unfortunately, that's the biggest thing that they need out of that position since Crocker's departure following a poor 2011 campaign--reliability.
For those wondering if we will see one of the savvy veteran cornerbacks that the team picked up over the past two offseasons back at safety, Zimmer didn't deny or confirm that.
Zimmer wouldn't shoot down a scenario that had him playing three cornerbacks and Nelson.
But "it's too early for stuff like that," Zimmer has been saying the three weeks the on-field practices have taken place. He did say Monday, "I'll play the best 11 and that may be linemen."
It's possible that this position could be plugged with the same philosophy that the team is using at running back and wide receiver--by committee. Each of these safeties have different strengths and weaknesses, so we could see a different player on each down. It's still early, though, so someone could begin to separate himself in Training Camp.