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Zimmer Keeping A Close Eye On Defensive Backs

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 11: George Iloka #43 of the Cincinnati Bengals works out during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 11, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 11: George Iloka #43 of the Cincinnati Bengals works out during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 11, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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New Bengals secondary coach Mark Carrier is a big fan of his safeties having size. According to's Geoff Hobson, Carrier says that this is the biggest group that he has ever seen:

""It's funny. When I came into the league they were all like that," Carrier said. "But they weren't as athletic as this group. This group is really athletic. I saw some big safeties when I was playing. But they weren't ... and I'll get some calls from guys. 'Come on Mark, we were athletic.' But this group is very athletic. Trust me. No knock on (the older guys), but these guys are very athletic."

There are a lot of questions about the corners and safeties this season, and The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy told us that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is paying close attention to the defensive backs:

"I'm spending a lot of time with the DBs right now, which is OK," Zimmer said. "I've been spending so much time making sure everything is done properly with the corners and safeties. Plus, I'm trying to figure out that position. What's the best group and what's the best combination of guys and nickel backs and then when guys get hurt, it makes it more difficult."

Figuring out the correct group of players is certainly not easy when the only clear cut starter in the defensive backfield is safety Reggie Nelson. The other safety spot next to Nelson is currently up in the air, though third-year veteran Taylor Mays seems to have the early lead on the position. Hobson says that Mays is the guy that has been playing the most with Nelson and the first group. When asked about it, Mays seems to understand that he would have a lot of responsibility as the teams starting safety:

"Consistency is what you need at safety," Mays said. "You make a mistake and it can be fatal to a game."

While Mays seems to have the best shot, Robert Sands, Jeromy Miles, and rookie George Iloka are also in the running. Zimmer seems to really like Sands, a second year safety from West Virginia. Sands is 6-4, weighing in at about 209 pounds and is athletic, which is important if he is to cover the big play-making wide receivers. Zimmer had this to say about Sands:

"Sands is a kid we drafted we liked athletically," Zimmer said of a guy that played just one game as a rookie last year and that on special teams. "You don't want to get rid of a guy you really like. Maybe Sands might be the guy this year."

Of course, Miles is known as a special teams ace, while rookie Iloka is certainly athletic enough to play in certain packages this season. Iloka is 6-4 and weighs in at about 225 pounds. While Iloka would be a giant safety on most teams, he fits in well here with Mays, Sands, and Miles. Zimmer is enamored with the bigger guys and prefers them to the smaller players, saying that he "like(s) big, fast guys. That's always a good thing as opposed to little, bitty guys."

If the big and athletic Taylor Mays is going to start this season, he is going to have to improve in some areas.He admits that he is learning slowly but surely:

"The first thing I'm thinking about is getting my assignments right and then playing technique sound. When you know what to expect and how you're supposed to play things, that makes a world of difference. It's the little things that add up on a daily basis."

Zimmer acknowledges that Mays has some things that he has yet to grasp:

"In some areas; still got a ways to go. (He needs) consistency. Doing things right. Discipline. Accountability. Whoever lines up there, that is what I want: accountability. Day in and day out."

Zimmer also did not rule out playing a corner like Nate Clements or Jason Allen at safety for a period of time. He does not seem to care if his four best defensive backs were corners or safeties, saying that he doesn't care and the best eleven players will play. As for when we will know who will be starting at the corner and safety positions this season, don't expect an answer soon. Zimmer said:

"You guys want us to make the team already and it's (only) June."