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Bengals 2016 roster: 4 safeties fighting for final 2 spots

With a new starter and a few new faces in reserve, how are the Bengals’ safeties shaping up? Who looks poised to make the final roster?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-OTA Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Bengals’ most notable losses this offseason was that of free safety Reggie Nelson to the Oakland Raiders after contract extension talks failed to lead anywhere significant. Luckily, George Iloka managed to get an extension done on the morning free agency kicked off, so he isn’t going anywhere. Still, Nelson’s departure left a significant hole in the depth chart that needs to be filled.

At this point, it’s pretty obvious that Shawn Williams is the heir to the open spot in the starting lineup. Granted, he will be at strong safety with Iloka switching to free safety, according to the team’s official depth chart. Williams’ promotion to the starting lineup means there is an extra backup spot available in addition to the one held by Derron Smith last year. Now that the first preseason game of the year is in the rear view mirror, who among the four backup safeties on the roster looks ready to win a spot on the 53-man roster?

Derron Smith

As the incumbent backup safety who hasn’t moved to the starting lineup, Smith has to be the favorite to win one of the two backup spots. Bengals coaches and fans alike were excited when he fell to them in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, despite being projected to go as high as the second round. He didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his talents last year. But, he did look pretty good against the Vikings in the Bengals’ preseason opener.

The great penetration and subsequent tackle by Smith behind the line of scrimmage on this play looked like it was going to set the Bengals’ defense up for a fantastic possession. Unfortunately, a few defensive breakdowns on the rest of the drive resulted in the Vikings marching down the field for a touchdown. In fact, one of those botched plays was a reception by Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who was eventually brought down by Smith at the end of the play. But, that was not before Thielen picked up 22 yards on a third and seven.

Smith could use work on his average coverage abilities, but, he can blitz well and hit hard with the best of them.

Jimmy Wilson

Without a doubt, the star of the Bengals’ preseason opener against the Vikings was wide receiver Alex Erickson. But, one of the most intriguing plays of the game came on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterback Keith Wenning had just started his third drive of the game when he threw an interception. Newly-added Bengals safety Jimmy Wilson answered that interception with a pick of his own on Vikings quarterback Joel Stave.

The pick didn’t lead to any points, but, it did provide a chance to halt the Vikings’ momentum after a critical mistake by the Bengals. Had the pick been followed up by any level of offensive competency, there’s a good chance that the Bengals wouldn’t have had to rely on a late surge to give them a chance to challenge for the lead. Either way, it was a great heads-up play for Wilson. More plays like that will likely get him some much needed buzz to secure one of the last safety spots.

Clayton Fejedelem

The Bengals’ seventh round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has quite a challenge ahead of him in his quest to make the final roster. It’s hard to see the Bengals keeping more than four safeties. As things currently look, he could have a practice squad position to look forward to if he performs well in the preseason. But, he will have to do better than cleaning up the mistake of letting Laquon Treadwell get open.

Granted, you can tell that Fejedelem’s tackling technique is strong, as advertised when he was drafted. He does a wonderful job of wrapping Treadwell up and not allowing him to slip out for more yardage. Tackling technique has been a major problem with the Bengals lately and Fejedelem is strong in this aspect of his game. But, he will need to work on not letting people get that wide open in his zone if he wants to make the final roster.

Floyd Raven Sr.

The Bengals signed Raven as a college free agent last year. He remained on the roster through much of the preseason. But, he was unable to impress enough to survive the final roster cuts. He also spent some time on the Patriots’ practice squad last year, although he didn’t manage to stick there either. Furthermore, he wasn’t particularly effective or notable on Friday against the Vikings, recording only a single solo tackle.

On display in this play is Raven’s poor spatial awareness in coverage and inability to stick to his man. In his defense, he did chase Vikings tight end David Morgan II down before the play got too out of hand. But, he still surrendered 13 yards due to having his ankles broken by a fifth string tight end. He’ll have some work to do if he wants to have any chance to even make the first wave of cuts, let alone the final roster.