George Iloka is now one of the most experienced members of the Bengals secondary.
This year will likely be a very important one for him as his style of play as a physical safety capable of laying the lumber will have to change after the NFL’s rule change.
Iloka, however, seems very upbeat entering the season. He even thinks we could see a huge turn around from the 18th-ranked defense last season.
“I know a lot of kids come on here and say this every year, but I feel like the sky is the limit, honestly,” Iloka told NFL.com. “I feel like we got smarter, because we had a lot of young guys that stepped in and played well for us, and we got a lot of new young guys this year that are going to have to step up and play well for us. I think we became more experienced.”
“We have more depth now [on the defensive line]. We have a lot more depth in the secondary from the safeties to the corners, and at linebackers, they were real young last year, and being a year older and a year wiser will help us out a lot.”
Of course, this is the time of year that everyone is high on themselves, but the Bengals are undergoing some major defensive changes with Teryl Austin taking over as defensive coordinator. This is Iloka’s first major shift away from Mike Zimmer’s base defense since joining the Bengals, and so far, Iloka has liked what Austin has brought to the table.
“It’s been good. He has really made me feel comfortable, and other guys comfortable in terms of trying to go out there and make more plays,” Iloka said. “I know it has just been OTAs and it has just been minicamp, but he has really emphasized “take your chances now,” “see what you can get away with,” [and] “see who you are as a player.
“I felt like this OTA and minicamp were my most productive in terms of getting near the ball and getting around the ball, and I just need to take that into training camp and continue to progress, because the key is for most teams to make the playoffs and make a long run is to win the turnover battle. Last year as a secondary of the defense we didn’t do as good of a job as we would’ve liked to. It starts with me, it starts with the secondary and I take ownership of that.”
The Bengals secondary only created eight interceptions last year. The only player to have multiple picks was Darqueze Dennard. Of course, the Bengals attempted to rectify this by drafting Jessie Bates III in the second round of this year’s draft. He is known for his coverage ability and ball skills,
Still, Iloka knows he needs to be making these changes as well. Iloka had often defaulted to trying to dislodge the ball from a receiver rather than making a play on the ball. That was fine in seasons past, but now he would more times than not get hit with a flag, so Austin having him feel it out early and try to adjust is a great move.
Iloka still knows that he needs to adjust with the league, and he also knows he needs to help lead the charge on creating turnovers after only having one interception last season.
“What’s next for me as a player is more plays on the ball. [Austin’s] camp has come in right away and said “we need to create more turnovers as a secondary,” Iloka said. “That starts with me being the most veteran safety back there and just being the guy that has been in that system for a long time. We got to create more turnovers and get the ball back to our good offense.”
It is obvious from everything that coaches and players have said that another season with minimal turnovers will not do. It will be fun to see how that plays out next season. It is hard to do worse than a -9 turnover ratio.