Fair or not, Marvin Lewis has a reputation for not starting defensive rookies during his tenure with the Bengals.
In recent history, the Bengals have drafted three cornerbacks in the first round. One from the trio (William Jackson) spent his rookie season on injured reserve, but the remaining two (Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard) did not find themselves thrown to the wolves so to speak either.
According to Lewis, this may not be the case for second round safety Jessie Bates III.
“We have been pushing him in early, and you want to see him take command when he has to take command,” Lewis said of Bates during his August 14 press conference. ”He could end up being the guy back there real quick. You have to keep urging Jessie to move forward.”
Bates did not start in the Bengals’ preseason opener, but he was one of the first defensive players subbed in during the first quarter, and he impressed Lewis with his performance.
“He came up in some nice fits in the run game and made some good tackles.”
Although Bates has not stolen the headlines during training camp like fellow rookie Auden Tate, Lewis has been happy with what he has seen so far.
“He’s physically gifted and as talented as we expected,” Lewis stated. “He’s what we wanted. He’s demonstrated in practice how to get to the right spots on the field, and we just have to keep moving.”
Lewis believes in what Bates can do physically and that he just needs to get comfortable with the defense.
“He’s more of an analytical-learning type of person. He takes it all in and hears what you are saying and now needs to come out the other end that way,” Lewis said.
Getting action in the preseason will help Bates to develop as a leader in the secondary.
“The biggest thing for him is handling the different ins and outs of the game,” added Lewis. “The situation, the down and distance, field position and all of those things.”
Seeing live action is important for Bates’ development. Lewis also believes that seeing there first game action was key to the development of the team’s two other drafted rookie defensive backs, Darius Phillips and Davontae Harris.
“We’ve got to go out there and play snap-to-whistle against real competition.”
While George Iloka and Shawn Williams are both talented players, they fit the mold of a strong safety. The 2018 draft was stacked with big physical safeties in the same ilk, but the Bengals targeted Bates, who has the range and to be a true free safety in the NFL.
The Bengals will continue to push him throughout the preseason, with the hopes that he becomes a key part of this defense as a rookie.