Rookie safety Jessie Bates III was one of the first Bengals off the bench in their preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, and he continued to see reps with the first team in the Bengals’ second preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
In the week between the two contests, head coach Marvin Lewis praised his ability and promise and with the release of George Iloka it has become clear why Bates was getting so much work with the first unit. The second round pick has done enough to prove that he can be the team’s starting free safety in 2018.
Bates would not have been selected in the second round if he didn’t have great athletic ability. The big thing that holds back rookies is having an understanding of the defense and being able to adjust and communicate.
Here, Bates is offscreen and liaising with Shawn Williams in the top right corner of the screen. A motion occurs as Cowboys wide receiver Allen Hurns runs from the other side of the formation.
It is clear that Bates is communicating with Williams about whatever adjustment needs to be made. Bates demonstrates that he has enough of a grasp on the defensive scheme, that he can make and communicate adjustments on the fly.
As Williams drops down to take out the flat, Bates rolls over to the middle to occupy the slant.
In the next clip, cornerback Darqueze Dennard is playing underneath the route of Cowboys rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup and Bates is a deep field player. Gallup foolishly goes up for a ball that he never had a prayer of plucking out of the air.
Dennard is reading the ball and runs right past him trying to make a play on the ground.
Bates does an excellent job of getting to where he needs to be a looking to overlap the route. If Gallup had faded off as he should have, Dennard would be underneath the receiver and Bates would be over the top bracketing him.
Since Bates and Dennard are both looking at the ball, they end up running into each other and the play looks like more of a blooper than a highlight, but it shows that they are both playing the ball the way they should.
One of the expectations of Bates is that he helps the defense to generate more turnovers and ball-hawking like this will help to get him there.
Playing in only two preseason games, and getting most of his reps in the team’s game against the Bears against “Checkdown“ Chase Daniel, Bates has not had a ton of opportunities to showcase his ball skills.
This clip from Wake Forest demonstrated his ability to read the quarterback and make a play on the ball. The quarterback thinks he’s throwing a touchdown to the bender, but Bates comes off of the seam route and breaks in front of the wide receiver for the interception.
Here, the Cowboys complete a short pass into an underneath zone. Bates breaks with great speed on the ball and makes a good tackle on a player who is much larger than he is. Bates mitigates the Cowboys gain, by making this tackle immediately after the catch and not allow the tight ends to gain any yardage after the catch.
In this clip, Cowboys running back Rod Smith has broken through the line of scrimmage and is threatening to make a big play. Bates comes up and makes a sure tackle on the powerful runner. Bates’ strength is in coverage, but he has demonstrated in both preseason games that he can come up in run support.
The release of defensive mainstay Iloka is a huge vote of confidence in the rookie Bates. Many people beleived that Iloka and Shawn Williams had a redundent skillset and that the team never really replaced what Reggie Nelson in the secondary.
Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James may have been more highly sought after than Bates in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Bates has a different skill set than they have and is a the better fit for what the Bengals were lacking.
Adding to the significance of this move, the Bengals have not been known for putting rookies into starting roles during the Lewis era. As the defense looks to improve and create more turnovers, Bates could be a huge part of these efforts moving forward.