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Bengals rookie report: Making sense of Cam Taylor-Britt’s sudden playing time

Taylor-Britt’s extensive debut seemingly came out of nowhere.

NFL: Player Headshots 2022 Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

So much of this year’s NFL Draft discourse regarding the Cincinnati Bengals involved the cornerback position. Would the team be content giving Eli Apple a starting spot after an up-and-down 2021 season, or would an early-round pick come in and compete for the job?

The answer seemed to be mixed. Cornerback became the second position they addressed in the draft, but the player they picked wasn’t slated to split reps with Apple. He went through the offseason as a reserve and eventually suffered an injury right before the preseason began. The job belonged to Apple, as if it was ever in question.

After the Bengals’ Week 7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, that statement seems up for debate, whether the coaches want to admit it or not.

Cam Taylor-Britt

So much for a redshirt season.

The first surprise was Taylor-Britt just being active for the first time. The rookie cornerback was set to dress after being cleared to practice less than a month ago, but no one knew what the expectations were. Special teams was the logical guess—he played four snaps there.

No, he ended up with 28 snaps at cornerback, 12 more than starter Eli Apple.

If this was the first step in grooming Taylor-Britt as Apple’s replacement, it was an aggressive one to say the least. This was not a reactionary decision, either. Taylor-Britt came in before Apple was on the wrong end of a 75-yard touchdown pass, and he had some rough moments as well. The Falcons were running the ball with authority, and the rookie had some trouble getting off blocks. When faced with the ballcarrier, Taylor-Britt squared up and made solid tackles, and was cognizant of when he had the edge.

Eventually, the Falcons moved into the red zone, where Taylor-Britt was taken off the field shortly after an illegal contact penalty. That was the most action Taylor-Britt got in his 12 coverage snaps, and it’s the main reason why his defense grade from Pro Football Focus was 37.6.

That Taylor-Britt played so much despite no injury to Apple or Chidobe Awuzie is indicative of a major philosophical change for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Just a month ago, Anarumo gave a resounding answer as to why Dax Hill wasn’t getting rotated in as a third safety. The secondary is not a place where chemistry and communication can withstand with guys being rotated in and out constantly.

But in Taylor-Britt’s case, his lack of playing time in the preseason was a big reason why he felt compelled to switch things up so soon.

“In a perfect world you don’t want to be able to do that, but this not a perfect world,” Anarumo said Monday. “You’re in a situation where you’ve got a young guy who had no preseason. You’ve got get him snaps at some point other than scout team reps, so yesterday was a perfect opportunity.”

It doesn’t feel like a complete coincidence this happened during a second-straight subpar week for Apple, but Atlanta and their run-centric offense also represented an ideal opponent to begin Taylor-Britt’s integration. Expect the same plan to unfold this week against the Cleveland Browns, who also run the ball with a passion.

Check out Matt Minich’s film room piece later this week to see exactly how Taylor-Britt played in his debut.

Cordell Volson

Taylor-Britt may be the headliner, but Volson had a week worthy of the spotlight. This was his best week at left guard, and that includes a false start penalty at the goal-line and getting beaten cleanly by Grady Jarrett in 4k. That was the lone pressure Volson allowed in 45 pass-blocking reps, and he looked just as good in the run game.

Volson is what linear player progression looks like in an ideal world. Very rarely does it happen like this, and we might even be speaking too soon, but there’s been consistent growth in his game since the preseason. His hand usage seems to be catching up as his processing speed increases, and the chemistry he’s developed with left tackle Jonah Williams and center Ted Karras is evident. We’ll go more in-depth in tomorrow’s Weekly Lineman.

Zach Carter

Carter’s 34 snaps from Sunday are the most he’s played all season, and his progress was on display as well. He’s doing a much better job of finding the ball and using his extension to stack blocks. It’s the shedding upon stacking that needs more work as he’s still a little too late to disengage at times, and balance still seems to be a hindrance.

But look at these reps. This is what you want to see consistently.

D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou’s injuries have given Carter more reps than he likely anticipated. For a rookie playing multiple spots, this was a tall task, and the results haven’t been pretty over a seven-week span, but he’s starting to adapt. His next task against the formidable Browns offensive line will be a righteous litmus test.

Dax Hill

In one of Hill’s two snaps, he almost caused a big play by getting in Chidobe Awuzie’s way while the cornerback was pressing against a go route. Marcus Mariota fortunately didn’t take advantage and Mike Hilton ended up with a pass breakup, but the Falcons’ play design worked in putting Hill in a bad spot.

Where on the field was Dax Hill?

  • Free safety: one snap
  • slot corner: one snap