Bengals hoping to get upgrade at safety
While there has been a lot of discussion about the Bengals possibly needing experience at receiver, the more immediate upgrade might need to be made at safety where there is a lack of experience and quality.
The only certainty right now is that Reggie Nelson will be one of the starters. After that, the dropoff is big.
Said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer of the safeties: "It's kind of open. Reggie is doing good and the other guys have their good days and bad days. We've got to find out who's the most consistent. Who can make the decisions on the run and go from there."
With Chris Crocker being released in March, the Bengals have only one safety with four or more years of experience, which is Nelson, who is coming off his best season as a pro last year. The sixth-year player, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract during the offseason, led the team in interceptions with four and was third on the team in tackles (102).
During OTAs, Nelson has been the only starter from last year's secondary who has been participating. Cornerback Leon Hall is still working his way back from an Achilles injury and Nate Clements has missed all three weeks due to an abdominal strain.
The one advantage for the safeties is that they are a tall, athletic group. Nelson and undrafted rookie Tony Dye are the only two under 6-0. Taylor Mays is 6-3 and fifth-round pick George Iloka and Robert Sands are both 6-4. Jeromy Miles is in the middle at 6-2.
Mays still remains the favorite to grab the other starting spot. Zimmer says there has been some progress from Mays, who was acquired in a trade from San Francisco last year, but that there is still more that has to be gained, especially in consistency.
Mays has played in 26 games in his first two seasons, which puts him second among the safeties in terms of experience. Miles is entering his third season but has been used primarily on special teams while Sands, who is going into his second year, was active for only one game last year.
Iloka, who was taken in the fifth round out of Boise State, could be a darkhorse as he has looked solid in the offseason workouts.
When asked what he is looking for out of his safeties, Zimmer said they "have to be able to make decisions quickly by formations, formation checks, alignments and doing things correctly all the time. They've got to be; the one who gives me the most confidence for the other 10 guys that are on the field will be the guy who plays."
Last season the Bengals had 10 defensive backs with six safeties and four corners mostly due to what the safeties could do on special teams.
If the roster stays intact and no one is able to earn Zimmer's trust, he did not rule out playing three corners or sliding Jason Allen, Nate Clements or even Leon Hall over to safety.
And if his best four defensive backs end up being corners, Zimmer wouldn't mind that either saying "I don't care, let's go."
Zimmer spending time in the secondary
--With two new position coaches - Paul Gunther at linebacker and Mark Carrier in the secondary - coordinator Mike Zimmer has been focusing more on teaching and making sure the assistants are up to speed than roving around to each unit.
The one area he hasn't focused a lot on while on the field has been the defensive line.
"I'm spending a lot of time with the DBs right now, which is OK," Zimmer said. "I've been spending so much time making sure everything is done properly with the corners and safeties. Plus, I'm trying to figure out that position. What's the best group and what's the best combination of guys and nickel backs and then when guys get hurt, it makes it more difficult."
--Linebacker Rey Maualuga said he has not received any indication yet from the league on whether he will face a suspension stemming from an offseason incident in a Cincinnati nightclub in February. The case was settled via mediation but could still fall under a repeated violation of the league's personal conduct policy.
--One player who Zimmer wants to see immediate improvement from is linebacker Dontay Moch. Last year's third-round pick has struggled in the switch from the defensive line.
Moch did not play last year after breaking his foot in the first preseason game and then hardly practiced once he returned due to migraines.
Said Zimmer of Moch: "He's been here for a year and he's making mistakes that he shouldn't be making. He's sat in the meetings and heard stuff but that's not the best way for him to learn. He has to get out there and do it. He's behind schedule that way."
--Even with two months before the first preseason game, everyone continues to speculate on how the breakdown in carries will be between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott.
As Scott noted though, not even the coaches have a firm indication yet on how things will go.
"I think me and BenJarvus are going to be ready to handle how many carries they want to give us. I think it will be pretty even, but you never know," Scott said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Brandon Tate and Armon Binns are still splitting time with the first team at receiver, with Tate taking most of the snaps. Cornerback Adam Jones, who is thought to be in the mix for the return spot, has missed the last two weeks of OTAs due to muscle tightness.
Of the undrafted players, the one who is making a nice showing is linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.