During the 2010 draft, Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made it no secret that he was very fond of USC safety Taylor Mays. With a linebacker build at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Mays can fly with 4.43 speed in the 40.
Mays’ athletic prowess was never doubted. After the 49ers traded him to Cincinnati last season for the draft-pick equivalent of a half-used Applebee’s gift card, Zimmer finally got his guy.
Hampered by injuries during last year’s campaign, Mays was handed his break-out opportunity this season when the franchise released former starting strong safety Chris Crocker. During the first two weeks of the preseason, Mays has been exactly the type of player that most draft analysts projected him to be: fast and hard-hitting while lacking instinct and discipline in his play.
Zimmer’s defense is a reflection of himself: an attacking group that uses sound technique and heady play to support multiple looks, blitz packages and coverages. While Mays has often been seen flying down the field to deliver big hits, he plays chaotically and undisciplined, while injuring himself and teammates in the process.
Perhaps, most telling of Mays’ style is a potential splash play against the Falcons last week. Mays flew the backfield on a blitz so quickly the fullback seemed surprised to even see him. Mays launched himself at the linebacker, losing his balance to throw a massive hit. Luckily, Geno Atkins (who else) penetrated into the backfield to stop the play for a loss, but if Mays would have kept his feet and maintained his balance, he could have potentially shed the block and made the play himself.
His play is in stark contrast to what Zimmer wants to see on the field, and Zimmer’s need for safeties that can succeed in space, coverage and blitzes demands skills that Mays has yet to couple with his immense physical talents. While cornerback Nate Clements began replacing Mays in nickel packages, making up for Mays’ deficiencies in coverage, a banged group of CBs is not helped by losing one of their best.