The Bengals didn’t make a lot of big splashes in free agency in the 2012 offseason. They targeted solid guys who could start, like Travelle Wharton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as well as guys who could be effective role players, like Jason Allen. These were all good signings, but the biggest signing may have been the inking of one of their own free agents, safety Reggie Nelson.
Nelson was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He became the starter right away, and posted a very good rookie season, with 5 INT. His career seemed as though it was going to take off from there, but it didn’t work out that way. In the following seasons, he was shown to be susceptible to being beaten in coverage, and struggled to cover opposing WRs, especially one-on-one. After his 3rd NFL season, Jacksonville was ready to end things, and worked out a deal to trade Nelson to the Bengals for cornerback David Jones.
In his first year in Cincinnati, Nelson began his redemption. He sat for a lot of the year, but played pretty well once he took over the starting safety job. In 2011, he started the whole year, and played very well. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer used him effectively, allowing him to shine, playing to his strengths. He still allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a lot of passes against him, but the system allowed him to mitigate the yardage given up. He intercepted 4 passes for the year, one of which he returned 75 yards for a touchdown. He also had two sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. He was a free agent after the season, but the Bengals were able to get him back into the fold, signed to a new four-year contract.
The success, or conversely failure, of the Bengals secondary could make or break the 2012 season. It was an area of concern this offseason, especially with the injury suffered by cornerback Leon Hall last year. The Bengals added some help via free agency and in the draft, but the incumbents will play the largest part in the unit’s effectiveness. Nelson will need to play up to his 2011 form in order for the secondary to play how the team needs them to. There will be continuity in the scheme, with Zimmer still around, and that will help. The Bengals, and their fans, have high hopes for the coming season, and if the Bengals succeed, Nelson will be one of the reasons why.