It’s Now or Never for these Cincinnati Bengals
November 4, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee (23) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker (33) and strong safety Taylor Mays (26) at Paul Brown Stadium. Denver won the game 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
There is a lengthy list of players who threaten to negate the Bengals newfound linebacker-safety hybrid player. Taylor Mays was drafted in 2010 as a safety, but has yet to figure out the position. One has to assume if he hasn’t figured it out in four years, then he probably won’t. With the Benglas having invested in multiple safeties over the past few years, it seems they’ve accepted this and are readying themselves at the position without having to rely on Mays. First it was George Iloka in 2011. He has only improved across his first three years and has taken hold of the starting strong safety spot. Then in 2012 the Bengals invested in Shawn Williams out of Georgia, a favorite of the team. He has since made a significant impact on special teams which has matched, if not exceeded, Mays’ impact on the unit. This year the team has brought on UDFA Isaiah Lewis, the complement to fellow rookie Darqueze Dennard within Michigan State’s “No Fly Zone” secondary. Isaiah Lewis’ has impressed early this off-season and may have already shown more potential in the secondary than Mays possesses. Mays has struggled mightly while covering opponents within space and barring some kind of substantial twist, his tenure at safety looks to be all but over.
This doesn’t necessarily leave Mays totally out in the cold as he performed well enough at linebacker last year to earn a one-year deal from the team for this coming season. Linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter both return healthy this year after suffering season-ending injuries in the preseason of 2013. This makes the linebacking core deep once more, hence making Mays’ life even more difficult. Given Mays functions best in the nickel linebacker-safety role, this is where he’ll need to prove his worth to make the roster. If he can prove to be an effective tackler, it’s not out of the question that he could play a larger role at linebacker even given his smaller size; he’s nearly the same prototype as the Steelers’ newest linebacker Ryan Shazier. He still produces well while on special teams, a requirement among reserve linebackers, and could ensure that the Bengals are ripe with talent to combat the many tight end mismatches that opposing offenses seek to create. Mays also has the speed to stay with opposing running backs that present as receiving threats, i.e. Ray Rice for an in-division example. This kind of speed in the middle of the field can really impact an opposing offense’s plans. If Mays can prove to be this type of player, then he could certainly secure a spot.