Nov 2, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka (43) warms up before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars
at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
It has been reported that the Bengals are currently focusing on extending the contracts of 2012 first round selections cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler. Cincinnati will have until May 4 to do so, as this is the deadline for teams to inform the league office whether or not they are exercising fifth-year options on qualifying rookies. As important as this is, once May 4 comes and goes, regardless of what happens with Kirkpatrick and Zeitler, the Bengals must turn their focus to their most pivotal 2016 free agent.
George Iloka stormed onto the Bengals‘ scene in 2013 after just getting his feet wet in 2012 as a rookie. His 6’4″ height makes him ideal for defending taller wide receivers and in jump ball situations. Beyond his height, it is his speed, athleticism, and youth that makes him well worth signing for the long term.
Iloka’s stats in 2014 were nearing those of Reggie Nelson. Iloka has improved year to year, which is also a great sign for his long term prospects. Nelson had 94 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions, and 12 pass deflections last season while Iloka had 74 tackles, no sacks, but one tackle for loss, three interceptions, and 10 pass deflections in only his second year as a starter.
Nelson is getting older for sure and the upside for him is short lived as he reaches the end of his career. It is hard enough to find a solid safety in the league and especially one with experience. The Bengals will need to find someone to replace Nelson in the long term and replacing both simultaneously would not only be difficult, it would be nearly impossible.
A young safety will need a veteran to lean on and help him grow into the league, and although Iloka is still young himself, his experience as a starter is vital towards bringing a younger player along; Iloka has watched and learned from Nelson over the past two seasons.
"“I saw him do things and be able to spend time with the coaches there that really played well to us and what we did on defense. I thought I saw an easy transfer to our scheme defensively, what they were playing in their base defense.”"
Even better, Iloka’s motivation to prove he’s worth more than his fifth round selection would suggest has played a key role in his early successes according to that same article. It’s a motivation that won’t disappear across his career.
The Bengals have a number of other free agents that will demand focus after the 2015 season, so getting Iloka’s deal done now would ensure the future of the Bengals’ secondary. Iloka has a bright future ahead and we hope it will be in stripes.
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