The Cincinnati Bengals' training camp is rife with positional battles this year—wide receiver, cornerback, defensive tackle, backup running back, strong safety—while the team tries to develop its final depth chart. Here, we'll take a look at the strong safety competition and see whether or not Taylor Mays indeed has the job on lockdown.
The Bengals do have a number of safeties on their roster beyond starting free safety Reggie Nelson, including the aforementioned Mays, Jeromy Miles, George Iloka, Robert Sands and Tony Dye, with Mays, Miles and Dye currently on the depth chart as strong safeties.
This is Mays' third year in the league. The knock against him in the previous two is that his mental game doesn't match his impressive physical attributes. As recently as last week, CBS Sports' Pete Prisco, who spent time at Bengals camp, said that Mays has looked stiff and struggled in coverage, and he doesn't think that Mays is necessarily the best answer at the position.
While acknowledging the Bengals have been impressed with Miles thus far, Prisco, suggests that perhaps a better option is for the team to move a cornerback to safety. They've apparently been experimenting with just that, putting Nate Clements at starting strong safety in some practices.
What the Bengals are looking for in a strong safety is a defender who can both stop running backs and defend receivers in coverage. Mays is good at the former, with great size and speed, but in the latter, he has trouble.
Clements is a great tackler, but he has lost some speed, which is a requisite for a cornerback. If the Bengals are looking to have their best defensive backs on the field, period, though don't necessarily think Clements can be as big of a factor as a corner, they may ultimately determine he's a better fit at safety than Mays.
Right now, Miles is getting work with the first team while Mays sits out after suffering a concussion in the Bengals' first preseason game. The circumstances in which Mays got the concussion—basically launching himself at New York Jets receiver Stephen Hill and hitting helmets with both Hill and another Bengals defender—also speaks to some of Mays' remaining issues with his fundamentals.
Miles spent the past two seasons primarily on special teams. Though he's practiced with both the first- and second-teams during camp, there hasn't been a lot worth noting except that the Bengals are confident in his ability to take on more responsibility.
Right now, the strong safety position isn't entirely settled. It's quite possible there could be a rotation at the position this season if no one separates himself. Mays could work on typical running downs and Clements in passing downs, with Miles coming in on occasion.
Second-year player Robert Sands could also find himself in the mix as well, especially if the Bengals keep putting him at strong safety during preseason games.
Though Mays still has the upper hand—as he's had since the beginning of camp—his grasp on the starting strong safety job has weakened some. If Clements gets more snaps at safety, Mays could slide down the depth chart.
It all depends on Mays' recovery from the concussion, how well he performs the next time we see him in a preseason game and the continued development of Miles and Sands, as well as how they want to use Clements, that will determine Mays' ultimate fate. With that many variables still very much in play, this positional battle is nowhere near over.