The defensive back position might be the most difficult to figure out heading into the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals season. On paper, there is certainly talent in the defensive backfield. However, the unit has struggled to establish an identity over the past few seasons.
The Bengals defense starts up front with a strong defensive line, but the secondary will need to step up for the defense to be considered dominant. Mike Zimmer likes to take chances on defense and often relies on his defensive backs to execute in one on one coverage.
The corners should be a strength for the Bengals in 2013. Veteran Leon Hall is considered one of the top corners in the league and will be asked to defend the opposing teams number one receiver. Hall bounced back nicely last year from a torn achilles and continues to be very effective against the run.
Terence Newman will begin the season as the number two corner. However, at 34 years old Newman could be pushed by the younger and quicker Dre Kirkpatrick. Newman provides strong veteran leadership on the outside and was a solid contributor in 2012. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate those efforts this season or if age has finally caught up to him.Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones will see a lot of action in the nickel package to start the season. Kirkpatrick missed the majority of 2012, but all reports indicate a solid performance throughout training camp.
Adam Jones was an unsung hero throughout the 2012 season. He has become a very reliable player and there is no doubt he will be counted on this season.
With four capable corners, the Bengals should feel good about the talent and depth at the position. Kirkpatrick is the X factor and still has a lot to prove after being selected in the first round of last years NFL Draft. He’s arguably the teams most talented defensive back, but he needs to remain healthy to prove his value.
The safety position is a different story for the 2013 Bengals. The free safety position belongs to Reggie Nelson. Nelson has been extremely productive over his past two seasons in Cincinnati and seems to have found a home in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Nelson tied for the team lead in interceptions last year and ranked third in tackles while missing two games.
While he is very effective against the run and has a knack for making big plays, Nelson occasionally gets beat badly in coverage. If Nelson can became more consistent in coverage, he should garner some Pro Bowl attention in the 2013 season.
Strong safety looks to be an open race nearly two weeks before the season opener. George Iloka appeared to have the inside track before breaking a bone in his hand while punching a fellow teammate in the helmet. It looks like Iloka should be ready for the season opener, but there is no doubt the time off due to injury will cost him some playing time.
Taylor Mays got the start in the second preseason game and looked very average. Mays is a frustrating player for fans and coaches alike. He seems to make great plays followed immediately by very bad plays. He also loves his girlfriend and talking about superpowers.
The other option at strong safety is rookie Shawn Williams. Williams looked very good in the second preseason game and recorded 10 tackles. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals handing the starting job to a rookie.
It should be a battle between Mays and Iloka for the starting job throughout the rest of training camp with Williams pushing them to be their best. There is no doubt the Bengals will need consistency from the strong safety position to have a successful season in 2013.
The secondary certainly has the talent to be an elite group. The key component will be consistency. They gave up far too many big plays last season and too often allowed opposing quarterbacks to settle in and pick them apart. The combination of veteran leadership from Leon Hall and Terence Newman should help the unit bounce back from last season and hopefully become a key ingredient for a dominant defense.