The Bengals have a surefire starter at free safety in Reggie Nelson.
The picture at strong safety is less clear.
According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals have split first-team reps between veterans George Iloka and Taylor Mays and rookie Shawn Williams early in camp. Reedy reports that Mays has generally been the first safety to get 11-on-11 snaps of the trio, but all are getting their chances.
“They have a good competition. Each guy is trying to earn their spot and its good,” Bengals defensive backs coach Mark Carrier told the Enquirer.
Mays, 25, started the 2012 season-opener at Baltimore at strong safety, but the Bengals explored other options thereafter, giving Jeromy Miles and Nate Clements looks at the position before finally giving the job to Chris Crocker for the bulk of the regular season. Clements and Crocker are unrestricted free agents, which would seem to signal the Bengals would like to go younger at this spot.
Iloka, a second-pro from Boise State, appeared in seven games as a reserve as a rookie. Williams is the new face, a third-round pick from Georgia, a school the club has drafted from with great success in the Marvin Lewis era.
This is an important season for Mays, who’s in the last year of his contract. A breakthrough season could be a career-changer for him. However, the Enquirer‘s report on the strong safety reps thus far would seem to indicate he’s one of multiple options right now.