Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 5/21/13
CINCINNATI Remember those days back in school when teachers would assign work over the summer break? Despite how sure we all were that it was just a form of adult torture as they attempted to ruin our summers with reading and review, turns out they actually wanted us to be as ready as possible for that next school year. Welcome to the start of the Bengals organized team activities. Tuesday morning, which did its best imitation of a July training camp day with its mid-80s temperature and warm breeze of humidity coming off the Ohio River, was the first day back to on-field school for the team. The Bengals return all 11 starters on offense and nine starters on defense as well as a multitude of backup players who saw significant time last season. As quarterback Andy Dalton put it: Theres not a whole lot of teaching and getting used to new guys in there. Weve got a nice core group here. Now its just perfecting the little things. One of those two defensive spots without a returning starter is the safety spot next to Reggie Nelson. On the depth chart its the strong safety position that Chris Crocker has occupied for the past few seasons but in reality the Bengals dont see a big difference in the traditional free safety and strong safety. The spots are interchangeable in the scheme of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and whoever is playing had better be able to cover as well as play the run. Nelson has quietly become one of the better safeties in the NFL since arriving via trade from Jacksonville at the start of the 2010 season. Hes had nine interceptions, broken up 24 passes and forced six fumbles in the past three seasons as well as been one of the leading tacklers on the team. It was Nelsons interception of a Ben Roethlisberger pass late in the game at Pittsburgh last December 23 that led to the winning field goal in a 13-10 victory against the Steelers that clinched a second straight playoff berth. He is a ball hawk who will come out and hit you, said wide receiver A.J. Green, who sees his share of safeties with all of the double-team and exotic defensive looks he attracts. He has got a nose for the ball. He can hit, he can come down and fill in the gap. He can get interceptions. He can do a lot of things. What the Bengals are looking for is someone to grab the starting role next to Nelson. Theyve got a bevy of candidates, starting with third-round pick Shawn Williams out of Georgia and fourth-year player Taylor Mays. Whoever is in there we expect you to match the level of the other guys in the huddle, said defensive backs coach Mark Carrier. Its there to take but weve got to see the full slate, see the full package and see how it fits with our team. They all know whoever the guy is, or is not the guy, weve all got to get better. Williams started 30 of 54 games during his career at Georgia and impressed the Bengals coaches and scouts with his headiness on the field to go along with the versatile talent they seek. Mays is a player theyve been waiting on the past couple of seasons since acquiring him at the end of the 2011 preseason in a trade with San Francisco. A former second-round draft choice out of Southern California, he started three times last season but never found that groove that kept him consistently in the lineup. Mays is one of those players who spent time going back over his season performance, watching the film and taking to heart the critiquing he got from coaches. The season was up-and-down but one thing Zim said to me was that you have to be a pro at all times regardless of what is happening, said Mays. I didnt necessarily agree with everything last year but Zim is a hell of a coach and I believe in him as a coach. I believe in myself as a player so Ive got to keep on pushing. I feel like Zim wants me to be a really good player and that says a lot coming from him because he doesnt really say things just to say them. I want to be a good player for myself and for this team. Mays spent the offseason in California working to improve his flexibility and techniques like back-pedaling. He said he's dropped some weight from the 230 pounds he was listed at last season. He wants to be able to move around the field better. Hes always had the athleticism but how does that translate over to the football field? I think thats what hes beginning to understand, said Carrier. Hes starting to understand how to play with his ability, with what he does well and what he doesnt do well. Hes understanding that just because youre an athlete that doesnt make you a player. You have to understand the nuances, the mindset, the recognition. Hes growing up where his mind is starting to expand and understand that there are a lot of things that I can do but I have to start learning them, and seeing them beforehand and reacting to them.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Hit Stick: What is the one sports video game fans need to buy this holiday?
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Dorial Green-Beckham fined for wearing non-charity Yeezy cleats

Chargers GM won’t commit to Mike McCoy’s return in 2017

Report: Police close to arresting Matt Barnes for alleged assault

Carmelo: Cryptic Instagram posts were about Phil Jackson

DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors won’t go away

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

NFL folks think Jabrill Peppers ‘more hype than substance'?

Joe Haden: Winless Browns the 'laughingstock of every joke’

Did Del Rio give Reid the stink eye after Thursday’s game?

Lane Kiffin reportedly believed Houston job was his

Harbaugh stands by claim Pats broke rules in 2015 playoff game

Green, Durant laughed at Jazz coach for not surrendering

Why UCLA's Lonzo Ball is the most interesting player in college hoops

The NBA goes courtside to curbside: Drinks and rides for discerning fans

The best (and worst) times athletes hosted 'SNL'

CFB Crash Course, Graduation: Final grades and awards

NHL All-Star Game fans are in search of another John Scott

Box Score 12/9: Carey Price has had enough of your nonsense

MLB Winter Meetings, Day 4: News, notes and rumors

Matt Ryan is now Mr. Pick-Two

Ten most significant developments of the NBA season

Ten bold predictions for NFL Week 14

Sporting life: Gifts for the fan who is always on point

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 3: News, notes and rumors

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Why UCLA's Lonzo Ball is the most interesting player in college hoops

The NBA goes courtside to curbside: Drinks and rides for discerning fans

CFB Crash Course, Graduation: Final grades and awards

The five best (and worst) times athletes hosted 'SNL'

NHL All-Star Game fans are in search of another John Scott

Sporting life: Gifts for the fan who is always on point

Matt Ryan is now Mr. Pick-Two

MLB Winter Meetings, Day 4: News, notes and rumors

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 3: News, notes and rumors

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker