Second-ary look

Posted Mar 21, 2012

Brandon Ghee

The Bengals are talking to running backs, defensive linemen, and tight ends, but they are almost filled up in the secondary as they head into the second week of free agency.

With cornerback Jason Allen in the fold and safety Reggie Nelson re-signed, the Bengals have 10 defensive backs under contract with five cornerbacks and five safeties. They usually bring about 14-15 DBs to training camp and they'll keep at least 10 in the final cut down to 53. They'll add some more, particularly at cornerback, but those figure to be low-level signings.

The Bengals are talking to cornerback Adam Jones about re-signing, which would give them six corners. Plus, the pundits are saying the Bengals will draft one and they'll probably sign a college free agent. It doesn't look like free agents Kelly Jennings, who they got in a trade last year, and Terence Newman, who visited this week, are on the front burner at the moment.

The Bengals usually keep six cornerbacks and four safeties on the final roster, although the presence of Allen gives them the luxury of going 5-5 because he can play both. They also figure to add a college free agent safety and could draft one as well as pick up another. But it looks like these five guys are the four or five that have the best shot to make it.

A look at the 10 DBs under contract:



LEON HALL, 5-11, 195,  sixth season with 67 starts in 73 games

Coming back from Achilles tear suffered Nov. 13 vs. Steelers…Rehab now consisting of on-field drills that include football skills such as back-pedaling…Aiming for return to practice first snap of training camp in late July…Question is how close he'll be to player that earned contract extension worthy of one of league's best corners before last season…Seeking better year than '11 even though he still finished as the team's highest-rated corner, 38th according to…Gave up just two TD passes in 8.5 games and 557 snaps and remains one of the NFL's most physical corners…Can also play inside in slot…Working on second year of five-year extension.

NATE CLEMENTS, 6-0, 200, 12th season with 159 starts in 165 games

One of best stories of many great stories in 2011…Finally played in first postseason game when signing gave the Bengals a lift in wake of Johnathan Joseph's departure…1,008 snaps were third most on team and most at cornerback…At 32 may not be able to run like old days, but not easy guy to get a completion on…According to, 51.9 percent of the 104 passes his way were completed in giving up four TDs…Also known as one of NFL's more physical corners, "Never Too Late Nate" had huge third-down stop with yard to spare in fourth quarter of comeback win over Bills…Blocked Adam Vinatieri's tying field goal attempt from 52 yards with 5:43 left in win over Colts and forced fumble at Tennessee 20 with less than four minutes left to preserve 21-17 lead…Also can play slot…In last year of two-year deal.

JASON ALLEN, 6-2, 200, seventh season with 23 starts in 94 games

Newest Bengal whose signing made official Monday…16th pick in '06 draft by Dolphins…Played against Bengals twice last season with Texans…Played about half the snaps with 508 and finished 44th in rankings, in the upper half of the league…Has 10 interceptions in the past two seasons…Played a lot of safety during first three seasons with Miami…Can play outside when Hall or Clements go inside…Reports have him signing two-year deal.

BRANDON GHEE, 6-0, 193, third season with no starts in 13 games


A big X-factor with only 11 NFL snaps despite being a third-round pick…Currently has edge for fourth corner spot….Could all change after the Bengals go into a draft everyone figures they are targeting corners…Development slowed by preseason head injury in rookie season eventually curtailed by groin injury….When pulled his hamstring in the first hours of last training camp couldn't get on field until preseason finale…Released at end of preseason, didn't get picked up, and Bengals were relieved they could put him on practice squad…Has physical tools, as they say, and appeared to be putting them together when promoted from practice squad last season…At the time then-secondary coach Kevin Coyle said, "I’ve seen his technique and competitiveness get better. What we haven’t seen is him doing it in a game. That’s something he’s going to have to prove when he gets out there. His coverage has been tighter. His understanding has been better than it’s ever been."…But ended up playing only two snaps from scrimmage after playing just 11 as a rookie…College tape says he can hit, stopwatch says he can run, but has to show he can stay healthy and technique sound…In third year of four-year deal.

RICO MURRAY, 5-11, 196, second season with no starts in nine games

Local product who refuses to go away…The Bengals have cut him five times but also signed him to the practice squad or roster eight times because they love his work ethic and knowledge of system as both corner and safety and work on special teams…Cut after played special teams in '11 opener when Bengals went with three TEs…Didn't get picked up, and was signed to PS week of Wild Card game to cover for injuries.



REGGIE NELSON, 5-11, 206, sixth season with 64 starts in 77 games

Signed biggest deal this season for free-agent safety on Monday…Reports put it at $4.5M per four years with $6.5M in '12…Revived career last season with team-leading 1,049 snaps in career-first 16 starts… ranked him 15th out of the 36 safeties that played at least 75 percent of snaps and graded him better against pass than run. Has been known to miss assignments (74-yard TD pass vs. Jacksonville), but a very athletic guy that comes up with big plays and a major signing for the Bengals…Led team with four interceptions.

CHRIS CROCKER, 5-11, 197, 10th season with 98 starts in 126 games

After playing more than 1,000 snaps last season, Crocker underwent knee procedure…Says it feels better than it has since season-ending injury in middle of 2010… ranked him 21st out of the 75-percenters…Kept the secondary together when Hall went down with ability to play slot corner…Knows Mike Zimmer's scheme inside-and-out…Turned 32 a couple of weeks ago and in last season of four-year deal….Experience and leadership extremely valued on a defense that has finished 12th, fourth, 15th and seventh since he's patrolled the middle.

TAYLOR MAYS, 6-3, 230, third season with six starts in 26 games

Pro Bowl athleticism…Played only 60 snaps after preseason trade with Frisco…Took time to get settled with scheme and knee injury suffered in his Bengals debut in preseason finale…Showed promise as season went on with more and more snaps, but missed last two games with hamstring injury…Got plenty of work as rookie…played 439 snaps for 49ers when ranked him 40th out of 85 safeties that played at least 25 percent of snaps…Former Bengal Madieu Williams, by the way, 84th on that list…Look for Mays to get a ton of snaps in the spring camps and preseason…No question he'll hit with eight special teams tackles last season in his 10 games...Has to show he can cover in Zimmer's scheme that needs strong and free to be interchangeable.


JEROMY MILES, 6-2, 210, third season with no starts in 22 games

College free agent from Massachusetts who has done it all on special teams with 20 tackles in those 22 games…Bengals nominee for Pro Bowl special-teamer last season…Five special teams tackles vs. Cleveland, most in one game in Marvin Lewis era…Has size and speed, but he's only played six snaps from scrimmage…Led the secondary with 12 tackles last preseason…Another guy that is going to get a ton of time in the spring and preseason from scrimmage…Especially since Bengals will want to go easy on Crocker's knee…As Navy transfer, team thinks he has the smarts.

ROBERT SANDS, 6-4, 209, first season with no starts in one game

Never got on the field, but team loves his size-speed ratio…Showed his range and hitting with 10 tackles in preseason…Played in several different spots in West Virginia's scheme, including edge rusher and linebacker on third down…Must show height won't hurt him in coverage…Classic young player with big upside.


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