Skip to main content

Inside job


 Josh Shaw is comfortable all over.

Josh Shaw, who married his high school sweetheart on an Ohio riverbank three months ago with fellow Bengals safety Shawn Williams and his fiancée as witnesses, has had a dizzying honeymoon in front of everyone.

It began a week later in the voluntary camps as one of the Bengals backup safeties. It careened into Detroit last week in the second pre-season game, where he lined up as their starting slot cornerback, and on that same night it edged outside for a few more snaps at cornerback.

There is some concern they've done him no favors by making him play so many different spots in his second NFL season. But Shaw has a smile and a resume that tells you things have been tougher than this.

"In this business," Shaw said before Wednesday's practice, "the more you can do the better on a team like this. I think we've got a very good shot this year with the talent in this locker room. I just want to contribute however I can."

Shaw got a battlefield promotion into the slot when Darqueze Dennard went down with an ankle injury in the first few days of camp and hasn't been seen since. It's not a new gig for him. Last season Shaw got the call in Cleveland late in the year when Leon Hall couldn't play. But when he got about the same amount of heavy work in Detroit last week, it was on a much different landscape with Hall now a Giant and the nickel the most expensive question in a secondary they kept relatively intact by committing nearly $75 million in extensions during the offseason.

 "In the slot there a couple of us that haven't done it, to be quite frank with you," Shaw said with his customary crispness.

So far, his reviews have been cautiously optimistic. At 6-1 with 200 pounds of athletic hips, Shaw is one of that rare breed big enough to hit and fast enough to cover. A gold mine in the golden age of the forward pass.

One of the men who runs things back there, fifth-year safety George Iloka, on his first year of a $30 million deal, broke in with two nickel corners that knew the position inside and out (no pun intended) in Hall and Chris Crocker.

And in Shaw Iloka sees a lot of physical gifts in a guy bigger than both Crocker and Hall and with a similarly tough mindset.

"He has the skills set, he has the instincts. He's bigger than Leon. How far he goes is based on what he does, Iloka said. "He could be a very good nickel for us.

"Josh has done a good job taking things in stride. He doesn't make the same mistake twice," Iloka said. "He's young in terms of playing the nickel position in this defense and I've been impressed with how fast he's picked it up and probably the coaches are, too. He's out there playing fast. That's one thing he does. Right or wrong. Even if it's not exactly how they drew it up, he runs around and he makes plays."

Crocker and Hall have a special place in the scheme of coordinator Paul Guenther. The ability to have two versatile guys like that in the slot against multiple receivers sets allowed them to do so many things when it comes to giving a myriad of looks. They keep bringing back Crocker, twice off the couch in September of 2012 and 2013, and this July as a coaching intern. They almost brought back Hall despite two reconstructed Achilles and back surgery before he opted for New York just before training camp started last month.

When Shaw watches tape of Crocker, he sees three different numbers in stripes: 42, 33, 32. Shaw had to agree.

"I guess if you can play the slot, you can keep playing," he said.

 Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle, who broke in Crocker and Hall, says they're going to use a three-pronged attack in the slot this year. Depending on down and distance, the situation in the game, the opponent, and matchup, they'll respond with Shaw, Dennard, or Chris Lewis-Harris.

It's what they did when Hall and Crocker played together for six years. In the same game, Hall could play the slot and Crocker could be at safety and then it could morph into Crocker in the slot and Hall moving outside to corner.

"There's not a starting 11 on defense," Coyle said. "There's 13, 14, 15 guys that are going to be regulars according to the situation. Josh is a versatile guy and he's going to be an integral part of what we'll do."

There'll be more than a glimpse of that Sunday night in Jacksonville (8-Cincinnati's Channel 5) when the Bengals secondary gets a dose of the high-flying Jaguars offense. Shaw has the size to be effective facing double tight end sets and they should see plenty of those as the Jags try to break in their prized free agent from the Broncos, Julius Thomas.  

Shaw also may match up against his old friend from USC in the slot, wide receiver Marquise Lee.

Iloka realized just how much he had taken Hall for granted early in this training camp when Dennard was healthy.

"There was a blitz we always called and the way Leon and I ran it, it wasn't the way it was drawn up. We had made some adjustments," Iloka said. "I just assumed they would know. I was like, 'You're supposed to know.' And I have to give Quez a shout out. He said, 'Man, you've been working with Leon.' That made me realize, 'I just can't assume certain things.' Since then I try make sure we're on the same page. Right or wrong."

Sine Shaw is one of these coachable guys, you didn't have to tell him twice to watch film of Hall. He may have seen more of Hall than his bride Angela Chilton during this honeymoon.

"You have to watch Leon. Leon was in the system for a long time and he did an unbelievable job in there in the slot," Shaw said. "Leon was smart. A lot of times he knew what was happening before the play. And I'm lucky now because I've got George and (cornerback Adam Jones) alerting me how to react to certain things."

When it comes to Hall, Shaw is watching how he played his leverage in the slot. To him, that's the key to the position.

"Each day you get more and more comfortable,' Shaw said. "You have to have leverage because you're not split wide like a corner. You're in between the numbers and the hash. You have to know your help. It could be a safety, a linebacker, sometimes a defensive end. Just knowing where your help is tells you exactly how to play."

Shaw has been as advertised since they nearly traded up to get him in the fourth round in 2015. Studious, smart, athletic as all get out. A guy who acts like he was a captain for a big program. After being at the center of one of that draft's most bizarre stories, "it's like it never happened," says one Bengals insider.

It occurred two years ago while he was attempting to avoid police who had been called to investigate a possible domestic violence incident at his apartment after a neighbor heard Shaw arguing with Angela.  Shaw jumped from a balcony and sprained both ankles. He told his coaches and teammates he leaped to save his drowning nephew, a story he later recanted. He admitted he didn't want the coaches to find out what had happened in what he admitted was a mistake.  It was costly. Several games, his captaincy at USC, and his college position coach believes, a first-round selection.

"I've got nothing but great things to say about him,' said Coyle, who wasn't here when they drafted him. "He's committed, he wants to do well. He studies. He's been great to be around."

Which is what the Bengals thought when they did their research and then stalked him in the draft. And there are some plays that are drawn up and come through.

Along with the honeymoon, he and Angela are also enjoying their three-month-old daughter and are planning a more elaborate wedding next offseason in Las Vegas.

"We've known each other a long time,' Shaw said. "Since sophomore year in high school. She's my backbone. She's very special. It got to the point where when I knew I could provide for her, I would pop the question."

Now he seems ready to answer a few questions.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.