Updated: 4 p.m.
George Iloka had the Bengals starting strong safety job until he did what he now calls "probably the most regretful thing I've ever done and I've done some dumb things. But this is the most regretful in terms of consequences."
The consequences of the punch to the helmet of rookie linebacker Jordan Campbell that broke Iloka's right hand in practice last week went beyond missed snaps in his furious battle with Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams. But they also included an apology to head coach Marvin Lewis that turned into a coast-to-coast mea culpa on Tuesday's episode of Hard Knocks on HBO.
"See what again? I don't have HBO. My agent just told me. I didn't know (Lewis's) office was bugged. I just went over there on my own," Iloka said. "It is what is. It's a learning experience. I'll learn from it and grow and get better. I'm not too concerned. When I get back I'll make plays like I was before."
That remains to be seen. He's working out in practice during individual drills, but it's doubtful he'll play the last two preseason games and says he'll be back in 18 days for the opener in Chicago. Iloka is currently working in a brace and says he has no plans to wear a cast.
"If I woke up tomorrow and it didn't feel the way it does like right now, I would be playing. Right now I can't do much with it," Iloka said. "We still have two and a half weeks, three weeks to the opener. I'm confident I'll be back. Couldn't put a cast on it. I don't know how effective you'd be with a cast. I've got to grab, get off blocks. I just have to get to the point where it's manageable and I can still perform all right. That's what I plan on doing."
Iloka got tangled up with Campbell running down the field on special teams in a stalemate. It looked like Campbell was fighting to stop Iloka from grabbing his facemask.
"The first few days, I had evil thoughts running through my head. I was just (mad). I have to control that side of me. I can't let it get the best of me. I immediately knew I was wrong," said Iloka, who indicated he's had little to say to Campbell. "No, I didn't talk to him about it. It's football. I knew I was wrong in terms of letting a lot of people down because guys are counting on me. Putting everybody in a tough position."
Iloka made it sound pretty natural to walk into the head man's office.
"You make a mistake. I own up to it and you get a chance to get it better and make it right. That's all I wanted to do," he said. "Let him know it was my mistake and that I plan on coming back as fast as I can and making up for it. That wasn't the tough part. The tough part is watching people practice. I didn't miss a practice last year, so this is new to me, rehabbing on the side. That's the tough part: watching it and not being able to practice."
Iloka played in every game at Boise State and didn't miss a practice last season, when he made the roster out of the fifth round and played in seven games.
"Time will tell; it shouldn't affect me," Iloka said, "But I'm mad at myself that I let my emotions get the best of me for three to five seconds. It can alter a lot. Now it just has to heal and get back and play and everybody will forget about it."
MAYS AGAIN:** The main beneficiary of Iloka's regrets should be Mays, the most seasoned of the trio vying for that safety spot. But Friday marks the second anniversary of the trade that brought Mays to town from the 49ers for a seventh-round pick and the spot is still up for grabs. Hard Knocks probably summed up best Tuesday night his chase to nail down the job:
Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Complete with a sound bite from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer asking Mays to read his keys and not be so aggressive biting on the ball.
"I don't know if it was summed up really accurately. There's obviously truth to that," Mays said. "It's football. I don't really expect myself to play perfect. I just expect myself to get better. So I feel good with that, as long as I'm getting better."
Mays is adamant. He said Wednesday he feels like he's good enough to start and that at age 25, he's ready.
"I think I'm good enough to be a starting safety in the NFL. We've got a lot guys here that can play, not just at safety but at corner. I'm just going to work on my craft and I know at some point it will take care of itself," Mays said. "I feel like I'm better than I was last year … I have a better understanding of the game. The older you get, the more it slows down. I just feel like a better ball player because I know more. I think that's something you have to experience to understand. You have to go through plays and have done it for a little while. So now I'm kind of getting to that point."
Even with Iloka's fast start and Mays's four seasons of experience, both may be just keeping the spot warm for Williams, the third-round pick from Georgia that has flashed while gaining experience and looks to be getting closer to getting it. To Mays's credit, he seems to have picked out the biggest difference between him and Williams. The knock on Mays has always been that while he is so physically gifted and such a great try-hard kid, the football instincts haven't flowed as freely as the athleticism.
"I like Shawn's game. I like the way he plays," Mays said. "He has a natural football instinct that's something you really can't teach. I never really saw myself as somebody who would try to coach up other players. Terence Newman is one of those guys. Leon (Hall) is one of those guys. But I see Shawn going through some of the same things that I was going through, so I just try to help him just like other guys have helped me throughout my career."
MAYS APPLAUDS: The good-natured Mays took rookie wide receiver Roy Roundtree's lethal imitation of him in the Rookie Show in stride. Mays is used to getting ripped for the alleged pride he takes in his physique, but Roundtree took it to a new level dressing up in what could have passed for a ballerina's outfit and going through drills like one.
"It was good. They got me. I'm going to get him back at some point. I might try to hurt him. I'm going to go after him. We'll see," Mays said. "It was really creative. They made some good jokes, where you can make the joke but it's still OK because the person can laugh at it. It's kind of like, 'Do you make fun of these guys? Are they going to get mad?' It's good because it shows that guys can work really hard and then have fun and laugh. Just kind of take a load off and have some fun. I think that's important."
Mays gave it his seal of approval:
"I don't think he was trying to go too far. I thought it was funny." WASHOUT:It doesn't happen very often and some of the coaches who have been with Lewis the longest wondered as they walked off the practice field if he had ever done it. With lightning looming on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields Wednesday, Lewis suspended practice about a half-hour into the workout and called his club to reconvene on the stadium practice field at 2 p.m. after a brief respite in the locker room. But after more weather moved in, he pulled them off that field, too, and took it inside to the gym for extended walk-throughs
When the team took the field, left end Carlos Dunlap was in the required shoulder pads and helmet, suggesting he may be on track for Saturday's third preseason game (8 p.m.-Cincinnat's Channel 12) in Dallas as he recovers from a concussion. But for the second straight day of this practice week, defensive veterans James Harrison, Robert Geathers, Adam Jones and Brandon Ghee didn't work with unknown but seemingly minor injuries that may keep them out Saturday but not out of the Sept. 8 opener in Chicago. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) also sat out practice, his first miss since coming back last week.