Taylor-made return

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Taylor Mays has 21 special teams tackles as a Bengal, as well as a blocked end-zone punt.

A few questions were answered Friday when Taylor Mays re-signed with the Bengals after a year hiatus.

"When you have a guy like that who can play safety and nickel linebacker and can do a lot of different things and help Darrin (Simmons) on special teams, he's a good guy to have," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "He's a value."

Take a look at the 2016 Bengals schedule in pictures.

So that's why the team did it. And this is why Mays, who agreed to the deal last month, came back to the team for which he played 50 games from 2011-14.

It seems he was a very interested observer of the Wild Card game against the Steelers and living and dying while watching guys like linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones.

"Regardless of what happened. Good or bad. You want to want to be there because those are your people," Mays said after signing what is believed to be a one-year deal. "That's what I was thinking about watching Pac, Tez, watching everybody.  Why not do it while you still can? This team can make run. We just have to figure out what to do differently."

The Bengals wanted to re-sign Mays after the 2014 season, but after he played just 61 snaps from scrimmage in 16 games in a specialty role, he says he was looking for more time.

It didn't come until his third try. Minnesota and Detroit cut him before he hooked on with Oakland, where he played 322 snaps in 14 games and five starts while in coverage on 68 percent of the snaps. He made just four starts for the Bengals in those 50 games.

"It's a hard thing to walk away from, but I was looking for a different opportunity," Mays said. "I still consider myself a safety. I was just trying to get a chance to play more and when I got to Oakland and settled in I had the opportunity to play linebacker and safety. That was a positive."

And he thought about re-signing in Oakland. "They're an up-and-coming team." But he couldn't but help notice his old mates and the feelings he had.

"Cincinnati is a legitimate team to host the AFC championship game and I saw that on TV watching the Bengals on TV last year," Mays said. "It's something I want to be a part of and hopefully contribute to. You gain an appreciation and understanding when you step back from it from the perspective of being on another team."

But Mays has to start the season with a four-game suspension, according to various reports that said he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy. Guenther, who broke him into the nickel role as the Bengals linebackers coach, still thinks he can help.

"He's going to have to work through that," Guenther said. "Hopefully he can nail down some spots in the spring and understand his role . . . He knows us, we know him. He's a guy that we're comfortable with and we know how we can use him."

That's another thing that drew Mays back to Cincy. The coaching. Guenther, he says, spent a lot of time with him devising different roles for him in different packages when he brought him down to linebacker.  At 6-3, 236 pounds, Mays has a unique blend of speed and size and it's a combination that Simmons has used on cover teams in the kicking game. In his 50 games with the Bengals, Mays has 21 special teams tackles. And in 2014 he blocked a punt out of the end zone for safety in the 33-23 win over Jacksonville.

"This is no reflection on anyone else," Mays said, "but there's no question that Darrin is one of the best special teams coaches in the league."

The Bengals have amassed what amounts to a 56-man roster instead of the 53-man roster they have to finalize the week of Opening Day. Also on the suspended list is Burfict (for the first three games), and veteran backup defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (ACL) is a candidate to miss the season's first six games on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).

Mays is the first unrestricted free agent to sign with the Bengals this season, which may or may not end up costing them a compensatory draft pick. But given it's not a big salary and he usually plays in sub packages, it may not impact the formula.

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