You can throw another name into the wide-open battle for the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting strong safety spot.
George Iloka, a second-year player out of Boise State, has been taking most of the reps with the first team since the last week of OTAs and the first two days of minicamp this week.
“There’s nothing to read into it yet,” said Iloka, who was drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round last year. “But I know the strong safety position hasn’t really been quite solidified since I’ve been here, so it’s an open competition.
“I’ve been having a good spring and running with the ones since last week,” Iloka added. “It feels good because all the work I did in the offseason and as far as learning the playbook and learning my techniques, its showing.”
The 6-foot-4, 225 Iloka appeared in seven games last year as a rookie. He played exclusively on special teams, never taking a snap on defense.
His competition for the spot includes:
- Taylor Mays. The 6-3, 230-pound Mays came to the Bengals in an August 2011 trade with the San Francisco 49ers. The four-year veteran from USC appeared in all 16 games last year with three starts while registering 21 tackles.
- Jeromy Miles. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts in 2010, the 6-2, 210-pound Miles played in all 16 games last year with one start. He excelled on special teams, ranking second on the team with 15 tackles.
- Shawn Williams. The 6-foot, 213-pound rookie from Georgia was the Bengals’ third-round pick this year. He’s been slowed by a hamstring injury during OTAs and minicamp.
“George Iloka has really stepped things up, and we’ve been excited about the things he’s doing,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Shawn Williams was slowed a little bit by a hamstring, so he didn’t do as much work over the last (few weeks). Taylor Mays is in the same situation – he’s got to go out and do it against guys with different colored helmets. The same with Jeromy Miles.”
Mays has the most experience of the four. After getting drafted in the second round by the 49ers in 2010, he appeared in 16 games with six starts as a rookie. But he played in only 10 games the following year with no starts and eventually was traded to the Bengals.
He echoed Iloka’s assertion that it’s still early and said he’s confident he can contribute.
“Things are going well,” May said. “I’m getting a lot of work. I feel good. I feel like I am moving better than I was before. I’m a little lighter. I feel like I am backpedaling better and there are plays where I can tell the difference.”
Miles isn’t getting as many snaps, but said he’s not discouraged.
“They say make your reps count, so that’s what I’m trying to do every time I go out there, make sure I do something to get noticed,” he said. “I’ve tried to work more on coverage. I feel like tackling and things like that are pretty natural, but coverage, I’ve been working with more cornerbacks and working on coming out of my break and transitioning. Hopefully it will show as we keep progressing through this offseason.”
For Williams, there is less urgency. As a third-round pick, he’s unlikely to be cut.
“I’m trying to pick up and learn as much stuff as I can, just learning off everyone,” he said. “They’re good guys who are helping me out.”
When minicamp ends this afternoon, the players will go their own ways for six weeks before returning for training camp, when the competition will get more serious with addition of pads and contact.
“I know it’s a long road,” Iloka said. “I have to make sure I can be that guy they can count on and trust to make the play. Its my play to make if I’m going to be out there with the ones when the season starts.”