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Bengals' Mays starting to live up to the hype

By Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Dayton Daily News/Cox News Service

Strong safety Taylor Mays is starting to make headway with the Bengals after a disappointing start to his NFL career. The highly publicized USC product was drafted in the second-round by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 only to be traded to Cincinnati a year later, unable to live up to high expectations.

"Things were a little confusing for me in the beginning but I knew I had to keep fighting," Mays said. "I'm fortunate to be in a good situation now. I'm on a defense I fit into well. It does get tough sometimes with critics saying this and that, but I keep working on my craft trying to improve. The way I see it, I have to keep punching and continue to strive." Taylor Mays

Mays has been criticized for a lack of instinctive play, particularly in pass defense. This may have played a part in San Fran trading the once highly touted safety.

This season could be a turning point for Mays, who will have the opportunity to showcase his skills in a starting role at strong safety. He’s had a solid training camp and played well in two preseason games. His freakish athletic ability is gradually translating to the playing field, which the team had hoped.

"I’ve gotten better in many ways and playing smarter at the position," Mays said. "I have high expectations of myself to play well and get better. I still see areas where I can get better. I've made a lot of progress but there is progress to be made. I think that's what makes (defensive coordinator Mike) Zimmer a great coach because he keeps challenging you regardless if you play well. He expects more out of you always." 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Mays played in 10 games for the Bengals, totaling 10 tackles and one pass defended. He saw most of his action on special teams.  Mays is starting to grasp the defense this offseason after being forced to take baby steps last year due to the absence of Organized Team Activities caused by the lockout.

"It’s been a learning process but I feel a lot more comfortable in the defense," he said. "I think the biggest thing with me was being able to play with technique. OTAs helped me learn more of the defense. I didn't have that last year. Now I know what I need to do and how the coaches want me to play on defense."

Mays credits former Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle for teaching him discipline and improved technique. He said Coyle was hard on him and Zimmer has been just as tough with his teaching.

Cincinnati's offense receives much of the publicity due in large part to the early success of receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. Mays thinks it's about time the defense receives a little more credit.

"It's the heart and attitude of the defense that drives the team," Mays said. "Ultimately, I think that comes from our defensive coordinator regarding attitude. We set our standard to be the best defense we can be.  We're all buying into what Coach (Marvin) Lewis and Zim are teaching. That's discipline and dominance. For me, I want to help this team in the biggest way. I want to let the guys on this team know they can rely on me. I'm here to win and win for my teammates."