Eight Bengals defensive backs were lost for the season because of injury or illness a season ago. Such upheaval doesn't help continuity in the secondary, but it does create opportunities for backups to step up, and such was the case with ex-Jaguars S Reggie Nelson, who's looking to move into a full-time starting role in 2011 after moving into the lineup late last season.
"I expect big things out of Reggie Nelson," Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle told PFW on June 9.
Nelson, a first-round pick in 2007, fell out of favor in Jacksonville because of inconsistent play, and Coyle wants him to be more steady. However, Nelson, who started six games in 2010 after being acquired in September, definitely made a positive impression. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated to Bengals.com in April that Nelson was expected to start opposite of Chris Crocker, and Coyle said that a starting role was there for the taking for Nelson.
Nelson could benefit from more experience in the defense, Coyle said, noting that Nelson "didn't have a lot of time to get familiar with the system" in 2010.
"He can make plays at a really high level," Coyle added.
Another defensive back who could contend for more playing time this season is CB Adam Jones, who could have a chance to start if Johnathan Joseph departs in free agency.
For Jones, who has "rare physical traits" and "football savvy," Coyle noted, the keys will be durability and soundness. Jones suffered a season-ending neck injury in his lone start in place of the injured Joseph last October.
"He has got to play with more discipline in his technique," Coyle said of Jones. "He has got to be more sound in his football mechanics. When he does play with that technique, he has exceptional closing ability and quickness."
Two traits Jones displayed last season, according to Coyle: coachability and competitiveness. Though Jones filled a reserve role a season ago, he has a starter's mentality, something Coyle likes.
"Adam's not the kind of guy who comes in here and thinks he should be a third corner," Coyle said.
Jones was one of more than 40 Bengals players who reportedly gathered in the Cincinnati area this past week for workouts. As the players try to stay sharp, so do the Bengals' coaches. According to Coyle, the Bengals' coaches have studied the team's performance from a season ago, analyzed video of 2011 opponents and looked closely at what other teams do well from a schematic standpoint. Coyle also has put together videos of his own players.
Like coaches and players around the league, Coyle waits for the lockout to end and for business to resume. When that happens, time will be of the essence for the Bengals' secondary, depleted by injuries a season ago but not lacking in talent.
"I really believe if we have what amounts to a good, consistent training camp we'll be able to do what we need to do to get our guys ready to compete at the level they need to compete at," Coyle said.