Thursday will be a significant date for Cinicinnati Bengals safety Taylor Mays for reasons beyond the fact the Green Bay Packers are visiting Paul Brown Stadium for a preseason game.
The day will mark the one-year anniversary of his trade from San Francisco, a blind-side hit that rattled Mays’ confidence and shook him from the west coast comfort zone.
“It was totally unexpected, and it was really tough for me to deal with at the time,” said Mays, a Seattle native and highly touted defensive back at USC whom the 49ers selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Mays played in all 16 games as a rookie in San Francisco, starting six, but after just 16 months the team had seen enough and dealt him to Cincinnati for a seventh-round pick.
The knock was that Mays, a two-time Washington state track champion in the 100 and 200 meters, was more of an athlete playing football than a true football player, a rap he has spent the last 365 days trying to disprove.
“I feel more confident,” Mays said. “Looking back, you kind of see it from the outside looking in. I’m more experienced and playing with a lot more confidence rather than just running around and relying on athletic ability.”
At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds with sprinter speed, Mays obviously has plenty of athleticism.
“I think Taylor has had a good camp and kickoff to the preseason,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “He just needs to keep moving forward.”
And watching where he ‘s going.
In two preseason games, Mays has injured three players – himself and two teammates, middle linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict.
Mays hit Rey Maualuga in the opener against the Jets, knocking his former USC teammate out of the game with a knee injury that also forced him to miss last week’s game in Atlanta and likely Thursday’s game against the Packers.
Later in the game against the Jets, Mays knocked himself out with a concussion while delivering a hit on wide receiver Stephen Hill. Then Thursday in Atlanta, he collided with Falcons tight end Michael Palmer at the same time as Burfict, hitting his rookie teammate in the helmet and knocking him out of the game with a concussion.
“Maybe there’s some things that he can keep working on in practice to make sure when he gets into the finish point of those plays that his head and eyes are staying up,” Lewis said. “He’s playing a position, I would say, where our guys are knocking the tail off of folks right now.”
Although he has started the first two preseason games, Mays is still in a battle with Jeromy Miles for the starting safety job opposite Reggie Nelson. Despite the friendly fire incidents, Mays has been impressive, as has Miles.
“I’d like to come out with one to start with and then figure it out from there,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t know yet. It’s still early. We’re looking at a lot of different combinations.”
Mays did not start at all last year following the trade, but he did appear in 10 games for the Bengals while adjusting to a new coaching staff, new teammates and new environment.
“Now that I’m here, I’m really happy,” he said. “I feel good on a day-to-day basis with the calls and doing what Zim wants me to do. That was the biggest thing, playing defense the way he wants me to play.
“I feel a lot better physically, but more mentally, which is a lot more important,” Mays added. “Because putting together the mental part means you can let the physical take over.”
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