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Young Secondary Continues to Impress for the Cincinnati Bengals

cincinnati bengals young secondary

The early portion of Zac Taylor’s tenure as head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals was marked by a heavy reliance on free agency on the defensive side of the ball. This was especially notable in the secondary, where starters Vonn Bell, Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton, and Eli Apple were all acquired outside of the draft.

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The last two offseasons showed a notable shift in this approach, as the team knew they needed to focus their money on upcoming deals for the offensive side of the ball. The 2022 and 2023 NFL Drafts saw the addition of Dax Hill, Tycen Anderson, Jordan Battle, Cam Taylor-Britt, DJ Turner, and DJ Ivey. This offseason also saw the exodus of many of the veterans in the secondary, with Bell, Apple, and Jessie Bates III all finding new homes.

With the Super Bowl window wide open for the Bengals, that means the team will need the rookies and second-year players to step up and take over key roles. Midway through the preseason, this approach appears to be paying off as the young secondary continues to impress for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Young Secondary Takes the Spotlight in Preseason

Cam Taylor-Britt

Taylor-Britt joined the team in 2022 as a second-round pick. The team traded up to select him at 60th overall, something they do notoriously rarely. Unfortunately, an abdomen injury knocked him out of camp and lingered into the regular season. He didn’t make his debut until Week 7. After Awuzie went down with a torn ACL in Week 8, he wound up starting nine games. He struggled out of the gate but improved as the season went on. He started all three games in the postseason as well. Taylor-Britt was especially impressive against the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

Coming into this season he has the starting role opposite Awuzie locked down. He has talked about the challenge of facing the team’s elite wide receivers on a daily basis in camp and how he aims to use that to become a better cornerback on game day. There are a lot of signs pointing to him taking that next step as a player. It’s not farfetched to see him enter 2024 as the team’s number-one cornerback with Awuzie in the final year of his contract.

D.J. Turner

Turner also arrived as a second-round pick from the 2023 draft, being selected at pick….60. During the draft process speed was his calling card. This was best seen when he posted a 4.26 40-yard dash a the 2023 combine. This was good enough to not only top all other invitees; but was the fifth-best time ever recorded at the yearly event. That speed, and his instincts, have been on display so far in camp. Turner has impressed the most in training camp of all rookies for the Bengals.

On the field, he earned the highest grade from PFF of all Bengals’ rookies in week one against the Green Bay Packers. He had multiple pass breakups and received a top-10 coverage grade among all cornerbacks across the league. The matchup against the Atlanta Falcons did not produce the same results, but he looks to have already secured his spot as the first outside cornerback on the field should Awuzie or Taylor-Britt miss time. If Awuzie does in fact leave in free agency next year, then Turner would be the presumed starter opposite Taylor-Britt.

D.J. Ivey

Unlike the two above, D.J. Ivey comes to the team as a seventh-round pick. It is a tall order to make an NFL roster from the back of the draft, but Ivey has a genuine chance. The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. currently has him making the cut as the final cornerback over veteran Sidney Jones and Allan George.

Like Turner, he has impressed in camp. Especially so when considering the normal expectations for a seventh-round pick. He has shown great coverage skills and turned in a great interception in the team’s annual Back Together practice. Ivey did struggle a bit on the field in preseason Week 1 against the Packers. He got burned on a long pass play and committed a holding penalty on another.

In Week 2, however, he showed improvement, and his key stop late against the Falcons most certainly caught the coaches’ eyes. He’s not a lock to make the roster but at minimum is firmly in the conversation. Ivey is also not a slot cornerback, so that may give the edge to Davis or George to be the last cornerback on the roster. Both players have been working as the backup to Mike Hilton. But the team may also see Ivey as a player too risky to cut and stash on the practice squad. Even more so if he continues to impress.


Our Drew Crabtree wrote a great summation of the Bengals’ situation at safety recently.

Dax Hill and Tycen Anderson both shined in preseason Week 1 and continued this with solid performances in Week 2. Hill is solidified as the starter at free safety coming into the season. The challenge for Hill will be replacing the rangy, deep coverage role that Bates occupied during his five seasons in stripes. Last year saw Hill moved all over defense – playing inside and outside and cornerback and both safety positions. The coaching staff has expressed nothing but confidence in his ability to take over the spot. So far his play has done nothing but back that up.

Anderson may slide into the third safety/swiss army knife role that Hill occupied last year. Anderson’s missed rookie season made many forget that he is a freak athlete. He registered a 9.64 RAS, and his play in preseason has shown off the speed and explosion indicated by such.

At strong safety, fifth-year veteran Nick Scott seems set to take over the starting role. However, Jordan Battle has certainly entered his name into the competition. The four-year starter out of Alabama was a captain in Nick Saban’s defense. He has drawn praise from coaches and teammates for his leadership and effort in camp thus far. Scott didn’t play in week one and was underwhelming in week two against the Falcons, logging a poor 29.1 PFF grade. Battle earned 56.2 and 51.9 scores from PFF for the two contests. As it stands the most likely outcome will see Hill and Scott starting with Anderson and Battle backing them up. But the team should have confidence in their depth at the position with what they’ve seen from the two young safeties.

Main Image: The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK


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