AFC North: Tom Nelson

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each AFC North team. Today: Cincinnati Bengals.

This area of the Bengals' defense really worries me. There are a lot of players in the mix, but none excites me. Cincinnati would be wise to look at one of the many good free agents likely to be available.

Reggie Nelson played much better for the Bengals after coming over in a trade from the Jaguars, and the former first-round pick does have natural ability to patrol the deep portions of the field. Nelson should remain as the starting free safety given the status of the current roster, but he was such a liability in Jacksonville that it will take time to convince me he can be counted on.

Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White will be free agents in some form. Ndukwe is an average starting strong safety who is decent near the line of scrimmage but can be exposed in coverage. He does blitz well, though. White didn’t play a snap last season and was added to the roster only after Tom Nelson, who also made little impact, went on injured reserve.

Roy Williams and Gibril Wilson will also be free agents. They have some similarities -- both are much better near the line of scrimmage than in coverage. Williams didn’t play poorly for the Bengals, but he remains pretty much a one-dimensional run stuffer. Wilson never saw the field after blowing out his knee during the preseason.

Cincinnati drafted Robert Sands, an extremely tall safety prospect, to add depth and special teams help. Depending on how free agency goes, Sands could see the field sooner rather than later, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL

Bengals thin in the secondary

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
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The Cincinnati Bengals' injury woes continue in the secondary.

Starters Johnathan Joseph (ankle) and Chinedum Ndukwe (knee) are both scratches Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. That leaves backups Morgan Trent and Reggie Nelson to start at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Adam Jones was having a solid season as the third cornerback until a neck injury last week put him on injured reserve. Safety Roy Williams also is out with a knee injury. Look for Miami (3-3) to try to exploit the Bengals' (2-4) thin secondary Sunday.

Bengals trim roster to 75 players

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
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The Cincinnati Bengals cut their roster to the mandatory 75 players by making two moves Monday.

Cincinnati released fifth-year linebacker Rashad Jeanty in the "waived/failed physical" category. The Bengals also placed safety Tom Nelson on the physically unable to perform list, which makes him eligible to return in Week 7.

Cincinnati made its biggest cut Sunday by releasing receiver Antonio Bryant, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract in March.

Final Word: AFC North

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Larry French/Getty ImagesCoach John Harbaugh's Ravens have the inside track to a wild-card spot.


Ravens in control: The Baltimore Ravens are thanking the Indianapolis Colts this week for giving them possession of the final wild-card spot. Indianapolis’ 35-31 victory Thursday over the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-7) moved Baltimore (7-6) into the final AFC wild-card spot with three games left. They begin their final push Sunday in Baltimore against the Chicago Bears (5-8). The time on the game was moved from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. After that, they have road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7) and Oakland Raiders (4-9).

In memory of Henry: The Cincinnati Bengals are dedicating the remainder of the season to former receiver Chris Henry, who died Thursday following a domestic incident with his fiancée. The Bengals (9-4) will wear No. 15 helmet decals when they take the field this weekend against the San Diego Chargers (10-3). The winner of this game has the inside track to securing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Unknown replacement: Unless you watched HBO’s "Hard Knocks" series this summer, most fans are not familiar with Bengals safety Tom Nelson. The undrafted rookie was impressive in training camp and will get his first career start against San Diego. Veteran starting safety Chris Crocker re-injured his ankle in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings and is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks. Nelson draws a tough assignment right away with San Diego, which has an explosive receiving corps and one of the NFL’s top tight ends in Antonio Gates. Nelson has 12 tackles and one interception this season.

Battle of 3-4 defenses: Sunday’s game between the Steelers (6-7) and Green Bay Packers (9-4) will have an AFC North feel as both teams play 3-4 defenses. The Packers, who are playing the scheme for the first time under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, are actually ranked slightly ahead of Pittsburgh in total defense at No. 2. The Steelers are No. 4. Three of the four teams in the AFC North play a 3-4 scheme, with the only exception being the Bengals.

Going for two: It's been more than a year since the Cleveland Browns (2-11) won two games in a row. But they have a good chance to pull off the feat Sunday against the equally bad Kansas City Chiefs (3-10). The Browns, who beat the rival Steelers last week, last won two straight from Sept. 28-Oct. 13, 2008 (A bye week was in between the two victories). A win at Kansas City could end that lengthy drought and also give first-year coach Eric Mangini his first winning streak with the team.

Source: Crocker out 2-3 weeks

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
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I have some quick injury news to pass along within the division.

Crocker

Crocker

According to a source, starting safety Chris Crocker is expected to miss the next two to three weeks with an ankle injury. Crocker has been bothered by a bum ankle for a few weeks but re-injured it during Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Backup safety Tom Nelson filled in against Minnesota and is expected to start until Crocker returns.

The Bengals (9-4) will travel to play the San Diego Chargers (10-3) this weekend in a huge game that could determine the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Bengals-Vikings halftime notes

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
2:40
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MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Vikings lead the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-7, at intermission.

Here are some halftime observations:

  • Cincinnati’s pass protection hasn’t been great this year. But it is really getting exposed by Minnesota’s defense. The Vikings have one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, and they are winning a lot of battles up front on obvious passing downs. The Bengals likely will have to keep some tight ends and running backs in to help in the second half.
  • The Bengals are running the ball well, which has been their strength all season. Starting tailback Cedric Benson has 41 yards on seven carries and is averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. But the Bengals are behind and probably will need more big passing plays if they want to win this one.
  • Cincinnati has been very undisciplined when it comes to penalties. The Bengals have been flagged eight times already for 65 yards, and it’s come from the offense and defense. Many of these have been mental errors such as late hits or false starts.
  • Look for the Vikings to test Bengals backup safety Tom Nelson. Cincinnati starter Chris Crocker was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the first half, and Nelson is expected to play the rest of the game. The Bengals have struggled all year with slot receivers and tight ends.

Bengals' Crocker carted off the field

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
1:56
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Cincinnati Bengals starting safety Chris Crocker was carted off the field with an ankle injury.

Crocker had been bothered by a bum ankle during the week and was listed on the injury report. It turns out he couldn't make it through the first half on Sunday.

Tom Nelson is in the lineup in place of Crocker.

Bengals: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
5:02
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


Biggest surprise: Although I suggested this strategy as a possible solution earlier this week, I was still surprised to see the Bengals take my advice and cut two fullbacks in order to keep both DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard. Cincinnati now has four active tailbacks with Dorsey and Leonard to go along with starter Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott. All four have been solid in the preseason. Jeremi Johnson is the only fullback on the roster as the team cut both Chris Pressley and draft pick Fui Vakapuna. But Leonard is versatile and has the ability to be the backup at both fullback and tailback, which factored into the final decision.

No-brainers: Safety Marvin White had some potential, but coming off a major knee injury he got off to a slow start this year and fell behind a deep group of safeties in Cincinnati. Former 2008 draft pick Corey Lynch certainly wasn’t a no-brainer, but it was pretty clear that rookie free-agent safety Tom Nelson beat him out for one of the last roster spots. Receivers such as Freddie Brown and Maurice Purify never had a chance in Cincinnati, because the Bengals are just too deep at that position.

What’s next: With first-round pick Andre Smith recovering from a broken bone in his foot, the Bengals may scan the wires to see if an intriguing prospect or two surfaces on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Cincinnati also wouldn't mind retaining some of its younger players on the practice squad, such as Vakapuna and Pressley. Otherwise, the Bengals are set at most positions and shouldn’t have a lot of turnover before the start of the regular season.

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