For the next 11 days we're taking a look at Cincinnati Bengals who could be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble later this summer. These are players whom we think you should expect to see fighting for spots when the eventual 75-man preseason roster gets trimmed to the regular-season 53.
As permitted by league rules, the roster currently stands at 89.
In no particular order, we start this offseason bubble watch with safety Taylor Mays
Why he's on the bubble: Mays, like so many other potential bubble candidates, could fall victim to the numbers game this fall. There are simply too many safeties and not enough spaces for them all. Starters from the 2013 season, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, are obvious locks to be retained by the club this year, as is second-year safety Shawn Williams. Veteran Danieal Manning was added to the mix this offseason, giving the Bengals a measure of depth and experience at the position. Manning, too, could be fighting for a place on the team by the end of August, but I'm thinking right now that Mays would be the one to go if it came down to him and Manning. It's worth noting the Bengals carried five(ish) safeties much of last season. The "ish" is because Chris Crocker was added early in the season, coming out of retirement to primarily play a cornerback role. He ended the season playing a hybrid position that was more safety than cornerback.
Another reason Mays could be released? His contract. While he'll be well-compensated if he sees the full value of his $755,000 cap figure for the 2014 season, he was only given a guarantee of $40,000 when he signed a one-year deal earlier this offseason. If he gets cut, the Bengals will end up saving his entire $755,000 cap value. It wasn't the kind of deal that indicated much long-term belief in the 26-year-old safety.
What he has to do to get off the bubble: All he has to do, really, is play the way he did during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp this spring. Often during the practices that were open to media, co-defensive backs coach Mark Carrier could be heard on the sideline giving Mays measured encouragement. It seemed like Mays not only was in the right position more times than not, but he was executing just the way Carrier and other coaches wanted him to. Naturally, it's easy to look like you're doing the right things in shorts and a helmet. The real test will come for Mays when the pads come on.
Odds he makes the team: 50/50. He could give the Bengals a good lift off the bench at the position, and perhaps most importantly, he could give them a bigger body to shift from true safety and into a cover role if needed like last season. Part of the reason Mays saw the field regularly before his season-ending injury in Week 8 against the Jets was Cincinnati's lack of depth at linebacker. When Emmanuel Lamur, the Bengals' top cover linebacker went down with an injury in the preseason finale, the team needed someone with the size and athleticism to hang in the passing game with tight ends, running backs and receivers. Mays' versatility in that regard could make it a smart decision to keep him around.
Then again, it's all about numbers in the NFL each August, and Mays could be one of many to fall just over the team's limit.