American Football

2023 Bengals Position Preview: Safeties

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NFL: JAN 15 AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Ravens at Bengals
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The future looks bright at safety.

“Come and knock on our door. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Three’s Company as the Cincinnati Bengals look to completely revamp their safety room, replacing Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell with Dax Hill, Nick Scott, and Jordan Battle.

We all love Bates, but we all knew that the 2022 season would be his last with the club. If there was any doubt, it was eliminated when the team drafted Hill to replace him in the first round, not unlike when Mr. Roper got his own spinoff and was replaced by the legendary Don Knotts on Three’s Company.

Vonn Bell, however, was a surprising loss, just like Suzanne Somers’ sudden departure from the aforementioned sitcom.

The surprises continued as the Bengals signed free agent Nick Scott rather than his better-known teammate Taylor Rapp. Most Bengals fans figured that would be it in terms of additions at the safety position.

While the national media frequently mocked safeties to the Bengals in their draft projections, we scoffed, thinking the team was all set with Hill and Scott. Ironically, the only safety I seriously considered as a Bengals draft prospect was Sydney Brown, a Philadelphia Eagle draftee and twin-brother of new Bengals running back, Chase Brown.

We were wrong.

The Bengals added Jordan Battle in Round 3. Despite the media believing the Bengals had a need at safety, Battle was not a player who had been linked to the team. Yet, once he was drafted, it came out that they absolutely loved him in the pre-draft process. Their meeting with him was reportedly incredible, as he dug so deep into the minutia of the Alabama defense that the allotted time flew by.

So what does it all mean?

While the Bengals lost proven and highly talented veterans, they added players with the traits and intangibles they are looking for.

Step aside Jack Tripper, Janet Wood, and Chrissy Snow. Three’s Company in Cincinnati with Dax Hill, Nick Scott, and Jordan Battle in the secondary.

Departures:

  • Jessie Bates
  • Vonn Bell
  • Brandon Wilson

Key Additions:

  • Nick Scott (free agent)
  • Jordan Battle (Third-Round NFL Draft Pick)

The Cast

With experience and talent at the safety position, the Bengals chose to play it slow with 2022 rookie Dax Hill. Now with Bates and Bell gone, the pressure will be on Hill to show why he was deserving of the Bengals’ top draft pick a year ago.

Hill got all of the reps as the starting free safety during Bates’s camp holdout. During the season, he saw limited action on defense. He played some safety and started a game at nickel corner late in the year. This experience will serve him well, giving him true command of the defense as he looks to take over as the starter in 2023. Hill is an excellent athlete who is immensely talented and extremely versatile. It’s exciting to think about what he will be able to do in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s defense.

Anarumo was adamant about not putting Hill on the field before he was ready. Safeties are often the last line of defense, and getting torched in front of 70,000 people can really mess with your confidence.

But, could it be a different story for Jordan Battle?

The rookie out of Alabama does not have the measurables of Scott and Hill, but coaches rave about his intelligence. That’s not just the Bengals coaches but his college coach, one Nick Saban. Now that is an endorsement!

Battle seems to be very much in the mold of Vonn Bell. He’s a tough and physical box safety with the versatility to play in the deep field zone. He also has the brains and leadership qualities to make him a special player.

So, what is the Battle plan?

His high-level intelligence may help him earn Anarumo’s trust quickly. I don’t think he’ll be a regular starter as a rookie, but I think we will see more of him than we did Hill. Many of us hypothesized that Anarumo would find fun ways to use Hill last season, but it could be Battle who allows them to do just that this year.

Don’t be surprised if the Bengals carve out a role for Battle that allows them to use Hill in fun ways or for specific matchups. Also, look for him to find a large role on special teams, particularly on the coverage units.

Wait a minute! You forgot about Nick Scott!

No, I didn’t forget about Nick Scott. I just came up with a nice segue to connect Hill to Battle, and I am a man who loves a good segue.

Nick Scott was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in 2019 and earned his spot on the roster through his special teams play. His first career start came in the team’s playoff loss to the Packers following the 2020 season. He started one more game the following regular season before taking the spot over for the playoffs. He went on to start for Los Angeles in their Super Bowl win over the Bengals. The following year, he became the full-time starter at safety.

From the 243rd pick to making the team as a special teamer, to starting every playoff game on a Super Bowl Championship run, to being a full-time starter, Scott has earned his spot as an NFL starter through grit, determination, and hard work. He has played in some big games and matched up favorably with some of the best competition the league has to offer. He is exactly the type of player this coaching staff covets.

The Bengals lost the leadership of Vonn Bell in the secondary, but he wasn’t the only captain in the defensive backfield. Michael Thomas provided veteran leadership and had the third most special teams snaps of anyone on the team. His role could be even more pivotal with the youth movement at safety.

Did somebody say special teams?

Let’s talk about Tycen Anderson. That’s right, the Bengals drafted two safeties in 2022. They traded up to draft the Toledo defender in the 5th round. Anderson runs a sub 4.4 40 and has a ton of college experience on both defense and special teams. That is where he is likely to make his mark as a Bengal. Look for him to find multiple roles on special teams and play a reserve role defensively.

2023 Outlook

When the Bengals lost Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell then signed Nick Scott, the plan seemed clear: get faster.

Hill and Scott can fly around. Both have the versatility to come up in the box and make a tackle, but they fit more into the stereotypical role of a ball-hawking free safety than a rock-down strong safety. It seemed the Bengals wanted to become more versatile and less predictable while emphasizing deep-field coverage.

Then they drafted Jordan Battle. He does not have the speed that Hill and Scott possess, but he is incredibly smart and a bit more of an in-the-box thumper. Does this mean that the Bengals will lose their ability to play a shapeless, formless defense?

Nope! It means just the opposite. Battle is the key to unlocking the most versatile piece that they have: Dax Hill.

One example would be to use Hill as the dime safety and have Battle take over Hill’s usual role. This would often charge Hill with covering the tight end, similar to what the team did with Tre Flowers in the past.

The Future

The Bengals signed Scott for a reasonable price and have Hill and Battle on rookie deals. No matter who emerges as the two primary starters, the future looks bright at safety.

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