- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- It may be the biggest mystery within the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room. Chances are, it could go unsolved for perpetuity.
Just what position is Taylor Mays actually playing right now?
If you ask his head coach, the tall secondary defender is not a linebacker. Far from it. Marvin Lewis' mindset is that Mays still is more of a true defensive back, relying on some of his old safety principles and slot cornerback techniques.
The answer may be different, though, if you ask Mays' current position coach, linebackers coach Paul Guenther.
Last week, Guenther excitedly told reporters about how he was spending extra time with Mays, cross-training him at the position that even Mays acknowledged as being the nickel linebacker position. In the wake of a season-ending injury to slot outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, the change in Mays' duties was a way the Bengals felt they could more comfortably absorb Lamur's injury without having to sign a new linebacker.
It made sense. Mays, who drew his share of preseason criticism for appearing lost at times while playing safety, was in need of playing a position a little closer to the line of scrimmage that could better use his size and get him closer to the football. Instead of constantly struggling to race in from the back end, he would be more involved with man-coverage packages.
So since Mays was essentially moving into Lamur's old spot, Guenther didn't bat an eye at the suggestion that he was moving to a linebacker position. For the week leading up to the season opener at Chicago, Mays had even stopped practicing with the safeties and was participating in drills with all linebackers.
This week, ahead of Monday night's home opener against Pittsburgh, he was still lining up with the linebackers.
So is Mays a linebacker? And how well did he do in his first game at the position last weekend?
"Taylor didn't play linebacker," Lewis said Monday, responding to a similarly posed question at one of his two news conferences. "But in Taylor's snaps he had, he did OK."
Posed the same questions, Guenther hedged on calling Mays a linebacker. Instead, he told reporters they could call Mays whatever they wanted.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...
With respect to Mays' performance at whatever position it is he's playing that the linebackers coach is coaching him at, Guenther said, "He did good. He got in there. He didn't really miss a beat much. He did a good job for us."
Mays made three tackles last week as he came in on nickel situations.
Guenther remarked before the game about how he essentially had nine days to teach Mays his new role. For his entire pro career before last weekend, and for all of his college years, Mays had considered himself a safety only.
"Every week, it's just that he's getting better at it, at whatever you want to call what he's playing," Guenther said. "He did good, and hopefully he'll continue to grow in that role and he'll get better every week."
It bears mentioning that, after the tweak to Mays' role, the Bengals brought in several true outside linebackers and worked them out as they continue to assess their options after Lamur's injury. Free agents Thomas Howard, Tyrone McKenzie, Michael Boley and Leroy Hill reportedly worked out for Cincinnati in the past two weeks. None of them was signed.
One way to read it is that Mays must be doing a good enough job to keep whatever title it is he's currently holding.
"I just work the guys out," Guenther said. "If they decide to sign them, they sign."
OK, so we still haven't answered the question: What position is Mays playing?
Maybe Guenther had it right. Flip a five-cent coin; you decide.
1dEric D. Williams
1dEric D. Williams