Ninjames' Note: Solid fanpost from Tre9er, good stuff for the front page while I finish up some posts. If my future self is any indication, he'll see the field in week one.
So I think we're all pleased by the progress that Taylor Mays has made in this short time period during OTA's and Mini-Camp. Reports are that he's looked fluid, has worked on his back peddle and hips and it shows. He's covering a lot of ground and breaking up passes, getting INT's...just what a safety is supposed to do.
Encouraging, though as I saw written, "anyone can win the swimsuit competition" but there's more to the pageant, like the talent show...where Mays will do the magician trick of cutting a man in half, only it won't be a magic trick.
So of course, in true off-season fanboy fashion we're all trying to think about getting Mays on the field sooner rather than later. Most of us who understand the responsibilities of a Safety in the NFL agree that Mays likely wont know the playbook inside and out come week one. We also know that a guy like Michael Lewis has watched a ton of film not to mention has played against a ton of NFL caliber players over the past decade. That experience factor will likely keep Lewis the starter at Strong Safety for several games, if not the entire 2010 season (barring injury).
After the jump, however, let's look at some potential scenarios where I think Mays could get on the field and use his strengths while not being put in a precarious situation.
I have my reservations about doing this to be honest. I wonder if a rookie with such high potential is worth throwing out "to the wolves" in hopes that he doesn't get dog-piled by a gang of 300 pound men running full speed down the field. But, you can't deny that Mays knows how to find ball carriers and make big hits. I'm actually quite curious to see if Mays will play special teams and if so, which units. My guess is that he'll play on Punt and possibly Kickoff, if any.
Last year when the 49ers went into their nickel package Michael Lewis dropped down (most of the time) to the second LB spot, alongside Patrick Willis, and Mark Roman entered as the second safety. We've all sighed a collective sigh of relief that Roman is no longer with the team but now begs the question: who will play Roman's former position in nickel?
Mays would be the obvious answer since we view Lewis as his direct competition and if Lewis isn't in the SS spot in nickel, why not replace him with Mays? Let's remember something. Nickel is a passing defense, when you expect a pass, when the offense lines up with several receiving options...you need to be able to cover in nickel. Sometimes it still puzzles me that Roman was part of that package except that he had experience. He was in the right place most of the time, he was just too slow and un-athletic to stop the play.
Mays is athletic, right? Yeah, but will he be able to cover a wiley WR or big, fast TE? Will he know the playbook well enough to not blow his coverage? Those are the questions. My best answer is to have Mays drop down to LB with Willis and man up on a TE or RB with zone help over the top. Then bring in Reggie Smith or Curtis Taylor for the SS position on those plays. Let Mays line up close to his man and use his athleticism and fysicality to frustrate them.
The other possibility in nickel is to use Mays deep but only if he's responsible for 1/3 of the field or less. This would be a Cover 3 or Cover 4 (also known as quarters) defense where Mays job would be as a deep safety with man help underneath. He would read and break on the ball, keeping receivers in front of him. In this case you'd also want your most athletic linebackers (Lewis, Navorro Bowman, Manny Lawson along with Willis) underneath to man up on the TE and RB. Mays needs to have no major responsibility, rather an area he plays inside of and helps out his teammates.
Similarly to above Mays could be a deep safety in thirds or quarters zone or man'd up close to the line of scrimmage with deep zone help. The added benefit to playing him in dime or quarter is that more DB's will be on the field with him, reducing his responsibility and liability.
Yeah, it would probably tip our hand, but I have zero problem putting Mays in the game to blitz. If he proves he can handle TE's and RB's well enough he very well may earn some time in the Nickel package if he can also blitz effectively. Otherwise, put him in when you want to blitz and let 'em try and stop him! At the very worst he'll force teams to game-plan and account for him which changes the play, protections, etc. and those are all good things.
So Niners Nation, do you agree, disagree, or do you have some other ideas how to get Mays on the field in 2010? Talk about it!