CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The Bengals lost a lot in terms of performance, leadership and experience when safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell left in free agency, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has confidence in whoever emerges as the starting tandem this season, thanks in part to the core around them.
It is expected that 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill and free agent signee Nick Scott will get first crack at starting with this year's third-round pick Jordan Battle and last year's fifth-round pick Tycen Anderson also in the mix.
Hill played only 131 snaps on defense last season and most of those came as a slot cornerback as Bates played 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps and Bell 98.2 percent.
Scott is entering his fifth NFL season after spending his first four with the Los Angeles Rams, but he has only 17 regular-season starts under his belt, 16 of which came last season. He did start all four postseason games in the 2021 season when the Rams beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl.
Neither Battle nor Anderson have played in a single regular-season game as Anderson missed all of his rookie season due to injury.
That means there isn't much experience on the back end and no matter who lines up at safety will be playing alongside someone they have never played with in a game.
Anarumo said he expects whoever wins the safety jobs to hit the ground full speed ahead when the regular-season starts, but he takes some solace in the fact every other defensive position is filled by a player who has started in his system, many for several seasons together
"It's great. because our linebackers and our corners have to communicate and know what we want, what to expect and it definitely eases the blow a little bit," said Anarumo, who is entering his fifth season as Bengals defensive coordinator. "The chemistry we have in that (defensive) room we're going to miss those guys (Bates and Bell), but I think having those other nine around them will really help."
Veteran slot cornerback Mike Hilton said it is up to defensive core returning to help get the safeties ready.
"Obviously we lost a lot of experience with Jessie and Vonn, but there are nine other (starters) who have been in this system and can help lean on each other," said Hilton.
The Bengals are still in Phase II of the NFL Offseason Workout program, so they haven't competed yet in any team drills of offense vs. defense. Anarumo is using this time to get the safeties up to speed on communicating calls to the rest of the defense.
"Making sure they're not just being verbal, but that they're talking to the right person," said Anarumo. "So far they've been good."
Hill at least has some experience in Anarumo's system, while Scott at least has some recent playing experience.
"Dax, we expect a lot out of him," said Hilton. "He has the right mindset to go back there and lead. Nick's been around this game for a long time so it's a good mixture and we're excited about those two. It's definitely going to take some time, but we know the guys we have and they're coachable guys. The one thing we said is even if you're wrong communicating at least be loud and vocal with it, because we can fix it."
Scott not only has to get used to a new defense, but a locker room full of new teammates.
"Relationships, building that with your teammates, earning people's trust, building trust, that's going to happen over time," said Scott. "We've got a supporting cast in our front and our corners and linebackers, and we've got great coaches. They've been able to break it down for us and basically start with the foundation of this defense, which is helping out Dax and I. Then of course me and Dax are just going to keep building off each other and learning from one another and building that relationship, because that's extremely important."
Scott said the communication part is still a work in progress, but that it's coming along.
"I feel comfortable in the defense, so now it's just a matter of making the right calls and getting guys in the right position and being confident," said Scott. "We're just making sure we're all communicating and making the right calls and getting that ironed out depending on the looks that we get."
Anarumo said he loves the group's athleticsm and now it's just putting in the time to get them ready to play. Whoever fills the spots have big shoes to fill as Bates and Bell had great chemistry, which allowed Anarumo the ability to disguise a lot of coverages. He doesn't plan on cutting back in that regard either.
"It's just building up that trust and they're doing a good job so far," said Anarumo. "It does take time. We'll still work at that (disguising looks), but they've got to have a feel for the defense and knowing when they can't put themselves in a bad situation. We'll count on them to do that."