Film study: Mays on special teams, defense

Taylor Mays can offer the Vikings some playmaking options on defense, but he was strong on special teams last year for the Bengals.

Harrison Smith thrived at the safety position in 2014 under first-year head Mike Zimmer. The same thing could not be said about the safety position opposite him, though. Robert Blanton won the starting job in training camp, but never really lived up to the promise that he showed in training camp.

He played well in run defense and led the Vikings in tackles for a majority of the season, but it was pass coverage where he struggled.

Safety has been one of the positions the Vikings have studies hard this offseason, and while it is still possible they select one in the draft, it is a relatively weak class this year. Perhaps because of that, the team decided to sign Taylor Mays in the offseason.

Mays did get some playing time as a safety in 2014 but was primarily used on special teams. Zimmer coached Mays for three years in Cincinnati, so he has a good idea about what he is getting as a player.

Now Viking Update takes a look at some of the plays Mays made in 2014.

Play No. 1
This first play is likely where Mays will make most of his impact for the Vikings – on special teams. The Bengals have just kicked the ball off and the Colts bobbled it down by the goal line. Mays (No. 26) was the first Bengals player to reach the play and he did exactly what he was supposed to do.

Instead of trying to force the play too much, he held the edge and forced the ball carrier back inside to where his teammates were. Then once the ball carrier passed by him he was able to shed his blocker and help make the tackle.

Last year the Vikings had a lot of young and inexperienced players on their special teams and that led to some mistakes being made. Adding a player like Mays to the team will give the Vikings an experienced and fundamentally sound player who can help teach the younger players on the team.

Play No. 2
The next play is another one on special teams, but Mays takes on a different role during it. He is located at the bottom of the screen and runs down the field along the sidelines.

Then as his teammates take up all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ blockers, Mays is able to run around the wedge and tackle the ball carrier from behind. In this play he was able to showcase his speed and ability to tackle a ball carrier in open space. This is an important skill to have on special teams because one missed tackle could lead to a big play.

Play No. 3
The next play is not a special teams play, but instead one where Mays is in on defense. He was used as a safety that would often move up into the box or line up in coverage versus playing a deep zone.

On this play, he is lined up covering the Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas – you can see he in motion before the ball is snapped. Once the ball is snapped, Mays blitzes in through an opening on the offensive and is able to sack Peyton Manning.

This play shows that even though Mays is primarily a special teams player, he does have the ability to come in on defense and make a big play.

Play No. 4
This next play is backs to special teams, but again another role that has not been shown yet. Here Mays is on the punt return team, but instead of a downfield blocker or returner, he is placed on the line and has the job of rushing the punter.

He is able to get a good burst around the outside and then make a nice move back to the inside to evade the blocker. After that, Mays is able to extend out and block the punt. The ball goes out the back of the end zone for a safety.

Mays’ ability to make big plays on special teams is one that the Vikings will welcome openly. They were able to block a few punts last year, but having a player with this kind of ability should only help.

Play No. 5
This next play is by no means a big play, but it is an important one because it helps show Mays’ versatility. He is once again playing on the defensive side of the ball, but this time he is lined up as a hybrid linebacker.

Once the ball is snapped, he drops back into a zone coverage and tackles the receiver that is making a crossing route right towards him. It was a very simple play, but once again showed Mays’ ability to wrap up and make a sound tackle.

Mays’ has the versatility to be used in many different ways, and that is once again showed here by where he is lined up. Zimmer likes working with versatile players, and that is likely one of the reasons he chose to go after Mays in free agency.

The role that Mays will play on the Vikings hasn’t been cemented yet, but you can be sure he will be a regular contributor on special teams. It is also likely that he will be given the chance to compete for a starting safety position on defense.

With the lackluster play by the Vikings safeties in 2014 – apart from Smith – it is possible that he earns playing time on defense, and it could be his versatility that gives him an edge over the other safeties on the roster.

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