Cincinnati Bengals rookie safety Jordan Battle joked that he graduated Monday after the team held its final meeting of the NFLPA-sponsored Rookie Success Program, where first-year players receive instruction and support on topics such as finances, time management, stress management, and more.
But completing that program might not be the most significant development of the week for Battle. The third-round pick from Alabama may not feel like a rookie for much longer, as it appears Jake Browning won’t be the only new addition to the starting lineup.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been using Battle in a rotation with Nick Scott, but it’s been far from an even split. Before Thursday night’s loss at Baltimore, Scott had played 493 snaps to Battle’s 97.
Will Jordan Battle Supplant Nick Scott as Starting Safety?
The roles reversed against the Ravens, with Battle playing 57 snaps to Scott’s 11. Scott played the first 11 defensive plays and then not again after failing to get to the sideline and costing the Bengals a penalty for 12 men on the field.
Are we seeing a changing of the guard?
Head coach Zac Taylor was non-committal, but it certainly feels as though that will be the case.
“We’re going to continue to rely on everybody moving forward, but Jordan did a great job,” he said. “You saw him play a lot of the snaps in this game. That’s going to continue as we go forward. It’s all about grabbing the opportunity that’s in front of you.”
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And the ball carriers, apparently. Battle excelled as a tackler against Baltimore, recording a team-high 10 tackles, including an open-field takedown of quarterback Lamar Jackson on a designed draw.
Jordan Battle recognizes QB draw and takes a great angle to stop Lamar pic.twitter.com/lX6ZgXOH4T
— mike (@bengals_sans) November 18, 2023
Battle said that the play was an example of how far he had come in terms of recognition and execution.
“Just being able to read and react and beat him to the spot, that’s a big thing,” he said. “You beat a guy to the spot and you’re coming full speed, it limits his moves. That’s what you have to do to be a sure tackler in the open field.
“I had a couple little mental errors,” he added. “There were two plays where I could have communicated better. But whenever you go be a sure tackler in the game, it builds confidence as a player, especially the open-field tackles. So I feel like that was a good improvement for me.”
Between his 57 snaps on defense and 25 on special teams, Battle had the busiest game of his rookie season.
“That was probably the sorest I’ve been for a while, but it felt good to get out there with the guys, trying to get in there and be comfortable,” he said. “Obviously as you play more, you settle in a little more and you play more comfortable and faster and instinctive.
“I feel like I did a good job of that, and the guys did a good job of rallying me in and giving me a helping hand. Being able to be out there and talk to those guys about what play is coming, what can I do to make a play on this play, it was a great feeling.”
The Steelers’ offense revolves around the run game with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, making this the perfect time to insert Battle as the starter on the heels of Thursday’s performance.
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Anarumo said last week he would love to have one guy step up and win that job rather than continue with the platoon. He was referring to Battle growing into the role and stealing it away from Scott, who signed a three-year, $12 million deal in free agency last March.
In actuality, it’s a one-year, $4.4 million contract as the Bengals can get out of it after this season — eating just $2 million in dead cap.
Shoring up the back end of the defense was the biggest concern coming into the season after the departures of veterans Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. It’s still one of the biggest reasons the group has taken such a step back this season, ranking 32nd in pass plays of 20+ yards, 31st in rushes of at least 10+yards, 31st in rushing yards per game, 30th in total yards per game, and 27th in passing yards per game.
“I feel like if I keep doing my part, keep doing what I can do to help this team, I can prove that every day I’m getting better,” Battle said. “Whether it’s tackling, whether it’s communicating, whether it’s playing in the middle of the field being rangy, I’m just trying to do what I can to be better each day.”
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