ALAMEDA – Taylor Mays was looking for NFL employment halfway through the preseason. That’s not an ideal situation. The veteran safety made the most it, and believes he found a spot where he can succeed posthaste.
Mays signed with the Raiders on Wednesday and reunited with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who coached USC linebackers when he was a Trojan.
Mays is good friends and offseason workout partners with Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith since their USC days. Between Norton, his scheme and Smith, Mays has allies to ease his transition and give him the best possible chance to make the 53-man roster.
“The familiarity was as important as the opportunity,” Mays said after Friday’s practice. “You have to work, and I feel like this team gives me the best chance.
“Having a general understanding of the defense, and knowing some of the coaches and a even few guys working security makes things more comfortable. There was a good feeling all the way around here, which made it an easy decision for me.”
The Raiders see Mays as an extra safety who can play aggressive in the front seven. That fits Mays’ skill set. He’s 6-foot-3, 227 pounds and can be a heavy hitter.
“He’s a big, physical guy that we think with some of the things that we do with our safety in the box, he could do some of that,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s got experience also as a backup player playing special teams, and so we’re going to give him the next two weeks to see if he earns a spot on this roster. There are no guarantees with him coming in other than an opportunity to compete.”
Mays understands that, which is why he needs to work efficiently over the next week or so. Familiarity with Norton’s scheme helps. So does Smith.
“It’s been cool to see the evolution of Malcolm in the NFL,” Mays said. “He is a year younger than me and I used to be the older leader. Now I’m looking at him almost in a ‘how do we do things’ type of way. It’s been great to have him here helping me out.”
Mays has but a handful of practices and two preseason games to do enough to make the 53-man roster. That seems like a great undertaking, but the 27-year old is ready for the challenge.
“It happens fast, but this is my sixth year in the NFL so playing quickly is not that crazy,” Mays said. “Once you pick things up and know what you’re doing on defense, you can go play. It’s not like a rookie, which makes this situation easier. I’m not worried about it. If I can get the general concept of the defense down, I’ll be all right.”
Mays finds himself in Oakland after moving around quite a bit this offseason. He signed with Minnesota after four years in Cincinnati, but was released in March. Mays then joined the Detroit Lions, and was released last week.
He was a 49ers’ second-round pick in 2010, but was traded to the Bengals in Aug. 2011. Mays has another opportunity in Oakland if he works hard and competes well.
“It comes down to competition,” Norton said. “If Taylor wants to be competitive, if he wants to work, if he wants to strain, if he wants to have passion, if he wants to make plays, then this is the place for him. If not, then it’s not the place for him.”
The hard-hitting safety believes this is the right spot.
“I hope that things will work out here and be a better situation this time around,” Mays said. “I like being here.”