But, midway through training camp, Bates’ tone changed when he told Bengals Radio Network broadcasters Dave Lapham and Dan Hoard that the team must not value him as a top free safety in the game. The team didn’t make him available again to local media until Monday.
“Yeah, I wish it would have gotten done, obviously,” Bates said Monday, after helping the Bengals to a 27-24 overtime win over Minnesota on Sunday in the opener. “I mean they got Sam done. I was hoping to be the next guy up. But like I said, it is what it is. I’m gonna play my part. I’ll be a captain of this team, and next year, we’ll see what happens.”
Asked if he believes he should be the highest paid safety in the game, Bates said “no comment.” He isn’t sure if contract negotiations will continue, though the Bengals typically get their extensions done before the season so talks don’t become distractions or disruptions to the team.
Despite his disappointment, the 24-year-old from Fort Wayne, Ind., plans to continue putting in the work and being a good teammate. He is one of the team’s seven peer-voted captains and serves as a player representative for the team when it comes to union issues or meetings.
“My job is to be the best teammate as possible to the people in this building that I spend more time with than with my family,” Bates said. “… We’re all grown men and we understand that we spend time with each other more than we do with our families, and there’s a lot of sacrifices that go into this. So yeah, I guess, my job is to continue to be a good teammate and continue to get the fans loud when we play at home. Next year we’ll see what happens, continue to play my part, prove my value in this league, and see where it goes.”
Bates showed further improvement in his open-field tackling Sunday when he led the team with nine tackles, including six solo stops.
He made the initial hit on Dalvin Cook before Germaine Pratt stripped the football loose and recovered to set the offense up for a game-winning field goal in overtime when the Vikings were nearing field goal territory with less than two minutes to play.
“If you watch the film, you go back and watch throughout the whole game and you look at Germaine Pratt, he was ripping at the ball the whole time,” Bates said. “So it’s not a surprise that it did come out. And I think me and Vonn did a good job of hitting him, making them feel us. I think that kind of played all parts into it, so props to Germaine Pratt. I mean, he did it throughout the whole game. That was one of our goals is to have 10-plus strip attempts, and the one that came out changed the whole game.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor thought Bates took a big step in that area last year and was pleased to see further growth Sunday.
“I saw that last year, him take a gigantic step,” Taylor said. “Here we are this same year; he’s just kept stride there. He laid some big hits, he made some great open-field tackles and you saw a lot of that from our defense. Not just open field tackles, but guys playing with great leverage, tackling and making sure that we’re great with our vice tackles, guys swarming the ball carrier and pulling at the ball. It just looks like these guys are really on top of the fundamentals and that’s something that’s been preached now for the last five months. It’s really good to see.”
The defense’s aggressive play set the tone, while the offense got off to a slow start and had trouble closing the game. Bates said that was the goal as well. He had texted strong safety Vonn Bell before coming to the stadium Sunday, saying “We gotta choose violence today.”
Bates is hoping the pressure applied by the defensive line and blitzers continues to be a theme that makes the Bengals defense stand out. They caused 21 pressures and three sacks on Kirk Cousins and possibly played a factor in the six offensive holding penalties called on Minnesota. Cousins still finished with 351 yards passing, but didn’t have many huge plays and Dalvin Cook managed just 61 yards rushing.
“I think we show something very different, that we didn’t do in the past years before, so that played a part, but I think it’s just the testimony to the upstairs people that brought in these D-line guys and we have depth,” Bates said as a nod to newcomers like tackles Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill and defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
“We can name off the edge guys. I can name B.J. Hill, who just got here two weeks ago (via trade from Buffalo), and he just fell right into it, so it could be a cultural thing. B.J. just walking in here and getting two sacks like it’s nothing, that’s a big deal. There were not a lot of times that Kirk had an open pocket to throw the ball. He threw the ball off balance a lot yesterday, so credit to the D-line. They’re doing a hell of a job with the physical, setting the front.”
Bengals at Bears, 1 p.m., Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7