Going into training camp, the safety group is probably going to be somewhat less of a battle than the cornerback slot, but there are still five men competing, potentially, for four slots. I’m working off the assumption that the Broncos will keep 10 defensive backs, right now. The possibility of a fifth safety is competing against the option of retaining a sixth cornerback, in terms of the potential value of each, as well as against the other safeties. I expect that they’ll keep five corners, and six wouldn’t surprise me. Accordingly, they could have four or five slots for safeties.
Denver brought in a veteran safety in Mike Adams who’s openly daring the younger players to try and knock him out of the starting role while teaching them how to do so. How can you not like that in a guy? They also have three players returning from last year and one very tough college free agent who’s worth more than a brief glance.
Losing Brian Dawkins is a blow to any locker room. I appreciate that the decision to part ways was made early, and also that Denver immediately brought in a quality veteran with nine years of experience and a reputation as a high quality locker room guy. I will always enjoy my memories of each side of Brian Dawkins - as a player, an inspiration on and off the field, as a family man and as a leader of his community. The fact that the new Broncos player will also wear #20 is indicative of how much the coaches are counting on him to keep the ship on course. It’s also a testament to Dawkins himself - Denver’s new starting free safety originally put on #20 as an NFL rookie, in homage to Brian Dawkins. That’s somehow fitting: a karmic balance, of sorts.
Mike Adams is an excellent mentor. That is his reputation, and the Broncos are counting on it. He gives his knowledge freely, and he doesn’t skimp just because it will improve his competition. He says that he's born to teach, and that he's waiting for someone to be able to take his job, and I love that combination. You can get to know him a bit here:
Denver did well in bringing in Adams. He’s 31, and will turn 32 during the season. Despite the ease of the tendency, it would be a mistake to see him as just a placeholder due to his age. Mike Adams still has excellent coverage skills. He’s also physically able to take on bigger receivers and tight ends and still win most of his battles. He understands the game and he goes about his job as a professional should. He’s constantly in the film room, watching for tendencies and after this long in the league, he’s seen most of these players, coaches and schemes. He’s a player that could play out his two-year contract and might win his job for another year or two beyond that. I like the choice of him.
As far as him coming and fitting in, it’s been best typified by his relationship with Champ Bailey. These are two pros who have a mountain of professional experience between them. The team is still in OTAs, but Adams already had this to say:
I don't have to say much to Champ or as far as communication, sometimes we give a nod and he already knows what's coming.
That’s true professionalism. You see that kind of ability to just come in, communicate well, and start immediately in some sports - in baseball, notably - but in football it’s not that common and it’s a tribute to both men that this is so easy for them. Knowing each, though, it’s also not a surprise.
As I’ve noted before elsewhere, Rahim Moore has done exactly what the Broncos (and I) hoped he would: he put on muscular strength and watched film all offseason. Now Mike Adams is teaching him how to be a professional, and the Broncos are hoping he will turn back into the selection they'd hoped he'd be. I think the odds are good that he’ll be much better than last year. It’s what I wanted to see from him, at the very least. He’s being given the right tools for his development and he’s got an excellent chance of turning back into a very good coverage safety.
I don't think last year was entirely his fault. I understand that he hurt himself in the short run and I’m also glad that Quinton Carter rightfully and professionally moved up the depth chart on him. I don’t have a dog in that hunt, really - I like Carter just fine. As far as Moore, though - he had no OTAs, no mini camp, no playbooks or coaching, and no real pro film, yet they put him in as the starter in training camp. It wasn’t smart, in retrospect. It’s all vanilla offenses in preseason games and he could decipher that just fine, but that’s not a preparation for the level of the game in the regular season.
He needed time to learn the game - he was always thinking, not acting, and because of that was always a step behind. He wasn’t physically ready. His angles were also poor, partly from not reacting fast enough. It was obvious as soon as the season started that he wasn’t ready for that role, and that’s really pretty common. Regardless of the pointless bickering about where a guy was picked, most defensive backs need a couple of years to show where they do or don’t fit. Carter and nickelback Chris Harris were unusual and pleasant exceptions. I think that Moore’s likely to come back much better, and I hope that it’s enough to win a job down the road. He grew into the job in college. Maybe he does it again here.
Quinton Carter was just plain good for the Broncos last season. He came in to replace an injury situation (plus replace Moore’s lack of readiness) in Game 5 last year and promptly got his teeth handed to him. He came back strong the next game, though, and he had a solid rookie season from then on - not always dominant, but generally professional and effective. He's going to get even better and while people understandably talk about him as a strong safety, I saw flashes of the potential that he has free safety capability as well. He obviously likes to hit. He hit like a truck in college, too, as you can see here:
You can also get to know him a bit better in this video:
David Bruton is a big effort guy and very good special teams player. I never discount the value and importance of special teams, and I appreciate Bruton. He also showed the ability last season to step in as a backup if one of the starters goes down. Maybe he never starts, maybe he does, but he’s valuable for his skills on ST and is, at the least, a quality backup. You’re as good as your worst player, they say. If that player was Bruton, the Broncos would destroy the league. Denver ought to keep him.
I did watch a chunk of his 2011 film this offseason, and I found that many of the times that he was blamed on a play, it was clear on the tape that someone else had lost gap containment and he, with his sub-4.40 speed, was intent on running them down from behind. It usually wasn’t his mistakes that he was chasing. He did make a few, certainly, but I was surprised by how many times he was cleaning up for someone else. My respect for his game went up as a result. I expect him to continue to be a ST ace and a backup, but if he moved up it wouldn’t surprise me.
Other than those four, the Broncos only have CFA Duke Ihenacho. If they keep him, which is debatable, I tend to see him growing into a pretty specific role as a tight end coverage nickelback, one who loves to attack the run and the QB. It’s a role that’s very specialized, but in the modern league, it's one that I think is essential. At any rate, both Ted and I are convinced that's true. Here’s an article by Bucky Brooks on two-TE sets. He also notes the issues of the move TE against smaller nickel personnel. One possible solution to that? Use some bigger nickel and dime personnel, as long as they can cover well.
At the least, Duke is a big guy who loves to hit and who loves to rush the QB, so I’m immediately interested. He’s an excellent run tackler and he’s big enough to stand up to the TEs that are filling the league. He’s also got a history of finding some interceptions. He’s 6-0 and 213 pounds and wears #38, and his Twitter handle is @NachoLyfe. I like this kid - he recently tweeted:
Shoutout to @MDOTADAMS20 for trying to help a young rookie like myself become a good player. True vet and leader. #respect
Good point, rookie. Well said.
By the way, here’s a collection of videos on him, and also a draft prospect tape which includes him catching a blocked kick and running it back for a TD. He pulled his hamstring on the run, but still managed to cut and juke his way to the end zone. Gutsy guy. Good INT, too. One tackle he made may have been a horse collar, but this guy is a very tough, well-built, impressive player. Granted, his level of competition wasn’t the top, but you play who you play. He dominated much of the time against the players he was matched up against.
This group isn’t hard to predict - it’s likely that they’ll keep Adams, Bruton, Moore and Carter. Ihenacho’s fate may be predicated on whether they decide to keep a sixth cornerback this year. He would make a very good special teams player, and might find his way onto the field in a role that involved run support, tight end coverage and rushing the quarterback, all of which are skills that suit him. It’s well worth considering. He’s a potentially effective backup nickelback, although Chris Harris would be hard to knock off his starting role. However - Duke’s potential value will have to be balanced against the value in special teams and as a backup nickelback of a player like Syd’Quan Thompson, for example. How that will play out is anyone’s guess.
I have to balance the loss of Dawkins as a mentor, his intimate knowledge of the game, his skill as a motivator, and his effectiveness as a rover last season with a couple of things. One is the improvement of the level of play of the cornerbacks - I think that Drayton Florence and Tracy Porter are a step up from Cassius Vaughn and Andre' Goodman, and that Omar Bolden may be a better player than any young guy save Chris Harris. I wasn’t comfortable with the cornerback position this February, and clearly the front office felt the same.
There’s also the solidity of Mike Adams in many of the same roles that Dawkins played. Mike is also a seasoned veteran. He’s a mentor, a motivator, his analysis of the required formations needs little more than a nod with Champ Bailey - a CB who seems to know more about the game in terms of receivers that anyone currently playing - and he’s noted for his skills as a coverage safety, but who feels that he can also play strong safety. I hope that he’s right - I saw flashes of free safety ability by Quinton Carter last season, and I hope that they give him some time there. In many formations, the safeties are effectively interchangeable, so Adams’s higher level of physical range, speed and coverage abilities, and Carter’s hopefully continued development could leave safety stronger than it was last season. What role, if any, Duke Ihenacho could play, will also be worth watching in camp.
I’m getting itchy already.