In 2011, the safety position was a weak link for the Denver Broncos late in the season after the Broncos lost veteran Brian Dawkins and were forced to start two rookies in Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore.
The issues from last season were big enough that management made a few moves to upgrade the secondary with the prospect of Dawkins retiring, moving toward youth by releasing Andre Goodman and signing on both Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence. The big acquisition at safety was former Cleveland Brown Mike Adams.
Going into training camp, the Broncos had a good mix of youth and experience, having 20 years between six players for an average of 3.33 years per player.
Adams has the most experience and has enjoyed the greatest amount of success during his time in the NFL. He has started 50 games in his nine seasons, having multiple seasons with a few interceptions per year.
He has racked up sacks, averages around 40-50 tackles per year and has even forced a few fumbles during his career. He is an all-around quality safety who gives the group a portrait of consistent play resulting in predictable success.
Going into the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 9, 2012 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Adams figured to line up opposite Quinton Carter. Carter had the most starts of any Bronco on the roster at safety last season, replacing Rahim Moore after he struggled to produce consistent play early in 2011.
However, that status is now a question mark because of a hamstring injury he suffered during training camp on Friday last week, when he was tangled up with a wide receiver in the bubble after weather forced the team indoors.
Carter is probably the best safety, with an ability to play both free safety and strong safety because of his physical play, sound tackling skills and cover abilities.
He is listed as day-to-day by the Broncos’ staff and has opened the door for another safety to seize his job. Hamstring injuries can take weeks (if not longer) to fully heal, and the Broncos are being very careful with him to prevent further injury.
Waiting in the wings to steal Carter’s spot is the draft pick who came into the league a few picks higher than Carter, Rahim Moore.
Moore excels in coverage but was characterized for missed tackles in 2011. He had such a poor showing at the beginning of 2011 that he was benched in favor of Carter in Week 7. Moore looks to improve his play this offseason, and with Carter out, he will be on the spot to shine if he wants to start again in 2012.
If Moore falters, the Broncos have two perennial backups chomping at the bit to get some first-team reps. David Bruton, a vestige from the McDaniels era, has seen limited playing time with the defense and has mostly served a role as a special teams specialist. Bruton has served chiefly as a special teams “gunner” who sprints down the field to make spectacular tackles on punt returners.
Another special teams guy, Rafael Bush, was signed midseason last year from the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad and saw limited action with the defense in 2011. Bush contributed nine tackles in the Broncos’ two postseason games—eight in the season-ending loss against the New England Patriots, a game marked with missed tackles on the league’s top duo of tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Bush’s postseason showing gives him a leg up over the other candidates because of his ability to excel in tackling over Moore, who has struggled to wrap receivers up. If he doesn’t get the nod at starting strong safety, it is probable that he will continue to be used in dime packages, especially against teams that are known for utilizing tight ends up the seam, a pattern that challenges safeties in coverage.
The wild cards in the mix for the Broncos are the two undrafted rookie free agents on the team’s roster. The team figures to have at least one undrafted rookie free agent on the final roster given their recent history. The two rookies include Duke Ihenacho and the recently signed Anthony Perkins, a local product from the University of Colorado.
Perkins amassed 236 total tackles for the Buffs in his five-year career at CU, including a second-best mark of 80 tackles in his senior season, despite missing four games with an ankle injury.
In the season finale against Utah, Perkins posted a career-best 17 tackles, helping the team to a 17-14 victory.
Ihenacho was a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference First Team honoree for San Jose State during his college career. While he was a Spartan, he totaled 268 tackles (142 solo) and seven interceptions.
Ihenacho was not only a ball hawk during his collegiate career, but he also had a nose for the end zone. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and he picked up a fumble and took it to the house as well. Ihenacho is a quality player who looks to turn heads during training camp.
In my opinion, the battle between Moore and Bush in training camp will be the one to watch, as they remain the most likely to secure a starting bid if Carter misses significant time in 2012.
Bush’s tackling gives him the advantage, but don’t count out Moore. Also, the team’s undrafted rookies remain hungry for an opportunity, and if they capitalize when given a chance, they might surprise.