The Denver Broncos are bound to have an interesting training camp.
Yes, the Broncos are one of several favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2014.
Yes, they are coming off of a 13-3 regular season, tied for best in the NFL in 2012.
But like every other NFL team out there, that does not leave the Broncos immune from competition within the team.
As the Broncos resume organized team activities next month for training camp, there will be position battles on both sides of the ball—at running back, at defensive end and, last but not least, at the safety position.
Heading into OTAs and minicamp, Broncos fans expected a running back competition and a battle for the starting defensive end spot opposite of Derek Wolfe—with the selection of Montee Ball in the 2013 NFL draft and the departure of Elvis Dumervil through free agency, it was only inevitable that there would be competition for both positions.
What wasn't expected was an all-out battle for the two starting safety spots—which were held by Mike Adams at strong safety and Rahim Moore at free safety last season.
The Broncos signed defensive back Quentin Jammer to compete at safety and have returning safeties in David Bruton, Quinton Carter and Duke Ihenacho looking to break into the starting lineup.
So what is the tale of the tape?
As mentioned earlier, Mike Adams and Rahim Moore were Denver's starting safeties in 2012.
Adams started all 16 games for the Broncos last season at strong safety in his ninth season in the NFL. Moore started 15 out of 16 games at free safety during his second season in the league.
Overall, the duo played extremely well together, helping lead Denver to a No. 4 overall ranking in team defense (18.1 points per game allowed).
However, the duo—mainly Moore—will mostly be remembered for this one disaster of a play:
Obviously, this one play wasn't indicative of Moore's abilities as a player, and coach John Fox said as much when asked about the subject last month.
"Rahim's focus is on getting better from a year ago," he said, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). "And there wasn't one play. It was a whole season. He made great, great progress a year ago from his rookie year and we anticipate him to do that again. He's a very talented young man."
When asked about why he did not address the safety position in the offseason, executive vice president John Elway answered with the following, via USA Today (before the signing of Jammer):
Obviously, what's stuck in peoples' minds about Rahim was the playoff foul-up, but he made tremendous strides from Year 1 to Year 2, and I think hopefully he makes those same strides. He really had a good year last year and we want to watch him to continue to grow. Safety-wise, we feel pretty good.
A couple of weeks later, the Broncos would sign former Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer to compete at safety.
Outside of Adams and Moore, Denver has four other safeties when including the recently converted Jammer.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Josh McDaniels regime, Bruton has started just four games through his four-year career while serving primarily as a special teams stalwart.
2013 may be different.
Bruton has seen increased reps with the first-team defense during organized team activities through June. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had nothing but good things to say about Bruton during minicamp. Via Brandon Moree of DenverBroncos.com:
He's a cerebral guy. He's much more comfortable taking charge and being strong with the calls and making that communication back there real smooth for us. I think when you look at the guy, he's got all the measurables. He's got great size, got great speed, he's been a really terrific special teams player, and he's just playing good football right now.
Considering the former fourth-round draft pick's size (6'2"), his stature, the first-team reps during OTAs and minicamp, the rave reviews he's receiving from coaches, he's an early favorite to be starting at one of the safety positions come September.
Jammer signed with the Broncos as a free agent in May after having played the first 11 seasons of his career with the San Diego Chargers.
During the first 11 seasons of Jammer's career, he played at cornerback—he's never played at safety during his professional career.
Despite the lack of experience at safety at the pro level, the Broncos have made a conscious effort since signing Jammer last month to have him contribute at the safety position in specialty packages.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, via J.D. Burke of OpposingViews.com, the switch to safety makes sense—because Jammer was one of the worst corners in the league at covering opposing receivers:
"Of the 113 graded cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus, Jammer was ranked 107. Quarterbacks throwing in his vicinity completed nearly 57% of their passes and recorded a passer rating of 94.4. Most worrisome though is the fact that he surrendered 8 touchdowns in coverage."
However, converting to safety will only make the Broncos a better team by showing off Jammer's strengths as a defensive back. Via Burke:
If there was one part of Jammer’s game that didn’t vanish with age however, it was his ability to help in run defense - something he had always been particularly good at. Last season Jammer missed only five tackles and had 18 stops, which ranked 17th among all corners. This will aid him in his transition to safety as run defense is one of the more important parts of playing safety.
Jammer is a wild card to take over at either of the safety positions. If there is one position he would best fit at, it would be strong safety, where incumbent starter Adams played at in 2012.
Jammer and Adams are almost carbon copies in that they are both relatively deep into their 30s, while being known more for their hard hits and ability to stop the run, rather than their weak skills in pass coverage.
Carter was Denver's starting free safety in 2011.
It's been all downhill from there.
A fourth-round draft pick of the 2011 draft, Carter has suffered injuries to his left knee, requiring a microfracture procedure on his left knee after he went on injured reserve last September.
This has taken him out of the mix for the safety position battle over the past two offseasons. He has yet to practice, and the only appearances he's made thus far for the Broncos during OTAs and minicamp is in sweats, running around the practice field in an effort to recover fully from his knee injury of a year ago.
Per Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post:
"Carter is one of the team's more physical safeties and a quality option at strong safety, but he is in a position now where he has to get healthy to compete. So, he won't get the chance until at least training camp and several players have a headstart on him now."
It's hard to get a feel for Carter's abilities at this point, considering his injury history and the fact that he has yet to practice during the offseason.
Because of his injury setbacks, Carter is currently behind the rest of the safeties on the pecking order.
The least known safety of this group, Ihenacho was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Broncos following the 2012 draft.
The San Jose State product was signed to the practice squad before the season, where he would be promoted to the active roster, before being cut, then signed to the practice squad again.
Ihenacho played in two games for the Broncos in 2012, as he was called up to the active roster after Quinton Carter was placed on injured reserve.
However, as Adams and Moore lacked first-team reps through OTAs and minicamp while guys like Bruton and Jammer took their places, Ihenacho himself received some first-team reps.
It's hard to gauge Ihenacho's chances at nabbing one of the starting spots considering his lack of experience in the NFL, but he's definitely a wild card in the mix.
Through OTAs and minicamp, Moore and Adams had been passed over by Bruton, Jammer and even Ihenacho for first-team reps.
Broncos fans' focus has been on the running back battle, when if anything, the safety battle is the most intriguing position battle for the Broncos entering training camp.
There are no favorites at the moment, but if OTAs and minicamp are a sign of anything, it's that the Broncos were clearly not satisfied with their safety play from last season if two guys who didn't even play for the team in their base defense in 2012—Bruton and Jammer—are earning first-team reps.
The safety spots are up for grabs, and for the time being, Jammer and Bruton's stocks are up, while Adams' and Moore's stocks are down.
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