Inside The Denver Broncos' Roster: The Strong Safeties

Sayre BedingerSenior Writer IJuly 19, 2009

As it was explained in my previous article about free safeties, the Broncos' group of safeties as a whole just may have been the worst in team history.

There was not an ounce of passion, poor tackling, and a complete lack of effort on the part of Denver's safety group in 2008.

The unit head coach Josh McDaniels, has put together for 2009 seems to be the polar opposite of that, and may be the deepest group of safeties on paper that the Broncos have had in a very, very long while.

That depth appears to be most prevalent at the strong safety position, where the Broncos made their biggest splash in the free agent signing period by signing future Hall of Fame selection Brian Dawkins from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dawkins joins a Broncos team that has had a storied history of successful safeties including Steve Atwater, Dennis Smith, and John Lynch.

One of the most decorated safeties in NFL history, the thirteen year veteran has played in seven Pro Bowls, which is fourth most among any player at his position.  He has also been selected four times by the Associated Press as a first team All-Pro.

He has started 182 games in his career, and has played in 183 overall including eighteen post-season contests which are both Philadelphia Eagles' records.

Over his career, Dawkins has recorded 898 tackles, 153 passes defensed, thirty four interceptions, thirty three fumbles forced, and twenty one sacks.

Last year, he completed one of the most prosperous seasons statistically that he has ever had, finishing with seventy five tackles, six fumbles forced, three sacks, and an interception.

Sure, Dawkins is not the "speedster" he once was, but he is undoubtedly an upgrade over Marquand Manuel at the strong safety position for the Broncos.

There is no denying what he has accomplished on the field is special, but Dawkins hopes to make an even more prominent impact off the field.

He is unquestionably a great leader, and he is a man of faith that Eagles fans, players, and coaches alike are going to sorely miss for this season and beyond.

Dawkins brings the Broncos the vocal leader they have lacked for a couple of years as well as significant experience in post-season play.  He has played in five NFC Championship games, including last season.

It could be stated that Dawkins legitimizes Denver's defense to a degree, as he makes everyone around him that much better. 

He sets the tone, and while he is known as a man of faith off the field, Dawkins is not afraid to lay the wood on an opposing player.

Hauling in Dawkins this offseason was key to Josh McDaniels' offseason plan, as he continued to revamp this defense the right way.

Now, instead of learning the ropes from sub-par athletes, the young defensive backfield prospects in Denver will have Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey, two Hall of Fame caliber players to gain knowledge from.

While each player on the defense will be learning from Dawkins and the excellent leadership he provides, the two players that may benefit most from their experience around "Weapon X" are fellow strong safeties Josh Barrett and David Bruton.

Barrett was acquired in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Arizona State, and many felt he was an absolute steal where the Broncos obtained him.

He has ideal size at 6'2" 225 pounds, and runs a blazing 4.36 second 40-yard dash.  The knock on Barrett has always been that he is lazy, but he proved to the Broncos' staff last year that those accusations were not true, working his way up from practice squad to the active roster, and now a significant contributor on special teams.

Despite playing in only five games last year, Barrett recorded twenty three tackles and an interception, and gave Bronco fans hope for the future at the strong safety position.

Perhaps his most significant contribution came in a week fourteen match-up against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was given the daunting task of covering All-World tight end Tony Gonzalez, and Barrett was able to hold his own against the future Hall of Famer.

Thanks to his superb size and speed combination, the Broncos and their fans fully expect this youngster to be a consistent contributor for a long time.  He has the frame to be an excellent tackler, and the speed to be an excellent ball-hawk.

While Barrett is the heir apparent at the strong safety position to Dawkins, the Broncos have high expectations for 2009 fourth round draft pick David Bruton.

Bruton spent the past four seasons playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and was an absolute machine.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran the second fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.46 seconds, but he has a lot of work to do with his coverage skills before the Broncos thrust him into a prominent defensive role.

The Broncos are expecting Bruton to contribute immediately on special teams, and for good reason.  He appeared in 596 special teams plays over the course of his career in South Bend, and led the team with 182 tackles over the last two seasons.

As a senior in 2009, his ninety seven tackles ranked third in Notre Dame history for a defensive back, and the team captain was rewarded for his efforts by being named as an honorable mention All-American by The NFL Draft Report.  He also had four interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The defensive backs will be led by 18-year coaching veteran Ed Donatell, who is in his second stint with the team.

This is shaping up to be one of the more talented defensive units the Broncos have had in quite some time.  While the results may not be as immediate as the fans desire, it is no fault on the managements part, for they have done all they can to add talent, experience, athleticism, size, and leadership to this unit.