Safeties are responsible for patrolling the middle of the defensive backfield. They must have coverage skills to match up with slot receivers and tight ends and be able to take on running backs near the line of scrimmage. The trick is to find cover safeties who not only protect against the deep ball and disrupt crossing routes but also deliver a blow that makes running backs and receivers tread lightly at the second and third levels of the defense.
"The safety position is becoming more and more of a corner position," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "There were times when some of the safeties, particularly the strong safeties, fit more like linebackers than they did as defensive backs. The demands of that position have changed."
Safeties used to be pigeon-holed and viewed, along with defensive tackles, as the least-valued position on defense.
Strong safeties were big hitters who weighed 220-plus pounds and served as fourth or fifth linebackers. Free safeties were, and pretty much still are, cerebral signal-callers who play centerfield in pass coverage.
More offenses also are using three and four-receiver sets on first and second downs, forcing defenses to play nickel packages or leave themselves exposed to potential mismatches with strong safeties and/or outside linebackers.
To counter this trend, teams are now trying to find dual-role safeties is so they can better disguise defenses. When you have interchangeable safeties, the coverages can be disguised better. Sounds like an Amoeba concept to me.
Of all the areas on the 2010 Denver Broncos defense, the Safety position is the strongest. Nowhere else is the depth and talent level as solid. They are led by perennial ProBowler Brian Dawkins, who is the quarterback, leader and inspiring force, nay, the heart of the Bronco "D." His defensive backfield partner is Renaldo Hill, and together they bring 25 years of veteran savvy to the table. They are a big reason that the Broncos defense ranked third in the league against the pass (186.3 ypg.) in 2009. Their experience and knowledge are being transferred to groom two promising young players that were drafted last season; Darcel McBath and David Bruton. Josh Barrett returns for a third year, and newcomer Kyle McCarthy will add to the mix for the Broncos down the middle of the field.
#20 / Safety / Denver Broncos
Oct 13, 1973 (Age 36)
15th year (2nd with Broncos)
Contract: 2/28/2009: Signed a five-year, $17 million contract. The deal includes $7.2 million guaranteed. Another $10 million is available via performance incentives. 2010: $1.82 million, 2011-2013: 46 million (Voidable Years), 2014: Free Agent
You can't talk about the Safety position for the Denver Broncos without leading off with the heart of the defense. That heart is Brian Dawkins. He is one of the most accomplished safeties in NFL history, earning a spot on the NFL All-Decade Team (2000s) and tying for the third most Pro Bowl selections (8) at the safety position in league annals. Brian was named a Pro Bowl starter in his first year with the Broncos in 2009. He owns 36 career interceptions and 21 sacks and is one of only three players in NFL history with at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks for his career. B-Dawk ranks fourth in the NFL for career sacks (21) by a defensive back. He has averaged more than 100 tackles a year for his career, including a personal-best 155 tackles for the Eagles in 2006.
In his first year with the Broncos, Brian was voted as a team captain by his teammates. He started all 16 games for the sixth time in his career and registered his seventh-career 100-tackle effort, playing most of the season with a cast on his right hand. He finished second on the club behind D.J. Williams, with 116 tackles (95 solo) while adding two interceptions, 10 pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Dawkins continues to prove that age doesn’t always matter. He turns 37 in October but he is still making the Pro Bowl. He hasn’t lost any of his motor, pop or closing quickness. He also has the drive to play at a high level, and has fully recovered from the broken right hand he incurred during Training Camp last year.
Dawkins was one of three safeties in the AFC (Baltimore’s Ed Reed and Houston’s Bernard Pollard) with multiple interceptions and multiple fumble recoveries last season. He picked off Peyton Manning twice at Lucas Oil Stadium (12/13) and led the Broncos with eight tackles at his homecoming in Philly. (12/27). Brian has collected over 200 X-Men comic books and owns more than 20 Wolverine figures. No wonder his alter-ego is named "Weapon X."
#23 / Safety / Denver Broncos
Nov 12, 1978 (Age 31)
10th year (2nd with Broncos)
Contract: 2/27/2009: Signed a four-year, $10 million contract. The deal includes $3 million guaranteed. 2010: $1.95 million, 2011: $2.4 million, 2012: $2.65 million, 2013: Free Agent
Renaldo Hill is the incumbent Strong Safety for the Denver Broncos. Selected by Arizona in the seventh round (202nd overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft, he's started at least 10 games in six of the last seven seasons while seeing time with Miami, Oakland and Arizona during his NFL career. He has 99 starts for his career, 57 at safety and 42 at cornerback where he began his career.
Renaldo ranked fifth on the Broncos with 59 tackles and had two sacks along with two interceptions, six pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2009. His personal highs are 86 tackles (72 solo) as a Raider in 2005, and five interceptions with the Cardinals in 2003.
Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels likes not only what Hill brings to the defense, but his value to the team as a whole.
"He is maybe as intelligent of a player as I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around some smart ones," McDaniels said. "This guy is very in tune with the entire game plan."
"It's amazing," Smith said. "I have the luxury to sit between two future Hall-of-Famers in Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins ... André Goodman is really smart and Renaldo Hill is probably the smartest guy we have on the team."
Hill might be the forgotten man sometimes in the Broncos secondary because he's back there with Brian Dawkins, but certainly that has made him no less valuable to the defensive unit. Renaldo is diligent in the film room, which makes him an asset in making the defensive calls for the secondary along with Brian Dawkins. Weapon "X" commented last season that he and Hill have the advantage of trading off who calls the defensive plays - Hill might on one play or series, while Dawk will take another.
"There's good communication," Hill said. "I'm sure we'll run into some things down the road, but we've got a good, veteran group that when we do face those things, we'll be able to handle those situations."
He recorded his first interception as a member of the Broncos at Oakland in Week 3. He also picked up his first sack of the season Week 4 against the Cowboys, finishing with three tackles -- two solo -- and a forced fumble. Renaldo left the Indianapolis game in Week 13 with a right ankle injury and was replaced by Darcel McBath, but he has been healthy and productive for the most part.
Hill is known as a hard worker who keeps the play in front of him. He has big-play ability, but isn't blazing fast and can get burned deep. He can be inconsistent from game to game and doesn't have a sound blitzing technique, but he makes up for his lack of speed with film knowledge of the opponent and knowing where the play is going.
Secondary coach Ed Donatell:
"We have some philosophy things that are important to us and some core values in our defense," Donatell said. "We teach them as defensive coaches and these guys (Dawkins, Hill, Bailey and Goodman) reinforce them. That reinforcement from peer to peer is like gold.
Renaldo Hill and Brian Dawkins may be part of the best secondary in the National Football League, but the future of the Safety position for the Broncos looks pretty promising too. So let's take a look at the next generation.
Darcel McBath is the first of two second-year safeties that make up the future of the Broncos secondary. Recruited as a cornerback by Texas Tech, he suffered a broken arm in 2006 and after his rehabilitation, had bulked up to the point that the coaches felt his speed and hitting ability would be best at free safety. Darcel appeared in 13 games as a rookie in 2009, totaling 26 tackles (13 solo on defense), two interceptions and three pass breakups. McBath also tied for third among league rookie safeties with two interceptions. His first career interception came against Cleveland (9/20) and the other off of Peyton Manning at Indy (12/13). Darcel's best game as a Safety was when he recorded a career-high seven defensive tackles (6 solo) vs. S.D. (11/22). While acting as Brian Dawkins' understudy, McBath registered multiple special-teams tackles three times as a rookie in 2009, including a personal best three stops in the Broncos’ win vs. New England (10/11/09). He had a pretty good rookie campaign before being placed on injured reserve prior to Week 15 with a broken forearm.
McBath was a productive special teams player. In punt formation he served as the personal protector for the punter and still managed to lead the Broncos with a team-high 11 ST's tackles. Using natural talent, good speed and recognition, he was one of four rookies in the NFL last year to lead their team in ST's tackles. Darcel also downed 2 punts inside the 10 yard line in 2009, 1 in the New England game, and 1 against Pittsburgh.
"He's been a big part of our special teams," McDaniels said. "He's the personal protecter on the punt team, which is no small chore. He handles all the communication there. He's our leading tackler, very unselfish, plays great on all of the teams. He has been a great addition in that regard."
McBath hopes to continue his maturation. He has learned to take better care of his body in preparation for the rigors of a long season. Even as he tries to learn the nuances of Don 'Wink' Martindale’s new scheme, McBath said he's been able to play more instinctively.
"It's night and day," McBath said of his growth over the past year. "I'm a little more comfortable--a little more vocal. I'm just trying to do my part."
"He does a good job communicating with the unit, and that helps everybody," Syd'Quan Thompson said after one spring workout. "It's important for the safeties to make sure everybody else is in the right position."
Wesley Woodyard, who played on several special teams units with McBath last season, said it's clear the young safety's growth since joining the Broncos has made the whole secondary better.
"He's been pushed by everybody to step up his game and compete and try to be better than the guys in front of him," Woodyard said. "I definitely think he's taking advantage of that."
After an early June practice, McBath assessed his goals for the upcoming season.
"It depends on how I play in training camp. If I come in and play well, hopefully I can get a little more responsibility."
Darcel made his impact primarily on Special Teams, as a situational defender, and in dime packages. He has played well in that role and the former Texas Tech standout hopes to increase his playing time this year. If he keeps at his current pace, it will come sooner rather than later.
David Bruton, pronounced BREW-ton, is the other second-year safety. He tied for fourth on the Broncos with nine special-teams tackles and added five defensive stops in 14 games (1 start) as a rookie in 2009. David made his NFL starting debut vs. Oakland (12/20/09) replacing Renaldo Hill. He didn't disappoint either, registering five tackles (4 solo) and one pass breakup in that contest.
Bruton was the starter at Free Safety during his final two years at the University of Notre Dame, leading the Irish with 182 tackles and seven interceptions during that stretch. He also established himself as one of the top special-teams gunners in the country while appearing in 596 career special-teams plays at Notre Dame, and serving as a team captain during his senior year.
Bruton picked it up by the end of the season and looked good when he was called upon. The Broncos can afford to let him continue learning from the veterans, but David has the potential to block punts and really just attack the ball on special teams. He is an excellent Gunner and with his 4.46 speed, he downed 3 punts inside the 10 yard line last year. Bruton also prevented a touchback in the Giants game, tapping the ball to Josh Barrett who downed the ball at the 5 yard line. He is good in coverage, and is a solid hitter who knows all the coverages.
Bruton said he's learned so much watching Hill and safety Brian Dawkins.
"That's the fortunate position that he's in," Champ Bailey said. "He had two good safeties in front of him to assist him all (last) year. He's learned a lot from them and I know he's going to apply that to the game."
Coach Josh McDaniels called that tutoring invaluable.
"I would think he's had an opportunity to see things happen, see mistakes that some other players have made, see some really good games that our safeties have played and he's had so many game weeks now to learn from Brian and Renaldo," McDaniels said. "And I would put Darcel in that same category. Two young kids in their first year in the league. I couldn't imagine two better mentors to learn from.
Bruton said he has several notebooks filled with advice he's received from Dawkins.
"I feel like I've been blessed to play this game for a long time and there's a lot of wisdom that I've received. So, I feel it's my duty to pass it on to young guys," Dawkins said. "Whatever I see, he sits right next to me so I'm always whispering different things to allow him to see what I'm seeing on the field and why I do certain things.Hopefully, it will allow him to be able to step into this position and be able to be right where he needs to be."
Bruton has a Motto:
"I have the will to succeed and be great...I will always put my best foot forward to make myself and those around me better..."
The Broncos secondary is looking better and better.
Note: He turns 23 on Friday, so Happy Birthday David Bruton!
Josh Barrett is a third-year safety who has totaled 25 tackles (17 solo) during his two years with the Broncos. He has also seen regular action on special teams, registering 13 stops on coverage units. He played sparsely in 14 games last season and had two solo tackles on defense while ranking seventh on the Broncos with eight special-teams stops.
Selected by the Broncos in the seventh round (220th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, "The Bullett" showed that he could run in a straight line and hit, but his stiff hips couldn't beat out Hamza Abdullah and he ended up on the practice squad. Josh played in the Broncos’ final six games after spending the first 11 weeks of the season on the PS. He had four pass breakups and five special-teams tackles. Josh started in the final three games and got his first career interception on a tipped pass against the Carolina Panthers.
Barrett was drafted as a strong safety by then Head Coach Mike Shanahan as former Bronco John Lynch's replacement. Then last year under a new regime, the Broncos took Darcel McBath and David Bruton in the draft, and the Safety position got a little crowded.
Still, despite the increased competition, Barrett has been working as the Broncos' extra safety in nickel situations.
"That's something where I feel I can help the defense out in that package," Barrett said. "I feel like there's no tight end I won't be able to cover."
Josh Barrett is a valuable ST's Gunner, but his playing time has dwindled in the new regime, including 3 healthy scratches last year. He has good coverage ability in the seam and matches up well with Tight Ends, but his play is inconsistent. His attributes are probably more suitable to the 4-3 that Shanahan's Broncos played.
That and his Special Teams play may not be enough for the team to keep a situational player. Depending on the number of Safeties the Broncos keep, he'll be on the roster bubble.
Kyle McCarthy is a rookie safety from the University of Notre Dame who joined the Broncos as a college free agent on April 30, 2010. He Played 38 career games at Notre Dame and started 26 of them. He made 241 tackles (147 solo) and eight interceptions (108 yds.) while recording more than 100 tackles in each campaign to become the first Notre Dame defensive back to eclipse the 100-tackle mark in a season. In 2008 as a Senior, Kyle paced the Irish with 101 tackles (66 solo) and five interceptions. He produced a team-high 110 tackles (64 solo) as a junior (in 2007) to go along with two interceptions. McCarthy played all 12 games as a sophomore totaling 20 tackles (11 solo), one forced fumble, one interception, and saw action in all 13 games for the Fighting Irish on special teams in 2006 after redshirting in 2005.
Pros: Although Kyle is by no means a speed demon with an unofficial 40 time in the 4.55 to 4.6 range, he has a knack for positioning himself in in the right spots and exhibits fantastic anticipatory skills, which often lead to turnovers. McCarthy can also crush the competition with some old fashioned spine-tingling hits. The rising playmaker was recently moved to free safety to help stabilize the defense. His tackling skills are top notch in terms of form and execution.
Cons: McCarthy is not quite as gifted in pass coverage. Coach Charlie Weis was spot on when lauding his safety for being a diligent and reliable defender who doesn’t make many mistakes, NFL teams, however, aren’t looking just looking for steady-Eddie performers, they want guys with major upside, which McCarthy doesn’t really offer.
View: Originally thought of as a priority free agent, the fifth-year senior may have played his way into becoming a late-round pick in April thanks to his timely plays and solid mechanics. His intelligence and leadership skills should at least make him a backup and standout special teams performer at the next level. McCarthy is relentless in covering returns.
Kyle McCarthy didn’t run his way into a higher NFL Draft profile on the final day for physical testing at the NFL Scouting Combine. But he was near the top of the leaderboard among safeties in bench press (tie for 2nd, with 24 reps), the 3-cone drill (2nd at 6.74) and in the 20-yard shuttle (2nd at 4.13). He ran the 60-yard shuttle in 11.18, and had a Vertical Jump of 34 inches. Measurements - arm: 28.75" hand: 8.75" Notes: Solid frame, decent sized, but short-armed. McCarthy’s official 40-yard dash time wasn’t released, but scouts unofficially averaged him at 4.65 seconds.
The folks over at NFLDraftScout had this on Kyle:
Irish coaches didn't have to worry about McCarthy missing his assignment as the team's last line of defense, even if the rest of the unit was more miss than hit. In fact, he led the team in tackles playing the strong and free safety positions in 2008 and 2009.
In addition to being a tackling machine, McCarthy always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. Adding those ball skills to his strength against the run, leadership, intelligence and underrated Combine workout (4.58 40, 6.74 three cone) means McCarthy could be drafted in the mid-to-late rounds.
Read & React: Always around the ball because he knows teams' tendencies and reacts to what he sees from the quarterback and receivers very quickly. Has enough speed to get to the sideline from just outside the hash, but not much further.
Man Coverage: Mirrors most tight ends and running backs into the flat and knows the correct angle to bring them down without much quick-twitch movement. Lining up against pro receivers in the slot will be very difficult for him, as his change of direction and plant and drive abilities are average, at best.
Zone Coverage: Finds an underneath receiver in zone, rarely gives up yards after the catch due to his proximity to the ball and strength. Baits quarterbacks into throwing passes he can undercut for interceptions. Good hands in the secondary to make QBs pay for mistakes on under- or over-throws. Bites on play-action and freelances, heading to the opposite side of the field and leaving his corner on an island.
Closing/Recovery: Does not have elite closing speed or a great burst to the ball, but his instincts allow him to swallow up quick screens and get to balls down the field. Has a nose for the ball in the air, though. Once behind a NFL receiver, he will struggle to recover to get back into the play.
Run Support: Willing and able to attack the line, although he does not make many plays behind the line of scrimmage. Can make the occasional big hit but is usually a catch-and-drag tackler. Does not take on blocks in the box well, but is willing to penetrate into the backfield to create a pile in short-yardage situations.
Tackling: Secure wrap up tackler with thick arms, usually tracks down running back if he gets through the line on his side of the field. Strong cut tackler in space, takes out legs in a hurry. Drops his hips in the open field, only allowing elusive backs to get by him when he drops his head. More want-to than strength against lineman blocks, manages to spin or work off when the ball has past rather than punch and disengage. Hustles to the ball if teammates are beaten.
Intangibles: Team captain. Excellent work ethic in the weight room, film room and practice field. Reliable player who gets through injuries.
And Consensus Draft Services offered this:
Smart, steady SS who plays a disciplined, sound game. Extremely intelligent team captain who already had graduated with a finance degree prior to the season. Hard hitter but not reckless; squares up well and is a reliable tackler. Active in the run game and good in pass defense. Can cover RBs and TEs man to man, and makes a number of timely interceptions. Fine special teams player.
Not the biggest or the fastest. Not athletic enough to cover WRs or play in the slot.
Mid-round pick who's almost a lock to make a team. Far too smart and competitive to fail. Might take a while to start, but should eventually get there.
McCarthy had a hard time getting on the field his first three years, sitting behind Tom Zbikowski, Chinedum Ndukwe and David Bruton, all of whom are now in the NFL. When he finally got a chance last year, he seized it. He led the team with 110 tackles, becoming the first Notre Dame defensive back ever to eclipse 100 stops.
"He's turned into one of the most consistent tacklers in the secondary since I've been here," Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said.
Another Team Captain and Ball Hawk, McCarthy has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time.
"He's a guy who's made game changing plays, Weis said of his defensive captain. Besides the plays he makes during the game, he's also making game changing plays---seal the victory type of plays."
Former Irish captain and safety David Bruton was in town for a game. Bruton, now a member of the Denver Broncos in the NFL, isn’t surprised at what McCarthy is doing.
"I taught him a lot of what he knows," Bruton said with a big smile. I'm proud of Kyle. He couldn't be playing any better right now. I'm happy for him. He's showing his toughness and how hard he works on the field."
And for Coach Weis, McCarthy is the perfect example of a player who works his way up the system to become something special.
"You come in, you pay your dues, and you just keep on working your butt off and eventually you get your opportunity to get on the field and make the most of it," Weis explained. "That's what he's done."
Kyle McCarthy will need to continue working to make it in the NFL.
The Broncos secondary could be one of the strongest in years this season. Renaldo Hill and Brian Dawkins are the clear-cut starters. Darcel McBath is #3 who could probably start on other teams. David Bruton has the edge over Josh Barrett and the Kyle McCarthy based on talent, consistency and daunting ST's play. If Josh McDaniels decides to keep 5 safeties as he did last year, the edge would go to Barrett based on experience, but I think McCarthy could push him in camp. However, it is my belief that the Cornerback group has more talent this year, and that the Broncos enter the season with four players at safety. So we have 4 guys (Hill, Dawkins, Bruton, McBath) with 2 pure STers.
Barrett's stock has dropped each year, and he should be on the bubble this season. If he plays better than the CBs like Cox and Smith are playing, then he will be kept over them. He may end up being the last man cut. Kyle McCarthy is inexperienced and raw, but is both a hitter and decent coverage guy when he keeps plays in front of him. He doesn't have good speed, but he is quick to react. He can back up both safety positions and is another Special Teamer. It should be considered in the fight for a possible 5th safety roster spot, that McCarthy is the lone eligible safety for the Practice Squad. Regardless, the Broncos will go to Training Camp with six Safeties.