Each of us has our biggest concern. Some people are worried about the offensive-line, some people are concerned about the linebackers. Me? I am a little worried about the depth at Safety, or lack thereof. It isn't so much that the position is void of talent, far from it, it's that there are question marks surrounding almost everyone. Sure, Nick Ferguson could come back from his knee injury, maybe. Sam Brandon could come from his knee injury, maybe. And just how long can John Lynch defy time and age? I think you see what I am getting at.
The Broncos have a lot of depth at Corner, and that should help out the safeties, but there is little doubt that the loss of Brandon and Ferguson last season had a huge negative impact on the defense. Now, a year later, the Broncos are banking on both coming back at an elite level in 2007. I am hoping for that, too, but cautiously holding my breath at the same time. Let's take a peek at the safeties.
John Lynch (6-2, 220) --
The ageless wonder. John Lynch heads into his 15th season in the NFL playing at what he'll tell you is the highest level of his career. While that may not be completely accurate there is no doubt that Lynch is still an impact player on defense, on and off the field. Sure, Lynch has lost a step, but what he has lost physically he has doubly made up for mentally. Instead of using physical attributes to make plays on the field he uses his knowledge to put himself in the proper position to make the play. Lynch's career track record speaks for itself - 8 Pro Bowl Appearances, 4 All-Pro Teams, A Super Bowl ring -- John Lynch has had a great career and it shows little sign of slowing down. Since signing with the Broncos as a free agent in 2004, after many in the NFL thought his career was over, Lynch has averaged over 70 tackles per season, and actually got better in 2006, his best year as a Bronco. To tell the story about Lynch and his value to the organization would be incomplete without speaking of all he does in the locker room and in the community. The John Lynch Foundation is incredibly active within all the communities near and dear to the Lynch family, San Diego, Tampa and Denver, and Lynch continues to be unselfish with his time towards numerous positive causes. In a time where there is so much negativity surrounding the conduct of players in the NFL, John Lynch is an icon for those of us that believe a majority of these guys are good people.
Nick Ferguson (5-11, 201) --
Nick Ferguson is a feel-good story in the NFL. Signed and released by 5 different NFL teams, Ferguson worked his way up from Practice Team, to Special Teams, to Starting Safety. Not blessed with tremendous size or speed, Ferguson does have an elite work-ethic and has earned everything he has received in the NFL. All the fluff aside, there are questions about Ferguson heading into the '07 season. First and foremost, Ferguson is trying to comeback from knee surgery which cost him the final 6 games of the 2006 season. Even before the injury, Ferguson's performance had dropped from the career year he enjoyed in 2005. At 32, Ferguson is on the wrong side of 30, and most importantly, like Lynch, Ferguson is a liability in pass coverage. You can get by with one of your safeties playing like a linebacker, but not both. There are younger guys nipping at Ferguson's heels and if Nick cannot comeback at 100%, playing at a higher level than he did in 2006, there might be a change. Either way, guys like Ferguson are easy to cheer for and are proof that hard work and dedication can get you where you want to be.
Curome Cox (6-1, 204) --
Curome Cox has followed a similar path to many of his teammates - undrafted, released, signed to the practice squad, make the active roster, star on special teams, take advantage of an opportunity, force yourself on the team's radar. Cox has done all of those, and in a very short time. Nothing about Cox will `Wow' you, but whenever Cox is on the field you can't help but notice him. He has a nose for the football and a knack for getting to the ball carrier. I find it fitting to talk about Cox after Nick Ferguson because the two players have a lot in common. Close in size and stature, Cox has worked his way into the conscience of the coaching staff and has a real opportunity to make some noise in Training Camp this season. At the very least, Cox provides solid depth and is a force on special teams.
Sam Brandon(6-2, 200) --
I think the general perception around Broncos Nation is the injury to Matt Lepsis was the major blow to the 2006 season. For my money it was the loss of Brandon, the Broncos `Big Nickel' specialist. When Brandon went down for the year during the Steelers' game, the Broncos lost a huge piece of the defensive puzzle. Brandon was a solid match-up against the revolving door of Tight Ends that the Broncos face every year in the AFC West alone. When Brandon went down it had a huge impact on the defense, and guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates really had there way in the passing game. Like Ferguson, the question will remain about his ability to come back and be as effective as he was prior to getting hurt. Playing safety in the NFL is all about strength and agility in you lower body, and have a major knee injury is cause for concern. If Brandon can come back it provides the Broncos with a vital weapon against the weapons I spoke about above. If not, the Broncos are going to have to go to the well again. Brandon was probably in line to take over one of the Safety positions by this time in his career but injuries have delayed his progress. Hopefully this latest set-back won't derail Brandon for good.
Hamza Abdullah (6-2, 216) --
If Hamza Abdullah were an Ice Cream he'd be the flavor of the month. I have heard and read more hype about Abdullah this off-season, and frankly am excited about his prospects. He has good size to play the position, and in limited action last season showed he was not intimidated by the limelight. Drafted in the 7th Round of the 2005 draft by Tampa Bay, the Broncos nabbed Abdullah off of the Bucs' Practice Squad late in the '05 season. It proved to be a shrewd move and Abdullah has been a special team contributor since. Heading into 2007, Abdullah figures to be looked upon to make a leap into the defensive rotation. I like Abdullah and in limited action has looked like a solid tackler and a ball-hawk. Abdullah played 39 career games (11 starts) at Washington State University, where he amassed 104 tackles (69 solo), one sack, one interception, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles. He started all 11 games for the Cougars at free safety as a senior, making a career-high 70 tackles (44 solo) with one sack, four forced fumbles and an interception during his final campaign.
Steve Cargile (6-2, 210) --
Cargile has gotten a lot of play this off-season because of where he has seen action. Defensive coaches have had the 4th year versatile player practice at both safety and linebacker. His size isn't that far off from current WIL Ian Gold, and Cargile plays a lot bigger than the 210 pounds he carries on his frame. Cargile, like many others we have talked about, was an undrafted free-agent who spent most of his rookie year in 2004 on Dallas' practice squad. After spending the 2005 season out of football, Cargile was signed to the Broncos practice squad on Nov. 13, 2006. A rapid rise from out of the league to practice at multiple positions for the Broncos, but when a team spends as freely as the Broncos do in free agency the team has to be a bit creative with some of its roster. Ironically, Cargile has proven to be a versatile athlete in the past, playing three seasons as a wide receiver for Columbia before switching to free safety. As a senior he started all 10 games and led the Lions with 99 tackles and added three passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble to earn second-team All-Conference recognition. As a junior wide receiver, he started seven games and placed fourth on the team with 24 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns. In Cargile's sophomore season, he played in seven games and caught 14 balls for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
Quentin Harris (6-1, 213) --
Harris is a Special Teams specialist, leading the Arizona Cardinals in special teams tackles in two straight seasons. Harris spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals before signing with the NY Giants prior to the 2006 season. After being cut by the Giants, Harris waited patiently for the call, and the Broncos ended his wait, signing Harris on 11/21. Harris is an intriguing player because he has had success in the past playing on special teams, an area the Broncos have really struggled with in the recent past. A name to keep you eye on during Training Camp.
Roderick Rogers (6-2, 187) --
The only rookie in the group, Rogers joined the team as an undrafted free agent after the 2007 draft. Rogers surely would have been selected had he not injured his knee during his Bowl Game in January. Rogers is an excellent athlete, has good range, and is equipped with solid ball skills. Unlike many of the safeties in this group, Rogers is solid in coverage and a good leaper, allowing Rogers to be an effect "center-fielder" in the deep middle. On the downside, Rogers' size is a definite concern and unlike most Broncos' safeties, Rogers is not very physical and is a negative against the run. While at Wisconsin Rogers had a tendency to take a lot of chances, something he'll need to avoid at the next level. A coverage safety who might only be a situational guy at the next level. If Rogers makes the team it will be on I/R or the Practice Squad to be sure,
My Depth Chart -
FREE SAFETY -
1. John Lynch
2. Sam Brandon
3. Quentin Harris
1. Nick Ferguson
2. Curome Cox
3. Hamza Abdullah
My biggest concern heading into the 2007 season is at Safety. 5 of the 8 players were undrafted, and John Lynch is heading into year 15. Sure, every now and then you find a diamond in the rough, but to build an entire position around undrafted players is a risky proposition. Sure, some of these guys are talented and will be made better because of the talent around them, but there is no doubt to me the Broncos are trying to squeeze on more season out of some of these guys before addressing the need in haste next year. While Domonique Foxworth played some safety last season his size and skill set isn't a good fit long term and needs to stay at corner.
Couple the above with the injury concerns and you can't help but put a great-big-IF next to the safety position. IF Nick Ferguson can come back, IF Sam Brandon can come back, IF one of the young guys, be it Abdullah or Cox, can step up and take the next step. That's a lot of if's, folks. Time will tell, and yes, the Broncos have elite corners on both sides and a rebuilt defensive line.. It's a good thing, because they may need every bit of it.