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Broncos Off-Season: A Look at the 2011 Safety Play and What Adams Brings

Brian Dawkins has been the face of the Broncos safeties since his arrival, and has been an impact player, but he is the face of the issues facing the Broncos secondary, coverage. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Brian Dawkins has been the face of the Broncos safeties since his arrival, and has been an impact player, but he is the face of the issues facing the Broncos secondary, coverage. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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During the days between the 2011 draft and the beginning of the season, one of the biggest areas of joy for fans was the signing of new, top-ranked rookie safeties Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter. With their arrival veteran free safety Renaldo Hill decided to retire and Broncos fans raved about Moore being one of the best ball-hawks in recent years. Carter was praised for his bone crushing style and physicality. But reality set in very quickly. The 2011 season was one of the worst in terms of pass defense in recent Bronco memory and it was the biggest weakness on the Broncos defense.

Entering into this off-season, defensive back was one of the biggest focuses the Broncos had for free agency and the draft. When asked about what fans wanted in free agency, defensive back was what fans wanted the most. This makes sense, with the loss of Renaldo Hill, the Broncos were very young and inexperienced at safety, and it showed. With that in mind, the Broncos have brought in three safeties so far this off-season and just landed former-Brown Mike Adams. Now this may not be the sexiest signing the Broncos have made, but let's take a look at how this could reshape the Broncos defense.

A Quick Cover 2 Safety Guide:

So this will just be a quick guide to the break down of the safety position in the Cover 2 defense that the Broncos ran in 2011 and will run in 2012. In the Cover 2, as with most defense, there are two positions, the free safety (FS) and strong safety (SS). Now remember this is just a basic breakdown to illustrate the points to come rather than an indepth study of the positions:

  • Free Safety: The free safety in this defense is considered the last line of defense, almost always in a deep coverage to stop any wide receiver who breaks away or handles broken coverage. Free safeties are rarely brought up into the box, up next to linebackers, and when there is blitzing, especially by defensive backs, the free safety is usually the deepest player required to blanket coverage to try and stop any big plays from taking place. Key skills for this position are:

    - Coverage ability, zone moreso than man, but both are important
    - Good tackling form, when a free safety misses a tackle, it's usually a touchdown
    - High football intelligence since in many defenses the FS is the QB of the secondary

    Due to this, free safety is a position that is hard to play as rookies, and only a few per decade do well early, that is why the 2010 free safety class (Berry, Thomas, Ward, Allen) was considered the best in recent memory since so many played so well as rookies.
  • Strong Safety: While the free safety is focused almost entirely on coverage, the strong safety still plays coverage but plays closer to the line of scrimmage. When zone blitz's are called the strong safety will usually be at the line rushing the passer. They are also a much bigger part of the run game, either playing man on the running back or a middle zone on run downs. Brian Dawkins has shown us what is usually expected from a strong safety, and the key skill set:

    - Ability to read running backs to adjust in the run game and make stops
    - Physicality and strength are key since they usually cover tight ends and running backs
    - Speed to rush the passer as well as make tackles in the backfield

    Strong safety is usually easier to adjust for rookies since the duties are less complex and deal with less coverage schemes. You can usually find good strong safeties in each class and usually are taken lower than free safeties.

The 2011 Season:

Entering the 2011 season Brian Dawkins was the obvious starter at strong safety. Quinton Carter was seen as his backup and situational player. Rahim Moore was seen as the starting free safety with David Bruton as the backup. But early in the season it was clear Rahim Moore was struggling more than expected and he was benched by week 8 in favor of Quinton Carter, who had seen spot duty for Dawkins early in the season. As the season was closing out Brian Dawkins started taking fewer and fewer snaps and since Quinton Carter was the better fit at strong safety he moved over and David Bruton earned the starting free safety job. By week 16 Brian Dawkins was out of the lineup and Carter and Bruton were intrenched as the starters, and it was clear they were an improvement. Carter really came into his own as a strong safety and Bruton, who was seen as a developmental safety, finally developed. But something was still lacking, and that was a veteran presence on the field, and it cost the Broncos against the perfectly schemed Patriots. Just for reference, here's a breakdown of the four safeties snap count at each position:

Player Position Snaps Position Snaps Starter Week 17
Brian Dawkins SS 796 No
Rahim Moore FS 554 No
Quinton Carter FS 418 SS 431 Yes
David Bruton FS 282 Yes

Going into 2012 it is clear that Bruton and Carter are the best safeties on the roster, and while Dawkins is an incredible leader, and I believe it would be nice to see him remain on the team, but Carter was better than him, pure and simple. While Moore was seen as an instant starter, he was quickly surpassed by two of his backups, and while he has long term potential, Bruton is the better safety. But there was still a need for a veteran, the Broncos answered by bringing in a variety of safeties from Brandon Meriweather to Mike Adams, and they decided on Mike Adams, which to me was the best move they could make. Adams adds exactly what the Broncos need, and while not top talent, is a veteran who is a reliable player who adds stability, something lacking since Hill's retirement.

A quick breakdown of Adams:

- Has very good tackling form, had zero missed tackles in coverage
- Quarterbacks who throw at him have a QB rating of 51.2
- Only 52.4% of passes thrown his way are caught
- Only allowed 1 touchdown last season
- Only allows 5.3 yards after the catch, 9th among safeties
- Only allows a reception once every 36 snaps

So pretty much he is the perfect Cover 2 safety:

- Doesn't give up big plays
- Doesn't miss tackles
- Is solid in man and zone coverage

With the addition of Mike Adams to Moore and Bruton, you can expect a much improved secondary. Having Bruton developed into a starting-caliber safety and Adams bringing in a veteran presence, along with Carter's progression, this is a very solid stable of safeties full of talent, youth and experience. And while we may lack any huge names, by bringing in Adams, it's the final piece that will raise our safeties back to a level that isn't something to be ashamed of. The safety play grew with the arrival of Carter and Burton and with the addition of Adams it's set to be a solid outing in 2012. I'm not expecting a top tier secondary, but the scheme is starting to come together and while Adams is an under the radar move, it's a key cog in this defense, and I'd be a liar to not say I'm excited.