We're in the final week of our position previews for training camp, as we now get set to "Cover the Field". This week, we'll start with the safety position, and then close things out with the cornerbacks. Next week, we'll recap any other loose ends before training camp finally begins on August 1st.
With the departure of Sean Jones this season, the secondary has a new look to it in safety Abram Elam. Will he catch on as a starter in our 3-4 defense?
1. BRODNEY POOL - STARTING SAFETY
If you asked me two years ago which safety would last with the Browns longer between Brodney Pool and Sean Jones, I would've picked Jones. Now, it's up to Pool to take charge of the "veteran" role. The last successful veteran leader we had at safety was Brian Russell, but I don't know if Pool can quite live up to that role. Pool has some nice ball skills, but I think he's peaked as a player as an above average safety at best.
One of Pool's best strengths could ultimately be his undoing. Pool can deliver punishing hits on opposing receivers, but with Pool's history of concussions, one wrong hit could be the end of his career, hurting our depth at safety tremendously. On the plus side, Pool has only missed one game over the past three seasons.
Pool has the athleticism and physical tools of an ideal safety, but will he be savvy enough to play in Rob Ryan's system? I'm not so sure I trust him in man coverage yet, and would rather see what Abram Elam has to offer in that role instead. Mangini has given Pool his vote of confidence:
"The key will be to have balanced safeties, so either one can play back, either one can play up and Brodney has shown the ability to do both those things."
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: B-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. ABRAM ELAM - STARTING SAFETY
Abram Elam is one of the player's I'm most excited about on this year's defense. He was an up-and-coming player with Mangini under the Jets, and for Mangini not to show any apparent interest in re-signing Sean Jones or bringing in a veteran safety, he must have sincerely believed Elam was ready to be a starter in the NFL.
Elam was known for being solid against the run and providing a good pass rush when asked to. Fans in New York questioned his ability to stay with receivers down the field, but Elam stated otherwise in an exclusive interview with Dawgs By Nature:
"I don't think it's a problem. If I couldn't cover, I wouldn't be in the NFL. But I continue to work on my game, I know there's a lot of stuff I need to improve on and I work to get better every day in practice."
For the full piece we ran on Elam, click here.
Elam also runs a blog on AbeElam.com, where he has been posting notes throughout the offseason. Recently, he discussed his thoughts on where he would be playing, as well as what is necessary for each position:
"I don’t know if I’m going to play free safety or strong safety this season. Probably both. The goal is for us to be interchangeable in the secondary, for all of the safeties on the field to be able to play up in the box as well as deep in the back.
I’m focusing my training on becoming more versatile. As a strong safety you have to play more in the box, cover the tight end and stop the run. The free safety is the last line of defense, the ballhawk in the back.
Personally I don’t care where I play, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team. Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’m training to be the starter.
Playing strong safety means you have to have a physical, aggressive mentality to get up and stick your nose in. You can’t shy away from contact. The toughest thing is to dodge the offensive linemen. They see a smaller guy and try to push them around. The key is to beat them with agility and speed.
The free safety anchors the deep part of the field. Some of the QBs are hard to get reads on and you have to study them more extensively and watch their mechanics. Quarterbacks make either full-field or half-field reads. The experienced ones can read the whole field, while some of the younger ones are not as confident or patient and can only read half the field."
Job Security: A
Player Quality: C+ (potential for more)
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. MIKE ADAMS - VETERAN BACKUP SAFETY
I was pleased that the Browns kept Mike Adams on as the backup safety. Last year, he should have seen more time as the nickel back too, but with more depth at the cornerback position this year, Adams should be able to stick to just the safety position.
Adams is acceptable for a spot start or two, but not for an extended stretch. In the future, it might be wise for the Browns to invest a draft pick in a safety, especially if Pool isn't brought back next year.
Player Quality: C
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. NICK SORENSEN - VETERAN BACKUP SAFETY
While he hasn't been with the Browns that long, I wonder how many fans would be surprised to hear that Nick Sorensen is entering his ninth season in the NFL. Sorensen was mostly a special teams contributor two years ago for the Browns, but saw his role expand a little more last year due to injuries in the secondary. There were several instances in which I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to shoot through the line on a blitz, although he was only credited for half a sack on the season.
Without much competition at backup safety this year, coupled with the fact that he is a good special teams player, Sorensen's job should be safe again.
Player Quality: D+
Final Roster Odds: 75%
5. HAMZA ABDULLAH - BACKUP SAFETY
Hamza Abdullah is another intriguing player. He was a seventh-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos back in 2005. Two years ago, Abdullah started the final eight games of the season for the Broncos, and was expected to compete for a starting role for them last season.
After suffering a groin injury, he lost his shot at the starting job. He originally made the team's 53-man roster, but played sparingly the first couple of weeks before being released. The Browns signed him fairly early into the season, but, in typical Crennel fashion, Abdullah never saw the field for the Browns.
Here's what our Denver Broncos affiliate, Mile High Report, once had to say about Abdullah:
"When healthy, Abdullah is a hard hitter, when he doesn’t flat out miss the ball carrier. He takes bad angles to the ball and doesn’t get deep enough in pass coverage."
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 40%
6. BRET LOCKETT - BACKUP SAFETY
Safety Bret Lockett comes from UCLA, where he had an impressive Pro Day.
Lockett ran a pair of impressive 40s, clocking in at 4.49 and 4.45 seconds, which would have been the second-best time among safeties at the combine.
He broad-jumped 10-feet, 2inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times despite not training for it because he was recovering from December surgery to repair a broken forearm.
"I've never run below a 4.5,so when I heard 4.49 … that shot me up after that," Lockett said.
"I imagine a lot of people liked me. I didn't train for the bench, and I did 19, and then running below a 4.5, I heard a lot of people saying, `Wow."'
Scouting reports indicate that Lockett was an average safety in college who received an opportunity to start in his final season, finishing third on the team with 61 tackles.
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Practice Squad Odds: 30%
Safety Position Quality (Overall): C
I have high hopes that Elam will have a solid season this year, but without the starting experience, it's difficult to rank the safety position very high. Our depth is decent, but we don't have anyone who could fill in as a starter unless Abdullah has a really impressive camp.