Our final training camp preview series is titled, "Cover the Field," as we begin with the Cleveland Browns' starting safeties or contenders for a starting role at safety. Those players include T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, and Johnson Bademosi.
1. T.J. WARD - STARTING STRONG SAFETY
This is a big year for T.J. Ward for multiple reasons. First, it's a contract year for him -- he is in the final year of what was a very affordable 4-year, $5.09 million rookie deal. Ward has been a solid safety for Cleveland, and has drawn praise over the years from the likes of Peter King, Pro Football Focus, Pete Prisco, and other members of the media. Despite that, as he enters his fourth year, I still find myself desiring a lot more from Ward.
As a rookie in 2010, Ward started all 16 games at safety and recorded a career-high 123 combined tackles. Since then, he has been banged up quite a bit -- he only played 8 games in 2011, and 14 games in 2012. Statistically, he had 68 tackles all of last year. Pro Football Focus praised the difference maker he is when Ward is in the box to stop the run, and that he rarely missed tackles (second best among safeties). That may be true, but I think Ward needs to find a way to contribute more game-changing, hard-hitting type of plays to elevate him to that next tier of safeties in the NFL, and to ensure that the front office will want him back in 2014.
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. TASHAUN GIPSON - STARTING FREE SAFETY
Our friends at DraftBrowns.com took a deep look at the gameplay of Tashaun Gipson, so I advise you to check that out.
Gipson was a long shot to make the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but he did it -- Gipson played in 10 games with 3 starts, recording 33 combined tackles and 1 interception. Expectations are always lower for undrafted free agents, so Gipson caught a lot of peoples' eyes when he looked like a pretty competent safety when he received opportunities to play.
Thanks to comments by general manager Michael Lombardi,Gipson is considered the favorite to start at free safety heading into training camp. Back in May, Lombardi said, "Gipson played last year, and he played well for the team. So he’s going to get all the looks." I was very surprised that the Browns did not address safety in free agency, although I still wonder if something for Kerry Rhodes could be looming. If not, Gipson will get the first crack at being "the guy."
Job Security: C+
Final Roster Odds: 95%
3. JOHNSON BADEMOSI - COMPETING FOR STARTING FREE SAFETY
There is no doubt that Johnson Bademosi is going to make the Browns' final roster in 2013. The reason I believe that is because he was so good on special teams as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2012, drawing praise to the point where he was almost considered a Pro Bowler for his efforts. Bademosi knew how to pursue players and make a sound tackle.
Defensively, Bademosi only got a couple of reps at cornerback as a rookie. This year, he is making the transition to free safety, and is expected to compete with Gipson for the starting role. Even though Gipson is the favorite, Bademosi's sound play on special teams makes it easy to understand why the defensive coaching staff wants to see if those skills can translate over to safety. Back in mid-May, Bademosi discussed his transition to safety with the ABJ here.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
On Thursday, we will take a look at rookie draft pick Jamoris Slaughter and Kenronte Walker to round out our preview on the safeties. Today's poll asks whether you think T.J. Ward will be re-signed for 2014, or if the team will move on without him.