In our continued 2010 Training Camp Position Previews for the Cleveland Browns, it's time to take a look at safety as part of our "Cover the Field" week. The Browns invested two of their draft picks at the safety position this year. With Pool out of the picture, who will rise up to take his place in the starting lineup?
1. ABRAM ELAM - STARTING STRONG SAFETY
The biggest benefactor to the Browns having Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown, and Joe Haden in coverage this year, as opposed to just Wright and Brandon McDonald, could be Abram Elam.
When Mangini first acquired Elam, scouts and Jets fans stated that he was not very good in coverage. He wasn't unbearable in his first season as a starter with the Browns, but he clearly wasn't as comfortable in coverage as you'd like your starting safety would be.
Like most of our safeties, Elam is better suited at keeping things in front of him and running up to make a play on the ball carrier. Coming off a season in which he had 91 tackles and 1 sack, it would be nice to have Elam work on his coverage skills in camp, but my hopes aren't very high. I would also like to see Elam blitz a lot more often this year. He talked about how his blitzing impacted the Pittsburgh game, in which the offensive line had to account for him, helping free up other players to record a sack.
Elam might have some more responsibility this year, considering he'll be playing alongside a rookie (in all likelihood). Heading into camp, I look at Elam as an "average" safety; let's hope he can become that "steal" we hoped he'd be a year ago.
Job Security: A
Player Quality: C+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. T.J. WARD - ROOKIE STARTING FREE SAFETY
There are two simple attributes that describe the team's second round draft pick, who was considered to be a bit of a "reach" by "experts":
- Hard Hitter
- Run Stopper
Of all the rookies on the Browns' roster, Ward has the best chance at starting Week 1 after the team chose not to retain Brodney Pool in the offseason. We've already looked at a few of Ward's hits here on Dawgs By Nature from YouTube, and he certainly knows how to go at the opposition like a missile. I like that spark that he brings to the position -- it's the same type of spark I always thought Pool would be able to bring one day, but that never quite worked out.
Ward didn't receive critical acclaim for his pass coverage in college, which is a reason to be concerned considering Elam doesn't excel in coverage at the other starting position. With that said, Ward reportedly didn't look too bad in coverage in minicamp, so it'll be interesting to see how he does in a week or two when the pads are on and he's lining up against the team's first-string offense.
Job Security: B
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. MIKE ADAMS - BACKUP SAFETY
Love him or hate him, Mike Adams always seems bound to have a significant role in the secondary when a lack of depth is present. Considering there are two rookie safeties on the roster and a rookie competing for the nickel back position, Adams remains the team's "go-to utility player" of the secondary.
He is listed at safety for this preview because that is where his primary position has been, but he started a few games at cornerback for the Browns last season and will likely see action there again this year.
This will be Adams' fourth year with the team, and although the rookie Ward has been penned by many as a lock to start, I wouldn't put it past the coaching staff to name Adams the other starting safety, at least to begin the season, if Ward comes out of the gate struggling in camp. Either way, Adams should be worked into the rotation at safety or cornerback as necessary.
Player Quality: C+
Final Roster Odds: 98%
4. LARRY ASANTE - BACKUP ROOKIE STRONG SAFETY
There are two simple attributes that describe the team's fifth-round draft pick:
- Hard Hitter
- Run Stopper
Sounds familiar, eh? There's no denying that Ward and Asante excel at stopping the run and delivering licks, and I don't think it is a coincidence that both of the safeties we drafted are known for this. That tells me that while it's obvious the team doesn't have an Ed Reed in pass coverage, they don't feel they need an above average coverage safety, at least not immediately, with the type of defensive schemes planned.
The Browns had to so something at safety after losing Pool and not pursuing any free agents, and I'm happy with the fliers they took on Ward and Asante. Although Asante was taken in the fifth round, I don't see him as being too far off from Ward. In fact, with his aggressiveness and his ability to read plays well, if Asante is the type of player who the team only inserts into the game on special downs, I think we might see more "impact" plays from Asante than we do from Ward this season.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
5. NICK SORENSEN - EMERGENCY SAFETY / SPECIAL TEAMER
Sorensen is listed as a safety, and while he saw action on a few plays here and there last season defensively, he's nothing more than a last-resort safety. He makes his impact on special teams, and I am perfectly fine with having him on the roster performing the same duties this season.
If I have to comment on his ability to play safety, it would be that when I've seen him blitz in the past, he seems to be able to time his rushes well, often getting through the line to pressure the quarterback (in the preseason). That benefit gets negated with his difficulty to make tackles and his overall lack of speed at the position though.
Final Roster Odds: 75%
6. RAYMOND VENTRONE - BACKUP SAFETY / SPECIAL TEAMER
Can I just copy+paste the section on Sorensen from above?
Ventrone was a post-training camp signing for the Browns last year, and while he is listed as a WR/S, his contributions were pretty much the same as Sorensen's: he didn't play safety, but rather special teams. He made quite a few tackles on special teams, so if the team doesn't have any nail-biter type of cuts that they have to make, I don't mind keeping Ventrone around again to maintain that continuity on special teams.
I will make Ventrone's roster odds less than Sorensen's in the sense that the team added three rookies to the secondary, two of which might contribute on special teams. Also, I have a feeling he might be vying with Brandon McDonald for a roster spot.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
Safety Position Quality (Overall): D+
The Browns have some promise at the safety position with Ward and Asante, but neither of them are proven yet. In a worst-case scenario, which isn't completely out of the question, we might be reviewing the position mid-way through the season with an assessment that says, "none of our safeties can cover, neither of the rookies are making an impact, and Adams shouldn't be starting." The secondary is upgraded because of the cornerback position, but the jury is still out at safety.