Our final training camp preview will focus on the safety position. In order to squeeze all of our previews in before training camp opens to the public on Saturday, our safety preview will not be split up into two parts.
1. DONTE WHITNER - STARTING STRONG SAFETY
Memo to Donte Whitner: maybe doing somersaults isn't quite the best idea. Whitner was brought in this offseason to replace T.J. Ward at strong safety. Ward might have started his NFL career in Cleveland, but Whitner's roots to the city go back much longer: he was born in Cleveland, went to Glenville High School, and then Ohio State University. After several destinations in the NFL, he's finally landed back home.
Last year, PFF rated Whitner as the fifth-best coverage safety in the league. Ward had made improvements in coverage, but his specialty was defending the run. PFF described the sharp contrasts between the two players:
While they both might play the same position, they are two different players. Ward is a stronger presence in the box, while you get more range from Whitner who upped his game in coverage considerably this year. By way of comparison Ward spent 65.7% of run snaps in the box this year while Whitner was at 21.4%
Whitner has also been mixing it up with Buffalo Bills fans on Twitter, the team with which he began his NFL career in 2006 as a first-round pick.
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. TASHAUN GIPSON - STARTING FREE SAFETY
The opinions on Tashaun Gipson's first season as a starter in 2013 have varied quite a bit. Some feel it was a breakout season for him, as he came away with 95 tackles and 5 interceptions. Others feel he was a liability on defense and viewed as the weakest player in the secondary. Then you have the crowd that I fall in to: the crowd that believes he just had a pedestrian season.
Entering his third year in the NFL, the good thing for Gipson is that he has great job security. Besides swapping Whitner for Ward, the Browns did absolutely nothing to improve the depth at the safety position this offseason.
Pro Football Focus rated him as the 68th safety out of 86 players last year, but he did a pretty good job of playing the lone soldier in center field whenever Ward was relegated to the box. Now that the Browns have added a pass-defending safety in Whitner, the question is, "how does that change Gipson's role?" Will he be counted on to stop the run more often, or will he still play the center field role he became comfortable with? One of the biggest knocks I had on Gipson involved the number of missed tackles he had -- 17, which was second-most among safeties according to PFF.
Job Security: A-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. JORDAN POYER - COMPETING TO BE THE BACKUP STRONG SAFETY
When the Browns claimed Jordan Poyer off waivers from the Eagles last October, DBN's Mike Krupka said, "While I don't think they landed a starter, or even a guy that is going to challenge immediately this year, Poyer could be a guy that the Browns picked up now to groom with the hopes he'll blossom later."
Could now be the time that Poyer blossoms? Given the team's lack of safety depth, I guess you could actually say that Poyer was already the No. 3 safety by the end of last season. He received a lot of playing time in the final four games with Cleveland, racking up 15 tackles. During those four games, he saw 31%, 45%, 29%, and 48% of the team's defensive snaps. He showed some hard-hitting abilities and would seem to have a leg up on everybody else competing for a backup spot.
Final Roster Odds: 80%
4. JOSH AUBREY - COMPETING TO BE THE BACKUP FREE SAFETY
Josh Aubrey is the perfect case of why you can't discount the undrafted free agents in training camp; every year, at least one of them will rise up and do enough to make the 53-man roster.
Last year, I had Aubrey listed as a cornerback in my training camp previews and only gave him a less than 1% chance of making the roster (what can I say; these roster odds are just bullshit sometimes, aren't they?) As a safety in camp last year, Aubrey benefited from Jamoris Slaughter not being healthy enough and Johnson Bademosi being the only other competition really, and he was trying to transition from cornerback to safety.
Unfortunately, Aubrey was placed on injured reserve last October after hurting his knee/ankle in practice. It is uncertain how serious Aubrey's injury was, or if the team figured they would just stash him since they needed another roster spot for injuries elsewhere. Regardless, we'll see if Aubrey is able to deliver another impressive preseason to make the cut as a safety.
Final Roster Odds: 60%
5. JOHNSON BADEMOSI - COMPETING TO BE THE BACKUP FREE SAFETY
I thought the coaching staff's handling of Johnson Bademosi last year was quite unusual. They had him convert from cornerback to safety, and in training camp, they actually had him competing with Tashaun Gipson for a starting role. Bademosi was also seeing a lot of preseason reps on kickoff returns.
When the regular season came along, Bademosi never saw the field at the safety position, and he never received an opportunity to return a kickoff. It was almost like, "why did you waste so much time in training camp developing his safety skills if you weren't going to let him sniff the field?" Bademosi still remained in good standing with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, as he led the team in special teams tackles for the second straight year. If Bademosi makes the team again, it'll likely be to remain as the special teams ace.
Final Roster Odds: 80%
6.DARWIN COOK - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SAFETY
Here is the No. 1 reason to instantly fall in love with Darwin Cook: he hails from CLEVELAND, OH!
Cook attended Shaw High School, and the Plain Dealer featured him in an article this past March. DraftInsider.net says that he, "is a solid defensive back who shows skill in all areas of the game" and is "tough defending the run and possesses better than average ball skills."
How cool would it be for the Browns to feature a safety rotation, even if it was just for a training camp session, that featured two Cleveland, OH players -- Whitner and Cook -- playing the roles of starting safeties for the Cleveland Browns?
Final Roster Odds: 20%
Practice Squad Odds: 20%
7. ROBERT NELSON - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT DEFENSIVE BACK
An undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, Robert Nelson notched 6 interceptions this past season. Although his ball hawk skills might be impressive, I can't get over the size factor -- at 5-9, 175 lbs, does he really stand a chance to make a splash in camp? Maybe he'll find his groove in a niche role, as DraftInsider suggests:
Nelson is a late bloomer of sorts and lacks classic size/speed numbers for the next level, but possesses the skill necessary to line up in dime packages.
Although I'm listing him as a safety, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Nelson ends up lining up at cornerback on Day 1 of training camp. Six players would allow the Browns' safety units to be three teams deep, allowing Nelson to contribute more at cornerback.
Final Roster Odds: 1%
Practice Squad Odds: 10%
That wraps up our training camp positional previews! Our final poll asks a tough question about the safety depth.