Well, training camps are begginning today and what better time to close out my rankings. Today I look at the last line of defense, the safeties. A very demanding position the safety is asked to cover a large area. Set back from the line of scrimmage, safties need to be able to diagnose plas and formations and communicate them to the rest of his secondary. Some of the most notable defensive players in the league play the safety position. Safties need to be able to do all tasks on the field. They need to be able to run with recievers as well as tight ends, come up to make tackles, or be responsible for a third or half of the field in deep zone coverage. The AFC East hosts some very young budding stars at this position.
1) Buffalo Bills- OK, you can say whatever you want but I had to throw them a bone here. It may be the only thign they finish first in, unless you count losses of course. The Bills have an extremely deep and very talented core of safties which is what warrants them the number one ranking here. Jairus Byrd busted onto the scene last season with 9 interceptions! Donte Whitner has been a very solid Free Safety for this team for 5 season and his injury last season allowed Byrd to shine. Whitner, a former first rounder out of Ohio State is a much better coverage guy back there than Byrd, but he lacks the play-making ability of the second year ballhawk. It will be vey interesting to see what happens with this group, I predict Whitner is moved over to strong safety to start the season because Byrd was the lone bright spot in a forgettable 2009 season for the Bills. The strong safety for the Bills last season was George Wilson, a 5 year vet out of Arkansas. Wilson finished second on the team in tackles and contributed with four interceptions of his own last season. Wilson saw his first season of serious playng time last year and played well. If Whitner (my presumed starter) has trouble with his transition, Wilson will retain his duties thus making another Bills first round draft pick moot. The main thing to know about this group for the Bills is that they have three starters, some teams in this division aren’t sure if they have one.
2) New England Patriots- New England couldv’e easily been ranked one with Brandon Meriweather alone. After struggling with the schemes of the hoodie’s defense early in his career, Meriweather has quickly turned into a star at the position. The game has started to slow down for the former Hurricane standout and allowed him to fly all over the field making plays. He is also the reason that the pass defense has not suffered with all of the changes at the corner back slot. Opposite Meriweather is a bit of a question mark. James Sanders started the first game of the season only to be demoted to reserve duty for most of the year. He finished strong and started the last four games which gives him the edge on Brandon McGowan. McGowan started 11 games for the Pats’ last season but played himself out of that role by week 14. Both players have shown flashes of promise but whoever is most consistent during camp will liekly get the job. No matter who wins the job, look to see both 6 yr vets see the field for New England. The combination of these three talents gain them the two spot, but the inconsistent playat free safety keeps them from top billing.
3) New York Jets- The Jets are bringing in some new talent ofter the departure of Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes made soem big plays for this defense during its playof push and his absence will hurt the unit. Replacing Rhodes will be Brodney Pool who came over from the Browns this off-season. Pool has good ball skils at the safety position and if I were to label him, he would fall into the; covers better than he tackles category. Pool has 11 interceptions in his 5 season of play and with great corners on both sides, Pool should have a lot of opportunities to make plays in coverage. The strong safety for this defense is Jim Leonhard. Leonhard followed Rex Ryan to New York after becoming the starter during the 2008 season with the Ravens. Leonhard is a high motor guy who always seems to be around the pile. Extremely undersized, the former badger from Wisconsin plays big. He hits hard and throws his body around the field. With Pool’s coverage skills, and Leonhard’s seemingly disregard for his body, this combination has a good chance to gel and be a very solid group for the gang green. Backing up Pool and Leonhard will be Eric Smith. Smith managed a few starts last season and has good size (6’1″) for the position, especially wen compard to Leonhard.
4) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins find themselves in the four slot here due to them having no idea who will start at free safety. Chris Clemons, Reshod Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jason Allen? Two of those guys are nickle and dime corners in some sets. Clemons, the second year man from Clemson, will get the first shot at the job in my opinion. He has good coverage skills and great speed to cover ground. He lacks physicality that is coveted by this coachign staff and his communication skils are a work in progress. He showed some signs last season that he had what it takes in the NFl and this coaching staff is putting a lot of pressure on him to follow through. Yerimiah Bell enjoyed his first Pro Bowl selection last season and is a very solid stonrg safety. He hits a ton and has great athleticism to cover both tight ends and recievers. His tackling skills are above average and he will need to take Clemons under his wing in order for the group to be effective. This position is no doubt the biggest focus in Dolphins camp this off-season, and it may be the reason this team does not get over the hump and make the playoffs.