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OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Safety

[For more previews of this nature, click on the “2010 Offseason Tracker” tab at the top of this screen.]

2009 Season

The Vikings safety play was regarded as atrocious for much of the 2009 season.  While it ended up being Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin that “gave away” the Championship game, there is no doubt that safety was considered a liability throughout the season.

There is an argument to be made that the Vikings defensive scheme makes safeties look bad, as evidenced by Darren Sharper’s stellar season with the Saints after a few forgettable ones with the Vikings.  Even if that is the case, the Vikings scheme relies on sound tackling and neither starting safeties showed much of that throughout the season.

Veteran Madieu Williams was actually fourth on the team with 61 solo tackles during the regular season.  Williams lacked playmaking ability, however, as evidenced by him having no interceptions, sacks, or forced fumbles.  He deflected four passes all season.

Second year player Tyrell Johnson stepped into the starting lineup to try and fill the shoes of Darren Sharper.  While Johnson recently described his 2009 performance as “very solid” most fans considered him the weakest link on the defense.  Johnson was sixth on the team with 48 solo tackles, but he also was unable to register a sack or forced fumble all season long.  He did have one interception.

For these two starters, the lack of game-changing impact was not the biggest knock against them, however.  Missed tackles plagued their season and often put the Vikings in precarious situations.  Williams missed 11 tackles this season and Johnson missed 7.

Towards the end of the year a seventh round rookie caught the eye of the fans when coaches started giving him playing time on the defense.  Jamarca Sanford seems to be more speedy, more feisty, and more of a playmaker than either of the two current starters.  In limited time Sanford registered 23 solo tackles and a forced fumble.  He missed one tackle.  Most of these stats came from his time spent on special teams which is where he first shined.

Reserve safeties and special teams players Husain Abdullah and Eric Frampton combined for 28 tackles and a forced fumble.

On other words, our three backup safeties registered half the amount of tackles and twice as many turnovers as our starters that saw much more extensive playing time.  Abdullah missed four tackles this season but Frampton missed zero.

Current Roster

Eric Frampton is the only Viking safety that will see his contract expire on March 5th, but he will be a restricted free agent.  This means that the Vikings can retain the 25 year old player quite easily, which I think they will given his dependability on special teams.

Everybody else is locked up for 2010 and I expect them all to be back at least until the first round of cuts are made in training camp.

It is possible, and has been speculated, that the Vikings will choose to part ways with Madieu Williams.  Williams gets paid like a starter but his production did not match his paycheck.  With the uncapped year upon us, the Vikings could cut Williams now and not face any cap penalties.  Even though it might make sense, I think the coaching staff likes Williams and think he is capable of better play.  Also, there would be no clear option to replace him with.

Regardless, a three-way competition between Williams, Johnson, and Sanford is shaping up to be one of the best position battles of the 2010 preseason.  If the Vikings manage to add another name to that list, then all the better.

Unrestricted Free Agency

If the Vikings want to find an upgrade at the safety position, they are not going to find it here.

Darren Sharper leads the way for this group, and we all know he will never play football for Brad Childress again.

Behind Sharper are a pair of aging Steelers in Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter.  Both are decent players, Carter is 34 years old and Clark will almost certainly be retained by the Steelers.

After that, names like Sean Jones, Will Allen, Nick Ferguson, and Jermaine Phillips should not inspire much hope to the Vikings safety woes.

Restricted Free Agency

O.J. Atogwe, Nick Collins, Bernard Pollard, Antoine Bethea, Brodney Pool, and Reed Doughty are all restricted free agents and would all represent upgrades to the Vikings current roster. 

However, none of these guys are going to come cheaply and I don’t suspect the Vikings would like to give up their first rounder and a ton of money for one of them at this point.  I could be wrong.

Brodney Pool is an interesting case because of his concussion history.  Despite being only 26 years old there is some talk that he may be forced to retire if concussions become a problem.  Knowing that risk, it is conceivable that the Browns tender him at a lower level or do not tender him at all.  He is an excellent coverage safety and would be worth the risk if the Vikings could find a way to land him.

Trade Possibilities

Teams are trying to find as many picks in this year’s draft as they can given the uncertainty surrounding the CBA and also the quality of the draft class itself.

Therefore, it is possible that a safety could be traded for that would be considered an upgrade for the Vikings.

The only real example that comes to mind, however, is Kerry Rhodes who has been somewhat disgruntled with his role in the Jets defense.  He is only 27 years old, and if the asking price was reasonable, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Vikings inquire.

Draft Possibilities

I have little doubt that the Vikings will target a safety in the drat this year.  However, unless Eric Berry (Tennessee) or Earl Thomas (Texas) fall to them at the thirty spot I don’t think it will be a first round priority.  In fact, I think the Vikings will hold off on drafting a safety until/unless they have the opportunity to snag some incredible value.

An example of what I mean is that if Taylor Mays (USC) or Nate Allen (South Florida) fall to them in the second round then they’ll be ready and waiting to scoop them up.

The most likely scenario is that they wait to try and snag a guy like Chad Jones (LSU), Morgan Burnett (Georgia Tech), Darrell Stuckey (Kansas), Reshad Jones (Georgia), Major Wright (Florida), or Myron Rolle (Florida State) fall to them at the appropriate time in rounds three or later.

Let’s face it, these third-fifth rounders do not really represent a downgrade from the production we are currently seeing at the safety position.

Projections

I think the Vikings will be content to have the three-way competition that I mentioned earlier.  There is something to be said for continuity and one can only think the two youngsters (Sanford & Johnson) will improve at least a little.

If the value is there, however, in a trade offer or a steal in the draft, then the Vikings will not hesitate to pounce.  Adding a fourth member to the competition could only have positive results.

I don’t think Madieu Williams will be cut, however, unless he gets beat out in training camp and a new CBA has not been reached.


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2 Responses to “OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Safety”

  1. bigjohnny84 says:

    We have to get better at the safety position. I dont think we can just go with the same guys and hope they play better.

  2. Lost Viking says:

    Would consider the commentary to be too negative. Tyrell Johnson and Madeiu give the deep secondary the range that was missing. There could have been better tackling but it improved in second half. These safeties don’t take many chances, agreed. I’m comfortable going into next season with only a late round draft addition. And allow Frampton and Sanford some additional playing time.

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