Even though most people figured the Broncos would make defensive line the first priority in the offseason, followed closely by linebacker, the secondary got by far the most attention in free agency and the draft. It’s tough to argue against that approach, because the secondary needed work.
Denver’s safety situation was among the worst in the NFL last season - not just the worst safety situation, but perhaps the worst situation of any position group in the league. Seven players started at safety for the Broncos last season, including linebacker Wesley Woodyard, although that was more of a 4-4 look for the Broncos to begin a game against Carolina. Among those players there were no sacks, one interception, no forced fumbles and one recovered fumble the entire season. In addition to making almost no big plays, they were often liabilities in coverage and did little to help a bad run defense. Roderick Rogers summed up the problems at safety: He was asked to start less than three weeks after being on the practice squad, played terribly in his start against Oakland and was cut two days later. Rogers didn’t appear in another NFL game the rest of the season and is unsigned right now. Josh Barrett was also brought up off the practice squad and became a starter two weeks later. The team had almost no other options. Not one of the seven safeties that started a game last year for the Broncos is projected to start in the NFL this season.
Denver went to work, adding two safeties in free agency to become immediate starters, and drafting two other safeties. Brian Dawkins comes over from Philadelphia. He will turn 36 in October but the Broncos are hoping he has a couple more good seasons left. At very least, he’ll bring leadership to the Broncos locker room that has lacked since Al Wilson and John Lynch were let go. Renaldo Hill is the other starter, signed from Miami. He has been a regular starter in the NFL since 2002 and will add stability to the defense. Darcel McBath was taken in the second round and David Bruton was selected in the fourth. Both are natural free safeties, but Bruton’s selection was based mostly on his special-teams ability. Barrett did show some good signs last year, and was working with the first- and second-team defense in certain situations that takes advantage of his size-speed combination. He could end up playing near the line of scrimmage on passing downs.
At cornerback, Champ Bailey is back from an injury-filled season and should be a top corner once again. He’ll be flanked by Andre Goodman, who got a big contract to replace Dre Bly. He had 19 passes defensed and five interceptions with Miami last year, and could put up similar numbers this season because he’ll be tested often. Rookie Alphonso Smith hadn’t locked up the nickel cornerback job by the end of offseason practices, but he should during camp. If not, that won’t look good for the Broncos, considering they traded their own 2010 first-round pick to select Smith in the second round. Second-year cornerbacks Jack Williams and Joshua Bell will also compete for the nickel and dime cornerback spots.