UPDATED - So I figured out how to edit posts, so I made a correction to Madieu's contract and added a link to a recent Vikings Access article in which Childress discusses his feelings on Williams and Johnson, how they finished up the season and what he thinks of a certain other safety.
Thanks to everyone who read and got involved with the last one of these. Still not sure what qualifies as deserving of a REC, but I appreciate that people thought enough of the work put into it to think so highly of it. Before we go into the next part of the series, I wanted to clear some things up from the first one as it will be a big part of how we go forward.
First, I am not taking the practice squad into account. Rarely can you count on a guy to make the transition from practice squad to starter/back-up. I know Jaymar was on the practice squad two years ago, but even he hasn't played that much and was inactive for most of the year. People are beginning to talk about Albert Young taking the snaps Taylor used to get, but I would wait till after the draft and training camp before buying your "Young" jersey.
And second, many people brought up that I didn't mention Brian Robison when I went over the DT's. The reason for this is two fold: 1) Robison is a DE and 2) When he plays at DT, it is known as a "sub-package". Sub-packages are changes in the starting roster that modify the "base defense" to attack a change in the offense. The Base Defense is the defense that a team runs that both maximizes the talent on the field and gives them the best chance to both stop the pass and the run. Its also the defense that starts the game and is used for the majority of snaps. Sub-packages come into play, using Robison as an example, when the defense has forced a 3rd and long and you know that the opposing offense isn't going to try running the ball. The coordinator can choose to run a sub-package that takes the players best suited for run stopping, like Phat Pat, and replacing them with players whose skills help more against the pass, like Robison. In general, teams draft to improve their base defense. If a guy has the ability to make an impact on a sub-package, or say special teams, that is considered in their draft grade, but ultimately, they are trying to get players that will improve their base defense above all else. This is why we are trying to focus on what the Vikings like to use certain positions for in their base defense: a 4-3. Now we can get started on another aspect of that base defense as we discuss the safety position for the Minnesota Vikings.
There are two different safety positions in a 4-3 defense, a free safety (FS) and a strong safety (SS) and while each is responsible for the back end of the field, they also have different responsibilities when it comes to the run and passing games. In a traditional 4-3 defense, the FS plays 10-15 yards off the ball and towards the middle of the field. Their main responsibility is covering deep passes and protecting the coverages of the cornerbacks and linebackers that are playing in front of him. His first task is to diagnosis the play and prevent said play for gaining any significant yardage. The SS plays closer to the line of scrimmage and his main responsibility is in the run game. Because of this, the SS generally has more weight to his frame than a FS might, but not so much that he would be a liability in pass defense or be considered a slightly smaller linebacker.
Now we know that the Vikings don't necessarily run a traditional 4-3 secondary as stated above. The Viking's secondary usually runs what is known as a Cover-2 shell. The Cover-2 shell is usually synonymous with the Tampa-2 defense and it is no different with the Vikings. In a Tampa-2, the pressure on the QB comes from a rush generated by the front 4 lineman without the help of blitzers. This leaves the linebackers and cornerbacks to play man or zone with each safety covering a half of the field behind them. This is wear the "2" in Cover-2 comes from. As in there are two players that cover the back end of the field in zone coverage. Cover 0 has no safeites, Cover 1 has one safety in back end coverage, Cover 3 has a combination of 2 safeties and a CB or 2 CBs and a S to have 3 men cover the back end, and Cover 4 has both safeties and both cornerbacks deep in coverage, sometimes called "Prevent" defense. The Tampa-2 defense has a sight hitch from a general Cover-2 because the MLB's responsibility in coverage is to drop down the middle of the field and cover the natural hole in the defense caused by the safeties having to play closer to the sidelines when covering their half of the field. We can get into that more when we talk LB's though.
Cover-2 changes things from a personnel start point. Now the line that separated what makes a FS and a SS blurs and makes them somewhat interchangeable because each has to cover the deep pass and each has to be able to take angles and help in run support. So instead of a pure cover FS, the FS also has to be a factor in run support and vise versa for the SS. According to the Vikings depth chart, their safeties are broken out like this:
The first thing to notice is that all of the safeties have similar size. None is shorter than 5-10 (Sanford) and none taller than 6' (Johnson, Williams, Abdullah). None heavier than 207 (Johnson) and none lighter than 200 (Sanford). This is likely because of, as we discussed earlier, in a Cover-2 shell the safeties have similar responsibilities so it would be only natural that they be similar in size and athletic ability.
Now here is something that separates the safety position on the Vikings roster from all others. Unlike every other position, every single one of these safeties was active for every game this past year. While Williams and Johnson took most of the snaps on defense, Abdullah, Frampton, and Sanford all played an important part to the Vikings special teams this year. Not only that, but when Winfield was inactive due to injury, Abdullah and Frampton both played CB. Abdullah even recorded a sack against the Seahawks. Another odd trivia about Abdullah and Frampton: both attended Washington State University and were drafted within a year of each other. Well, maybe not drafted, but Frampton is a 4 year vet and Abdullah is a 3rd year vet. Main point being is that they were an intricate part of the team this past season even though they are considered back-ups only.
While everyone, including myself, was disappointed with the overall play at the safety position, I think there are a few factors that will prevent the early drafting of a prospect at the position, if at all during the draft:
1) Every safety was active for every game last year
As we discussed earlier, all 5 safeties we on the active roster last season. Not just the 53 man roster, but the game day roster. The game day roster only includes 48 of the 53 men on the team. The 5 other players are considered inactive and cannot suit up for the game. No other team in the NFL last season carried that many safeties on their game day roster. Mainly because most teams uses more linebackers on special teams or run a defense that requires more linebackers on the team, while the Vikings seems to prefer the speed and ability that their safeties provide them on kickoff coverages.
2) Everyone outside Williams is young and/or were drafted by the current ownership
Tyrell just finished his first full year of starting after coming out of the Sun Belt conference, Sanford just finished his rookie year earning more playing time at the end of it, Frampton and Abdullah are 26 and 24 and are frequently used on special teams and in sub packages. Tyrell and Sanford were both drafted by the current staff and I don't think it is a stretch to look at the roster and make the assumption that they would like Tyrell and Sanford to develop into the starting safety positions (Johnson at FS and Sanford at SS). Does that mean if a 1st round safety falls to them or that if they can find a guy they like to develop better than Frampton or Abdullah later in the draft they won't take said player? No, I think if there is value for safety the Vikings will take one, but I wouldn't see it as a high draftable need.
3) Don't have to like him, but Williams should be here at least another year
Williams is only 28, has several years left on his contract, and was originally drafted by Leslie Frazier when he was in Cincy. Unless he stops donating all his money and makes it start raining at the strip club, I wouldn't expect to see the Vikings ship him out of town or take away his starting spot in the up coming year. As pointed out by Mark in the comments, after this year, Williams base salary jumps to a little over $5 mil after 2010, so he could be playing to prove that he is worth that money to the organization. If he plays like this past season, the Vikings might have some tough choices if they decide they don't want to pay him that money.
In Summation, while the play was disappointing at times, safety is a young, developing position on the Vikings squad and unless a talented safety falls in the 1st round or there is value in the back end of the draft to find better, developing back-ups, I wouldn't expect to see the Vikings take a safety in the 2010 draft.
Here is a article interviewing Childress about the Vikings safety position.
Here is a list of some of the better safety prospects in the draft this year. FS and SS. Guys who I would like later in the draft are Kurt Coleman, SS out of Ohio State and Robert Johnson, FS out of Utah. I think we have covered the important parts to get the discussion going. Where do you stand at the safety position? An overlooked gem? Lets hear it.