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Titans Offseason Positional Analysis – Safeties

As noted in the positional analysis on cornerbacks, part of the reason for the poor secondary play last year was due to inconsistency by the safeties.
One question seems to be on everybody’s mind regarding the safeties. What will be done about the inconsistent play at the free safety position?
Here’s a review of the five safeties on the roster:
Strong safety Chris Hope was signed in free agency last year and had his moments early in the season but settled down and became solid. Hope led the Titans in interceptions with five last season, including a key pick-six in the win against the Jaguars. He’s become the leader of the secondary and is under contract through 2011. There’s no question that the job is his heading into the 2007 season.
Lamont Thompson was repeatedly burned last season but did have his moments of good play. Unfortunately, they seemed to be overshadowed by his moments of bad play. Paul Kuharsky observed last year that there were too many times when two Titans would have a discussion after a blown coverage resulting in a score, and Thompson was usually one of the two players in the discussion. I can’t argue with that observation. It didn’t help Thompson when Jeff Fisher called him out and put him “on notice” for poor play after the loss to Miami, in which he failed to cover the receiver on a corner blitz and then missed the tackle, allowing a key first down. Thompson received an extension in the last offseason, which runs through 2009. Who knows why? Some wondered if Thompson had some dirt on former GM Floyd Reese.
I liked all the good things I heard from the coaches about Vincent Fuller early in his rookie campaign, and he looked good in training camp that year. After starting at nickel the first game of the year, he broke his ankle/fibula on the opening kickoff of the second game, ending his season. I thought he would be the starting nickel again last year and also compete for playing time at free safety, but he saw only limited action in dime packages and on special teams. Apparently he still wasn’t back at full speed last year. This is the final year on Fuller’s rookie contract.
For the second year in a row, the Titans drafted a safety in the fourth round last year and I wondered if it was because the team knew Fuller wasn’t at 100%. Calvin Lowry showed some ability as a hard hitter last year, mainly on coverage teams. He didn’t see a lot of playing time on defense and was mostly limited to dime packages.
Here’s what gets me. Fuller and Lowry each seem to have the ability to play, yet can’t get playing time over the error-prone Thompson. Are they really that bad that they can’t beat Thompson out for the job? I suspect it’s a case of DC Jim Schwartz preferring to play a veteran who knows the schemes, even one who doesn’t always execute them properly.
Last year may have been the last for Donnie Nickey. A solid special teams player, the four-year veteran doesn’t seem to have much upside. What you’ve seen is as good as it’s going to get. An unrestricted free agent, I don’t expect to see the Titans try to re-sign him. His presence will be missed on special teams.
I expect Thompson may be released, leaving Fuller and Lowry to battle it out for the free safety job. Thompson simply isn’t worth his new contract. But that’s just my opinion.
It will be interesting to see what new GM Mike Reinfeldt, a former All-Pro safety, thinks about the talent or lack thereof now at the position.