We'll start another pre-training camp series today in which we look at each position on the roster with an eye on roster implications.
The Arizona Cardinals are still more than a month away from training camp but the battle for roster spots has already started. With the starting safeties practically set in stone, a promising third round draft pick and several experience veterans, the Cardinals appear to have a deep and talented group of safeties capable of turning around a secondary that struggled for much of the 2008 season. The number of safeties that eventually make the 53 man roster could vary depending on the number of corner backs that are retained but the number should be somewhere between four and six (five made the roster last year out of camp). We'll jump in the safety position by breaking the guys down into three groups, locks, bubble and no chance. These groups refer to chances of making this year's 53 man roster, not necessarily the practice squad or any team in the future.
Now I'm sure it's somehow possible for Rolle or Johnson to be cut before the season starts but for all intents and purposes, they'll both make the final squad. As for the bubble group, I'm sure we could argue for or against each of these four and the final two or three will likely come down to their contribution on special teams. Here's a quick look at the case for or against each of the four 'bubble' players:
Aaron Francisco: Francisco's got two things going for him in that he's got the most experience of any guys on the bubble and he's a solid special teams player. He's had an up and down career over his four NFL seasons and in that time he's ascended from overachieving undrafted free agent to disappointing part time starter. At times Francisco got exposed in coverage last season but is a decent player overall when he isn't asked to do too much. Francisco's downside is that he's the highest paid 'bubble' player ($1.45 million) and the ceiling is limited for this soon to be 26 year old safety.
Keith Lewis: Lewis is a veteran safety with starting experience and a familiarity with new defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He's also a solid special teams player and reasonably cheap ($620K), but Lewis biggest flaw is that he's a liability in coverage. He's much like Adrian Wilson in that he's a solid, hard hitting tackler and an 'in-the-box' type of strong safety but many describe him as nothing more than a special teams player. He's still reasonably young but given the fact that the Cardinals were able to sign him after the Niners cut him, he'll have to prove he's worth a roster spot this August.
Dennis Keyes: Keyes is an interesting case and could be the wild card in this group. He was an undrafted free agent last season and spent the entire season on the practice squad but some will tell you that he's got the talent to play in this league. He's got decent size (6'2 199) and was very productive in college where was a three year starter at free safety for the Bruins. If he's able to prove that he's capable in coverage and productive on special teams, he might just find his way onto the roster.
Matt Ware: Ware's biggest asset is that, in a pinch, he's able to play either corner or safety, but the problem is that he's done very little to distinguish himself in any aspect of the game. He's capable on special teams and has some versatility but despite being relatively healthy over his five NFL seasons, he's never really pushed for playing time. Ware is still young (26) and cheap ($650K) but with so many other options, you've got to wonder how long he'll hang onto his roster spot.
Jameel Dowling: Dowling is a 24 year old undrafted rookie from Hawaii with decent size and great athleticism. He's got experience at both safety and corner back but with his size (6'3 205), you'd have to expect that his eventual home is at safety. The best case scenario for Dowling would have to be a year on the practice squad.
The Cardinals wouldn't seem to have many training camp battles heading into August but figuring out the bottom ten to fifteen players on any roster can be a tough task. With that being said, which safeties would you keep and how do you see this playing out?