Sunday, January 25, 2009

Safety Matters

During the parts of the conference championship games I was able to watch last weekend, it struck me that the four teams involved had something in common: veteran leadership at the Safety position.

Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, and Adrian Wilson. Each has been to multiple Pro Bowls, and three of the four are starters in this year's Pro Bowl, Dawkins being the lone exception. Perhaps his previous seven trips to Hawaii were enough. And the most memorable moment of the weekend came when Polamalu turned a 2-point game into a 2-score game with a stunning fourth quarter INT return for a touchdown.

If we think back to the last time the Raiders played in a conference championship, Hall of Fame finalist Rod Woodson provided that crucial leadership as the Raiders' Free Safety. Many credit him with making the play that halted a Raider losing streak and launched them towards the Super Bowl.

This is why Derrick Gibson was such a tragedy, and why Michael Huff is becoming one. Huff was widely regarded as a can't miss prospect and a playmaker coming out of Texas. Is he a bust, or can he be saved? Why has he failed? Body type? Scheme? Coaching?

If it's coaching, Darren Perry - credited with helping Polamalu kick off his career at the SS position - couldn't do it, and Huff was moved to FS to make room for Gibril Wilson. Now Lionel Washington, former Raider and part of a Packer defensive staff purge after a disappointing 2008 season, will give it a try. In Green Bay, Washington worked with 2009 Pro Bowler Charles Woodson, along with the only 2009 Pro Bowl selection at Safety not involved in last weekend's games: FS Nick Collins.

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