One of the hottest topics in the Chiefs Nation this off-season is speculation on who the starting free safety will be once the Chiefs hit the field this September. With the addition of Sammy Knight, it is assumed that he will man the strong side, leaving one safety spot up for grabs, with two starting caliber safeties left on the roster. Greg Wesley is a young, talented up and coming safety in the NFL, who is still on the upswing of his career. He can be a ferocious hitter, and has averaged an eye popping 81 tackles and 4 interceptions a season in his 5 year career.
Competing with Greg Wesley for that final starting spot is Jerome Woods, the statistically inferior 32 year old free safety coming off a sub par, injury plagued season. Last season was an absolute nightmare for Woods, comprised of an alarming number of missed tackles and empty gambles. The Chiefs have indicated through the words and actions of the front office that the defensive lapses of last season will no longer be tolerated. An old (by NFL standards) safety coming off the disappointing season that Woods had, wouldn't seem to have a shot at the starting job. Having said that, don't be surprised if No. 21 is the starter on September 11.
For eight years, Woods has been the starter at free safety. He is a fixture of the Chiefs, many years the best and most reliable defensive player on the Chiefs roster. Woods possesses an excellent combination of experience, toughness, instincts and range. To combat the inevitable slide in ability, Woods has been working out at Orlando McKay's speed camp in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. From all indications, he has rededicated himself to becoming the force he was before his gruesome leg injury in 2002. Although Woods was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2004, he admits that he was not the player he was before the injury.
Jerome Woods made the Pro Bowl on the strength of his reputation as an excellent safety and two inceptions returned for touchdowns. Let's not also forget that for many games, he was the nickel corner, a feat that not many safeties can consistently accomplish. He wasn't the same hard hitter who discouraged quarterbacks from throwing deep by consistently diagnosing plays, and putting himself in position to make plays. Woods has admitted himself in interviews that he stepped away from his strengths by gambling on interceptions instead of making the play.
The player wearing No. 21 last year was an aberration, a blip, a hiccup in the distinguished career of one the many quality safeties to wear the Red and Gold. You will not see that player again. Right now the Jerome Woods we have come to admire is impatiently working and waiting to atone for a season gone horribly wrong. He is watching painful film. He is working diligently on his speed and quickness. He is actively seeking the advice of colleagues. He is becoming an even better player.
At the top of his game, there are few safeties in the league that can match Woods' all around ability. He has historically been a superior tackler and cover man. When combined with a renewed vigor, it would be unwise to discount his ability to claim his starting spot. In fact, I have a feeling that on September 11, Jerome Woods will be man standing in the free safety position, just as it has been.