When Jon Robinson took over as general manager of the Tennessee Titans, he chose to get younger at the safety position by moving away from an aging veteran and drafting a safety in the third round of the draft. He also hedged his bets by signing a veteran at the position who comes from a winning franchise who can bring solid play and leadership while the rookie grows into the position.
Entering the 2016 NFL season, the Titans will likely carry four safeties into the season, meaning that they will need to avoid injuries to that position. They will also likely carry a safety on the practice squad as insurance against an injury.
Then looking at the candidates for those four spots we feel will go to safeties, there three players who seem to be locks while the fourth spot is up for grabs where no less than four players will battle for that spot.
Here are our thoughts on who's in, who's out and who might find a place on the practice squad.
STARTING SS- Da'Norris Searcy: The veteran entering his second season with the Titans had his ups and downs last season, but should be better suited after having a year to learn Dick LeBeau's system. He is a physical safety who can come downhill and support the run defense. He is also a solid pass defender and should be bolstered by the play making ability of the two free safeties who will line up opposite him.
STARTING FS- Rashad Johnson: A native of Sulligent, Alabama, Johnson joined the Titans as a free-agent after spending the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals.Johnson is a ball-haking safety who recorded 12 interceptions in the last three NFL seasons alone. He brings experience and leadership to the defense and should be a good example for the younger players behind him.
BACKUP FS- Kevin Byard: The rookie from nearby MTSU begins his Titans and NFL career behind Johnson, but he might not remain there long if he shows the production he produced as a Blue Raider that earned him a third-round selection. In his four-years in the "Boro," Byard set a school record with 19 interceptions. while starting 46 of 49 possible games in his college career. Robinson described Byard following his selection as an intelligent guy who wowed them with his ability to learn the defense quickly and to show that knowledge on the chalkboard. He will push for time and eventually become the starter, but for now he will learn behind Johnson.
The final spot is where the competition will begin for the safeties as Daimion Stafford, Marqueston Huff, Curtis Riley, Lamarcus Brutus and Josh Aubrey will battle for the final spot in the safety room on the 53-man roster.
BACKUP SS- Daimion Stafford: Entering his fourth season, Stafford has been a spot starter when injuries took out those in front of him.He is a physical safety who is ok in coverage, but has not shown great production. Still his physical style seems to fit what LeBeau wants to do and in our opinion, keeps Stafford around for the final season of his contract.
PRACTICE SQUAD: The Titans like Riley, who signed as an undrafted free-agent rookie last season but suffered a season ending knee injury during the team's practice inside Nissan Stadium last season. Riley was a corner, but moved to safety under head coach Mike Mularkey. He brings size (6'0" 200) to the position, and having been a corner would add better than average coverage skills to the position. He will have to earn this spot in camp. but he has the athletic ability and a year in the system to be ahead of his competition here.
Brutus is also a guy who coaches seemed to like during mini-camp. Like Riley, Brutus who played his college football at Florida State, is a physical, smart guy with good size (6'0" 206) and played on the big stage, having won a national championship with the Seminoles. He should push for a spot on the practice squad and likely get it if his play continues as it did in the spring.
OUT: Entering his third season, Huff is a versatile guy who can play corner or safety, and that could well help him. He also lead the team in special teams tackles last season with 15. However, he has shown little defensively so far and seems to be in danger in the numbers crunch. He certainly could step forward and earn a spot, but he will have to beat out Stafford for that position in our estimation.
Aubey is also out as a victim of the numbers crunch, though he too could find a place on the practice squad, but that seems less likely with Riley and Brutus in that discussion.