Friday, June 21, 2013
Eight in the Box: Secondary status check
By Mike Sando
How does each NFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?
Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson is back as the starting left corner in a revamped secondary. The team must discover during training camp which corner will start opposite him. Newcomers Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers are the leading candidates. Arizona has quite a few options. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu figures prominently into the Cardinals' plans as a hybrid corner-safety type. Slot corner Javier Arenas, acquired from Kansas City, and 2012 third-round choice Jamell Fleming are also in the mix. The Cardinals will have three new starters in their secondary after parting with cornerback William Gay, free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Greg Toler, James Sanders and Michael Adams are also gone. Those six combined to play nearly 70 percent of the snaps in the secondary last season. Rashad Johnson was starting to overtake Wilson. He projects as the likely strong safety, with veteran newcomer Yeremiah Bell at the other safety spot. Bell played under new coordinator Todd Bowles previously.
St. Louis Rams: Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins provide the foundation for a secondary that expects to play quite a bit of man coverage behind an aggressive front seven with improved speed. Finnegan is the most accomplished and highest-paid member of the secondary, but he insists Jenkins is the best defensive back on the team by a wide margin. That might be true from a talent standpoint. The team will be looking for Jenkins to demonstrate improved consistency in his second season. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round choice in 2012, also figures prominently. A DUI arrest and previous off-field troubles in college raise questions about his long-term reliability, however. The situation at safety is ... different. The Rams want to develop third-round pick T.J. McDonald quickly. Darian Stewart projects as the other primary safety. The team signed veteran Matt Giordano as insurance. Former starting safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone. The Rams must determine this summer what they have at safety.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers demonstrated by their actions this offseason a general belief that the secondary's issues late last season stemmed more from a diminished front seven than from talent deficiencies on the back end. Dahl, signed from the Rams this offseason, provides a veteran insurance policy in case rookie first-round pick Eric Reid isn't ready to start immediately at free safety. San Francisco must replace former starter Dashon Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. C.J. Spillman, primarily a force on special teams to this point in his career, also factors as an option there. The 49ers have never appeared particularly concerned about losing Goldson over the years, but trading up 12 spots to select Reid showed they value talent at the position. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner return as the other three starters. Beyond identifying an immediate starter at free safety, the 49ers need to figure out this summer whether free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha can help them.
Seattle Seahawks: All four starters return from arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and new nickel corner Antoine Winfield have all earned Pro Bowl or Associated Press All-Pro honors within the past three seasons. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are talented backups with limited starting experience. The team must figure out this offseason whether Thurmond factors in for the long term. Thurmond beat out Sherman for the starting job heading into the 2011 season. However, repeated serious injuries have derailed his career. Winfield is probably safe as the nickel corner this season, but the gap between Winfield and the team's other options is smaller than Winfield's credentials would suggest.