If there's one starting spot for the Colts that's open entering camp, it's definitely the safety position. Veteran Antoine Bethea left in free agency and the Colts didn't make any big splash to replace him. As such, the question becomes who will be starting at safety for the Colts alongside LaRon Landry?
Landry will obviously be one of the team's starting safeties. This might concern some fans based on how he played last year, but Landry did play at a high level the year before coming to Indianapolis and furthermore, the Colts don't have anyone to replace him if they did want to (and they absolutely don't). Landry's coverage was bad in 2013, though that wasn't a big surprise - what really caused Landry to have a bad season was that he wasn't the force against the run the Colts signed him to be and then that he was hurt. His stats (87 tackles in 12 games) were actually good, but his play wasn't and his impact wasn't felt as much as it should have been for a guy like Landry. Fans are most upset about the contract given to him last offseason (4-year, $24 million), but they aren't thrilled about the play either and we looked at how the pressure is on Landry this year. One of the main reasons for that is because he has the talent, he just didn't play up to it last year. The Colts need him to this year, as he'll be expected to be the mainstay of the safety position. Another thing about Landry is that he missed four games last year and has a history of injuries, and in fact he was injured this year when he showed up to mandatory minicamp and he missed the entirety of that three-day camp. He'll be ready for camp, but that doesn't help the perception of Landry, and in fact many fans are pretty upset that Landry didn't show up to OTAs this year for the Colts. While I'd hold off on criticizing Landry just off of that, I'll admit that it doesn't look good for a player who was paid a lot and yet didn't do a whole lot to help last year.
Believe it or not, however, Landry's spot is the one without question marks as to who will be starting (yeah, I guess that's probably a bad sign...). At the other spot, it's anything but determined right now and will be decided in training camp and preseason. That said, the slight favorite at this time is Delano Howell, but understand it's ever so slight. Howell, filling in for Landry last year, started 3 games and played in 5, and he actually played very well. He was impressive and when he was in the game he was a noticeable improvement from Landry and at many times seemed like the best safety the Colts had on the field. Now, it's important to understand that he didn't get enough playing time for us to definitely say he's worth starting, but he was impressive enough that he'll definitely get a shot.
The biggest competition to Howell is a guy the Colts signed a few weeks ago, and that is veteran safety Mike Adams. The 33-year old has played in 146 career games over his 10 year career, starting 73. He has notched 542 career tackles, 5 sacks, 48 passes defensed, 13 picks (1 TD), and 4 forced fumbles. He spent the last two seasons with the Broncos, where he played in but lost the Super Bowl last year. He's motivated to finally win the Lombardi, and he'll help the Colts in many areas, not least of which is experience. The other guys going for the starting spot don't have the experience that Adams offers, and despite his age he still is a legitimate safety option who can play well at the spot. He has a very real chance of starting this year, whether right off the bat from the start of the season (against his former Broncos team) or whether later on if one of the starters gets injured. Adams will help the Colts greatly, and he'll be competing for the starting spot in training camp.
Colt Anderson was also signed by the Colts this offseason, coming over from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent his first four seasons in the league. He has played in 48 career games (starting 6) and has recorded 71 tackles, 4 pass deflections, 1 pick, and 2 forced fumbles. Perhaps just as significantly, the Colts press release announcing the signing said that he has made 46 career special teams tackles, including a team-high 16 for the Eagles in 2013. He'll be competing for a starting spot, sure, but he's a ways behind Howell and Adams and seems more likely to make the team as a backup/spot-starter and special teams guy, if he makes the team at all. He'll be competing just for a roster spot while at the same time not being ruled out as a starter-candidate - yeah, that's the state of the position right now. His special teams play might push him over the edge, although at the same time, the same could be said of Sergio Brown.
Speaking of Brown, he wanted a chance at the starting spot and he'll get it in camp and preseason, although he seems to be in the same situation as Anderson - he'll be given a chance to compete for the spot, although his biggest battle might actually be for a roster spot. In four seasons (two with the Patriots, two with the Colts) he has played in 56 career games (starting 3) and has made 68 tackles, 2 pass deflections, a pick, and recovered 3 fumbles (2 of them coming last year for the Colts). While he's still an option at safety, Brown has thrived in his special teams spot, becoming the team's best and most important gunner and he has done a tremendous job at downing punter Pat McAfee's punts deep in opponent territory. The Colts re-signed him this offseason for what I think was that very reason, and while he'll factor into the play at safety some, his real appeal for keeping him on the roster is his special teams play, which isn't to be overlooked.
David Sims was another player added by the Colts this offseason, and he played in 15 games (starting 1) with the Eagles in 2012, making 15 tackles and a pass deflection. He participated in camp with the Eagles in 2013 but didn't make the team. He's a guy who will get some time in camp and preseason to prove himself for sure, but at this point he faces a big uphill climb to making a roster spot, though he could get into the competition with several of the other guys.
Finally, Dewey McDonald is perhaps the most intriguing guy at the safety position for the Colts, as he's an undrafted free agent out of Cal (PA). Here's what I wrote about him in my look at the UDFAs:
Dewey McDonald, S, California University of Pennsylvania
As a senior with Cal University (PA) in 2013, McDonald was named team captain and totaled an impressive 89 tackles (6 for loss), 3 picks (3 TDs), and 8 passes defensed. In his career, he racked up 12 picks and finished with the second-most career interception return yards among active Division II players. McDonald, 6-0, 220 pounds, transferred from Fairmont State after his freshman year and spent his last three seasons with Cal.
Outlook: Obviously, the Colts could use another safety as a backup and as insurance, and he was the only true safety that the Colts signed as an undrafted free agent (though it remains to be seen whether they'll attempt to switch any corners to safety). McDonald certainly produced in his collegiate career and looks to be a player who's skills would translate to the NFL level with a bit of work. There's an opening for him to make the roster as a safety, and he has upside. He's another guy to keep an eye on as a possibility to make the roster.
I like McDonald and he's absolutely a guy to keep an eye on when camp rolls around, though he's going to be thrown right in the mix with other guys like Colt Anderson and Sergio Brown to earn a spot on the roster and he'll also have to show that, in addition to being a safety worth keeping around, that he can contribute on special teams as well. He's definitely a guy to keep an eye on, though it won't be an easy road for McDonald.
Here's the deal with the Colts safety position - they've got a lot of intriguing guys, but they don't have a clear cut starter. I think it'll be LaRon Landry and then either Delano Howell or Mike Adams, and then guys like Colt Anderson, Sergio Brown, and Dewey McDonald will be competing for one or two other backup spots (joining whoever doesn't start between Howell and Adams). While I only have the Colts keeping four safeties, I think it's probably most likely that the team will keep five when it's all said and done, and the bottom line is that this position will likely have some of the strongest competition in camp.
Week One Starters: LaRon Landry, Delano Howell; Backups: Mike Adams, Sergio Brown; Cut: David Sims, Colt Anderson, Dewey McDonald
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: