Oakland Raiders safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch and Raiders training camp (photo by Levi Damien)
A lot has been made about the Raiders new defense and its "multiples". In their first training camp practice, some of that multiple style was on display. The thing I noticed most was that the safety position was not near as cut and dry as free safety and strong safety.
Starting safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff have spoken in the past about how the defense will not be as predictable as we are used to seeing. They have been very excited about the opportunities for making plays.
This new defense and the players the team has drafted has put a premium on versatility. The safety position has suddenly become one of the positions which will require a lot of versatility as well.
In practice today, it was near impossible to judge who was to be playing strong safety and who was to play free safety. While Branch and Huff played first team, behind them was combinations of Mike Mitchell, Matt Giordano, Curtis Taylor, and Brandon Underwood.
In the past, Giordano has been backup free safety while Mitchell was backup strong safety. So it was surprising to see the roles reversed on several instances in practice. But according to Mitchell, it is not as simple as strong or free.
"Yeah, they're doing a good job of moving us around." Said Mitchell. "It's not going to be as predictable. And I'm a versatile guy so I can do it all. So they had you single high and I think it was Giordano up near the line?
"I think it just depended on who was in. It depends on the defense really too."
"We got a nice defense this year. You're not gonna be able to know who's coming or what we're doing. I love it."
It is a good thing the Raiders have some versatile safeties. Branch has been a strong safety through his NFL career but he played corner in college and he has the speed and range to cover like a free safety as well.
Huff has played free safety in the pros but he was more of a strong safety in college.
Mitchell is a strong safety but he was known for being a ball hawk in college. And as he said, "I'm a little bit lighter this year. I feel like it's gonna make me a little bit faster." So clearly he is focused more on coverage and speed than hitting.
Giordano was the Raiders' leader in interceptions last season as the backup free safety but he has also shown the ability to be a disciplined run stopper.
It will be difficult to label these guys by a specific safety position any more. Just like you won't be able to say the Raiders have strictly man cover corners either. It will definitely be interesting.