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Cornerback to Safety: A Tough Transition

Posted Jun 5, 2013

Moving from cornerback to safety late in a career isn't as easy as some might think.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In the wake of the Quentin Jammer signing and the Broncos' prior pursuit of Charles Woodson, there's been so much written lately about 30-something cornerbacks converting to safety that you'd think the transition was routine.

And it's not simply a fad topic; it arose last season, when Champ Bailey was asked about whether his long-term future included a transition to safety. It arose again at the season-ending press conference for John Fox and John Elway in January, when the notion of Bailey making the switch this year was swiftly dismissed.

Ever since Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson successfully made the transition during their Hall of Fame careers, the notion of the mid-to-late-career secondary switch has lurked in the background. It's so often cited that one might be deluded into thinking it's a snap, and that safety is a lesser position.

But isn't that a bit insulting to safeties? It's not as though their job description is less demanding. You might not need the same 40-yard dash time, but you need to be more aggressive against the run and more aware of your teammates' pre-snap alignment. It requires a different skill set.

"Safety is a tough position. You have to be able to cover, whether it's a tight end or a slot," Broncos safety David Bruton said. "You've got to be physical, which Quentin has shown for years that he can do that, to come up on the run."

And those who have made the transition and maintained an elite level have been rare, so a player who makes the transition – even if he plays at a league-average level -- must have unique skills of its own.

"There's only a few guys that I can think of who have done it. Ronnie Lott, Quentin, Charles Woodson, those guys who could come up and lay the wood, but as they got older, they were able to do the safety thing," Bruton said.

Jammer didn't amass the Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro selections that Lott, Charles Woodson and Rod Woodson did at cornerback, but did fare well for most of his career against larger receivers and in run support. That lends itself to covering tight ends, an area the Broncos have long sought to upgrade, having been on the business end of big days and big plays from an array of tight ends, including Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and Houston's Owen Daniels last season.

Enter Jammer.

"I think it's becoming more popular, a guy who can move to multiple positions," he said. "I think I'm that type of player, where I can come in. I can cover safety, I can cover wide receivers, I can pretty much cover anybody on the field. I've been doing it for 11 years — why stop now?"

Jammer also has the flexibility to cover slot receivers as well, Bruton believes.

"He's a guy who is comfortable with covering the slot and has a lot of experience -- especially since we got Wes (Welker). He's as shifty as shifty can be," said Bruton. "(Jammer) has just got some things to learn, coming from a new defense and playing a new position, but he's an athletic, savvy veteran who could potentially do a lot of great things for us here. I'm excited that we have him. He's been a competitor for years on years, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out at safety."

And just because Jammer is a 12-year veteran who'll work at safety as well as at cornerback doesn't mean he's a lesser athlete than a pure cornerback, or that he's playing the easier position. If anything, Jammer now has more on his plate, a concept to which Bruton can attest.

"As far as their athletic skillset, (the corners) are considered the best athletes. I beg to differ," Bruton said, laughing. "The learning curve is that, as a corner, you listen and you echo the call. As a safety, you give the call. You have to make sure that everybody is in order, linebacker to corner."

Moving to safety, even on a part-time basis, can extend a cornerback's career. But there's nothing easy about it.