ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --With former Broncos safety Brian Dawkins now retired, Denver's young safeties will be asked to build on what they learned in 2011 as their roles increase dramatically this season.
Denver's AFC West Championship and run to the divisional round of the playoffs last year was helped immensely by one its most productive rookies in Quinton Carter, a 2011 fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma who started 10 games and picked off both Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the playoffs.
"He ended on a strong note with the two playoff games," Secondary Coach Ron Milus said. "Although we got beat by New England, he had an interception and he made a nice play in the Pittsburgh game where he had another interception. So towards the end of the year he had come on. What we're looking for Quinton to do is pick up where he left off a year ago and I think he's on track to do that."
Joining Carter at safety is Mike Adams, who arrives in Denver after notching 50 career starts over the course of three seasons as a 49er and five as a Cleveland Brown. Adams is a veteran with 347 career tackles, 12 interceptions and 29 passes defensed.
"Obviously when you replace a guy like Brian Dawkins who's been to a number of Pro Bowls and brings a lot of leadership to the game and he retires and now you're looking for the next guy to come in and do the same types of things," Milus said. "We're happy that we got Mike. Mike has been a nice addition to what we're doing on defense. He's played in San Francisco, he's played in Cleveland so he's done some different things. He's vocal out there on the field. He's a guy that we're counting on. He's come in and done everything we've asked him to do."
Assistant Secondary Coach Sam Garnes, who enjoyed a productive five-year career as a safety for the New York Giants after being drafted in the fifth round in 1997, said he has enjoyed working with Adams, who entered the league as a college free agent back in 2004.
"Mike Adams is from where I'm from and I know how hard his role is to get to where he's at right now and we have similar paths," Garnes said. "So it's real easy working with him."
In addition to Adams and Carter, Denver returns Rahim Moore, David Bruton, Rafael Bush and welcomes college free agent Duke Ihenacho.
Moore, a second-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft, enters his second season coming off a rookie campaign that saw him start seven games. The former UCLA Bruin tallied 31 tackles and recorded one interception, which he returned for 18 yards. And according to Milus, Moore has made valuable strides this offseason.
"I think Rahim (Moore) has grown the most so far," Milus said. "He's made a few plays in OTAs that maybe he didn't do a year ago as far as playing the ball in the air. So far we're pleasantly pleased with Rahim's growth. We're hoping that translates in September, October and November. I think it can be said that the first year is your hardest year and hopefully you make the big leap your second year and continue to grow as you go through your career."
Bruton has been one of the Broncos top special teams players throughout his first three seasons in the league. He has recorded 29 special teams stops in that time, the second-best total on the team. Bruton has also filled in as a starting safety on four different occasions, including once a season ago.
Also competing for time at safety is Bush, a third-year player who arrived in Denver late last season and contributed in both playoff games, tallying nine total tackles.
Rounding out the cast at safety is Ihenacho, a three-team First Team All-Western Athletic Conference selection out of San Jose State University who signed with the Broncos this offseason.
MEET THE SAFETIES
MIKE ADAMS: Entering his ninth year in the NFL and first with Denver, Adams is expected to compete to be the Broncos' starter at strong safety.
DAVID BRUTON: Bruton has been one of Denver's top special teamers through the first three years of his career. He will look to keep up his strong work in the game's third phase while also contributing in the secondary.
RAFAEL BUSH: Bush enters his third season as a pro looking to build on solid postseason performances against Pittsburgh and New England this past January.
QUINTON CARTER: Carter, a 10-game starter a season ago, will look to continue to emerge after bursting onto the scene as a rookie a year ago.
DUKE IHENACHO: The only rookie of the bunch, Ihenacho, a three-time All-WAC performer at safety for San Jose State, signed with Denver in late April as an undrafted free agent. RAHIM MOORE: Moore enters his second season in the league after recording 31 tackles and an interception in seven starts as a rookie.