Editor's Note: Football analyst Bryan Broaddus has been previewing each position with one key battle to watch heading into training camp. Today, he focuses on the safety position.
Of all the positions on this team, this one might have the biggest questions going into the season.
Barry Church is going to start at one of the spots, but who's playing opposite him is anyone's guess. J.J. Wilcox is currently running with the first team with Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath right on his heels.
Wilcox has lost weight and is playing with better movement along with a better understanding of what his responsibilities are. There has never been a question of his desire to get into those piles. In talking to coaches and scouts, they all agree that the biggest thing holding him back was his experience at the position.
From what I have seen in these practices, he's looked far more comfortable.
If there's a guy to step up and compete with Wilcox between Heath and Hamilton, I believe that it will be Hamilton.
There is just a smoothness to his game when it comes to coverage, whether he is in the deep middle of the field or working in the slot handling a flexed tight end. His recognitions and reactions have been on point. He's one of those players that finds his way to the ball with good angles. In his coverage, he's in position to intercept the ball or make a play on it.
If there's a defensive player that appears to have made a big jump from one season to another, Hamilton is that guy.
Like Wilcox, Heath was thrown into a tough situation. He wasn't ready to play, and to his credit, good or bad, he was there trying to make himself [embedded_ad] better. The more he played, the more his body got worn down.
There were times where he never came off the field last year because of his duties on defense and special teams. Last season was a learning experience for him, but I feel like his best role is that of what Danny McCray was for the last several seasons, playing on all the special teams and becoming a leader there.
Of rookies Ahmad Dixon and Ryan Smith, keep a close eye on Smith. Like Hamilton, the undrafted safety can cover, but his best trait appears to be that he is super smart. He has played in some huge games during his career at Auburn and the job of making this team does not appear too big for him.
Dixon is a see-ball, hit-ball type of player. If he can pick up the scheme and where he fits, the physical side is there.
The player that has the most talent in this group, in my opinion, is Matt Johnson. But until he makes it through an entire training camp and season without health problems, it's hard to feel like he has a real shot.