Can Simpson re-claim starting FS role? (Photo Source)
Note: As Buffalo Rumblings counts down the days until the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp (current count: 2), we'll be breaking down some of the bigger battles we're sure to witness during summer practices. We continue our Battles series by looking at the battle for starting free safety. Previous installments: Backup TE, Backup LT, Starting CB, Returners, Starting DT
The 2007 season was supposed to be a break-out year for then-second-year Buffalo Bills free safety Ko Simpson. However, after less than two quarters of football, a severely broken ankle ended Simpson's sophomore season. Instead, 2007 was a year of emergence for George Wilson, a converted wideout who, upon entering the lineup for the first time as a starting safety, proved that he could be a playmaker - even if he has shortcomings elsewhere. Simpson is back to 100% health, but is it safe to assume he'll automatically re-claim his role as the team's starting free safety? Meet the three candidates for Buffalo's starting free safety position...
The Favorite: Ko Simpson (30)
Simpson's ankle is now completely healthy - even if Simpson himself made the claim that he was at about 90%. He'll be at his most effective playing free safety when his mind is off of his ankle; it doesn't appear he's quite there yet. His teammates and coaches have spoken highly of his mental preparation last season and throughout the off-season, so it doesn't appear he's missed a step off the field. He's the clear favorite in this competition, there's no doubt - and in terms of the team's long-term viability, he should be the one starting. But there are enough questions about how he'll deal with the injury mentally to keep this competition very much open for battle.
The Upstart: George Wilson (37)
There are severe flaws with Wilson's game - namely, he's still a pretty poor tackler, and he's not physical enough to fit in well with the other ten physical starters on Buffalo's defense. With that said, however, Wilson is enough of a playmaker (he scored twice on defensive touchdowns last season) to remain a very interesting name in this discussion. Should he be starting? Probably not. But if Simpson falters in his comeback bid, even if only for a couple of weeks, the Bills have a ballhawk to replace him. Ideally, Wilson will be a top DB reserve and a special teams contributor, but I'm relatively comfortable seeing him deep at free safety as well, especially when defending the pass.
The Darkhorse: John Wendling (29)
Entering his second NFL season as a former sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, it remains to be seen whether or not Wendling will be able to make defensive contributions any time soon. We're not even sure exactly which safety position Wendling plays - he didn't see much defensive field time last season at all, instead focusing on his blossoming special teams role. Wendling has the physicality the defense craves, and he has enough range to be a starter deep in the secondary. He's an extreme longshot to shoot past either Simpson or Wilson in this derby, but he's worth mentioning here simply because nobody knows exactly what to expect from him. He could surprise.
Predicting the Winner
Everything we've heard about Simpson's recovery this off-season has been very positive. Healthy even for mini-camps, Simpson has been running with the top defensive unit since the team's first mini-camps after the draft. It's still hard to believe, however, that a team so focused on creating competition would simply hand the job back to Simpson. He'll continue to run with the ones during camp, but Wilson - and perhaps even Wendling - will push him for his job hard. Simpson is the likely winner of this battle, but this competition is a lot closer than some make it out to be.