Abdullah holding on to Broncos’ strong safety spot
Vail, CO Colorado
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado ” Denver Broncos safety Hamza Abdullah jogged out for special teams practice the other day and began stretching, just like he typically does.
Then special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien located him, came over and told him to go on home. His services weren’t needed.
The 24-year-old wasn’t in trouble, though.
Nope, this was a reward.
He’s getting his special teams work chopped in half this season as he’s currently the leading candidate for the starting strong safety spot.
Abdullah’s putting his extra time to good use ” studying a compilation compact disc he’s made of the elite safeties in the league. He watches the moves of Indy’s Bob Sanders, the positioning of Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu. He also analyzes footage of Cleveland’s Sean Jones and St. Louis’ O.J. Atogwe, even the late Sean Taylor of Washington.
“I think he was going to be the best ever,” Abdullah said of Taylor, who died of massive blood loss after he was shot at his Miami-area home during a botched robbery last November. “He was that type of guy.”
Abdullah doesn’t need video to view of one of his favorites, though, getting tips every day in practice from nine-time Pro Bowler John Lynch, who’s been the starter at free safety so far in training camp.
While some might argue the 36-year-old has lost a step or two, Abdullah certainly hasn’t noticed a change.
“He’s John Lynch. He’s so smart,” Abdullah said Tuesday. “Nobody said he’s going to run a 4.2 (40-yard dash). He’s going to be in great position and he’s not going to miss tackles.”
That’s the kind of consistency Abdullah is aiming for.
“I think of myself as an up-and-coming guy trying to work as hard as I can to be the best I can be,” Abdullah said.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Abdullah is usually one of the first on the field every day for practice, a carry-over from his days in Tampa Bay when he was trying to make a good impression. The Buccaneers drafted him in the seventh round out of Washington State in 2005, only to place him on their practice squad, where Denver eventually plucked him up.
He was a special teams maven in 2006 for Denver, before getting his break last season, taking over for Nick Ferguson. He finished with 48 tackles and seven pass deflections.
Abdullah is trying to lock down the starting spot, but he’s being pushed by veterans Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel. McCree started every game for San Diego last season.
“It’s great to get fresh blood in here,” Abdullah said. “This league is built on competition and peer pressure. I love those guys. They push me.”
Not as much as he pushes himself. In addition to studying different safeties around the league, he also glances at film of his own play.
Not the highlights, though, but the low moments.
He calls them missed opportunities, like when he jumped a route against Minnesota in the season finale last season, only to drop the ball because his hands were turned the wrong way.
“If I had them turned the other way, I intercept it and go to the house,” Abdullah said.
Or the time he misjudged a pass at Kansas City, the ball hitting his shoulder pad and landing in the arms of teammate Karl Paymah. In that same game, he had another pass tip off his hands and carom right to Dre’ Bly for an interception.
“Those are two plays that should’ve been interceptions (for me),” Abdullah said through a smile that features braces. “That’s the difference between being a good safety to being a great safety. There’s that fine line.”
He did have some memorable games, such as leading the secondary with eight tackles against Tennessee and forcing a fumble at Chicago.
Still, Abdullah prefers not to reflect on those.
“The second you start patting yourself on the back, that’s when things go downhill,” Abdullah said. “You start to feel too comfortable, you feel like you can’t be replaced, you feel like you can’t be beat. These young guys are hungry, just like the older veterans.”
Remain hungry. That’s the message he stresses to his younger brother, Husain, an undrafted college free agent trying to latch on with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I tell him to keep his head up and tell him to keep working hard,” said Abdullah, who text messages Husain on a daily basis. “It’s tough for a young guy. But when it comes to special teams practices, you have to go all out.”
Abdullah certainly did.
“I don’t knock special teams because that’s the way I got into this league,” he said.
But then O’Brien came up to him at a recent special teams practice and told him to go home, his presence no longer required for kickoffs.
“I’ve never been told to go home,” Abdullah said. “It was an exciting situation for me.”