Apparently I am missing something. Maybe I didn't get the memo, most likely because I admittedly don't find the time to listen to nearly enough podcasts as I probably should.
Problem is, I prefer the written word in most cases. I enjoy reading all the wonderful articles on BTSC, and then participating in the informative discussion threads that follow.
Obviously I have missed a very inaccurate and actually worrisome discussion topic that must be trending on various podcasts, because it keeps popping up on podcasts and discussion boards where I find myself participating.
The trending statement is this, "Damontae Kazee was brought in to challenge, and possibly even replace, Terrell Edmunds."
I hate to bust anybody's bubble, but that statement is nonsensical.
We find ourselves living in a much kinder and gentler NFL universe, where the lines of physicality are often blurred. We hear phrases like "The defender came down with his full weight on the quarterback", followed by a 15-yard penalty flag. Or if the referee doesn't feel the defender "pulled up" enough, prior to hitting the quarterback immediately after said quarterback released the ball.
The enforcement and interpretation of these recent rules changes are confusing and inconsistent at best. The threat of the rules changes themselves have had the desired effects however. The NFL is more offensive, and less defensive, than ever before.
This has resulted in a marked increase in hybrid personnel around the league. Players who can fill multiple positions on a team's depth chart. FB/TE, LB/S, and CB/S are a few that immediately come to mind. Positional groups like interior linebacker and safety are evolving also.
Take the inside linebacker position for instance. The Steelers, and any other franchise that runs a base 3-4, are always on the lookout for any prospect that has the physicality of a Buck, but also the mobility of a Mack. Obviously those guys are hard to find, and in high demand.
The same holds true for the safety position, although the actual results have been one-sided. Let me try to explain.
There have been numerous strong safeties throughout NFL history who possessed both the physicality and tackling prowess of a strong, plus the coverage ability and ball skills of a free. Steelers legends Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell, and Rod Woodson immediately come to mind.
However, there have been precious few free safeties who have enjoyed the well rounded physicality necessary to adequately fulfill the responsibilities of a strong safety.
Make no mistake about it, Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee are not interchangeable. Edmunds is a classic box safety, far more linebacker than corner. Kazee is a classic deep cover safety, excelling at taking away a deep half of the field.
Edmunds played multiple positions while in college at Virginia Tech, including taking snaps at inside linebacker when required. He is incredibly well built and durable, which allows him to excel in run defense and in coverage at or near the line of scrimmage, particularly tight ends coverage.
Kazee has the physical build of a undersized cornerback, at 5'10" and 185 lbs. His size limits his physicality and effectiveness around the line of scrimmage. Although he lacks optimal speed for a corner or a free safety, he more than compensates for that shortcoming with elite level anticipation and instincts.
He is incredibly smooth in his movements, seemingly gliding around the field. His ball skills and tracking abilities make him an ideal free safety, but he is in no way a strong safety candidate.
Think of Kazee as a more talented and experienced version of Tre Norwood. Both players have similar versatility, plus strengths and weaknesses. Kazee even has slot corner experience in the NFL.
Actually, the ability to see action in the slot is the one trait that Edmunds and Kazee both share. Edmunds lines up there on occasion, when necessary. I expect that to continue with both gentlemen, depending on matchups obviously.
In conclusion, Edmunds and Kazee are talented, but not interchangeable. Edmunds has the physicality and athleticism of a strong safety, but lacks the instincts and ball skills of a free safety. Kazee has the instincts and smooth coverage skills of a free safety, but his size limitations hinders his physicality. Asking Kazee to play strong safety would be like asking Casey Hampton to be the world's largest cornerback. You can try it, but be prepared for the inevitable failure.
I expect Teryl Austin and company to devise multiple schemes to get Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, and Damontae Kazee all on the field at the same time.
It's always a good idea to get your best players as much playing time as possible.
However, don't buy into the narrative suggesting that Kazee's prescence and usage will come at the expense of Edmunds.