This is the NFL offseason, the time between OTAs and training camp, when players flee to exotic landscapes for one last vacation before the hard work continues, and when fans hope and pray they don’t see their favorite player’s name and “arrested” in the same sentence.

We often say that the NFL season never stops, and that’s mostly true, but if it ever did, it would be during these few weeks in June and July.

Fortunately, that gives us some time to regroup, take stock of the Broncos’ draft and free agent class, and look forward to training camp. In the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing positional previews three times a week in preparation for the franchise’s run towards a fourth championship.

With training camp just around the corner (yay!) we close our positional previews with safeties. Darian Stewart and TJ Ward are the clear heroes at that position, but the depth behind them leaves room for concern.

Denver lost two of their best, David Bruton and Omar Bolden, to free agency this offseason, and it’s tough to tell if Denver has replenished their depth in the secondary:

Projected Depth Chart:


Darian Stewart
TJ Ward


Justin Simmons
Shiloh Keo


Will Parks

Big Question: Can the backups hold down the fort if needed to?

Stewart and Ward are two of the best safeties in the league, and everybody knows it. They play as a well-oiled tandem and communicate extremely well. There are no concerns when they are on the field.

However, in the event that one or both of them are injured — like in the Pittsburgh game last year — that well-oiled machine falls apart. Obviously, you hope for Ward and Stewart to stay healthy throughout the season, but looking past this year, Stewart is a free agent at the close of the year and Ward’s contract is up in 2017. Denver needs more depth.

Smart man that he is, John Elway drafted Will Parks out of Arizona and Justin Simmons out of Boston College to add youth to the position.

The pair of rookies, along with Shiloh Keo, need to step up and find out who can take over David Bruton’s role from last season.

Most important player: TJ Ward

Watching Ward play, his passion for the game exudes out of every pore in his body. He is aggressive, energetic and he hits harder than a freight train. Denver obviously relies on his by-the-numbers talent each game, but his teammates also rely on his leadership and motivational attitude.

This season will be Ward’s seventh in the league — tied for the most experience at the position with Stewart. The future and development of the younger guys, particularly Simmons and Parks relies heavily on Ward’s ability to motivate and teach them.

Defensive backs coach Joe Woods can teach from the sidelines, but you learn best by example, and there aren’t many better examples than Ward.

Surprise Player: Will Parks

Parks was taken in the sixth round, 219th overall. There were 20 safeties drafted before him, including new teammate Simmons. But, as players like Chris Harris Jr., Tom Brady and CJ Anderson will tell you, that only serves as greater motivation.

At 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, Parks has the perfect frame and size to move quickly and still deliver a hard hit, but I expect he’ll put on a bit more muscle weight before the season officially starts.

With Simmons considered the bigger, stronger and more valuable player, and Keo with five years of experience sitting above him, Parks has a ways to go until he’ll see actual playing time. But if Denver gives this guy a chance as a rookie, prepare to be surprised — this tough kid out of Philly has always been out to prove himself, and he’s only just getting started.

Overall Grade: B

Ward and Stewart aside, there are a lot of unknowns at the safety position. Even if Ward and Stewart remain healthy, Denver’s defense will likely be out on the field for the majority of the game (sorry QBs) and they will need to get some rest.

The probable reserves of Keo and Simmons are simply too young, too raw and too new to be truly relied upon. Whether it be a few series here or there, or a full game, Denver needs to have backups they can trust, and until training camp begins, we really can’t be sure those guys are present.

Still, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips always seems to have a trick up his sleeve for opposing offenses, so only time can tell the real story.