A safety is a safety is a safety.
So say the Tennessee Titans.
“We don’t do ‘strong’ and ‘free’ safeties,” general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “We throw all the safeties together because we expect our safeties to be able to do both sets of things. So when we look at a guy, he’s a safety, not a free or a strong.”
He reiterated that stance following the 2010 NFL draft, in which the Titans selected a pair of safeties, Robert Johnson out of Utah (fifth round, 148th overall) and Myron Rolle from Florida State (sixth round, 207th overall).
It was the first time since 2000 that the franchise took two safeties in the same draft.
Back then, the two were pigeonholed: Fourth-round selection Bobby Myers was an obvious free safety, and fifth-round choice Aric Morris was a strong safety. The thought was that they eventually would step in for Marcus Robertson and Blaine Bishop, respectively, and maintain the continuity of the secondary.
Morris played just three seasons for the Titans and started 10 games, all in 2001. His 42 career tackles were fewer than half of what Bishop typically made in a season during his prime.
Myers lasted only two seasons and made two starts before a serious knee injury effectively ended his career.
No such expectations were established for Johnson and Rolle, although it does seem as if each fits one of the traditional notions of that position.
Johnson has speed and is an accomplished high jumper. He averaged more than four interceptions for his three college seasons and scored two touchdowns on returns — one fumble, one interception — as a senior.
His teammates took to calling him the “Human Eraser” for his ability to cover ground and disrupt pass plays either with an interception or a deflection.
All of those things scream free safety, but he also noted that last fall his coaches played him near the line of scrimmage — typically the strong safety’s area — more often.
“It worked out well where I wound up getting 40 more or 30 extra tackles my senior year,” he said. “I will come down there and try my hardest to throw all this weight I have to make tackles and be the ‘Human Eraser’ back there.”
Rolle has 15 pounds on Johnson and racked up nearly 70 tackles per season in three years with the Seminoles. He intercepted only one pass.
“I’m a very sure tackler; I’m a very reliable player, aggressive, instinctive and a leader,” he said. “I’m long and I can play down in the box if they need me to roll down. I have the ability, and I have quick enough feet and [the] straight-ahead speed to cover spot receivers and tight ends who are able to run in the NFL.”
Most would say that makes him a strong safety. Just don’t expect to hear it from the Titans.
“The safety positions are interchangeable, so we are going to line them up and see how they do,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We expect for both of them to do very well.”