Why is Hall so indifferent to pure safeties? McCourty has the answer

New England's Devin McCourty has played cornerback and safety, so he knows a lot about both positions. And what he knows is why safeties tend to be overlooked by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's board of selectors and which of the two positions is more demanding.

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins, December 24, 2011.
New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins, December 24, 2011.

(Photos courtesy of New England Patriots)

Talk of Fame Network

The last pure Hall-of-Fame safety to play was Kenny Houston. He retired after 1980. The last pure safety to be elected was Paul Krause. It took 14 years before the NFL’s career interception leader was enshrined in 1998.

Odd? No question. But when you call roll at the Pro Football Hall of Fame you discover that only seven pure safeties are there … which begs the question: Why? Why is the position so underrated by the Hall’s board of selectors?

For an answer, we turned to New England’s Devin McCourty, who started his NFL career as a cornerback before switching to safety.

“Our coach always tells us (that) a lot of our jobs will have to do with putting other people in position to make plays,” McCourty said on The Talk of Fame Network’s latest broadcast. “(And) not always will it be one of the safeties. But he always tells us we have a lot of control in the secondary to put sometimes a linebacker who might be in coverage … taking him out of coverage or letting him rush … or putting a corner or somebody else in a different position so they can make a play. When you do things like that it doesn’t get noticed by anyone watching. That won’t really get you in the Hall of Fame.

“But I also think when guys retire like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu and Adrian Wilson … that will probably change in a couple of years. When those guys are available to go in and be elected to the Hall of Fame, that will change.”

He’s probably right. Reed and Polamalu should be inducted, with Reed on a first-ballot track. But the Hall has been indifferent to pure safeties, and ask John Lynch. He’s been a finalist the past two years but couldn’t make the cut to 10.

McCourty, of course, is not a pure safety. He’s a converted cornerback. Well, sort of. He played safety in college and high school but was switched to cornerback during his collegiate career and started there with the Patriots. So he knows which is the more demanding position -- and, according to McCourty, it’s not close.

“I think, physically, corner is way more demanding,” he said. “Just from the standpoint that sometimes you line up a yard away from the guy, maybe seven yards off a guy, and you have him in man-to-man coverage or zone coverage. You’ve got to take him away, and you need to make some decisions right away. Technique-wise and physically, you’ve got to be prepared to do that each week, especially with the quality of receivers we have in the NFL.

“But I think safety is more taxing on you mentally. You need to be more in tune with the quarterback and the whole offensive scheme. As far as a corner, you’re really just focused on receivers as far as the pass game, and maybe in different defenses you have run support or have to make a tackle later downfield. Where (with) a safety sometimes you might be in run support involved in the box, you might be deep or you might have to cover a guy. You just have more things you need to do and know out on the field.

“But I think corner is definitely tougher to play from the standpoint of being able to cover a guy week in and week out.”

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