DENVER (CBS4) - Former Denver Broncos safety Nick Ferguson held an interesting position during the team's minicamp this offseason -- he was a coaching intern. But what is a coaching intern?
"You have the same responsibilities as the coaches … they've given me the liberty to go out, use some of my expertise, my wise that I've earned as a player, my experience, to talk to players," Ferguson told CBS4's Vic Lombardi during an interview at CBS4 studios.
Ferguson said he knows the system, so his job was to coach and assist as much as he could.
"But I try not to do too much. If the coaches allow me to do it, then I'll go ahead and do it," he said.
He said since he played safety he predominately stuck with coaching the safeties, but he said he ventured over to talk to the cornerbacks from time to time.
"When you're looking at things from a coaching standpoint, you have to not only pay attention to the Xs and Os, but the fundamentals as well."
The safety position has evolved since Ferguson played the game. Safeties used to be able to hit opposing players almost any way they wanted, such as leading with the helmet. But now there are rules in place to prevent players from getting injuries to the head. Lombardi wondered if Ferguson could imagine playing safety with today's rules.
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"No. I've talked to John Lynch and Kenoy Kennedy about this and if we were playing in today's NFL we wouldn't make any money at all (due to fines). John would make far less that any of us," Ferguson said with a laugh. "We'd probably have to move John to linebacker."
Ferguson said it's like using a strike zone in baseball.
"They're going to have to put one of those squares on offensive players so you know exactly where the target area is."
Of the safeties Ferguson got to see at the minicamp, he said T.J. Ward made a good impression on him.
"T.J. is a very physical guy … the physicality is something the Broncos were missing. He brings that to the secondary."
He said Ward's only drawback is his height when he's facing tall wide receivers and tight ends.
The big question mark going into next season is who will be the other safety. Ferguson said it's hard to tell at this point who has the inside track.
"(In) OTAs and minicamp you can't really get a tale of the tape for a guy until you put pads on. But guys who stuck out to me -- Omar Bolden, a former corner and now they've moved him around to safety."
He said another player who looks strong is David Bruton.
"I know he's predominately used as a special teams player. I talked to him in practice and I said, 'When I came into the league, I was a special teams player. But you have to understand this, you are more than a special teams player. So when we come back to camp in preseason, you show them and you fight for that position next to T.J. Ward.' "
Ferguson said he's familiar with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' system, although he never played for him.
"I tell (Phillips) all the time and I tell the guys, 'Had I played in a defense that was structured like this, I don't know how man Pro Bowls I would have gone to.' "
Lombardi said he learned a great lesson from Ferguson when the Broncos lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game in 2005.
"I'll never forget we did the live post game, it was an hour long and it felt almost like a funeral in there and everybody was talking in hush tones," Lombardi said. "I'm interviewing Nick live on CBS4 and he looks at me in the middle of the interview and he says, 'Vic, it's just a game, we just lost a game. There are more important matters.' "
Lombardi said it home because a couple years later Ferguson lost more than a game when teammate Darrent Williams was shot to death after leaving a nightclub on New Year's Eve.
"It gave us perspective. You hate to feel that way, but perspective smacks you right in the face," Lombardi said.
"Yes it does, but the biggest thing for me is that I lean on that. I go out and I talk to kids professionally in the California area and I tell them a story about myself, but I tell them a story about Darrent … about making choices, about being in the right place at the right time."
Ferguson said when Williams was killed it was the morning of Ferguson's wedding.
"I was expecting to have all this jubilation, but now it's this dark cloud. But it's a part of me. Every time I celebrate a wedding anniversary, I celebrate him."
- By Matthew J. Buettner, CBSDenver.com
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