Perhaps Hamza Abdullah’s starting opportunity might have come sooner had he not sustained a hip-flexor injury in Week 2 against the Raiders. He missed the following five games, but by the time he returned on Nov. 4 against Detroit, he was in line for the most extensive action of his career to date, splitting time with then-starting safety Nick Ferguson.
A week later, Abdullah was in the starting lineup — for good, as it turned out. He started at free safety in Kansas City while John Lynch recovered from a neck stinger, then moved to strong safety for the balance of the regular season.
Flashes of brilliance defined Abdullah’s half-season as starter. He notched 40 total tackles in his eight starts — tied for third on the team and first among defensive backs along with Champ Bailey — but also missed some stops, perhaps most notably in the Week 15 loss at Houston, when tight end Owen Daniels got free past him in the open field after a reception, leading to a 15-yard gain on third-and-6 that pulled the Texans out of purgatory at their own 8-yard-line.
But that came in start No. 6 for Abdullah, a player who remains young enough to be defined by his potential, whose growth could be essential to the Broncos’ hopes of defensive restoration in 2008 and beyond.
“We’ll find out,” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. “When he did play, he played well. He had some good games (and) some poor games, but I think he’s got a big upside, and hopefully he’ll play well in the future.”
The defense will doubtless have a laundry list of goals to check off as it looks to return to the league’s top 10, where it was perched from 2001-04. Abdullah has goals of his own — which revolve around helping the defense flourish as a whole.
“I’m doing everything towards those goals. I definitely haven’t achieved them. I just want to be a great teammate and a great player, and I want to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Abdullah said in November. “Little things, whether it’s alignment, no missed assignments, mental errors, things like that.”
Added Lynch: “It’s important for him to be a good player. He works each and every day. When you can match that with the physical traits he has, that’s when you can be special.”
In 2008, Abdullah and the Broncos will find out whether he actually is.