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Redskins taking a chance with safeties

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Redskins hopeful they revert to past success

ASHBURN -- They could all make a comeback, each returning to past glory after a couple down seasons. Or they could each do what they've done recently, continuing a career fade and leaving the Redskins in the same spot they were at season's end. In need of safeties.

For now, though, the Redskins -- and the safeties they signed -- can dream. So Brandon Meriweather could find a home after two teams in the past year felt he wasn't good enough. And Madieu Williams could become a viable player once more after little playing time a year ago. And Tanard Jackson could return to his status once upon a time as a young safety to watch after getting hurt in 2011.

"The safety spot is now very competitive," Jackson said.

That's the optimistic view. The skeptical side has another word to describe the safety position: Unstable.

But that depends on none of the three newcomers helping out. It could be that one or two of them come through, and if that's the case then the Redskins would benefit. They also have Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes as backups and drafted Jordan Bernstine in the seventh round.

If all goes well, then Meriweather -- a two-time Pro Bowler on his third team in a year -- will start at strong safety. Williams and Jackson both are considered more free safeties, though the Redskins want their safeties to be comfortable playing deep or near the line.

Meriweather is an intriguing talent because he last made a Pro Bowl in 2010. Numerous league sources, though, cautioned against expecting too much from him. He's considered talented, but these sources each said they did not like his instincts. That led to him getting burned more in Chicago's two-deep system, but even the Patriots, who cut him last summer, tired of his style.

"He fits our system a lot better than he did in Chicago," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "and I can see that on the practice field."

Doughty said, "Brandon they brought in to start. He's extremely talented. He has a knack for the ball. If we make sure we communicate and don't give up anything, he can be special."

Williams, though, has stood out during the offseason workouts. Shanahan long has said it's tough to analyze safeties until the games start. But Williams consistently breaks up passes in practice.

"He's extremely, extremely bright," Shanahan said. "You can tell he's a student of the game. He can anticipate routes before most veterans can see them."

Williams said starting only three games with San Francisco in 2011 and seeing minimal time in most games did help him grow as a player.

"There's a lot you can take away from the situation," Williams said, "like how passionate I am about the game and how much I missed not being out there. Even though I wasn't out there, I made a conscious effort to make sure I was mentally engaged."

Jackson is coming off two tough seasons with only 12 starts combined. He's coming off shoulder surgery in January (he was cleared to resume workouts last week) and also missed a combined 56 weeks because of drug suspensions.

"Being accountable, being responsible for your actions," Jackson said he learned of his time in Tampa Bay. "I dealt with things in the past, and I like to put it behind me. I'm starting a new regime."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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