Projected starters: CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Josh Wilson, SS Brandon Meriweather, FS Tanard Jackson
Key reserves: FS Madieu Williams, S Reed Doughty, S DeJon Gomes, CB Cedric Griffin, CB Kevin Barnes, CB Brandyn Thompson, CB Richard Crawford/S Jordan Bernstine.
Vet in trouble: I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the three new safeties doesn’t make it. Jackson is probably the most talented so if he shows well he should be fine. Williams had a strong spring, but his last few years haven’t gone as well. Meriweather seems relatively safe as the starting strong safety if only because everyone else at this spot projects to a backup (addition: he was found guilty of a DUI in Arlington County and received a 180-day suspended prison sentence, a $300 fine and his license was suspended for 60 days. Don’t know yet what this means for the season). Doughty’s ability to play both safety spots and special teams could keep him around; coaches like him – they understand he’s a backup….Barnes has a lot to prove still (and showed he could not play in the slot last year).
Camp battle: For the starting free safety position between Jackson and Williams. Did not see Jackson do much in the spring as he was recovering from his shoulder injury suffered last season. But Williams looked good, showing excellent instincts. He was always around the ball. But there’s a major difference between what guys do in the spring and the summer…The last few DB spots will be interesting. There are 12 names listed above; they’ll only keep nine or 10 DBs and that means the rookies – Crawford and Bernstine – must show well to bump someone else off the list. My guess is one of them will; Jim Haslett prefers to keep draft picks whenever possible. They also have vets like David Jones and Morgan Trent.
What I like: Hall’s playmaking ability and instincts… He’s also an underrated tackler; did a good job in that area last year… Wilson’s scrappiness and competitiveness. He’s also tough…Jackson’s talent. By all accounts he’s their most talented safety… Healthy safeties….Gomes’ instincts in the box…Williams’ instincts downfield (again, based only on the spring)….Meriweather’s talent.
Remaining questions: How will Hall fare in the slot? Or Wilson if he has to play inside? Heck, can anyone here cover in the slot? … Will Hall again make big plays? That’s how he landed in the Pro Bowl. Ironically he was probably better last season, but he only had three picks and allowed crucial catches in losses to Dallas. As you probably remember… Will any of the safeties be worth a darn? I know Meriweather has some intrigued and I know the Redskins say he’s a better fit in their D than in Chicago’s Cover 2. But I also know this: New England needed safeties and let a two-time Pro Bowler go. The knock on him is that he lacks the instincts for the position. We’ll see; maybe this scheme is best for him, but he has a lot to prove. And based on the DUI, he doesn’t always make the best decisions…What does Williams have left? Will Jackson again become the player who was once considered a good young safety? Will he stay clean?… Will Gomes improve? He struggled in coverage and with angles while playing deep. Can’t say that he looked a lot different in the spring….What sort of difference will new secondary coach Raheem Morris make?
Better or worse: You can’t say they’re better because each of the new safeties has a major flaw that could limit their effectiveness. They certainly would be considered worse than the group the Redskins had early in 2011 (based on what they could do). However…O.J. Atogwe didn’t play well, whether because of injuries or age (some thought he was done a year before the Redskins signed him). So what are they losing there? And LaRon Landry was hurt and rather quiet last year as well (except when woofing at ballcarriers after a big hit following a 10-yard gain for a first down). So when looking at Landry’s departure, you have to look at his 2011 season more than the first half of 2010. Are they that much worse? One point that should be better – and this can’t be understated – is the communication between the safeties and the corners. Unlike last season the starting corners and safeties have worked together all offseason (though Jackson couldn’t do much until later in the spring). In theory, they should develop more understanding of how one another plays certain routes. When a safety knows how the corner plays a certain route he can adjust accordingly to help bail them out if necessary. Atogwe and Landry spent most of camp taking mental reps; but they developed little feeling for the other DBs. Tough to do. Regardless, this unit enters camp as one of the weaker ones on the Redskins…. Playing safety has gotten harder the past few years and more athleticism (and speed) is needed deep. To help them they’ll need a stronger pass rush and that’s another way this group can improve. More passes under duress equals more chances for picks. …Morris had a good reputation as a DB coach in Tampa Bay. The players already sound upbeat about how he can help them.
Final word: The corners must have a strong season. I know the coaches want to have Hall emulate Green Bay’s Charles Woodson, who is as versatile as they come. But let’s not kid ourselves: Woodson is a future Hall of Famer; Hall is not. That’s not a knock on Hall, but it is a reminder that just because you ask a guy to play the same role doesn’t mean he’ll have that same success. Hall is a fine corner and excellent ballhawk, but scouts and other coaches say he’s just not as disciplined as a guy like Woodson and that will hinder his success. One thing others have noticed: Hall loves taking an extra peek at the quarterback off the snap and that sometimes gets him in trouble. Athletically he can play in the slot or anywhere else in the secondary. But he’ll need to be more disciplined to do what a guy like Woodson does. … Wilson played better than I thought he would last season. He’s a short corner, but teams rarely challenged him on passes that should have given him trouble. Don’t know why. The knock on him in the past, NFL sources say, is that one good year would be followed by a mediocre one. Maybe that was a byproduct of youth. By season’s end he was their best cover corner. He’ll need to repeat that success.
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Rest of the positions: