ASHBURN – Everyone in Washington is talking ‘offense.’ And why not? The Redskins landed the Heisman Winner and arguably most talented college quarterback since Peyton Manning. While it’s true The Washington Redskin offensive line performance should dictate much of Robert Griffin’s success in his rookie campaign, it’s the opposite side of the ball where triumph or failure is decided. The Redskins season depends heavily on the production of Raheem Morris’ secondary unit.
As with any NFL team starting a rookie quarterback, the defense will become forced to play the role of hero a great deal.
The front seven of Washington’s 3-4 defense, with the addition of rookie Ryan Kerrigan, showed vast improvement in its second season of implementation last year. The safeties and corners however, failed to meet expectations in 2011. DeAngelo Hall ran his mouth more than he ran the field, leaving acquired free agent Josh Wilson to cover many No.1 receivers. Although Kevin Barnes and rookie DeJon Gomes picked up the slack at times, nobody lit up the highlight reel or set himself apart from what became a mediocre group of defensive backs. Therefore, Michael Vick and other notable QBs picked apart the Redskins via the passing game. LaRon Landry, whose proclivity for bodybuilding over making interceptions helped him earn a one-way ticket out of Dodge City, left a huge void in Washington’s secondary when Washington 86-ed him earlier this spring. All of this and more led the ‘Redskins Brass’ to hire Raheem Morris this off-season to take charge of the run down, depleted coverage unit.
Fortunately, the former Buccaneer defensive coordinator assimilated quickly in Washington, with both staff and players boasting his winning attitude, coaching philosophy and affable demeanor. Let us take a look at some returning ‘Skins who Morris hopes to transform into, or back into, dominant players.
DeAngelo Hall: Age 28 – 9th season out of Virginia Tech (stats from espn.go.com)
Stats in 2011 – 90 Total Tackles, 3 INT, 1 Forced Fumble, 16 Passes Defended
While Hall’s statistics from last season look good, his performance tailed off in the latter half of 2011. The problem, in my opinion, was not due to a lack of talent or drive, but instead derived from a mental aspect. Hall gets in his own head easily and spent a great deal of time either beating himself up, or praising his own achievements to the media last year. Morris needs to get Hall focused on the team as a whole and keep him away from the microphone.
The good news: Hall trusts Morris and has discovered his scheme gels perfectly with his own desire to create more turnovers. Morris likes his corners to often sit on the outside and allow the receiver to pass by the short zone coverage. The corner then has better vision of the quarterback’s eyes, which gives him opportune position to jump the quick out, drag or comeback pattern, while the nickel or dime man secures the deeper route. Hall should find success in this setting as he was beat often on deep throws downfield last season and now performs better in coverage10-20 yards from scrimmage.
Josh Wilson: Age 27 – 6th season out of Maryland
Stats in 2011 – 62 Total Tackles, 2 INT, 1 Forced Fumble, 15 Passes Defended
Wilson was a good pick up from the Ravens last year. He performed well against coverage in the short field and broke up several big plays on deep routes. His ability to jump outside routes will benefit him greatly in Morris’ system. Look for the young vet to become perhaps one of the most valuable players on defense for the Redskins in 2012.
DeJon Gomes: Age 22 – 2nd season out of Nebraska
Stats in 2011 – 35 Total Tackles, 2 Passes Defended
The Redskins’ secondary has lacked that special athleticism needed ever since the death of Sean Taylor. Gomes, while not comparing him to Taylor, is athletic and plays with hunger. He’s a smart guy and learned his role at safety very quickly in his rookie year, and he is a solid, textbook tackler versus both the run and pass. The second year safety should earn a starting role by midseason if not sooner. Gomes is quickly becoming one of my favorite ‘Skins. Last year was a ‘good’ season but I have a gut feeling this year he will show what he has in his bag.
Reed Doughty: Age 29 – 7th season out of Northern Colorado
Stats in 2011 – 88 Total Tackles, 2 Forced Fumbles, 1 Fumble Recovery
Doughty is a hustler who never quits. He’s reliable but does not possess the speed to stop the big play. He is much stronger in run support than pass coverage. While his stats show many tackles, many came after his receiver gained too much yardage. He will likely start but Washington needs to draft a guy to replace him in that role next season.
Kevin Barnes: Age 25 – 4th season out of Maryland
Stats in 2011 – 26 Total Tackles, 2 INT, 4 Passes Defended
Nickel and dime man. It took the Maryland product a few seasons to catch on but last year he showed a good deal of improvement, via his sound work ethic. He proved he can make a play on the ball last year as well. This along with his maturation and drive should could give him a chance to start. I feel he may eventually move to safety where his talent might serve him better.
*Fighting for Spot on Team:
Cedric Griffin: Age 29 – 7th season out of Texas
Stats in 2011 – 67 Total Tackles, 1 INT, 3 Forced Fumbles, 9 Passes Defended
Griffin’s was very solid in Minnesota. He was let go because of age but as Shawn Springs proved in past years, experience can trump youth in many cases. He should make the team as back up and/or nickel and dime man. However if Hall falters again, look for Griffin to grab a starting role.
Tanard Jackson – Age 26 – 5th season out of Syracuse (Acquired via Free Agency from TB)
Stats in 2011 – 35 Total Tackles, 2 INT, 1 Fumble Recovery, 3 Passes Defended
Most pundits, including myself, believe Jackson has the greatest advantage going into camp as he played under Morris in Tampa. His knack for stripping the ball away gives me hope, since turnovers is an area that needs improvement in the ‘Skins secondary. Washington needs ball hawks, but they must also play smart and focus on tacking first before the strip. Youth is also on his side and the Redskins need guys who know how to wrap up instead of laying in with the shoulder for the ‘big hit.’ Nothing annoys me more than seeing a defensive back do that, only to have the ball carrier bounce off and take it to the house.
Brandon Meriweather – Age 28 – 6th season out of Miami (Florida)
Stats in 2011 – 32 Total Tackles, 2 Passes Defended
Meriweather has had history of trouble off the field and already got busted for DUI in Washington this spring. The last thing the Redskins need is another troublemaker. But if he makes enough big plays in the preseason, Morris may decide to keep him. My hunch – gone by September.
Madieu Williams – Age 30 – 9th season out of Maryland (Acquired via Free Agency from 49ers)
Stats in 2011 – 9 Total Tackles
Obviously, Williams has not been very active as of late. At age 30, he’s fighting for a spot against young players who have proven they can do the job. But as Michael Wilbon stated in Brian McIntyre’s NFL.com article last month, he has the most experience of any competing for spots at safety. Morris likes Williams’ athleticism, and that gives him a definite advantage.
Hall and Wilson should start at the corners with Jackson and Doughty at safety. Barnes and Griffin will be at nickel and dime but look for one or both of them to earn starting positions after five games. Williams has a 50/50 shot while Meriweather gets the axe. Next season Shanahan and Allen need to draft a corner and/or safety early on. This scenario is where losing first round picks for the next two years hurts. But that is what it is and the ‘Skins must find a way to get the talent needed in the secondary, to give this young Redskins’ team a shot at the big show within the next three seasons. Hail ‘Skins.
-Todd C. Smith
Follow Todd Smith on Twitter @tcsmitty