Through July, I will be running positional breakdowns for the Washington Redskins. Each assessment will be broken down into four areas: Past Statistics, Experience/Potential, Positional Competition, and Intangibles.
Today we’re addressing defensive backs. The defensive backfield for the Washington Redskins looks significantly different than one might have predicted two offseasons ago. The loss of Sean Taylor still stings Redskins fans and the organization as a whole, but I believe it’s safe to say that the group has been able to move forward (not on…there’s a difference), and 2009 should see some improvement from the corners and the safeties.
Statistically, the DBs did not put up spectacular numbers, but they performed well as a cohesive unit. Chris Horton and LaRon Landry came in 3rd and 4th on the team in tackles respectively, which isn’t entirely unsuspected for two safeties. The surprising stat for me is Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot following them at 5th and 6th on the list. They managed to sacrifice little against the pass despite their improved run support. As a group, they carried the 7th best yards per game average (193.4), 5th best touchdowns against total (16), and 5th lowest yards per catch average (6.3). The two glaring problems were giving up the big play (8 plays of 40+ yards which was 12th worst in the league) as well as big play ability. The defensive backs collectively hauled in only 11 interceptions, and the team’s 13 total picks were only 17th in the league, which is atrocious for such a talented group. Like the linebackers, the corners must improve their big-play ability, and get over their “hands of stone” mental blocks. I can’t even begin to count the number of interceptions that Smoot and Rogers dropped over the course of the 2008 season.
Overall, this probably the youngest group on the roster. Landry must begin to create some more turnovers if he wants to be considered an “elite” safety in the league, but he’s done quite a bit in his two seasons to earn a reputation as a very reliable starter. Chris Horton came out of left field to seize the starting strong safety position, and while he only started 10 games in 2008, he led the way in tackles and interceptions. He has far better range than anyone thought, and he has a nose for the football. I’m excited to see his improvement in year two under Greg Blache. Rogers is now entering his 5th season in the NFL and must thrive in the #1 role with the loss of Shawn Springs. DeAngelo Hall seems like he’s been in the league forever, but he’s still only 25 with more room to improve. He has elite speed and great hands, and SHOULD become the team’s shutdown corner if he works hard enough. Smoot is still a good nickel corner, but it will hurt if Rogers misses time with injuries again in 2009. Kevin Barnes seems to have the hitting ability, and my Terp friends (correction: friend…Chris Hurst) tell me that he has the ability to be a regular starter in the league, so if he develops well as the dime back, the corners will be VERY deep.
Horton, Landry, Rogers, and Hall have the starting positions locked down. Smoot should have a strong grasp on the nickel spot. The most interesting competition out of the defensive backs will be for the 4th and 5th spots. There are three guys in the mix: the aforementioned Barnes, Justin Tryon, and Byron Westbrook. Barnes, a 3rd round pick, has good size at 6’1”, 188 lbs, and has a nasty reputation for making guys throw up (shown below). He started 20 games at the University of Maryland with 5.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. Tryon, a 4th rounder in 2008 struggled mightily when he made it on the field last season. He is relatively diminutive (5’9” 183) and showed below average cover skills. He remains a BIG work in progress. Westbrook has latched onto the ‘Skins practice squad the last two seasons after being signed as a rookie free agent in 2007. This will be his last opportunity to make the team as a regular. He has shown a lot of fight and won’t give up his spot easily, but he’s also small and hasn’t made any impact on the field to date.
It would be easy to say that losing the experience of Shawn Springs is going to be big, and it will be, but it’s time for this group to grow up and move on. Springs durability has been terrible in recent seasons, and while he was very tough to throw on when he did make it onto the field, he’s replaceable. How Rogers steps up in the top dog role will say a lot about how the season will go, but don’t count out the impact that DeAngelo Hall might have. He’s PISSED that he’s being overlooked and criticized (especially by the Madden ratings guys), and he’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder. Having watched him for three years in Blacksburg and then with the Falcons, he plays well when he’s angry (not cocky). A leader must also emerge to take the place of Springs in the locker room. My money is on Landry, but it might be a void that they aren’t able to fill.
The defensive backfield is one of the most comfortable positions for the coaching staff, with a nice mix of experience and young talent. It’s a group of three first round picks and a former no-name, and they seem to have great chemistry. If they can generate more interceptions to flip the field for the offense, they could be the best unit on the roster. My money is on Hall to emerge as the player he’s capable of being, and that’s a VERY bad thing for Messrs Romo, Manning and McNabb.