At the end of the 2011 season, there was a lot of discussion about where things went wrong for the Washington Redskins. Injuries plagued the team, which gave birth to inconsistency after a strong start to the year.
The quarterback position—for so long the bane of Redskins fans’ lives—continued to sabotage the scoreline, regardless of who was under center.
Following the end of the season, Coach Shanahan immediately pulled the plug on the Rex Grossman/John Beck experiment, which resulted in the drafting of Robert Griffin III, or “Bob” to his division rivals.
An element of the season that took a lot of criticism was the team’s performance in the fourth quarter, particularly the defense.
With the offense’s failure to hold up their end of the bargain, the defense found themselves on the field for much longer than they would have liked, which inevitably resulted in errors.
Prior to the fourth quarter, the Redskins were within seven points of their opponents in seven out of their 11 losses, which suggests that the prolonged period of time on the field was the defense’s undoing.
With an under-performing offense and injuries across the roster, competing for that long is actually an achievement in itself—albeit one that was impossible to maintain for 60 minutes.
This brings me to Josh Wilson. I mentioned him as part of my previous article, but felt he was under-represented in the approach to the new season, and that his contribution to the team was deserving of further space.
Speaking to SportsJourney.com, Wilson talked of his introduction to the Redskins defense:
I only [was able] to learn the defense for a week and I had to go play that preseason game. It was tough. I tell people even now, it was probably mid-way through the season before I actually knew the defense.
I played that first game against the Giants, I’m not even going to lie, and they made some calls. I looked over at O.J. [Atogwe] and I was like “what does that mean?”
Coming from Baltimore, Wilson was playing press-coverage all the time, so his quick transition to zone under Shanahan has to be considered a success.
His progression continued throughout the year, and his increasing value to the team is exemplified by the game against the Patriots in December.
Wilson stayed tight in coverage throughout and came up with four tackles, as well as picking off a Tom Brady pass in the end zone with 6:30 left in the game. If Santana Moss had held onto the pass on the resulting drive, it could’ve been a completely different story in New England that day.
Wilson then repeated the end zone interception in the next game against the Giants. This was the Josh Wilson that many fans expected to see when he arrived from Baltimore, and the luxury of a full offseason should see that Wilson return more frequently in 2012.
Watching DeAngelo Hall’s contrasting performance in that Patriots game only illustrates what a good decision it was to bring Wilson to DC.
While Wilson was holding down his end, Hall struggled to cover Wes Welker—admittedly nothing to be too ashamed of—and looked lost as his concentration waned, especially after earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for protesting a holding call.
This type of frustration happens to every player, but Hall has to hold it in this year.
The changes in the secondary over the offseason have led many people to label it as a weak point, and it certainly has the potential to be just that. Any change in a team needs time in order to succeed, and when the two starting safeties are replaced, it immediately makes the defense vulnerable.
Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson still raise doubts—with Jackson now also on the PUP list as training camp gets underway—both in their character and their commitment throughout an entire game.
Madieu Williams was a backup for a lot of last season—making three starts for the 49ers— and Cedric Griffin had an incredibly poor 2011 after coming back from two separate ACL tears, so expectations for him are muted to say the least.
This is why Raheem Morris is preaching versatility in advance of the 2012 season, making players learn multiple positions in order to create depth with limited resources.
Nevertheless, it falls to the other starters to step up and become leaders. Even Morris himself hasn’t been in DC for long, and as talented as he is, he can’t be expected to turn everything into gold over the course of one offseason.
Even though his experience in a Redskins shirt totals one season, Wilson’s role in the secondary became a more senior one as the offseason progressed and free agent signings were brought in.
With a full season in Haslett’s defense under his belt—and the introduction of a promising mentor in Morris—Wilson should raise his game simply by virtue of not having to think so much about his assignments.
At the age of 27, he should be about ready to hit his prime, and I expect to see him hold down the starting position for a few more years yet.
His ability in coverage is probably his best asset, and while DeAngelo Hall is more of a playmaker, Wilson will be the most dependable guy in the secondary this year.
His commitment cannot be doubted, especially when added to the fact that he is playing for his home team, and genuinely cares about football in DC.
Early reports from training camp indicate that Wilson is rising to the challenge, with Rich Campbell reporting for the Washington Times that Morris was praising Wilson after a play where Wilson took Pierre Garcon out of the equation, jamming him at the line of scrimmage.
It’s this sort of unflashy display that will give the secondary a solid foundation, and if Hall was telling the truth when he promised to talk less and play more, the cornerback duo should surprise some people this year.
In a time when everyone seems to be straining for the highlight reels. You don’t hear much about the players who turn up every week, do everything that’s expected of them (and more) and then go home to their families.
If that remains true in 2012, don’t expect to hear about Josh Wilson.