Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is focused on improving his defensive secondary in 2013, shown with S Phillip Thomas and CB David Amerson at rookie minicamp.
The Washington Redskins made significant additions to their secondary during the offseason, drafting two safeties and a cornerback. If last year's starters don't make a significant impact early, they could be watching from the sidelines soon.
Head coach Mike Shanahan has never shied away from his desire to have a more youthful team and to have a more solid depth chart. During the offseason, the team's primary area of concern was the secondary—which, according to NFL.com, finished at or near the bottom in multiple categories, especially their pass defense.
The Redskins official website does not have the team's depth chart published for the upcoming season. However, many online sites have taken it upon themselves to play the role as a member of the Redskins coaching staff and put forth the Redskins first and second-team starters by position.
Except for safety Brandon Meriweather, who missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL, the consensus shows last year's starting secondary during their seven-game winning streak to close the regular season will all be returning to their designated roles.
ESPN.com lists DeAngelo Hall as left cornerback, with E.J. Biggers second and David Amerson third. At right cornerback, it is Josh Wilson followed by Richard Crawford. The starting strong safety will be Brandon Meriweather with Bacarri Rambo second, and Reed Doughty will be at free safety with Phillip Thomas second.
An interesting twist on that proposed lineup is one put forth by a lesser and relatively unknown site, ourlads.com, who, according to their website, has been "scouting, evaluating and rating college football talent as it pertains to the NFL draft since the early 1980's."
The only difference this site has proposed would have cornerback Amerson moving to the right side and at the number two position, ahead of ESPN's suggestion of Richard Crawford.
With this suggested depth chart, the entire second team secondary will be made up of offseason acquisitions—something coach Shanahan suggested adds to the competitiveness of the starting position in a post-NFL draft press conference April 27 seen on Redskins.com.
"We love competition," Shanahan said with a grin. "When you’ve got competition, it doesn’t matter if you are a first-year player, second-year player or a 15-year player. You’ve got to go out there and prove it every day, every game each week. To me, when you have healthy competition, it gives you a chance to get better.”
With the talent the Redskins added over the course of the last month, counting the acquisition of free agent E.J. Biggers March 20, the starters have to realize and recognize their performance will be under the microscope.
Which Redskins rookie has the best chance of becoming a starter in 2013?
With three rookies anxious to prove themselves to coaches, starters and opponents, there has to be a certain level of added pressure to rise up and prove your worthiness as a starter. After all, as coach Shanahan pointed out, "you've got to go out there and prove" you're worthy of that starting spot on the roster.
As an armchair quarterback and pigskin prognosticator, I'm certain that any one of the team's second-team players could start on a NFL team. Each of them have the qualifications.
At cornerback, E.J. Biggers joins the team after four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will reunite with his then-head coach Raheem Morris, who is currently the Redskins defensive backs coach. Last season with the Buccaneers, Biggers started a career-high 12 games, recording 51 tackles, an interception and seven pass deflections.
Also at cornerback, second-round draft pick David Amerson, who officially signed with the team May 17, was recognized in 2011 as one of the top college defensive backs after leading the NCAA in interceptions with 13. He added five INTs last season.
Coach Shanahan had praise for Amerson's instincts and versatility in an interview with the Washington Post April 27.
"He’s got the speed you look for, he’s got some length, just a guy we felt can fit into our system very well. Very smart player.”
Safety Baccari Rambo impressed coach Shanahan during rookie minicamp and adds another defensive threat when in passing situations, recording 16 career interceptions in his college playing days at Georgia.
Fellow safety and fourth-round draftee Phillip Thomas also has a good nose for the ball while defending against the pass, as he lead the nation while at Fresno State with eight INTs last season.
Both safeties left a lasting impression with Shanahan following their rookie minicamp as well, as reported by the Associated Press on May 5.
“Their ball skills were very evident over the last few days,” Shanahan said of Rambo and Thomas. “We do a lot of different things with our secondary. We put a lot of pressure on them mentally as well as physically. You’ve got be able to play both (strong and free safety). They’ve got the size and the athletic ability to play both positions.”
With this much talent waiting in the wings, you can't help but think that the Redskins starters are going to be looking over their shoulder after plays in which they got beat on defense. Coach Shanahan has put the defensive backs on notice that they might become a starter, but now, they have competition that can step up and step in.
Competitiveness only brings out the best in any NFL player. Coach Shanahan has challenged the team in a non-threatening way while also serving notice that they are replaceable should they not perform to the best of their abilities.
In doing so, the Redskins should have a vastly improved defensive secondary that has quality players with potential and talent. Having said this, the defense has the opportunity to improve upon all of the key statistical categories and their bottom of the league pass defense rankings from 2012.
In my opinion, there is one fairly safe bet when taking into account this year's defensive secondary. The Redskins will lead the league in interceptions after nearly claiming the top spot last season, finishing tied for third-most with 21. They trailed only Chicago (24), Arizona (22) and tied with the New York Giants.