Despite roster cuts and designations Monday, nearly 24 hours prior to the NFL-mandated deadline for team's to have a 75-man roster, the Washington Redskins' core defense, the first- and second-team players that comprise it, remain intact.
Much of the attention for the Redskins defense this preseason has focused on its four rookies and where they will line up in the Sept. 9 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
The league-wide roster cuts coincide with the NFL's final week of the 2013 preseason. The Redskins find themselves still in the process of assembling and assessing defensive backs as they look to improve upon a pass defense that last year ranked near the bottom of the NFL, according to ESPN.com statistics.
Of the rookies—second-round cornerback David Amerson, fourth-round strong safety Phillip Thomas, fifth-round defensive end Brandon Jenkins and sixth-round safety Bacarri Rambo—all but Thomas have strong chances of moving up the depth chart.
Thomas was designated to the injured reserve list Monday after fracturing the Lisfranc bone in his left foot in the team's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans. He is scheduled to miss four to five months following surgery, according to NFL.com.
Head coach Mike Shanahan seems determined to find defensive backs who will have a significant impact. His determination is reminiscent of early last year when, after a Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Shanahan, according to the Associated Press, said "We've got to play much better as a secondary," a point he would reiterate later in the same press conference.
In 2012, the Redskins defense allowed an NFL-high 44.2 percent third-down conversion rate. It also allowed a league-high number of pass attempts (636) and finished third worst in passing yards allowed and next to last in passing touchdowns allowed (31).
The Redskins needed improvement from its secondary, and so far this preseason the performance of the defensive backs has been, at best, unassuming. For the most part, this year's defense looks the same as last year's, with the exception of the rookie additions to the secondary and the possible returns of strong safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Josh Wilson.
Through three preseason games, the defense had its fair share of misses—missed tackles, missed opportunities and missteps. Still, the Redskins defense, even the secondary, needs to be fine-tuned rather than overhauled.
As the team enters the fourth year of Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense, the Redskins' vision on that side of the ball has gone from somewhat clear to clouded, as the team—and the rest of the league for that matter—addresses the challenge presented by a growing legion of dual-threat quarterbacks.
The first two lines of the base 3-4 defense seem solid and will be made more so with the highly anticipated return of Brian Orakpo. The right outside linebacker missed the 2012 season with a pectoral tear.
Excluding Orakpo, the front seven is the same group that started the last month of the 2012 regular season. The exceptions are left defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who is suspended for the first four regular season games for violating the league's Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) policy.
The defense will also have outside linebacker Rob Jackson returning after serving a four-game PED suspension. Jackson started 14 games last season, recorded 4.5 sacks and made four interceptions—one returned for a touchdown.
The defense will continue to rely upon the leadership and production of inside linebacker and 15-year veteran London Fletcher to guide and orchestrate the action on the field.
The makeup of the secondary continues to evolve as the only player who's currently locked in as a starter is left cornerback DeAngelo Hall. As noted earlier, the other secondary positions sport a mix of rookies and players returning from injury.
A quick examination of the numbers from the three preseason games this year reveals some interesting points, though I realize that analyzing statistics from games that don't count could be a moot point.
Washington's defense in the second half surrendered fewer points (14 points) then that of the first-half defense (27). Twenty four of 41 points allowed this preseason occurred in the first quarter.
Still, though, the defense overall is making strides, especially in preventing third-down conversions. It held the Tennessee Titans (4-of-12), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-of-13) and the Buffalo Bills (2-of-13) to a combined 7-of-38 (18.4 percent) on third down. This is a notable improvement when compared to a defense that allowed an NFL-worst 44.2 conversion percentage on third-downs in 2012.
Washington's defense in the second half of their preseason games so far have surrendered fewer points (14 points) then that of the first-half defense (27). Twenty four of 41 points allowed this preseason occurred in the first quarter.
For a team that now has a few ball hawks in the secondary, the team has just one interception this preseason—and that was from linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. But improvements in other areas are showing up on the stat sheet; through three preseason games this season, the Redskins defense has held opponents to just 397 total yards.
With the return of Brandon Meriweather and Josh Wilson still uncertain, expect the rookies to have the opportunity to make an impact—both good and bad: Rambo and Amerson have both shown a tendency this preseason to be overly aggressive, which has allowed the occasional big gain. This rookie habit of trying to make the highlight reel instead of playing it safe and securing tackles will result in missed tackles and over-pursuit.
According to The Washington Post's Mike Jones, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told Rambo last week to play with more aggressiveness and not worry about how he was getting runners down, just to get them down.
Playing disciplined football—making sure tackles, avoiding penalties and playing smart in coverage—are all basic keys to a successful defense.
There's a reason for that. It is true for the untested Redskins rookies and the defense overall and can be determining factors in the win-loss column.
Each member of the defensive secondary has the potential to have a breakthrough year. Therefore, the Redskins defensive outlook for 2013 remains strong and promising with plenty of room for improvement. The pieces are in place, yet scattered throughout.
The key for the Redskins on defense is to determine which defensive backs play the best together; displaying some of the buzzwords for Coach Shanahan—cohesion and chemistry.
All statistics provided by ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.