It is fair to say it has been a challenging start to life in the NFL for rookie cornerback David Amerson. The Washington Redskins were counting on their top draft pick to quickly boost an anaemic secondary.
Given the paucity of talent around him, the team may have been asking too much of Amerson. But if the ex-North Carolina State star is going to become a success in Washington, he is going to have to alter his game.
Amerson rose to prominence at the collegiate level after snaring 13 interceptions in 2011. But that was by playing more passive coverage techniques than he is being asked to execute in Washington.
CBSSports' Dane Brugler offered what has proven to be an accurate analysis of Amerson, for the player's 2013 draft profile:
Concerns about his fluidity and straight-line speed. Typically lined up in off-man and zone coverage in college, but his lack of elite speed would make that a difficult fit in the NFL. Aggression makes him vulnerable to double-moves. Amerson was beaten soundly in several-highly anticipated matchups in 2012, which contributed to losses to Tennessee and Clemson.
Brugler's concerns about fluidity are evident in a lot of Amerson's performances so far for Washington. In particular, his footwork has often looked rigid and clumsy.
This is the first thing Amerson must correct. It has been most evident against double-moves. The vulnerability Brugler described was exposed by Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins in 2012.
NFL teams clearly took note. The Green Bay Packers were ruthless in exploiting this weakness during their huge win in Week 2.
Early in the second quarter, the Packers were at their own 24-yard line and targeted Amerson for a big play. The plan was to have wideout James Jones set the rookie up with a double move.
Jones made a short outside break that Amerson tried to react to. Amerson was playing the outside first and had planted his back foot in that direction.
But as Jones broke to the inside, notice how squarely Amerson had set his feet. It was next to impossible for him to shift his stance to match Jones' break from this position.
That meant Jones quickly gained significant separation on the inside. It is easy to note how slow Amerson appeared on the turn.
Jones soon hauled in a strike from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and completed a 57-yard gain.
Part of the problem is that the Redskins are asking Amerson to play more aggressive press techniques, rather than the off-coverage Brugler described.
From a physical standpoint, it is the right thing to do. Amerson has the frame and length to play press. But he is often still caught in the mindset of an off-coverage corner.
This is leading to bad decisions and unnecessary gambles, as it did against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. The Lions faced a 2nd-and-10 at their own 31 with two minutes left in the half.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson would take a short step to the outside, before breaking back across Amerson on an inside slant. Notice how tight Amerson was rolled up on his receiver in a classic press alignment.
Initially, the play went well. Amerson again planted his foot to the outside but not as emphatically as he did against Jones.
He was still in a good position to turn, get his hands on Burleson and then work his way in front of him.
But Amerson's opportunistic instincts and rookie zeal soon got the better of him. He dove in front of Burleson and went for the interception.
Amerson should have known that he had no safety help and therefore could not risk such a chance. Look how far the deep safety, Brandon Meriweather, was from making it across.
At the very least, if Amerson was going to dive in front, he had to knock the ball down instead of attempting to catch it. In the end, it was Burleson who caught it and completed a 41-yard gain.
This is the kind of play a ball-hawking cornerback in off-coverage can make. Brugler noted this tendency in Amerson, describing him as a "Highly aggressive defender who intercepted many of his passes reading the eyes of quarterbacks and jumping short routes."
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett needs him to play smarter and know when he has help and can afford to gamble. It is a delicate balancing act to maximize Amerson's size and aggressiveness, without letting him fall into reckless habits.
Because Amerson certainly has the attributes to be the press corner Haslett's defense needs. In the third quarter against the Lions, he showcased that potential.
Detroit faced a 2nd-and-5 on their own 25-yard line. Amerson was again matched up on Burleson, who planned to run a tighter slant to the inside.
Amerson was again guilty of being caught too far outside, but he quickly recovered. More importantly, he soon got a bump on Burleson and disrupted his route.
That allowed him to work in front and swat away quarterback Matthew Stafford's pass.
This was a great example of press coverage. Amerson got the essential early contact on his receiver and cut off the space between the quarterback and his target.
Amerson was equally impressive breaking up a pass into the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Lions faced a 2nd-and-10 at Washington's 11-yard line.
He was lined up against 6'6", 216-pound flanker Kris Durham, who would break to the outside before coming back inside. This is where Amerson's 6'1", 205-pound frame proved useful.
Amerson quickly got his hands on Durham and jammed the receiver, ruining the timing of the route.
He was then able to break inside and in front of the flight of the ball.
That allowed him to simply swat down Stafford's pass and contribute to holding the Lions to a field goal in the red zone.
From a press coverage standpoint, Amerson was near flawless on this play. The key was making early contact with his receiver.
The jams, bumps and presses at the line are a vital part of beating double-moves. Amerson must work on always getting his hands quickly on his receiver.
It is press techniques like that and those displayed against Detroit that he must continue to develop.
The coaching staff can help by not putting so much expectation on the rookie. He cannot always be left isolated, and the presence of safety help will give him more confidence to beat up receivers at the line.
Despite his struggles, there are moments where he looks like the big, physical press corner the Redskins need. If he hones those elements of his game, he will soon become a staple of Washington's secondary.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports and NFL.com Gamepass