Full Breakdown of Washington Redskins' Secondary Ahead of Training Camp
So much of this offseason for the Washington Redskins has been spent focusing on DeSean Jackson and Robert Griffin III. While the shiny new receiver and franchise quarterback get the spotlight, the defensive secondary gets to improve outside of the watchful eye of the overly critical media.
Washington's secondary, which was mediocre at best throughout 2013, has improved significantly this offseason and deserves some attention.
Though they avoided many pitfalls in rebuilding their secondary, namely pursuing big-money free agents or boom-or-bust prospects, they did not make it out unscathed.
CSN Washington's Tarik El-Bashir reported the Redskins released a statement confirming Jackson had once again run afoul of the NFL's substance-abuse policy and would once again be suspended indefinitely.
Though Jackson didn't figure too greatly into Washington's plans for the secondary, his absence will affect things. Here's a breakdown of the Redskins' secondary situation heading into training camp.
2013 in Review
On the whole, 2013 was a season to forget for the Washington Redskins. While blame lies with the entire defense, the secondary has the dishonor of having been worse for longer than any other unit.
In 2013, the Redskins allowed 3,896 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and an average of eight yards per passing attempt. Those totals were 20th, tied for 21st and 31st in the NFL, respectively.
The team had high hopes for rookies Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas at safety, but Thomas landed on injured reserve in preseason and Rambo never caught up to the speed of the game. The situation forced Brandon Meriweather, a natural strong safety, into the free safety role, where he floundered for most of the season.
On the outside, DeAngelo Hall turned in a solid performance, arguably one of the best of his Redskins career. Josh Wilson had one of the worst seasons of his Redskins tenure and ultimately gave way to rookie David Amerson, who would be his replacement.
Though the entire organization was a mess last season, it is difficult to look at another group and see a worse collective performance.
Last Year's Starter: Brandon Meriweather
2013 Statistics: 12 games started, 69 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions
Washington's defense suffered from mediocre free safety play in 2013, which began with rookie Bacarri Rambo proving unfit to start in his first season. Rambo started three games, recorded 43 combined tackles and a sack while displaying a poor grasp of coverage schemes and tackling angles from the beginning.
Projected Starter: Ryan Clark
2013 Statistics (with Pittsburgh): 16 games started, 104 combined tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions
Ryan Clark, who is headed for 35 years of age in October, is still a sight for sore eyes in Washington. He made a name for himself in two seasons with the Redskins from 2004-2005, but returns as a veteran upgrade who will be a leader on and off of the field.
Rambo is still in the picture but isn't likely to overtake Clark for the starting position. Tanard Jackson, who had previously been reinstated and re-signed by the Redskins following an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, will again be a non-factor.
Though Jackson's latest suspension will have very little bearing on the free safety position for 2014, it means the Redskins will have to rely on Rambo should anything happen to Clark.
With Clark in the fold, the secondary looks much better than last season. Despite being 34 and considered past his prime, he has improved statistically every year since 2005.
Clark is active against both the pass and the run, which means finishing 2014 with 85 combined tackles, one forced fumble, at least two interceptions and a touchdown isn't out of the question.
Last Year's Starter: Reed Doughty
2013 Statistics: 8 games started, 80 combined tackles, 1 interception
Last season was supposed to feature Bacarri Rambo at free safety and Brandon Meriweather at his natural position at strong safety. It didn't work out that way. Meriweather was thrust into the free safety role, leaving reliable Reed Doughty to start half of the season at strong safety.
Doughty is a solid safety, relying more on being in the right place than overwhelming athleticism. Even so, he's not an ideal starter and was asked to do too much as part of Washington's miserable secondary.
Jose Gumbs started one game and appeared in seven others but didn't do much to wrest the starting job away from Doughty.
Projected Starter: Brandon Meriweather
2013 Statistics: 13 games started, 69 combined tackles, 2 interceptions
With Ryan Clark assuming the role of free safety, his natural position, Meriweather returns to strong safety, which is coincidentally his natural position.
Meriweather is at his best when he's flying all over the field as opposed to being asked to help in coverage or play too far off the line. Though he is still a liability to earn a fine or two for blows to the head or unnecessary roughness, Meriweather is the best option at strong safety right now.
Phillip Thomas, who is essentially a redshirt rookie, has to prove he is up to speed and fully recovered from the Lisfranc tear that robbed him of his rookie year. He's a big hitter with a ton of upside, but he's considered a raw prospect at this point in his career.
Meriweather returning to the position he's best fitted for is as important to Washington's secondary as Clark's arrival. In two seasons as the starting strong safety for the New England Patriots, Meriweather registered 114 solo tackles, nine interceptions, four forced fumbles and a touchdown.
With fewer responsibilities in coverage, Meriweather can be expected to register 80 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and a sack.
Last Year's Starters: DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson
2013 Statistics (Hall): 57 total tackles, 4 interceptions, 13 pass deflections, 3 defensive touchdowns
2013 Statistics (Wilson): 68 total tackles, 1 interception, 7 pass deflections, 2 sacks
DeAngelo Hall was the best corner on the roster last season, which isn’t saying much compared to the rest of the depth chart, but it still puts him as one of the better corners in the NFL.
He turned in one of his best statistical seasons in 2013, but when you’re the best performer on one of the worst defensive units in football, the accolades tend to pass you by.
Across from Hall was Josh Wilson, who was routinely beaten, battered and burned by any receiver he faced in 2013. Luckily for Washington, they drafted David Amerson as his replacement.
Amerson ended up starting nine games games as a rookie, improving as the season progressed, and he took more time from Wilson.
Projected Starters: DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson
2013 Statistics (Amerson): 40 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 10 pass deflections
The 2014 season will be vastly different from the last in almost every way. Hall is still the top corner, but Amerson has taken over as his running mate and could prove to be a vast improvement over Wilson.
Amerson has excellent ball skills, much like Hall, but his issues early on have been understanding the demands of a cornerback at the NFL level. He has the length to keep shorter receivers at bay and battle with bigger receivers.
If Amerson’s grasp of the scheme has improved and he has refined his skill set, the Redskins will have a pair of formidable corners they can trust to shut down opposing offenses.
Hall and Amerson are capable of combining for a slew of interceptions and even touchdowns if they play to their strengths.
However, Amerson’s transition from developing rookie to starting second-year corner may be rocky to start the season. Still, Hall is good for five interceptions and a touchdown, while Amerson can be expected to grab three interceptions and a touchdown of his own.
There will be plenty of turnovers with the group of players the Redskins have in their secondary, which is why the expected totals for Hall and Amerson aren’t eye-popping.
Nickel and Dime Cornerbacks
Last Year's Starters: David Amerson, E.J. Biggers
2013 Statistics (Amerson): 40 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 10 pass deflections, 1 touchdown
2013 Statistics (Biggers): 23 total tackles, 1 interception
Amerson played his way up to being Washington's third corner. He took time away from Josh Wilson but split time with Biggers as the nickel corner.
Biggers saw time at free safety and was largely unimpressive in both his role as safety and third cornerback.
Projected Starters: Tracy Porter, Bashaud Breeland
2013 Statistics (Porter, with Oakland): 53 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 12 pass deflections, 1 touchdown
While Clark may be heralded as the best addition to the secondary this offseason, Porter and Breeland will garner a lot of attention at the end of the season.
Breeland, who was drafted in May, has excellent physical skills to be a nickel/dime cornerback, even as a rookie. His transition from college to the NFL won't be easy, but he's a fluid athlete with sound technique who could easily outplay Biggers from 2013.
Porter, the man best known for his Super Bowl XLIV pick-six against Peyton Manning, enters as an immediate upgrade over Biggers and Amerson.
Though Porter can't be relied on to be a long-term starter as Washington's top or second corner, Porter is a smart, ball-hawking corner who will prove an asset in coverage.
Once again, Clark's presence at free safety makes things easier, this time for Porter. Though he has been a starter in his career, Porter is best suited for nickel duty, and with capable safety help, the nickel corner job just got a lot easier.
Porter is a safe bet for 35 tackles and two interceptions, and Breeland should be good for 20 tackles and an interception while rotating with Biggers due to his inexperience.
By season's end, Breeland could push Porter for time as the go-to nickel corner.
The Redskins have solid depth across the board in their secondary; however, it amounts to having a lot of bodies without any proven production. Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas, Bashaud Breeland, Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield have not had much time to prove they can assume larger roles on defense.
Tracy Porter and E.J. Biggers are experienced corners, but they will be fighting against a flood of young, hungry players with a lot to prove.
Crawford may be in the mix for rotation duty at corner, but his primary value is returning punts, which is a duty he will have to fight for as it is.
Minnifield is the perpetual dark horse on the depth chart, but he has yet to get the chance to prove he can make it as a rotation corner, let alone as a starter.
Biggers' value is his versatility, playing as a nickel or dime corner, or at free safety in a pinch. The latter scenario is less than ideal considering how poorly he fared in limited duty in 2013.
Breeland is the wild card as a rookie. He's an athletic corner with excellent size and technique, but he's not ready for a substantial role just yet. As opposed to Crawford and Minnifield, who are fighting for roster spots and rotation duty, Breeland could ultimately push Porter as the nickel corner.