Washington Redskins Will Benefit from Competition at Cornerback

Colin SemlerCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 26:  Carlos Rogers #22 of the Washington Redskins knocks the ball away from Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers November 26, 2006 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins won the game, 17-13.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

It’s hard to really determine how good the Washington Redskins secondary was in 2008.  The word solid comes to mind—Washington ranked seventh in the league in passing yards, giving up just over 193 yards per game, and allowed only 16 touchdowns through the air.

The word opportunistic does not come to mind, however.  The Redskins accumulated a measly 18 turnovers last year.  That number could have been marginally higher if it were not for a case of the drops in the secondary.  Some of those drops could have been game changers.

On the flip side, it’s only fair to point out that the secondary operated without much help from a pass rush.  It doesn’t take a defensive mastermind to understand that the pass rush generates turnovers and turnovers lead to wins. 

The Redskins organization understands this; thus the acquisition of Albert Haynesworth and the drafting of Brian Orakpo.  They also grabbed Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft.  The offseason gains will drastically improve the pass rush.

That may be the necessary component to catapult the Washington defensive backs from solid to dominant.  They should have plenty of help from the safety position as well.

Chris Horton was a certifiable stud as a rookie last year and LaRon Landry continues to make strides towards becoming one of the elite safeties in the league—it’s a shame Sean Taylor can’t still be there to alligator-arm receivers across the middle.

Nevertheless, a good pass rush will allow the corners to play aggressive, physical man-to-man defense, something they weren’t able to do effectively minus a menacing pass rush. 

There shouldn’t be any speculation as to who the starting cornerbacks are.  The Redskins spent a bundle to keep DeAngelo Hall in town, signing him to a six year, $54 million contract.  Hall’s reputation had him billed as a problematic player after his release from the Raiders organization.

His time with the Redskins last year was apparently a test in which he passed—the question is: Will he continue to perform at a high level after signing the major deal?

Hall has playmaking ability, there’s no question about that.  It will be interesting to see what he is capable of playing for a defense that is loaded with talent all over the football field.

Carlos Rogers has shown the ability to be one of the better cover corners in the league; however, his play has been inconsistent at times.  Picking off passes is not his forte either; he has only six interceptions in his four-year career.

But if Rogers can stay healthy, he is perfectly capable of being a shut-down cornerback, even more so with the upgrade to the pass rush.

With Shawn Springs’ departure, the third spot on the depth chart is up for grabs, although all indications point to veteran Fred Smoot as of now.  His playing time declined slightly last year, but Smoot is a fan favorite and a leader in the clubhouse, not to mention one of the best trash talkers in the game.  But age may be sneaking up on him.

Kevin Barnes should challenge Smoot for the nickel corner spot.  There has already been some mild, hopefully friendly trash talk between the two.  The Skins’ third-round pick out of Maryland has been impressive in OTA’s, markedly with his ability to get his hands on the football, and more importantly, hang onto it. 

Good hands is not his only major asset.  At 6’0”, 190 lbs, Barnes can match up well with some of the more physical receivers in the league.  If he continues to progress, there’s no question that he will compete for playing time this year, and may overtake Smoot on the depth chart.

Justin Tryon, the Skins’ fourth-round pick out of Arizona State last year, is in the mix as well.  He didn’t see the playing field last year but has track-star speed and a chance to compete for a top-four spot on the roster.  At only 5’9”, he will really need to impress in camp and preseason in order to outmaneuver Barnes.

Byron Westbrook and Doug Dutch are both undrafted free agents who hope to make a roster spot.  Westbrook has spent the last two years on the practice squad, but could sneak his way on with his special teams play.

Dutch is a converted wide receiver rookie out of Michigan.  With the talent ahead of them, both will need to garner serious attention with their play to rise up the depth chart.

Fierce competition in training camp can only be a good thing for the Washington Redskins.  Barring serious injury, the cornerback position is deep and talented.  If competition serves its purpose appropriately, the level of play should make this one of the best secondaries in the NFL.



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