Reporting Grant Paulsen
On Saturday, Mike Shanahan told reporters that injured free safety Kareem Moore could begin the season on the NFL’s physically unable to perform list. If Moore’s stay on the P.U.P list extends into the regular season, he wouldn’t be allowed to return to the Redskins’ active roster until the team’s seventh game.
Moore is one of just two ‘true’ free safeties on Washington’s roster. He was expected to back up free agent addition Oshiomogho Atogwe. But if he’s on the P.U.P list he won’t count against the Redskins’ active roster, meaning his inactivity could create a roster spot for another safety on Washington’s roster.
Who could that be? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
The first question needing answered is: Does Washington keep four or five safeties?
I’d have to assume they’ll keep five based on the lack of health the team has been experiencing at the position. Moore isn’t the only safety not operating at 100 percent. Landry ha yet to play in the preseason because of Achilles and hamstring issues and Atogwe is coming back from a hamstring ailment that prohibited him from playing in two preseason games. So let’s assume the Redskins will play it safe and keep an extra guy around.
Next, it should be noted that there are three safeties who are locks to make the roster. LaRon Landry, who played like an all-pro before getting hurt last season is going to start at strong safety. Atogwe should markedly upgrade the free safety spot and is a building block for the future. And Reed Doughty, who can back both Landry and Atogwe up and who is a specials teams ace is also going to be with the Redskins.
So by this math, there are two available roster spots for three legitimate contenders and a couple long-shots. Here’s a breakdown of the three safeties who have the best chance to force their way onto the Redskins’ roster.
The most experienced of the safeties on the bubble, Horton has played in 29 games and made 15 starts in his three seasons with the Redskins. But Horton’s best season in Washington came when he was a rookie back in 2008. He has played in fewer games and registered fewer starts each year since he arrived in DC. His tackle totals, passes defended and turnovers generated have all declined each season as well — mostly because he hasn’t been healhty.
Horton looks to be healthier and in better shape than he’s been in over the past two years. But his biggest problem is that his most natural NFL position is strong safety, and the Redskins may have the NFL’s best strong safety on their roster in Landry. Horton has played extensively at free safety but it’s not his strength. He is a solid contributor on special teams and he provides a versatility and a work ethic the coaches like.
He’ll be tough to release, but if he does cut he won’t have any problems latching on with another team as a strong safety.
A 2011 fifth-round pick drafted 146th overall, Gomes has stood out in the preseason. After tallying a sack in his debut, Gomes showed very well again in Washington’s most recent exhibition game, finishing second on the team with seven tackles. A cornerback to begin his college career, Gomes is an active defensive back with good speed and instincts.
Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett have both complemented his activeness and play-making abilities over the past few weeks, but each of the decision makers have also spent time talking about how much learning Gomes still has to do. He’s not just a rookie who needs reps. He’s a rookie learning to do something he hasn’t done before, and to compound that he was spending time learning both safety positions at the start of training camp.
If Gomes has another stellar showing on Thursday night when the Redskins conclude their preseason with a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he could make the roster as the defensive back who benefits most from Moore’s knee injury.
I wouldn’t rule Russell out just yet. A 24 year-old who spent most of last season on Washington’s practice squad, the former Ohio State Buckeye is regularly praised by the Redskins’ coaching staff for his intelligence. Russell has registered just one tackle in the preseason, having not played nearly as much as Gomes and having not drawn the starts that Horton did.
Russell played in two games last season — and would have played in more if he didn’t suffer a season-ending knee injury in Tennessee on Nov. 21. I’d assume he’s currently on the outside looking in right now, considering that he didn’t make the Redskins out of camp last season despite having 11 preseason tackles in considerably more playing time. But he’s got a shot to make the roster if Moore is on the P.U.P list and five safeties are kept.