Reporting Grant Paulsen
With training camp now a week old, I figured it might be a good time to start to accentuate some of the top performers in Ashburn over the past week. I’ll post the special teams standouts later, but here is a defensive performer who has stood out among their positional group over the first several days of camp.
Defensive line: Chris Baker
A powerful 333-pound defensive lineman, Baker has been one of the best stories of the Redskins’ 2012 training camp. The 24 year-old played in one game with the Denver Broncos in 2009 and one game with the Miami Dolphins in 2010, then spent the majority of the 2011 season on the Redskins’ practice squad. He was elevated to Washington’s active roster in early December, but before he saw any game action Baker tore his quad while trying to dunk a basketball during an indoor walk-through. Fully healed, the Hampton product has collapsed the pocket from the interior while also serving as a stout run-stuffer during 11-on-11 work in practices. The heaviest player on the Redskins, Baker is primarily a nose tackle but he can also play defensive end. It’s fair to say that he’s a strong preseason away from making Washington’s roster and serving as Barry Cofield’s primary backup.
Linebackers: Rob Jackson
A fourth-year veteran who will be playing for a new contract in 2012, Jackson is the first outside linebacker off the bench for Jim Haslett and linebackers coach Bob Slowik. The former Kansas State standout played in all 16 of Washington’s games a year ago, primarily on special teams, but he’s made the most of his limited pass-rushing opportunities over the past couple seasons. During practices this week, Jackson has consistently beaten the second-team offensive tackles he’s been tasked with rushing against, living in the Redskins’ backfield around the team’s passers. I’d like to see what he could do with more playing time, but because Washington has a pair of extremely productive outside linebackers in Brian Orakpo (drafted 13th overall) and Ryan Kerrigan (taken 16th overall last year), it’s unlikely that Jackson will get that shot in DC. He could be the next Chris Clemons (the Seahawks defensive end who has 22 sacks in the past two seasons), joining a long list of players who leave the Redskins before breaking through with a different organization. For now, he’ll serve as quality depth at one of Washington’s deepest positions.
Cornerbacks: Richard Crawford
I’ll admit that Crawford flashed much more in the first few days of camp than he has recently, but I’ve been very impressed with his coverage skills. There was one particular deep ball during 11-on-11 work where the rookie defender ran step-for-step with Santana Moss down the field, leaping to knock away a potential completion. He also had more success in one-on-one drills (designed in a way that benefits wide receivers) than the majority of his positional peers. A rookie seventh-round pick from Southern Methodist, Crawford is quicker than he is big (he weighs just 188 pounds). But a wide receiver throughout his childhood and through high school, he tracks the football well and has gone up to get the rock at its highest point on several pass breakups and interceptions during the offseason and the early part of training camp. I’m not convinced he’ll make the roster, but he has shown well enough to be in the running for Washington’s final roster spot at his position.
Safeties: Madieu Williams
Williams has benefited from getting to work exclusively with the first team in the wake of a Tanard Jackson calf injury that landed Jackson on the PUP list and out of practice for the first week of camp. The Redskins’ defensive coaches spent the offseason raving about how cerebral Williams is. The University of Marlyand product who grew up in Prince George’s County has been referred to as a coach on the field and the quarterback of the team’s secondary, high praise for a guy in his first season in Washington’s newly tweaked secondary. The ninth-year veteran started three games and played in 15 with the San Francisco 49ers last season. The Redskins were hoping that either he or Jackson excelled enough to win the job in a preseason competition. Williams took the early lead in the battle for the free safety spot thanks to his strong start to camp and Jackson’s absence.