by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen

Richard Crawford’s role is about to expand.

A rookie cornerback, drafted in the seventh round in April, Crawford hasn’t played since week-six against the Vikings. But after being listed as inactive for the Redskins’ last five games, Crawford could be in line for playing time during the team’s stretch-run.

Washington will be without veteran cornerback Cedric Griffin for the remainder of the season after after the 30 year-old was suspended for the final four games of the season for Adderall use. The Redskins’ No. 3 cornerback, Griffin was on the field for 43 of Washignton’s 65 defensive snaps on Monday night against the Giants. He’ll have to be replaced in nickel and dime formations and Crawford (along with DJ Johnson) will likely be asked to contribute in his stead.

“I think a lot of Richard Crawford,” head coach Mike Shanahan said on Wednesday. “If he does play, he’ll play well. He’s got a lot of intangibles that you look for and he’s been growing, just practicing and learning the system.”

Crawford shined in the preseason, intercepting a pair of passes and making five tackles while showing legitimate NFL cover-skills and ball-tracking ability. But the Southern Methodist University product struggled during the early stages of the regular season while playing extensively in the wake of a Griffin hamstring injury.

After spending most of his college career — and much of the preseason — playing on the outside, Crawford was asked to spend a chunk of his time on the field in the slot. He didn’t perform as well as he would’ve liked. Crawford was on the wrong end of a couple of big plays, including a a 59-yard touchdown to Cincinnati Bengals speedster Andrew Hawkins on a poorly-played go-route down the seam.

“[The coaches] really want me to play outside,” Crawford said about the role he could adopt in the final four games. “They feel more comfortable with me playing outside because I really don’t make a lot of mistakes when I play outside. All my mistakes came when I was plying nickel. I’ll go back in wherever they need me to play. If they need me to play nickel I’ve just got to be smarter. If I play outside, just let my instincts take over.”

Crawford looks at his struggles as learning experiences. A late-round pick who was being educated on the fly while playing a role he hadn’t mastered, Crawford has remained confident. He feels like his time on the bench has helped improve him dramatically.

“A lot of guys in college aren’t inside, because they put the best players outside,” Shanahan said when asked about Crawford’s struggles in the slot. “It’s a growing experience and he’s grown throughout the season. Now he’s much better than he was at the beginning of the season.. both inside and outside.”

The last time Crawford was activated for a game was back in October at the Giants, but the 5-foot-10 inch defender didn’t get on the field that day. In the seven weeks since he’s been studying film and getting as much extra work on the practice field as possible. A cerebral talent who used to help his defensive coordinator install game plans at SMU, Crawford says watching games from the sideline has been difficult.

“As a competitor you want to be out there,” he said. “But being a good teammate, I’m sitting here cheering on my teammates. That’s what I had to do.”

Until now, of course. Come Sunday against Baltimore, the youngster will likely trade in his pompoms for a pair of gloves.

“It’s called next man up,” cornerback Josh Wilson said about the chance Crawford’s about to be presented with. “Every man in this league got his opportunity because somebody else went down. I got an opportunity because a guy got hurt. It’s an opportunity to make a name and play a long time in this league.”

DeAngelo Hall believes Crawford is ready for more playing time.

“The train’s going to keep going,” Hall said about Griffin’s suspension and the elevated duties of Crawford, Johnson and the rest of Washington’s lesser-used defensive backs. “We’ll throw guys off, we’ll pick guys up, some guys will jump off but we’ll keep moving. It’s the nature of the business.”


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