Reporting David Elfin
You want to believe Bacarri Rambo when the rookie safety from Georgia says that the drug issues that caused him to be suspended for the start of each of the past two seasons are in the past to stay.
You want to believe Mike Shanahan when the Redskins’ coach says that the organization did a thorough background check on Rambo before drafting him in the sixth round last month.
And yes, if Rambo goes wayward again, he was only a sixth-round pick. On the other hand, that’s the same round in which Shanahan famously drafted 1998 MVP Terrell Davis for Denver in 1995 and another record-setting running back, Washington’s Alfred Morris, in 2012.
And yes, free safety was Washington’s biggest deficiency last season so trying to fix it should have been the top priority in the draft, especially after a free agent wasn’t signed at that spot. But before choosing Rambo, the Redskins had used a fourth-round selection on free safety Phillip Thomas, who led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Fresno State.
In reality, the Redskins should have been the last team to draft a high-profile player with a substance abuse history considering what they have endured on this front dating back to August 2011. That’s when third cornerback Phillip Buchanon was suspended for the first four games of that season. Tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams were suspended for its final four games after failing multiple drug tests.
So Washington had already lost 12 man-games to drugs in April 2012 when it signed free safety Tanard Jackson, who had been suspended twice for those issues in Tampa Bay while playing under general manager Bruce Allen and coach Raheem Morris, both now with the Redskins.
Sadly, Jackson tested positive again last summer and was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, a punishment that cost him all of last season and remains in effect.
Cedric Griffin, who was signed from Minnesota last year to replace Buchanon, was suspended for the final four games of 2012 after testing positive, apparently for Adderall or a performance-enhancing substance. Two weeks later, reserve offensive tackle Jordan Black was dealt the same punishment, costing him a playoff game.
In February, Rob Jackson, who filled in admirably at outside linebacker for the final 14 games of last season after two-time Pro Bowl pick Brian Orakpo was hurt, was suspended for the first four games of 2013 for taking a pain medication that’s not approved by the NFL.
All those suspensions add up to at least one Washington player being ineligible for 29 of 37 games from the start of 2011 through Week 4 of 2013. That’s a shameful record and the worst in the league.
And yet, the Redskins rolled the dice in the draft on Rambo, yet another player with substance abuse issues.
“We do a lot of background checks,” Shanahan said. “We talk to [the player and his] coaches. We felt very comfortable with [Bacarri]. We have different tests that they take that tell us what type of mental quickness they have, what type of dedication, commitment, those type of things that are very important to us. [Thomas and Rambo], one had a 10 and one had a nine out of a 10-point [scale].”
Rambo said that former Washington linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, a Georgia assistant the past two years, vouched for him to the Redskins.
“I know Coach Olivadotti had something to do with it, told ‘em what kind of player I was and about my true character,” Rambo said. “All that’s behind me. I’ve moved on from that. It helped me grow [into] the person I am today. I’m just a regular, cool guy. I know I still got things I need to improve on … just to show ‘em, ‘Hey he’s not that guy. He grew from that.’ “
We shall see.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin