Safety is not the most important position in football. Washington won Super Bowls with safety tandems of Alvin Walton and Todd Bowles and Brad Edwards and Danny Copeland.
However, safety has been a headache for the Redskins ever since its most dynamic performer there over the last three and a half decades, Sean Taylor, was shot and killed in November 2007.
Taylor’s death ended his expected long-time partnership with rookie LaRon Landry and began a revolving door at safety that has included now-departed non-luminaries Mike Green, Chris Horton, Kareem Moore, Macho Harris, Oshimogho Atogwe and Madieu Williams as well as long-time Redskin Reed Doughty and third-year man D.J. Gomes.
Signing free agents Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson was supposed to fix that deficiency in 2012.
However, Meriweather, whose freelancing ways led to his quick exits from New England (despite two Pro Bowl selections) and Chicago, injured his right knee three times and played less than a full game. Jackson, who had been suspended for substance abuse violations in Tampa Bay, showed that he hadn’t kicked the habit by being suspended for all of last season, a punishment that has yet to be lifted.
In response, the Redskins signed inexperience free agent Devin Holland and drafted safeties Phillip Thomas and Baccari Rambo. Doughty, Gomes and Jordan Bernstine, who suffered a major, season-ending knee injury in the 2012 opener, are all back. Jackson remains in limbo through August. But as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, Washington’s situation at the position “all depends on what happens with Brandon,” who was still unable to practice all spring while recovering from knee surgery.
“If we can get Brandon out there and he can do some of the stuff he did in the Philadelphia game … it will be fun to watch,” said defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
Meriweather first injured his knee in the second preseason game. He was on the verge of making his Redskins regular season debut when he hurt the knee again during warm-ups in Week 5 at Tampa Bay. Meriweather finally played seven weeks later against the Eagles. He picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards and was in on seven tackles before his season ended with yet another injury to the same knee.
“[Last season] was super-tough, but I’m working hard to get back,” Meriweather said after a typical day of running on the side with cornerback Josh Wilson, who also spent OTAs and minicamp rehabbing. “Every day I try to do something I didn’t do yesterday. I keep trying to get stronger and better. I’ve never had a torn ACL [before] so I don’t know what the timetable’s like, but if you ask me if there’s any doubt [that I’ll be ready for training camp], I say no, but you ask the doctors and the trainers they may say yes. So who knows?”
Coach Mike Shanahan expects the 29-year-old Meriweather to be on the field when camp opens on July 25 in Richmond.
“I think Brandon will be fine once we get to camp,” Shanahan said. “He looks pretty good. The one thing you don’t want to do when somebody hurts his knee is get him going too quickly.”
After he played in just two preseason games and one regular season contest in 2012, saying Meriweather is going too quickly is almost an oxymoron. But given his two Pro Bowls in his three years as a starter with the Patriots and the tantalizing tease he offered the Redskins in his stint against the Eagles last Nov. 18 – oddly six years and a week since Taylor played his final game against the same team on the same field – the former first-round pick could well be a difference maker for a secondary that was Washington’s biggest Achilles’ heel in 2012.
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