While watching Seattle’s top-ranked defense throttle Denver’s record-setting offense in Super Bowl XLVIII a week ago last night, Washington fans received an emphatic example of the importance of a superb secondary.
Expecting the Redskins to come up with a quartet to match the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman and Walter Thurmond (subbing for the suspended Brandon Browner), Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas is like expecting Dan Snyder to win The Good Guy Award.
However, new coach Jay Gruden has to hope that general manager Bruce Allen will be able to assemble a solid group a year after the secondary was chiefly responsible for the Redskins surrendering 478 points, their most in 52 years and two shy of the league lead.
Amazingly, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris, each a former NFL head coach who had previously worked with Gruden, survived that putrid performance and will be back in 2014. The question is how many players will return to the back end of the defense.
Apparently, Washington would like to re-sign cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a 10-year veteran who was the only member of the group who played well in 2013, leading the team with four interceptions and 13 passes defenses while forcing three fumbles, recovering one and scoring three touchdowns. The Tidewater native said late last season that he wanted to keep playing for Haslett and Morris.
There has been no mention of re-signing fellow cornerback Josh Wilson, a local product who was a major disappointment the past three years. Look for David Amerson, last year’s second-round draft choice who was the third corner for much of 2013, to take Wilson’s place.
While E.J. Biggers, who replaced the injured Richard Crawford as the fourth corner also played for Morris in Tampa Bay, he did little to justify his return for a second Redskins season. Crawford, who flashed as a rookie in 2012, will be back from the torn ACL he suffered last summer. Chase Minnifield, who has been around for two years but has yet to get in a game, might get another training camp shot, but the Redskins will likely draft another corner and probably pursue one in free agency even if Hall re-signs.
The substance abuse histories of Browner and New England’s Aqib Talib should scare Washington, which lost defensive backs Tanard Jackson and Phillip Buchanon in recent years because of such issues. However, if Thurmond, Miami’s Brent Grimes, Chicago’s Charles Tillman or Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner reach the market, Washington should pounce. The same holds for Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn, Denver’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, San Francisco’s Tarell Brown and Indianapolis’ Vontae Davis, a District native.
Perhaps the Redskins are already kicking the tires on just-released former Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel. And they should do the same thing if ex-Redskin Carlos Rogers is cut for salary cap reasons by the 49ers, as has been rumored.
The situation at safety is even worse. The position has been a headache for Washington going back to Sean Taylor’s murder in 2007, the lone season that he and another Pro Bowl safety, LaRon Landry, played together. Reed Doughty, a sixth-round selection in 2006, was pressed into the lineup after Taylor’s death and averaged nine starts the past five seasons even though he’s a liability against the pass. Solid in run support, the special teams captain is a free agent and might finally have reached the end of the line with the Redskins.
In any case, Doughty shouldn’t be a starter and his fellow starter in 2013, Brandon Meriweather, is just one illegal hit away from another suspension and is also better against the run than the pass.
The Redskins should look to replace Meriweather with a true ballhawking free safety. Sixth-rounder Bacarri Rambo, who opened last season at that spot, quickly fell out of favor with the coaching staff and wound up not playing in five games and only starting two more. Fourth-rounder Phillip Thomas suffered a season-ending foot injury in the preseason opener but should get a serious chance to start on the strength of his senior season at Fresno State when he picked off eight passes, forced four fumbles and scored three times. Backups Jose Gumbs and Trenton Robinson are just backups which should prompt Allen to look for plenty of reinforcements.
If three-time Pro Bowl pick Jairus Byrd somehow escapes Buffalo’s grasp, Washington has to make a substantial offer. San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, Indianapolis’ Antoine Bethea (a Howard product), Cleveland’s T.J. Ward, Kansas City’s Quintin Demps (who also excels on kickoff returns) and New Orleans’ Malcom Jenkins could be cheaper, reliable alternatives.
In any case, if the Redskins’ secondary doesn’t look substantially different come opening day 2014, then closing day could be just as dismal as it was in 2013.
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.