This is the one position on our team that is well-stocked with both youth and talent. Our two starting safeties are going to be together a long time. Landry has filled Sean Taylor’s deep coverage role admirably. His range is very good, though not Taylor-good, and it could be that he is on the way to developing into a full-blown star. Chris Horton, meanwhile, has a preternatural ability to read plays and blow them up before they can fully develop. His aggressiveness is his strength, but of course it can also be exploited, and I really don’t trust him in coverage. That’s where Reed Doughty comes in. Doughy is an utterly unspectacular player, but he’s the kind of guy who can be counted on to know the defense and execute the scheme properly. I’ve always been down on Doughty because I can’t erase the memory of those four Terrell Owens second-half touchdowns from 2007, but in fairness he recovered from that debacle to become the kind of reliable player who will never blow his assignment but will also never do anything extraordinary. Those guys have real value.
There’s a lot of intrigue at corner. DeAngelo Hall was brought in last year, played extremely well, and was immediately re-signed to a very rich contract. This was a risky move, as a major commitment was made on the basis of a half season of good play after he was so terrible in Oakland that the Raiders ate his large contract after deciding he was a total bust just a few games in. He certainly adds a big-play ability to our defense, and the scheme seems to fit him comfortably. I’m open to the idea that he can continue to be a good player, but I need to see a full season before I’m convinced.
That signing could mean this is Carlos Rogers’ last season as a Redskin. Despite being much-maligned for his dropped interceptions, Rogers is an excellent cover corner who has demonstrated a lot more consistency than Hall. These two make for a very strong pair of starters for 2009, but with Rogers is a free agent at the end of the year and we’ve already invested a ton of money in Hall. I hope we bet on the right horse in the long-term. I’m not sure we did.
Nickel back may be the only real hole on our defense. Fred Smoot is no longer a quality NFL corner (and he was never as good as he thought he was), so the hope is that either Justin Tryon or Kevin Barnes progresses quickly and can steal the job. Given our good safeties and potentially dominant pass-rush I’m comfortable that we can hide the nickel position effectively, but if either Rogers or Hall goes down and Smoot becomes a starter we could have problems.
(One final note on DeAngelo Hall: Through the early years of his career he developed a reputation as a troublemaker who regularly clashed with both coaches and teammates. He has caused absolutely no problems since joining the Redskins, who have a very strong locker room, and I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt until he gives us reason to think otherwise. Remember that his last two jobs were in the two most dysfunctional cultures in football: the Raiders and the Vick-Petrino era Falcons. It’s just possible that Hall wasn’t the problem.)
The final position overview – special teams – will be up shortly.