The Washington Redskins have a potentially elite defense but need a patchwork secondary to perform above expectations. Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen scraped the bargain bucket during free agency. The result is a unit that could be undermine a powerful front seven.
They waived goodbye to starting safeties LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe in free agency. Their replacements hardly inspire a great deal of confidence.
Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams join second-year pro Dejon Gomes and solid reserve Reed Doughty. This is a safety rotation that lacks top-level athleticism.
Landry's injury issues and salary made his departure inevitable. However, there's no doubt that his speed and attacking instincts at the line of scrimmage were useful in Jim Haslett's blitzing 3-4 schemes.
Meriweather could perform a similar role. He has decent blitz skills and is a fierce hitter. However, the former New England Patriots and Chicago Bears starter doesn't possess Landry's athletic range.
What is interesting is the scheme experience of the safeties the Redskins targeted. Meriweather and Jackson have both come from Cover-2 schemes. Haslett could be willing to rely more on safe, deeper zone concepts, like those favoured by new secondary coach Raheem Morris.
Many teams are finding success employing a Cover 2, man under concept and this could protect the Redskins' defense from some of the big plays they surrendered in 2011. In the Week 15 victory over the New York Giants, Washington used this simple design to great effect.
However, this concept puts pressure on the corners in single and press coverage. Josh Wilson enjoyed a solid first season in D.C. and has good zone instincts, but lacks the fluidity to track receivers deep.
The problem for Wilson is that if safety support is given to either cornerback, it is likely to be for DeAngelo Hall. The brash, opportunistic corner was guilty of a number of costly lapses in 2011.
Undrafted rookie Chase Minnifield could also be in the mix and answer a long-standing problem at nickelback. A natural zone defender, Minnifield has the timing and discipline to anticipate and jump routes in off-coverage.
Back in June, Redskins.com reported that Minnifield has made a strong first impression on Morris. The Redskins need a slot player, but providing better protection for their cornerbacks should be the priority.
Generating a straight rush from the front seven could solve the issue. Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker contributed 11.5 sacks between them, and Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are exceptional rush linebackers.
With pass rushers this prolific, Haslett should rely on more twists, stunts and mixed line alignments, rather than the all-out blitz often seen during the last two years. The Redskins' secondary doesn't have the marquee talent to support sophisticated pressure concepts or match up in single coverage.
Whether supporting press with two deep safeties or adopting a more cautious Cover 4 shell, the Redskins must take a safety-first approach with this season's secondary.
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