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Redskins finding that safety is a tough position to fill

Apr 11, 2014, 11:55 AM EST

Rambo-vs.-Bills

The Redskins can’t be accused of completely neglecting the safety position the past two offseasons. Last year they spent two of their seven draft picks on the position, taking Phillip Thomas in the fourth round and Bacarri Rambo in the sixth. This year they brought back Brandon Meriweather and signed veteran Ryan Clark.

As Redskins fans well know, the position remains unsettled. They could have done more in free agency. Some thought they should have made a bigger effort to land the Bills’ Jairus Byrd, who landed with the Saints, or Carolina’s Mike Mitchell, who ended up signing with the Steelers.

But they chose not to spend heavily at the position and instead brought back Meriweather, who started at safety last year, and signed Clark, who started for the Redskins in 2004-2005 before moving on to the Steelers.

Clark lined up alongside Sean Taylor during the two seasons that Clark was here. Since Clark left, the Redskins have not had the same two primary starters at safety in any two seasons. There are the two safeties with the most starts for the Redskins each season since 2006:

2006: Sean Taylor, Adam Archuleta
2007: Taylor, LaRon Landry
2008: Landry, Chris Horton
2009: Landry, Reed Doughty
2010: Landry, Kareem Moore
2011: Doughty, Landry, O. J. Atogwe (Landry and Atogwe started 8 games each)
2012: Doughty, Madieu Williams
2013: Doughty, Brandon Meriweather

The Redskins have had some bad luck at the position, most notably the tragic loss of Taylor in 2007. Atogwe and Meriweather both had fairly healthy NFL careers before coming to Washington and suffering from some injury woes. It looked like Tanard Jackson was going to be a decent stopgap before he was suspended for substance abuse. Thomas was slated for a big role last year, perhaps even a starting job, before he suffered a Lisfranc injury in a preseason game.

But it’s not as though the Redskins have done much to try to create their own luck at safety. Their free agent signings have been second-tier players at best. Since they took Landry with the sixth overall pick in 2007 they have drafted five safeties, none taken higher than the fourth round. By devoting few dollars and low draft picks to the position the Redskins have created their own outcome.

To be fair, the safety position is getting to be very difficult to fill. “To me, that’s the hardest position to evaluate in college football is safeties,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said prior to last year’s draft. “The guys that used to be the most explosive athletes and were playing in the back end, they’re going to play corner because they feel like maybe at corner, they can play 10 years. You look at the franchise tag numbers, the corner position is higher than the safety position. That is going to be the constant struggle. When you talk to people around the league, it’s hard to find safeties.”

A look around the NFC East bears out what Roseman said. The Eagles did manage to start the same tandem at safety, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, for two consecutive seasons (2011-2012). They also kept Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine together in 2006-2007. Other than that, like the Redskins, no team in the division has managed to start the same tandem of safeties in consecutive seasons going back to 2006.

As far as the Redskins go, their ability to solve the problem might depend on trying to do something beyond trying to get lucky with a late draft pick or squeezing another year or two out of an aging veteran. Historically, the chances of finding a solid starting safety with the 34th pick are pretty strong. If you look at the drafts from 2000-2013 you’ll find multi-year starters like Mike Brown of the Bears, Eric Weddle of the Chargers and Eugene Wilson, who was drafted by the Patriots and now with the Texans, who were taken between the 30th and 40th picks.

The problem is that history doesn’t mean much when you’re on the clock and staring at your draft board. Even if the Redskins would like to find a quality, long-term starter at safety in this draft, there might not be one there when they pick.

They did take Thomas (4th round) and Rambo (6th) last year. When you’re picking on Saturday you have to be patient and a little bit lucky to find a long-term starter at any position. We will see if they want to stick with those two and try to develop them as starters or if perhaps Bruce Allen is not as high on those two as Mike Shanahan was.

  1. kenlinkins - Apr 11, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    In todays NFL, trying to pick a Safety from college guys is very hard. Most are under size LB’s (SS) or slow CB’s (FS) that could not stay with the fast / tall 5 star WR’s. When was the last time you saw a 5 star safety coming out of high school. Gone are the days of a FS sitting back and getting INT’s of over thrown passes down the middle. The Seahawks even used a Super SS in 2013, (A fast/small ILB type) to be able to control TE’s and help on rushing plays. The position is changing fast and the old school ways of finding guys who can handle the Safety position just does not work any more. IMO getting “book end” Safeties that can play either SS/FS is the way to go and this calls for finding small school CB’s who are a bit bigger (6″ to 6’2″ 205 to 215ibs) who can force the run and play good zone coverage. They do not have to be great coverage guys or shut down CB’s, but more of a guy to help on double teams over the top, have no fear of the short middle, and can battle with TE’s. Most guys who played SS or FS in college could not beat out the CB or ILB for a job but was still the better player than the HS safety, knowing that, why would NFL GM’s feel that they can jump to the NFL and start right away? IMO the Redskins should be looking for Big CB’s from small schools to move to the Safety position.

    • primetimehero - Apr 11, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      That is an interesting thought, I’m just not sure if the players would be open to it. It would be nice if Stanley Jean-Baptiste would be open to a switch. 6’3″ 220lbs. Runs a 4.45 40. He would have to become a more able tackler to play center field, though.

      We can’t rely on Rambo AND Thomas to start. We can’t keep hoping for a late-round gem. We HAVE to fix the back-end.

      • kenlinkins - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:19 PM

        I could see the Redskins drafting a speed guy like Roby out of Ohio State and moving Amerson to FS in sub packages. A guy like Jean-Baptiste could give the Redskins many options on the back end. Even a guy like Fuller could help out at FS in some sub packages. The point is that the Redskins need to “break the mold” in their thinking at both Safety positions in order to fix the problems. I like the thinking so far of GM Allen and Gruden. My hope is that they can find answers starting with this draft class.

  2. jaxjoe - Apr 11, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    It’s also an indication of the Redskins in dire need of other positions that they either run out of money to address safety, or the higher draft picks are reserved for other weaknesses. I personally think an improved pass rush will improve the safety play more so than selecting a pricey safety.

  3. ceetown22 - Apr 11, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    RIP ST21

  4. primetimehero - Apr 11, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    For a few years, I’ve been search for the next Sean Taylor. This year, I realized he cannot be imitated. A safety NEEDS to be taken in the first 3 picks. Even if the guy is 5’11” and runs a 4.6, we have to consider him as long as he can cover and tackle. I am impressed with Jimmie Ward. It would be hard to not take him in the 2nd. To me, safety is a more glaring hole than RT. If an undeniable tackle falls to 34, then we need to look at Ed Reynolds in the 3rd or 4th.

    Even if the guy isn’t a turnover machine, we can’t have that many missed tackles or big gains in the secondary. I’m also not comfortable with Porter as the third corner. I think Pierre Desir should be looked at in the first three picks. If not, Walk Aikens needs consideration.

    • skinsdiehard - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      it’s not realistic. a 3rd round corner is not going to play over Porter or Biggers.

      2nd rd – pick a RT
      3rd rd – pick a SS or FS
      4th rd – CB
      5th rd – TE
      6th – NT
      7th – DE

      I hope they trade down in the 2ND rd to pick up another 3rd or 4th.

      • Rich Tandler - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM

        Not to pick on you, but two major draft fallacies here:

  5. ricky feggans - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    I still have faith in Rambo and Thomas. Don’t draft a safety this year. Let’s see what we have in them first.

    • cowboyhater - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:37 PM

      Agreed……let’s see what we have in the kids after having Clarke mentor them this year. Clarke was brought in to coach these kids up, or if anything else groom Amerson at FS. We will get our 1st round pick next year, which could give us the safety we have been looking for. Due to the lack of picks, they should concentrate on OL, TE, ILB, OLB, CB that’s unless of course a projected 1st/2nd round safety falls to us in the later rounds.

  6. skinsdiehard - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    Tandler – you’re complaining now that the Skins didn’t devote enough cash to the position? I swear you are always saying to go with cheap free agents. Now you don’t? I still believe Thomas will be a good safety. The Skins’ problems in the secondary were two players: Josh Wilson and Reed Doughty. They’re gone so we will be better automatically.

    • Rich Tandler - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      Since when is “Some thought” they could have gone after Byrd me complaining? Merely a statement of fact.

      > >

      • ceetown22 - Apr 11, 2014 at 5:31 PM

        and I would add to that and say a lot of folks were saying that… or a lot of folks thought…

        Frankly I’m glad we didn’t give him all that money, I’m just not sold on him… although he did make the pro bowl a few times, I just think he was a bit over priced.

  7. jorance72 - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Hi Rich…any idea if we’re interested in Deone Buccanon? He seems to be getting some love with the Draft “Experts”.

    • skinsdiehard - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:31 PM

      i would draft him in the 3rd this year and pair him with Thomas at FS in 2015.

    • Rich Tandler - Apr 11, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      The Redskins aren’t going letting out a list of their potential targets. He’s an interesting prospect.

      > >

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