Countdown to OTAs: Who plays free safety?

Countdown to OTAs: Who plays free safety?
May 20, 2013, 8:15 am
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Today, Redskins Park will be abuzz as organized team activities (OTAs) get underway. For the first time since January, the parking lots will be completely full. The practice fields, weight and locker rooms will be, too, as coaches, veteran players and prospects officially begin their preparations for the 2013 NFL season.

Here’s the final installment in a series of seven questions facing the team as it enters “Phase 3” of the offseason program. 

Question: How much will the Redskins’ rookie defensive backs – David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo – contribute in 2013?

Anwser: The trio’s performance in training camp and preseason will ultimately determine where each of them begins the regular season on the depth chart. 

But here's what we're already sure about right now: the competition begins today.

Indeed, the next 3½ weeks will be critical for the three draft picks, who, given the secondary's struggles last season, should have a decent chance of earning significant playing time – especially if they get off to a strong start.

After this morning’s session, there are OTA practices scheduled for May 22-23, 28-30 and June 3-6. There’s also a mandatory minicamp from June 11-13.

Although there won’t be any hitting – the players will be wearing shorts and helmets – and the intensity of the drills are limited by the CBA, the rookie DBs will be heavily scrutinized by the coaching staff. Who's been studying the playbook? Who hasn't? Does anyone look overwhelmed?

Based on the current depth chart, it appears as though DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are left and right corners, respectively, with E.J. Biggers pegged as the nickel. 

Is it possible that Amerson will overtake Hall, Wilson or Biggers prior to Week 1? Sure. But given the complexities of the position at the pro level, it would seem more likely that he’ll challenge for an increased role during the season and, in a perfect scenario, be ready for a starting role in 2014. Remember, Hall, Wilson and Biggers are all unrestricted free agents after the season. 

The safety position is much more complicated -- and it figures to be the bigger storyline throughout the offseason (and perhaps longer).

If Brandon Meriweather returns on schedule from knee surgery, he figures to be the starter at strong safety. He recently said he expects to be medically cleared in time for the start of training camp on July 25.

But it’s pretty much up in the air after that. Last year’s free safety, Madieu Williams, was the only starter not retained. So there's a vacancy that must be filled.

Shanahan has said he likes that Thomas and Rambo can play both strong and free. In rookie minicamp, though, Rambo said he played almost exclusively at free, while Thomas lined up at strong. Could that change? Perhaps. The next few weeks could make decisions such as that one much easier for defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. 

And don’t forget about versatile veteran Reed Doughty. Doughty, DeJon Gomes, Jordan Pugh and Jordan Bernstine will also be in the mix.

Right now, there seem to be several possible outcomes at safety. But after next month’s minicamp, the coaching staff should have a much clearer sense of the situation entering camp.

Best-case scenario: The Redskins are able to lean on veteran cornerbacks Hall, Wilson and Biggers, giving Amerson a season to get acclimated at his own pace.

Worst-case scenario: Meriweather’s knee does not allow him to start the season on time and either Thomas and/or Rambo are rushed into the lineup before they’re ready.