Over the past decade the Redskins have tried some different things in their futile efforts to bolster the safety position. They have tried young players, older players, and everything in between while trying to stabilize the back end of their defense.
But they have never tried converting two veteran cornerbacks to safety. Until this year, that is.
DeAngelo Hall has made three Pro Bowls as a cornerback in his 12 years in the NFL. Will Blackmon has played in 81 games at cornerback in his nine NFL seasons. Both are being asked to set aside a lot of the knowledge accumulated over the thousands of snaps that they have played on the edge and move to the middle of the field.
Blackmon said this spring that he never played safety during any of his previous three NFL stops with the Packers, Giants, and Jaguars. Hall lined up at safety towards the end of last year but given the on-the-fly nature of the position switch defensive coordinator Joe Barry and the other coaches tried to make it easier for him.
“We kind of spoon-fed him along last year and had a specific package with specific calls for him,” said Barry. “This offseason, obviously we unleashed the whole playbook at him. I think in the long run, it actually worked out great for him because we didn’t overload him last year, as I said. We kept it pretty simple on him and he was able to make that transition a lot smoother.”
As Barry indicated, Hall will be going from taking a Playing Safety 101 course to being expected to perform at a graduate level. On one level it’s still football and he and Blackmon will be covering and tackling and trying to knock passes down. But unlike the cornerback out on an island a safety is responsible for communicating changes in the defense to the rest of the secondary.
“The way secondary play works is that most communication is from the inside out,” said Barry. “As a corner, you’re usually told what to do; you’re communicated to by your safeties. That was the biggest thing I know for D-Hall, especially a year ago when we moved him because he was like, ‘Wow, I have got to tell everyone what to do instead of receiving information and being told what to do.’ And Will echoed the same thing.”
Certainly they are taking a gamble by having Hall and Blackmon as two of the four safeties they are likely to carry on the roster. But they did give themselves time to properly prepare for their transitions.
“But the good thing is that we made the move,” said Barry. “It wasn’t like we made the move halfway through training camp. We made this decision in the offseason, so they got a full entire offseason, they got a full entire training camp, they are going to have four preseason games under their belt because every day is, ‘Ooh, I learned something new today. Ooh, I saw something new today.’ But I couldn’t be happier with where they’re at right now.”
Well, Hall isn’t going to have four preseason games to get ready. In the two the Redskins have played so far he has played a total of 18 snaps. He won’t play in the fourth preseason game so if he plays a half against the Bills on Friday he will have about 50 snaps under his belt. That’s not even one full game’s worth.
Blackmon has played a total of 58 snaps in the preseason and he could play in the fourth game so he will have more preparation than Hall from that standpoint. It will be interesting to see if Blackmon spells Hall early in the season as the latter player gets his feet under him.