We don’t know exactly what the Redskins’ defensive backfield will look like this fall but we do know that it will be different from what we saw last year.
We also know this—whoever lines up back there had better be ready to go when the bell rings. They will be severely tested in the early going.
Starting cornerbacks Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall will be back and while it seems likely that they will be pushed by free agent E. J. Biggers and top draft pick David Amerson, they are likely to remain the starters. Amerson and Biggers will go onto the field as nickel and dime backs.
The big change will be at safety. Gone is free safety Madieu Williams, who played 1134 snaps last year (96 percent of the total). Returning (health permitting) is strong safety Brandon Meriweather. He managed to play just 44 snaps last year before tearing his ACL. When the season opener rolls around he will be almost 10 months removed from that injury and chances are he will be ready to go.
Rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo will be in the mix for playing time at safety as will Reed Doughty and, if they can survive the roster cut down, DeJon Gomes or Jordan Pugh.
If you think this looks like a muddled picture, you’re right. There is plenty of time to sort it out but if you take a look at the schedule you see that the group had better hit the ground running when the season gets underway.
They open against the Eagles. Nobody is quite sure what the NFL iteration of Chip Kelly’s offense will look like but we do know that it will be a fast-paced, no-huddle attack that will give the defense minimal time to regroup between plays.
The Redskins will have a short week to get ready for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. He became the NFL’s highest paid quarterback last month and some say that he could prove to be a bargain at $22 million per season. The Redskins’ secondary will have to deal with Rodgers throwing to some prime targets in Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley.
They will come home to face a Mega-sized problem in Calvin Johnson. Maybe Matthew Stafford won’t end up passing 45 times per game like he did last year but when you have a target like Megatron, who can make catches while being triple teamed, you’re going to put the ball in the air a lot.
Things lighten up for a couple of weeks after that as the Redskins face the Raiders, who feature Matt Flynn throwing to Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, then get their bye week. Insert joke about back-to-back byes here.
The meat grinder for the secondary cranks up after the bye. You can laugh all you want at Tony Romo’s penchant for throwing to the guys in the wrong-colored jerseys at the worst possible moments but he can rack up some serious passing yardage to the guys wearing his uniform as well. And he has a history of big games against the Redskins.
Then it’s another QB who is the butt of jokes, Jay Cutler of the Bears. But he has Brandon Marshall to throw to and that’s not funny at all to the defense. Marshall earned All-Pro honors last year and he’s capable of putting up double-digit catches in a game (four times last year) or triple-digit yardage (seven times) almost any week.
In Week 8 it’s a trip to Denver to face future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning, who saw the Broncos add Wes Welker to his formidable arsenal.
So in the first seven games of the season while the secondary is trying to gel the Redskins will face QB’s that include a future bust in Canton (Manning), one generally considered to be the best in the game (Rodgers), and a notorious Redskins killer (Romo). As far as receivers go, they get both of last year’s All-Pros (Johnson and Marshall) and Welker, who has been All-Pro twice and has caught at least 100 passes in five of the last six seasons. And to start it all off they face a new offense; all they really know about it is that it will be different from anything they’ve seen before.
The defensive backs had better be ready to go out of the gate or the Redskins’ offense is going to be playing a lot of catch up.