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Need to Know: Who will be the Redskins' strong safety in 2015?

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Need to Know: Who will be the Redskins' strong safety in 2015?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, February 11, seven days before the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL assemble in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.

Question of the day

We’re changing up the format of Need to Know for the offseason. Every day I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today's question comes from the Real Redskins Facebook page:

If you read my posts here or follow me on Twitter, you may know that I don’t see any way that Alabama strong safety Landon Collins, who could be called the peoples’ choice for the Redskins’ pick at No. 5. Even though the pick would fill a major need for the team I can’t see any way that Scot McCloughan, who has a history of taking the best available player on the board, will pull the trigger on Collins with that top pick. There certainly will be better players on the board at that point.

Taking the best available player is great but the Redskins still will need someone to play strong safety in 2015. Who can do the job? Here are three possibilities from three different sources.

—If they want to fill the position from within, Phillip Thomas could get a shot. He was the Redskins’ fourth-round pick in 2013 and he has had to persevere through a year on injured reserve and a year spent partially on the practice squad. The Fresno State product did start four games at the end of the year and, as is typical for a young safety, he played pretty well against the run but struggled in pass coverage. Perhaps after a full offseason of work with the starting secondary he could improve enough to hold the position down at least in the short term and perhaps for longer.

—Going to the veteran free agent market is the traditional Redskins way of handling a position vacancy. They may go there but they are likely to stay away from the higher-priced end of the free agent market. Jeron Johnson was an undrafted free agent pickup by the Seahawks in 2011. Scot McCloughan happened to be in the Seattle scouting department then so he’s familiar with Johnson. Kam Chancellor’s 26-year-old backup didn’t play a whole lot last year (98 snaps on defense) but if McCloughan thinks Johnson has what it takes to be a starter, the Redskins likely could get him for a very reasonable cost.

Anthony Harris of Virginia is almost certain to be available when the Redskins draft in the second round and he could well be there in the third. He’s the second-best strong safety in the draft according to many analysts. It’s always a risk relying on the second-day pick to come in and start right away. But Harris, who has good instincts and has a reputation as a fast learner, may be able to pull it off.

The answer could end up being some combination of the options above. Maybe they will bring in Johnson and he and Thomas will have a situation substitution job sharing arrangement. Or Johnson comes in and holds down the job until Harris is ready. You can fill in the blanks with the names but that is likely how it will work out. Keep in mind that it’s a rebuilding team and that a solid, long-term solution may not be found in 2015.

Timeline

—It’s been 45 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 216 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL free agency starts 27; Redskins offseason workouts start 68; 2015 NFL Draft 79

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

Go home again? Redskins schedule visit with former RB Tim Hightower, per report

The Redskins will host Tim Hightower for a visit on Wednesday, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported. Bringing Hightower in at this point represents an impressive story far beyond a mundane free agent visit.  

If his career ended today, Tim Hightower's story would already be remarkable. Hightower - a DMV native that played his college ball at the University of Richmond - played for the Redskins in the 2011 season. That season, he tore his ACL, and was limited to five games.

While torn ACL's happen frequently in the NFL, what happened next for Hightower was anything but ordinary. He missed the next three seasons with an undiagnosed infection, before incredibly returning to the NFL in 2015 with the Saints. 

His last two years in New Orleans, Hightower has been a solid contributor behind starting RB Mark Ingram. He's rushed for more than 900 yards, gained another 330 yards through the air and hit the end zone nine times in 24 games for the Saints. 

In Washington, Hightower would join a backfield of Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. It will be interesting to see if Washington adds any other backs through the draft in April as well. 

Born in Waldorf, Hightower went to high school in Alexandria before playing college ball at Richmond. Playing with the 'Skins in 2011, Hightower quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his local ties. 

The Redskins run game has not been particularly strong for a few seasons, and questions remain if the current stable of runners will be enough to improve. Hightower doesn't necesarily equal a significant talent boost, but perhaps coaches and front office staff are looking at the group.

Be aware, however, this could be nothing more than a visit. Triplett reported it remains possible Hightower returns to the Saints. He also visited the 49ers last week, and new San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was running the 'Skins offense in 2011 when the team originally acquired Hightower.

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Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown: WR Isaiah Ford could be a mid-round catch

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 36 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players the Redskins will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how they might fit in Washington.

Isaiah Ford

Wide receiver
Virginia Tech

Height: 6-1
Weight: 194
40-yard dash: 4.61

Projected draft round: 3-4

What they’re saying

Ford looks the part of a speed merchant with a tight-skinned, athletic frame, including long limbs. He glides off the line of scrimmage, accelerating fluidly to force defenders to respect his ability to go deep and shows very good balance to sink his hips, as well as burst out of his breaks to create separation. Ford shows the initial quickness and lateral agility to avoid defenders in press coverage, occasionally mixing in a hesitation move to get opponents off-balance. He is willing to run across the middle and cut back inside on quick screens, showing the toughness to absorb big hits and still hang on to the ball. Ford was asked to play outside as well as in the slot

Rob Rang, CBS Sports

How he fits the Redskins: The top of the Redskins’ depth chart at wide receiver looks good with Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor. But depth is a concern, especially with Doctson’s durability a question mark. On top of that, Pryor is there on a one-year contract so there must be some succession planning at the position.

Ford was a very productive receiver at Virginia Tech, the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. He has the knack for making the sensational catch and he isn’t afraid to go across the middle.

At 6-1 he has the height that seems to be the trend on the Redskins’ wide receiver corps lately. Ford could be a good mid-round pick for the team to develop in 2017 and be ready to be a full contributor in 2018.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs. Pitt

Ford is not afraid to run slants over the middle and is willing to cut back to the center of the field after catching bubble screens.

His run blocking ranged from unimpressive to bad with the caveat that it’s hard to evaluate on the TV camera angles. This is an area that can be improved with NFL coaching. Adding a few pounds to his 194-lb. frame could help, too. It also sometimes appears that he could use more bulk to help him use his height when fighting for a ball.

The good and the bad of Ford was on display in the span of a few minutes during the Pitt game. He made a spectacular catch on a tipped ball that bounced off of both him and the defensive back (view here) while they were on the ground. Ford had the awareness to scoop the ball off the chest of the defender and secure it to make the catch. A little while later he was in a great position to made a catch for a first down but he bobbled the ball as he was falling out of bounds (view here) and the pass was incomplete.

In the games I reviewed Ford showed a good knack to make back shoulder catches, something the Redskins don’t seem to like to try. But the ability is there if they draft him and want to try it.

Potential issues: Ford looks skinny, almost fragile, at 194 pounds. If he does add weight he needs to do so without losing much speed. He ran a 4.61 in the 40 at the combine. Against college defensive backs he looks fast enough but that will be a different story in the NFL.

Bottom line: The Redskins can’t go into the season with a very green Maurice Harris and a very pedestrian Ryan Grant as their backup wide receivers. They need a player who can provide depth in 2017 and be able to step up to have a legitimate shot at starting in 2018.

There will be several prospects in the third- and fourth- round range who could be the guy. If the Redskins think that Ford can add a few pounds without sacrificing speed and brush up on his run blocking a bit, they could take a serious look at him.

In his own words:

On how the coaching change from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente helped him:

I think it simplified everything for us. It limited the amount of routes that I ran - slants, outs, fades and posts; my first two years, I was running digs, post curls, comebacks, things like that - that was fine. I'm comfortable doing both. The route-running was never a problem for me because I feel that's what I do best. Being able to play primarily 'X' last year, winning those 50-50 balls and running those routes, it helped me.

Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.