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Redskins finding that safety is a tough position to fill

Redskins finding that safety is a tough position to fill

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.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

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.

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