Breaking Down The Defensive Backs

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The defensive philosophy of Gregg Williams, the Washington Redskins’ assistant head coach-defense from 2004 to 2007, relied mainly on aspects of the cover-2 and Tampa-2 defenses until last year when he shifted to more cover-1 to take advantage of free safety Sean Taylor’s coverage abilities, especially the amount of ground he could cover. Regardless of how Williams lined up his safeties, his cornerbacks were forced into man to man coverage on most passing plays and the defensive backs were heavily relied on for run support. Williams was fired during the protracted Head Coaching search and has resurfaced in Jacksonville for the 2008 season. Defensive line coach Greg Blache was named defensive coordinator shortly after that. Blache was a successful defensive coordinator for five seasons with the Chicago Bears before joining the Redskins, and had significant input in devising and implementing game plans over the past four years. Blache has said that not much will change as far as schemes go. At his first press conference Blache said, “We will have fewer packages, we are trying to be a hard, physical defense that’s intimidating with our speed and hitting ability. You can’t do that when you’re thinking about 20,000 different things. You can do that when you’re comfortable knowing what you have to do. And that’s what we are going to focus on.”


Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot finished the season as the starters. Springs, at 6-0 and 200 pounds, is the Redskins oldest (eleven seasons) and best cornerback. Last season, he played in all 16 games, (starting 14), and had 70 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Springs will again be asked to cover the opposing team’s top receiver in 2008. Upon his return to the Washington Redskins following his brief stint in the Twin Cities, 5-11 192 pound Fred Smoot played in 13 games (11 starts), and had 55 tackles and one interception. Smoot stepped in when the 6-0 194 pound Carlos Rogers was sidelined by a knee injury after he had started seven games and recorded 24 tackles and one interception that he returned 61 yards for a touchdown.

Byron Westbrook, who is 5-10 and 194 pounds, spent 2007 (his rookie season) on the Redskins’ practice squad after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Salisbury. The younger brother of the Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook will also be returning to compete for a roster spot. In addition, Leigh Torrence, who played in 16 games mostly as a third corner — he did have one start versus the Giants in December — will be back. The 6-0, 194-pound corner totaled 32 tackles and one sack last year. Rarely used backup David Macklin signed with the Saint Louis Rams during the off-season and won’t be returning.

During the off season, like most other positions, the front office and coaching staff chose not to seek help by signing a proven veterans that hit the market in March. They did, however, sign Cedrick Holt as an unrestricted free agent in January. The 5-11, 171-pound Holt originally entered the NFL with the Tennessee Titans in 2006 as an undrafted free agent after playing collegiately at North Carolina. Last year he was on the Indianapolis Colts training camp roster but he was released prior to the start of the season and hopes to earn a roster spot as a backup. Another unrestricted free agent signed to compete for a roster spot is 5-11 and 194 pound Matteral Richardson who started three years for the Arkansas Razorbacks with 180 tackles, 27 passes defended and four interceptions. Richardson was signed April 28th and is considered a physical cornerback and sound tackler who can also play free safety.

Between the signings of Holt and Richardson, the Redskins used the 124th selection overall in the 2008 NFL Draft to select 5-9, 190 pound Justin Tryon. The fourth-round pick started every game during his two seasons at Arizona State. Tryon complied 103 tackles, four interceptions, 23 pass deflections and one touchdown with the Sun Devils. Known to teammates as “J.T.,” Tryon will compete for the third or forth cornerback spot, and the top spot of trash talker, which is currently held by third corner Fred Smoot.


After the lost of Sean Taylor late into the 2007 season, the Redskins made an adjustment to player positions as 6-1 209 lbs. Reed Doughty, in his second year with the team, entered the starting lineup at strong safety, moving 6-0 213 lbs. rookie strong safety Laron Landry to the free safety spot. Vernon Fox has contributed mostly on special teams the past two seasons and backups Omar Stoutmire and Pierson Prioleau were not re-signed. The team made attempts to address the safety spot by bringing in Patrick Ghee and Justin Hamilton, while also addressing the position during the draft.

In the sixth round the Redskins selected Nicholls State defensive back Kareem Moore with the 180th overall pick. Moore, a 5-11 213-pounder, played in twenty-one games (started seventeen) and recorded 141 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles during his two years at Nicholls State. In the next round Vinny Cerrato and his new regime went defensive back again when they selected Chris Horton with their final pick of the draft (249th overall).

Chris Horton, at 6-1 and 210 pounds started every game the last two seasons for the UCLA Bruins. He finished his career with 238 tackles and 13 sacks. Both rookies have signed rookie contracts and are projected to add depth at safety. First year players Patrick Ghee and Justin Hamilton were released shortly after the two late round draft picks were signed. The Redskins also picked up free agent Stuart Schweigert who played both the free and strong safety positions while in Oakland. Schweigert is 6-10 210 pounds, played in 63 games, (started 42) and logged 315 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

Going into training camp the starting safety positions are all but settled. Laron Landry has one spot locked up, as he proved himself as a hard-hitting safety, leveling punishing hits when playing “down in the box” and showed his little talked about coverage skills after he made the switch to free safety. Landry finished the season with 95 tackles and one and a half sacks.


The Redskins should carry no more than ten defensive backs on the active roster in 2008. The main questions at safety are where will the Redskins line up last year’s top pick Laron Landry, and who will play beside him. Just as intriguing will be watching to see whether six year veteran Vernon Fox — the oldest, smallest and lightest safety going into camp at 5-10 and 203 pounds — can hold on to his roster spot one more year. The Redskins have six safeties on the roster going into training camp. As far as the cornerbacks go, a lot will depend on when Carlos Rogers will be at 100% and in “football shape.”

The projected depth chart shapes up like this: if Landry starts at strong safety it will be Reed Doughty’s spot to lose at free safety. Stuart Schweigert would be the primary backup at both spots, however if Landry is moved back to free safety then Schweigert would get the nod at strong safety and Doughty would be the backup free safety. That would leave Vernon Fox to compete with rookies Moore or Horton for the remaining safety spot. Moore and Horton both went into the draft known as solid run defenders but needing to improve on their basic coverage skills.

Shawn Springs will have one side of the field at the cornerback position and Carlos Rogers is the #2, however, Rogers may not return until September or October, meaning Fred Smoot will be the starter. Rogers may spend some time on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) which could open up a spot for one of the rookies that wouldn’t have been available if Rogers were healthy. Holt and or Richardson appears in line to benefit, but once Rogers is back to full strength whichever player makes the roster to start the season will be moved to the practice squad or released. Another option would be to bring in a veteran or two at both safety and corner during training camp to push the rookies and the returning vets.

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Bernie Marshall

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