With the release of DeAngelo Hall and no immediate move to add another defensive back to the roster, there seems to be an air of panic among Redskin fans as it relates to the secondary. Local radio hosts, newspaper columnists, message board posters, and fans on Twitter have all expressed concern about how this team might stop anyone who attempts to pass the ball in 2013. That point of view isn’t without some logic, of course. The NFL’s third-worst passing defense from last season lost one of its starting cornerbacks and is bumping its head against the salary cap ceiling at the moment, preventing it from adding talent to its weakest link.
However, when you take a few steps back away from the ledge and look at the situation objectively, you begin to see that this team might be better off in the defensive backfield than it seems on the surface, at least for next year until it has more resources to spend.
First of all, a coverage unit’s best friend is a fierce and effective pass rush. Despite a late-season surge defensively, the Redskins often struggled to generate a timely pass rush, finishing in the bottom quarter of the NFL in sacks. That led to comfortable quarterbacks sitting in the pocket and waiting for receivers to break open. Given enough time, virtually any NFL receiver can eventually shake free from the best defenders in the league. There is reason to believe that this situation will improve next year as lineback Brian Orakpo will return from injury. Orakpo averaged over nine sacks per year during his first three seasons in the league before being injured in week two of last season in St. Louis. The front-seven will also benefit from the return of Adam Carriker, who was also lost to a season-ending injury last year against the Rams. It will feel like new additions to the team when those two starters return to the field and put pressure on opposing offensive linemen. The great play of their backups (Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins) now offers the potential of a positional rotation that could see a relentless and tireless pass rush. That factor alone could cover up any learning curve or inexperience in the secondary.
According to many experts from major sports sites, the 2013 draft is deep with defensive backs. When combined with the fact that some of the best NFL defenses have found secondary starters after the first day of the draft, it becomes quite possible that April’s selections could provide a major talent infusion. In fact, when analyzing the top-10 passing defenses from last season, 26 of the 40 starting defensive backs (two cornerbacks and two safeties) were acquired after the first round. Six of those players actually went undrafted through seven rounds, yet still proved to be good enough to start for the best passing defenses in the entire league. Given the success that Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have had in the draft since arriving in Washington, there’s no reason to think that they can’t find some potential starting-caliber players with their seven draft picks in April.
Finally, improvement can come organically from within as incumbent players gain comfort in the system, hone their strength and skills during the off-season, or just need the additional reps that multiple off-seasons, mini-camps, and training camps provide. The Redskins have several young defensive backs (25 or younger) who gained valuable experience with the defense during the 2012 season. Jordan Bernstine, Richard Crawford, DeJon Gomes, and Jordan Pugh all were drafted in the later rounds of the past three drafts and could step up to fill a role on this defense. Sometimes the only obstacle preventing a player from achieving success is the lack of an opportunity. It would not be surprising to see some significant contributions from some of these up-and-coming players. We also should not forget veteran Brandon Meriweather, who played in just one game in 2012 but gave the defense a spark against the Eagles that it hadn’t seen prior to that game. Meriweather will be returning from injury in 2013 and should bring both leadership and attitude with him.
It’s easy to panic, but the measured and restrained approach that is being employed at Redskin Park seems to be a wise one. The NFL-imposed penalties essentially simulate “salary cap hell” by removing roughly 15% of the Redskins’ resources to build a team. The last thing Shanahan and Allen should do is make rash decisions (adding players they can’t afford, restructuring contracts to defer money to future years, etc.) to worsen their financial position in the coming years. If the Redskins can lean on the factors above to field a secondary in 2013, they will be in great position to supplement that talent further once the penalties are lifted after this season. That will coincide with this team’s window being wide open to challenge for a championship run each and every year.
I know there are varying opinions out there, so let’s hear them!