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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Slimmer Santana, and other Redskins notes

By Dan Graziano

Santana Moss
Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss showed up this season much slimmer than the past.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Santana Moss is no fool. When free agency opened and the Washington Redskins signed two wide receivers (and nearly a third) in the first hour, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was sure his veteran wide receiver was paying attention.

"If you don't," Shanahan said bluntly, "you've got to be an idiot."

Shanahan spoke with Moss this offseason and was blunt with him too. After a disappointing season in which he caught just 46 passes for just 584 yards, the now-33-year-old Moss was plainly in jeopardy of being cut. His mission, his coach told him, was to lose weight.

"We talked to him in the offseason and said, 'Hey, this isn't you. If you want to be part of our football team, you've got to lose some weight,'" Shanahan said after the Redskins' final minicamp practice here Wednesday. "And he came back under 190 and he looks like a different guy. He's made a commitment, and you have to at that age. And he knew that if he didn't do that, he'd probably be gone."

Even with the new additions at wide receiver, the slimmed-down Moss still projects as one of the Redskins' starting wide receivers along with Pierre Garcon. Josh Morgan, the other new addition, is working his way back from a leg injury, and Leonard Hankerson, last year's impressive rookie, is coming back from a hip injury. Moss' experience, flexibility and improved conditioning pushes him ahead of the younger injury guys.

"Last season, some of the things I wanted to do, I would get winded sometimes," Moss said. "When you get older and you see some things with yourself and your game, you just want to find some things that can help you get better. I just felt I've been at my best when I'm in the 190s, so I got back there."

The best part about it, from the coaching staff's standpoint, is that Moss didn't just lose weight. He got in better overall shape.

"I feels he's more powerful," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He's more explosive. He has a better understanding of the offense. To me, he came in possessed. He was ready to go. You saw it physically, and then to see him in the meeting rooms, he's been great. He's been so attentive and it's shown on the field. The guy's not thinking out there. He's confident in his speed. He feels confident in his knowledge of the offense, and there's no hesitation. He's been very exciting."

Some other notes from my two days with the Redskins:

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was all over the place in Wednesday's practice. He intercepted Robert Griffin III once and nearly did it another time when he had Moss blanketed in coverage over the middle. The Redskins have been using Hall in a variety of ways this offseason, asking him and a few other of their corners (Richard Crawford, Brandyn Thompson and Chase Minnifield) to take some reps at the slot corner position.

The thinking behind this is Kevin Barnes was not good in that slot-corner role last year, and some of the smaller, quicker corners on the roster might handle it better. When they move Hall inside, they can keep Josh Wilson and either Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside and try to maximize everyone's strengths. They're selling Hall on this plan by telling him he'll be playing a multi-faceted role similar to the one Charles Woodson plays in Green Bay, and Hall seems to be buying. He did a handspring backflip to the sideline after his interception Wednesday.

"I think it's something new for him, so he's kind of energized," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "He really likes it. He's the kind of guy that can go in there and get sacks. That position should make a lot of plays. When you look at the Charles Woodsons, the guys that play in that scheme, you know you get four or five sacks every year, you get four or five interceptions, you get big plays. And hopefully we can get that out of him."

As I've mentioned a few times, the Woodson comparisons seem too easy. Every team likes to say they're going to use a guy like Woodson, but Woodson's a Hall of Fame-caliber player who fills multiple roles because he's awesome at all of them. Time will tell if Hall can handle such an assignment.

Minnifield is a guy with whom everyone seems to be impressed. He was signed as an undrafted free agent, but Haslett said the Redskins thought he was a third-round talent whose stock slipped because he ran a lousy 40 time coming off a knee injury.

"I'm ecstatic that he did not run well in his 40 time to make him a free agent and to be able to come to Washington," defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said.

Minnifield is down the depth chart a bit, but there are opportunities in the Redskins' secondary, and if he continues to play well, he could force his way into the mix.

I'll pick Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams in the "who'll be the starting safeties?" pool. The Redskins coaches are all raving about Williams' intelligence and calling him "a coach on the field." And while the conventional wisdom on Meriweather is that he's a poor fit as a strong safety, Mike Shanahan thinks it only looked that way in Chicago because he was a poor fit for their scheme.

"What I think he is, what I looked at him as, playing two-deep, I'm thinking this guy's got to rush, this guy's got to bracket, and he's a really smart football player," Shanahan said. "If you just play conventional three-deep or two-deep like Chicago did the majority of the time, that's not what he does. They way we use him with blitzes, the way we use him in combinations, he's a smart guy."

Shanahan also said he called New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to ask about Meriweather, who, Belichick released last September, and that Belichick gave him a good review and agreed that he'd be a good fit in Washington's defense.

I have more, but that's more than 1,000 words, and should hold you for tonight. Let me know what else you want to read about the Redskins in the coming days.