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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Positional outlook: Safeties

By John Keim

The Washington Redskins were hurt at safety because of injuries and, in truth, poor decisions from the past. They had several years to solve this position and have been unable to do so, because of bad signings (O.J. Atogwe), bad luck (Phillip Thomas' injury) or relying on players with checkered pasts (Tanard Jackson). Add it up and it left the Redskins with too many backup players pressed into roles they weren't ready to play (or could play). The defense had other issues to be sure, but upgrading here is a top priority in the offseason.

Meriweather
Brandon Meriweather
When he wasn’t getting penalized or suspended for his hits, he was OK in his first full season following ACL surgery. Would he be better a year further removed from surgery? Meriweather had to play more free safety than desired because of the issues Washington had at this position. He’s much better as a strong safety in the box. But like others at this position, he missed too many tackles. One reason Seattle is so good defensively stems from their tackling ability. That’s not the case in Washington (or with the entire defense). That’s a big reason the Redskins ranked 26th in yards after contact allowed (1,304), nearly 400 yards behind San Francisco and Seattle. Meriweather still tackles too high; that got him in trouble against bigger players (like Atlanta’s Steven Jackson). He’d be out of position on occasion. The Redskins could do worse than Meriweather, but they can also do better. Plus, you have to worry about him getting suspended for a long time with one more bad hit. They could opt to re-sign him to a one-year deal and then see how Phillip Thomas develops.
2014: Gone
Contract status: Free agent as of March 11

Bacarri Rambo
Was pressed into a starting role because of what the Redskins didn't have more so than for his own performance. He seemed to be in the right position much of the time -- that was evident in training camp, too. But his tackling was a major issue, which was the case in the preseason and late in the season. He tried too often to make shoulder tackles and, against Kansas City for example, did so while turning his body. You just won’t tackle good NFL players that way. And, at this position, you absolutely need a sure tackler. If Rambo had made plays, that's one thing. But he didn’t make a single play -- a hit, a pass defensed -- that made you think, 'OK, that’s why he’s out there.' He needs to develop on special teams. It’s darn hard to be a backup safety in the NFL who doesn't contribute on special teams.
2014: Backup
Contract status: Signed through 2016

Doughty
Reed Doughty
As usual, he was pressed into a starting job because the Redskins could not solve the safety position. At this stage it’s no secret what sort of player Doughty is: He can help the Redskins in the box in a pinch, though he’ll have some games where he misses tackles. He is not a starter on a good defense. But the guy is prepared, plays well on special teams and the coaches know exactly what they’ll get from him. That’s what you want in a backup. The Redskins must put themselves in a better position at this spot.
2014: Backup/special teamer
Contract status: Free agent as of March 11

Jose Gumbs
He needed to be better on special teams. That should be his calling card, but he was inconsistent. He drew a penalty in the finale for kicking a ball at the end of a punt, as if he were playing soccer -- not smart. But Gumbs, who had some strong hits this summer, can develop in this area. From scrimmage, he started one game (Denver) but left early because he was hurt. Late in the season he played in the dime packages and intercepted an overthrown pass against Atlanta.
2014: Bubble
Contract status: Exclusive rights free agent

Phillip Thomas
We barely got to see him play because of his Lisfranc injury. Before he was hurt, the coaches felt like he was just starting to get it at strong safety, especially in terms of knowing where to fit in the run game. He would have received a lot of opportunities this past season so it’s a shame he got hurt. But we really don’t know what sort of player he is or could become. You have to go back to his days at Fresno State, where he overcame a lack of blazing speed with preparation, which in turn helped his anticipation and allowed him to play to his speed. Not every player can say that. But in college he missed too many open field tackles. I’m curious to see what he’ll do this summer, but would still want to pursue a starting strong safety and then see how Thomas improves.
2014: Backup
Contract status: Signed through 2016

Trent Robinson
A special teamer; he played 34 snaps on defense and 192 on special teams. Robinson flashed on special teams and can be developed in this area. Against New York in the finale, Robinson, working as a gunner, consistently beat his man downfield and was rarely touched.
2014: Bubble/special teamer
Contract status: Signed through 2014