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Monday, April 14, 2014
Re-examining Redskins' needs: safety

By John Keim

I'll be taking a look all week at some of the needs the Washington Redskins entered the offseason with, what they've done and if it's still a need. First up: Safety.

Meriweather
What they’ve done: Re-signed Brandon Meriweather; added Ryan Clark; signed Akeem Davis. Reed Doughty remains unsigned. From what I’ve heard, opinions are split as to whether they want him back. Hence, still unsigned. Davis is a former undrafted free agent who has yet to play in an NFL game.

Projected starters: Clark at free safety; Meriweather at strong safety. Obviously both must be able to play the other spot, and the Redskins safeties have to be interchangeable as well.

Clark
Problem solved?: No. Meriweather did not have a strong season in 2013, missing too many tackles and not making many plays. He played a lot more at free safety out of necessity, so perhaps playing more in the box will make a difference. The Steelers considered Clark done and opted for free agent Mike Mitchell (whom the Redskins targeted as well). It’s fair to wonder what he has left. But if Clark consistently makes tackles and provides leadership, then he’ll be an upgrade, albeit a short-term one. The Redskins have put a band-aid on this position.

What needs to happen: The young players need to develop and that’s where Clark can be a real bonus, helping them on the practice field and in the classroom. When you want to draft and develop players, you absolutely need veterans such as Clark around. Based on where he started, Clark has had an improbable run in the NFL -- an undersized guy who wasn’t a blazer yet started on two Super Bowl winning teams. He’ll be the best leader on the defense. And not only is he a good leader, he’s well-schooled in this defense because of his Pittsburgh ties. Between Clark and secondary coach Raheem Morris, the young players have what they need at their disposal. If they don’t develop, it’s absolutely on the player. The fear: Are these young guys worth developing? Bacarri Rambo has a heck of a lot to prove and would be wise to show a lot more on special teams. The problem is, the concerns people had on him coming out of Georgia showed up during his rookie year. His lack of impact on special teams is troubling. Young safeties must help in this area (tough to do so immediately, but it should have clicked by season’s end here). And Phillip Thomas not only needs to overcome a tricky Lis Franc injury -- by all accounts he’s recovering fine, but the key will be showing explosive reactions -- but then prove he can start in the NFL. He doesn’t need to do it immediately, thanks to the two veteran starters.

Address in the draft: Yes. I’d select another safety, if possible (in other words: don’t reach). Rambo has ability, but I’d challenge the heck out of him and see how he responds; you do that with competititon. I’m a fan of Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward, but 34 might be too high for him and the third round likely too late.

Last word: The Redskins opted not to spend big on safety and I don’t think it’s a bad strategy, despite the growing importance of the position thanks to spread offenses. I always felt the pass rush was a bigger need because of the impact it can have. I was surprised they showed a lot of interest in Mitchell in the legal tampering period and just as free agency started only to lose him. But it showed their mindset; the players they truly wanted they were more aggressive with (Jason Hatcher, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts). If the pass rush improves, then the secondary will benefit. It won’t solve everything, however. But if you were going to fix one area this offseason, it had to be the pass rush. The key is adding more young players and hoping one or two can develop into starters for 2015.