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Assessing the Redskins: Defensive Backs

New secondary coach Raheem Morris must get a better performance from the Redskins secondary. Some better personnel would help. Cliff Welch/Icon SMI

Despite a solid front seven and a productive pass rush, the Redskins were solidly middle of the pack defending the pass last season. The reason is simple and straightforward: their defensive backs just weren't good enough.

The safeties were hampered all season by injuries to Laron Landry and Oshiohomgo Atogwe, and while Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall improved in coverage as the season wore on, neither could lock up an opposing receiver.

For Washington's defense to become a playoff-level unit, they must upgrade their secondary. That means making key decisions about re-signing Landry (who is a free agent), and whether to bring back Hall -- perhaps at renegotiated salary.

At a minimum, Washington needs a starting-level performer at safety, and one or two starters at cornerback.

The grades:

  • Laron Landry: C -- When Landry was on the field, he actually played decently. He wasn't the offense-wrecking force he'd been before the Achilles injury, but he was still productive. The problem with Landry is  that he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past couple seasons, and he still hasn't had surgery to fix the Achilles. If it was my call, I'd let Landry go and look for a new starter at safety.
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe: C -- Signed as a free agent just before the lockout began, Atogwe got hurt in training camp and never seemed to get healthy. His play was decent, but he wasn't the ball-hawking turnover creator he'd been throughout his career. He should return next season, but the Skins need better production from him.
  • Reed Doughty: D -- Doughty was what he's always been: a sturdy tackler who struggles in coverage because he lacks speed and agility. He's a good guy to have for special teams, but injuries forced him into a much larger role than he should be playing. It's an indictment of the team's scouting department that they haven't been able to replace him.
  • DeJon Gomes: D- -- The fifth round pick has speed and athleticism, and was a turnover machine at Nebraska. That ability disappeared when he reached the NFL. When he got a chance to play late in the season, he gave a good effort, but was picked on by opposing offenses. He should be back to see how much he'll grow in the offseason and with another training camp. But he did little to persuade anyone that he's a long-term solution at safety.
  • DeAngelo Hall: C+ -- Hall struggled in coverage all season, but he contributed with greatly improved tackling and run support. The coaching staff should decide whether Hall can play safety. If not, they'll need to re-do his contract so Hall can be a nickel back, or they'll need to release. Washington can't afford another season of Hall as their #1 corner.
  • Josh Wilson: C -- Wilson was little better than Hall in coverage, and he wasn't much in the tackling department either. Signed as a free agent before last season, Wilson is young enough to warrant bringing back for another season. He may be more productive with time in Washington's offseason program.
  • Kevin Barnes: D -- Barnes has been around for a few seasons and has yet to make a mark. He's a good athlete, but his coverage skills are nothing special. His size suggests some potential at safety, but he hasn't shown much much of a desire to be a quality tackler. He's on the bubble for next season.
  • Byron Westbrook: D- -- Like Barnes, Westbrook has been around for awhile and hasn't shown any sign of being an every-down corner. Washington needs to upgrade their corner depth, and it should start with Westbrook.

Bottom line for Washington's secondary is that they need playmakers at both safety and corner. To be better against the pass, they must upgrade their personnel. Yet another "status quo" season in the secondary is unacceptable. New secondary coach Raheem Morris should help the team get a better performance from their defensive backs. That's a must if they hope to get back to the playoffs.