LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 11: DeJon Gomes #24 of the Washington Redskins breaks up a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots at FedExField on December 11, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The other day I looked at the cornerback position, today I'll look at who might make the Redskins roster at the safety position. Again this is a very early look and a lot can change, but this is a look where things stand as of now. Remember Cedric Griffin and Kevin Barnes are likely viewed as corners first, despite having some versatility to play FS. They could enter the mix, but we'll look at the other options. Typically teams only keep 4 safeties so we'll consider that the magic number.
Brandon Merriweather: The former Miami product who was a first round pick of the New England Patriots, has two Pro Bowls to his name. Unfortunately since then two top defensive coaches (Bill Belicheck and Lovie Smith), has found his erratic play to do more harm than good, and decided to bench Merriweather. From a talent standpoint Merriweather could be a top safety, unfortunately he's shown a severe lack of discipline which has allowed him to get burned a number of times. His lack of discipline has also been a problem off the field, that has led to a number of incidents. Those off the field problems have already followed him to Washington, where he was arrested for a DUI last month. Theoretically Merriweather should be interchangeable at FS and SS, but his coverage skills don't match up with his athletic ability, making him solely a SS. He has the best potential of any safety and is under contract for 2013. He's likely to be pretty assured a spot, but his track record and off the field incidents could force a different outcome.
Tanard Jackson: Jackson is the early on favorite to win the starting free safety job, which to some extent shows just how thin the Redskins are in their secondary. On the plus side he's a local guy who grew up in Maryland, and played under secondary coach Raheem Morris in Tampa. Jackson also has pretty solid ball skills and will make a couple big plays for you. On the downside Jackson has already been suspended once by the league for substance abuse, and was just cut by a team that is pretty desperate for secondary help. Jackson is coming off an injury and has a poor track record with his work ethic and being a team player. On top of that Jackson is one of worst tacklers in the league and frequently whiffs on open field tackles. He's not guaranteed a spot, but he does know Morris' system so he should have somewhat of an advantage.
Madieu Williams: Williams is a former 2nd round pick of the Bengals, and was a very productive starter early in his career, before injuries sidetracked him. When healthy he can still be a solid starter, though not as good as he once was. He's coming off a bit of a down year in San Francisco, but could work his way into a starting role in Washington. While primarily a FS, he's also worked as a SS, so at worst he can be a priority back-up and quality special teamer. Williams is also the antithesis of Merriweather and Jackson, as he's known to be a great teammate and leader, and even won the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Though he probably won't begin the season as a starter, don't be surprised if he earns a spot at some point during the season.
DeJon Gomes: As a 5th round rookie last year, Gomes impressed in preseason and training camp. He was expected to be primarily a special teamer as a rookie, but injuries forced him into the starting lineup for the final third of the season. While he held his own at times, he did get overmatched when facing some top TE's and WR's. He's interesting as a developmental guy, but he shouldn't be relied on as the primary starter. He played FS last year, but with a year of training and bulking up some, he should be able to help out at SS as well. Given his potential and special teams ability he has a fairly good shot to make the team. Another factor working for him is the fact that he is cheap and under contract for 3 more years. With Jackson and Williams impending free agents, and Merriweather a potential cap casualty in 2013, Gomes contract is a big plus.
Reed Doughty: Doughty has become in many ways the fall guy for the Redskins secondary woes of late. Now that is not to say that his play was ever a positive, but rather that he got the blame despite being a back-up and making a fraction of what the starters (who struggled quite a bit themselves) made. Doughty when able to play a SS role, and in the box, can be a fairly effective back-up. The problem is too often the team's lack of depth forced him to start multiple games as a FS, which is just a bad fit for him. While he's been a great teammate and solid special teamer, his lack of versatility could make keep him from a job this year.
Jordan Bernstine: Bernstine was a 7th round pick this year from Iowa, where he was a CB early in his career before shifting over to safety. He's a bit raw overall, but has nice size and an decent skill set. Currently he's better as an in the box safety, but if he makes the squad it will be far more likely as a special teamer. Overall I'd consider him a bit of a long shot, but he should have a real shot at earning a practice squad spot. Given the uncertainty of this position going forward, he's a guy to watch for 2013 and beyond.
Travon Bellamy: The former Illinois safety/cornerback was an undrafted free agent of the Rams last season, he signed on to the Redskins practice squad late in the year, and signed a futures contract after the season. The Maryland native will try to earn a 53 man spot this year, but he faces fairly long odds. He is young and has some time in this system, so the team could try to stash him on the practice squad for another year. He's a versatile defensive back, with solid coverage and tackling skills, but he shouldn't be counted upon unless there are some injuries or surprise cuts.
Overview: On paper it looks like the Redskins could be pretty solid at safety, but there are serious questions about both Merriweather and Jackson, making the odds look pretty bleak. Williams gives the Redskins solid depth if one of the two high risk players fail. Gomes offers some decent potential as a back-up and special teamer also. The problem is there is little certainty in this group, and it could end up being a major liability.
Steve Shoup will be covering Free Agency and the NFL Draft for his own site Fanspeak.com, but will provide write-ups on players for the Redskins here on Hogs Haven as well.