It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course.
By 2012, Sean Taylor was supposed to be a 29-year-old future Hall of Famer in his prime and Laron Landry was supposed to be just a notch below. Both high draft picks, the tandem was supposed to make the deep middle of the Redskin defense Death Valley where opposing receivers were concerned.
All that went out the window when Taylor was inexplicably killed at age 24 by a home intruder in 2007. And Landry, despite a handful of highlight reel hits, spent most of his Redskin career in the training room or flexing his pecs on Muscle Beach. Consequently, what should have been an embarrassment of riches at the safety position last season deteriorated into just an embarrassment.
It’s hard to pick a low point. Was it Tanard Jackson being suspended in the preseason and never playing a game? Brandon Meriweather coming back from a preseason knee injury only to be reinjured when he accidentally collided with a teammate while warming up before his first game in uniform? Meriweather again fighting his way onto the field only to tear knee ligaments halfway through his only appearance on the field? Or how about Madieu Williams snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by watching Victor Cruz salsa his way 80 yards for a touchdown in the waning seconds of a game the Redskins apparently had won?
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Is it any wonder the team took not one but two safeties in the draft?
Happily, both Phillip Thomas (fourth round) and Bacarri Rambo (sixth) had much higher grades on many draft boards and both figure to play a major role this season — if not together than at least alternately.
Assuming his knee is sound to start the season — and why would you? — it’s clear the Redskins would love for Meriweather to start on one side. Because of his strengths as a run stopper, Meriweather is considered a more natural fit at strong safety. He makes questionable decisions in coverage, but he has a nose for the football and has good hands when he gets to it.
After that, things get dicey pretty quickly. Of the two rookies, Thomas is the more polished product after leading the nation in interceptions last season with eight for Fresno State. Rambo is also a ball hawk and might be the better athlete. His draft stock dropped because of off-field problems — something the Redskins definitely don’t need.
Behind them, it’s a grab bag consisting of guys like DeJon Gomes, Jordan Pugh, Jordan Bernstine and the reliable-but-athletically-challenged Reed Doughty.
Which leaves us where in Week 16? My best guess is with two rookies starting.
It wouldn’t be that way if Meriweather were healthy, but he won’t be, so why kid ourselves? Gomes has shown flashes, but he’s done nothing to distinguish himself in the opportunities he’s gotten and the Jordans are just a couple of guys.
Could Doughty be the Week 16 starter? Certainly, but we know what to expect from him at this stage of his career and it isn’t pretty picture. Ultimately the choice comes down to a guy who can be good but can’t stay healthy, a guy who can stay healthy but isn’t very good, and five guys we know very little about at this point.
I’m not certain whether it makes me an optimist or a pessimist, but in that scenario I’m going to go with the two guys I know the least about — the two rookies — and hope they outperform the alternatives.
Really, they’d just about have to.