With training camp beginning in two days, we'll be rounding out the camp battles shortly with a look at inside linebackers and cornerbacks. For now, let's take a look at the safety position, which as of now looks like the one with the most uncertainty.
After an offseason of continuity, the back of the Redskins defense could look vastly different from its 2012 state. Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson were expected to man the safety positions at this time last year, but the two of them played a combined two quarters out of the possible 68. It was Meriweather, whose playing time comprised both of those two quarters, and the coaching staff has no choice but to turn to him once again to provide a short-term answer at the strong safety position. Redskins fans know what will happen if he can't be counted on, getting a heavy dose of Reed Doughty, or potentially Phillip Thomas. More on Thomas in a bit.
Jackson, the other half of the projected 2012 safety tandem didn't see the field at all due to a violation of the NFL's substance policy for the third time in his career. As a result, Jackson cannot apply for reinstatement until Aug 31, precisely nine days before the team's Sept. 9 opener versus the Eagles. Because Jackson and the team cannot have contact during the suspension, it doesn't bode well for his chances of even making the team again let alone his chances of being a contributor. If he is anywhere close to making the roster come opening weekend, that probably means there are more problems than solutions handy at the safety position.
As a result, free safety, the position that coaches once envisioned would be Jackson's post, is the only starting position on the roster that is truly up for grabs. It's a wide open competition that could even be won by a rookie, either Bacarri Rambo or Thomas. Rambo aligns more with the traditional free-safety mold than his rookie counterpart, although both men will be expected to learn both safety positions in due time. For what it's worth, Rambo spent organized team activities at free safety while Thomas manned the strong safety position. Both men have good-but-not-great range and will need to compensate for that with improved instincts. That's a learning curve that all safeties who aren't blessed with freakish speed have to endure, and both players have been touted as eager students of the game who should eventually catch-on. After all, the Redskins wouldn't have drafted them if they didn't think they were able to, and don't be surprised if either does sooner than later.
The likelihood is that Rambo and Thomas will each see playing time this season, which isn't a stretch at all considering how frequently the Redskins rotated Jordan Pugh, DeJon Gomes and Doughty into the huddle toward the end of the season. So whoever wins the "starting" job come Week 1 may have received only a fancy title instead of a significantly increased role. Don't be surprised if the competition for a true starting free safety position isn't resolved until much later, and it's because of this that the Redskins will likely keep more safeties on the 53-man roster than the norm this fall.
With Meriweather, Doughty, Thomas and Rambo in place, it will be a very important camp for players like Gomes, who will need to show coaches a spark after not being particularly impressive over the course of his first two seasons. He will likely battle it out with Pugh, who may already have an edge due to his natural free-safety position and his improvement over the course of last season. Jordan Bernstine is not likely be a factor early on in camp as he continues to recover from tearing his ACL a season ago. his likely designation will be the PUP list to begin the season.
Because of the uncertainty at both safety positions, and because of two high-ceiling youngsters in Rambo and Thomas, this will be one training camp story that won't be taken out from under the microscope anytime soon.
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