Some of the Washington Redskins offseason talk focused around position changes for a few key members of the team - Trent Murphy, DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon specifically. Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry addressed these changes in a recent interview.
On how he projects position changes for players such as LB Trent Murphy, S DeAngelo Hall and S Will Blackmon:
"That's a great question because I think you can't just say, ‘Hey, he's been in the NFL for 10 years, he can go play another position.' There are subtle intricacies to every position. Specifically with Trent, we just assessed that Trent is at his best going forward. As an outside linebacker, you rush half the time, you drop half the time. So, we thought Trent is better going that way [forward] instead of dropping backwards. So we said let's let him put his hand in the ground, get off the ball. go cause havoc going toward the quarterback and into the backfield. And obviously there are growing experiences - growing pains, I should say - with every position, so he's kind of fighting his way through that a little bit, mainly the terminology. But he's done everything we've asked. He's over 280 pounds now, so I think it's going to be a great position change for him.
With Will and D-Hall, it's the same thing. I think again that's kind of what I meant - just because they're savvy veterans, just because they've played a ton of football... but they've played a ton of football at corner. Going into safety, it's a different world. But both those guys have such great football awareness, great football instincts, and the good thing is they're going to get an entire offseason - Phase 1, Phase 2, all the OTAs, they're going to get an entire training camp. So, I think you kind of remember we kind of flirted around with D-Hall with it last year and that was one of the things where we didn't want to do it just for the simple fact we were like, ‘Well, let's give the guy an offseason if we're going to do it.' But all three of those guys are doing a great job. It's hard when you move positions, no doubt about it. They have attacked the position change and are really working their tail off."
On the starting safeties:
"When the first team goes out, only 11 guys can go out. We preach and we're firm believers - it comes from Jay [Gruden] all the way down - it's all about competition. So, yes, [DeAngelo] Hall and David Bruton are going with the first group, but we're rolling guys in there. Our depth chart is in pencil, it's not in Sharpie. Obviously, we do have a first team, we have a second team, we have a third team at every position, but we're in constant competition. Last time I checked, we don't have to make a full [determination] who our starters are until our opener. We're getting a bunch of work with a bunch of different guys, but, yeah D-Hall and David are running with the first group."
On the full offseason for Hall, Blackmon and S David Bruton Jr.:
"We were talking about it before, you know I think it's really benefited D-Hall and Will Blackmon for that matter. You know, we moved D-Hall to safety last year during the bye week, which was the middle of the season. So for D-Hall and Will to be able to get Phase 1, Phase 2, obviously the OTAs which we are in now, Phase 3. To get an entire offseason playing the new position, I think that's huge. David Bruton is a phenomenal kid. I don't know if you guys really have gotten to know him yet but just another great addition not only as a football player but as a leader. You know, we lost a great leader in Dashon Goldson in that room. I think David is going to do a great job not only with his playmaking ability on the field but with his leadership. He's just that type of guy in the meeting room, in the weight room, on the practice field, in the locker room. That's great when you get a veteran player that is not only a really good football player, he's a great leader. It's great for the camaraderie of the group."
First, I'll start with Murphy. I believe this move was a very good one for Trent. He was already passed on the depth chart by rookie Preston Smith, whose performance from the second half of 2015 made coaches and fans take notice. With Galette coming back from a torn Achilles, Trent would have most likely been the odd man out of the outside linebacker rotation. Murphy has always done a good job setting the edge in the run game, and he's stout at the point of attack. All he needed was added body mass to be able to successfully make the full-time transition inside to 3-4 defensive end. According to Barry, Murphy is over 280(the Redskins official roster lists him at 290), and has changed his mentality as well.
I think Trent is much better with his hand in the dirt, than as a stand-up outside linebacker. He was not a quick-twitch athlete for the outside, but he's got plenty of quickness and length to be disruptive from the 5-technique. If he can continue to get bigger and stronger, he could turn into the Redskins version of Justin Smith, who starred in the same role, at about the same size, for the 49ers. he will need to work on his hands and leverage, but with a full off-season and training camp to do so, he should be fine heading into the season.
I imagine Murphy will split some time with Kendall Reyes at 5-technique this season, but with some confidence, and added strength and size, he could be the future of the position moving forward.
Now, moving on to safety...
I love the permanent switch of DeAngelo Hall to free safety. I have been talking about him making this switch for two years now, and when we saw the change last season, I figured it would be for the future as well as the present. As Barry noted above, Hall has great instincts and awareness, which will certainly benefit him at safety. He also has very good ball skills which should be an added bonus for our secondary. Combine him with Will Blackmon, another veteran corner making the transition to safety, and you have a wealth of experience, knowledge and leadership back there.
Hall, who is playing right around 200 pounds, isn't afraid to come up and make the big hit, as we saw last season when he was playing a bit more strong safety. He has extremely loose hips, and can break on routes with the best of them. Although he's over 30, he doesn't seem to be losing a step, as his straight line speed and change of direction skills are still above average. This move could help prolong his career for another 2-3 years, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a Charles Woodson type ending.
Blackmon, on the other hand, has a bit more finesse to his game, but he's a very sure tackler with plus ball skills to boot. He could be used in a variety of ways in Barry's defense, but I see him as a nickle/dime safety, with the skills to drop back as a center fielder if asked. With a full offseason to hone his craft, he could become a very important piece to Barry's secondary in 2016.
Safety may not be a strength of this team, but with guys like Hall, Blackmon, Bruton, Jarrett, Ihenacho and Everett back there, it's not a weakness either.