The Washington Redskins have had issues at safety since 2007. And those issues started because of something completely out of their control.
Fans of the team are well aware of what I’m referring to, and hopefully fans from around the league are, too: the death of Sean Taylor.
Taylor was the Redskins’ No. 5 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and from the moment he set foot on an NFL gridiron, he made a difference. As teammate Chris Cooley famously said , “In his first game in the NFL, he was the best player on the field.”
Sean Taylor was THE greatest player I ever personally scouted, watched grow up within an organization, and became good friends with.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) April 1, 2014
From his rookie year to November 2007, Taylor definitely earned his “Meast” (half man, half beast) nickname; very few players could do the things he did. On one play, he’d be up in the box and stuffing a run like another linebacker, and on the next he’d be running with a receiver 40 yards downfield. It was truly a treat to watch #21 suit up every Sunday, and he quickly became a fan favorite.
That’s when tragedy struck. Taylor injured his knee against the Eagles in 2007 and went home to Miami to rest and be with his family while the team continued their season. It was there that he was shot during a home invasion; he died in the hospital a day later. Countless stories have been written about Sean since, and each one has talked about the pain the team’s players, coaches and fan base went through after his death. And they still don’t do it justice.
— DC Maryland Virginia (@DMVFollowers) July 15, 2015
But while the suffering on the field pales in comparison to what his family, friends and fellow Redskins went through, there’s still no denying that Washington has dearly missed him in their secondary. Today, I’m going to look at all the safety solutions the Redskins have tried since 2007 to illustrate just how hard it is to fill the shoes of someone who was on his way to becoming one of the game’s greats. Then, I’ll explain why each of these safeties failed. And finally, I’ll examine the 2015 crop of safeties and see if they’re the group to finally right the ship.
First up is a trip down memory lane that will make most Redskins fans a bit squeamish.
Here’s a list of starting safeties that the team has employed since Sean’s death in 2007, followed up by an attempt to find out what went wrong in each case:
Chris Horton (2008-2010) – A late round draft pick who started off his Redskins career looking like a steal as a rookie. However, injuries and an inability to climb back up the depth chart turned him into a one-hit wonder.
LaRon Landry (2007-2011) – A guy that left many of the team’s supporters wondering what might have been. Sean’s death greatly affected Landry’s career as he was originally forced to take over Taylor’s spot and thus play out of position. When Landry was paired with Taylor, the two caused opposing receivers to avoid going over the middle of Washington’s defense at all costs. When Landry was alone, however, he struggled. He never came close to matching his potential, and Sean’s death was a big reason why.
Reed Doughty (2006-2013) – It wasn’t for a lack of effort that Doughty couldn’t fill the team’s hole at safety – he just wasn’t athletically gifted enough. The Skins tried to slide Doughty in as a starter on a few occasions after Taylor’s death, but #37 was better suited as a situational defender and special teamer. If he was asked to do much more than that, he ended up being exposed.
Kareem Moore (2008-2011) – A 2008 sixth-round pick that never really made an impact on the Redskins defense.
O.J. Atogwe (2011) – The Skins inked Atogwe to a free agent deal before the 2011 season, and fans thought the former Ram would finally stop the team’s woes at safety. He turned in a mediocre debut season in D.C., though, and was gone after just one year.
Madieu Williams (2012) – By the time Williams arrived in Washington, he was well past his prime. He also was gone after one year because he couldn’t be counted on in either the run or the pass game.
Tanard Jackson (2012-2014) – The Redskins took a chance on Jackson, who had a past full of injuries and off the field issues. It didn’t pay off. He was suspended by the NFL twice after coming to D.C., and he’s currently under an indefinite suspension. He had a lot of skill, but just couldn’t stay out of trouble.
Brandon Meriweather (2012-2014) – Meriweather made two Pro-Bowl appearances prior to signing with the Redskins before the 2012 season, but you wouldn’t know it if you watched his Redskins tape. He racked up way more penalties, fines and suspensions than he did sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions while wearing the Burgundy and Gold.
Ryan Clark (2014) – The team brought in Clark last year, hoping that his veteran presence and experience would settle the position as a whole. Unfortunately, Clark’s best moment came when he wore Taylor’s #21 during training camp and practices (he was a friend and fan of Taylor) and not during regular season games, where he looked slow and was largely ineffective.
As you can see, the Redskins have tried everything when it comes to replacing Taylor’s production. They’ve taken players from the draft, signed former Pro-Bowlers, signed former Super Bowl winners, taken risks on guys, and tried to fill the hole from within. None of it worked.
But what about this year’s safeties? What are their stories, and can they finally fix the problem position in the team’s secondary? Let’s take a look.
The three safeties who figure to get the most playing time on defense for the 2015 Redskins are:
- Jeron Johnson – A free agent signee who spent the last four years learning how to play while watching Seattle’s stacked secondary. The 27-year-old didn’t get much action on defense, but he was a stud special teamer and will compete in Redskins training camp for a chance to start for the first time in his career.
- Duke Ihenacho – A former Bronco who started for the team in their last Super Bowl appearance, Ihenacho was signed by the Skins before last season but went on injured reserve just three weeks into the season. He’s back and healthy, however, and will go up against Johnson for the right to start in Week 1.
- Dashon Goldson – Goldson was traded to the Redskins this past offseason after two disappointing seasons in Tampa Bay. He was a two-time Pro-Bowler with the 49ers, though, but whether the 30-year-old can get back to that form remains to be seen. Still, he’s penciled in as a starter for 2015 at free safety.
He's a new, talented piece for the #Redskins' secondary.
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) July 20, 2015
Will Johnson, Ihenacho and Goldson solidify both safety spots for the Redskins starting in September? My answer is half-yes, half-no.
Johnson and Ihenacho both look like solid pieces, and I think whoever emerges to take the starting job at strong safety will be a good player there for the team’s defense. I’m very skeptical of Goldson, however; he looks like Brandon Meriweather 2.0 – a guy who used to be feared but is now washed up and erratic with his play.
While I’d love to tell my fellow Redskins fans that 2015 will be the year that both safety positions are filled with talented players for the first time since 2007, I can’t do that. Therefore, as much as it pains me to say it, I expect 2015 to be another year where Redskins fans lament the loss of the irreplaceable Sean Taylor. And to think that Sean would still be only 32 years old is especially heartbreaking — there’s no telling where he’d be as a player and a person if he were still alive today.
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