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Roster Review: Safeties

Posted Mar 7, 2012

With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: safeties.


With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: safeties.

In most defensive schemes, safeties are the last line of defense between an opposing offense and the end zone. Premiere safeties are playmakers, capable of lining up in coverage, stopping the run, and blitzing the quarterback.

The Redskins have had quality production from the safety positions in the last decade, with big hitters like Ryan Clark, Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry.

With Landry coming off an Achilles injury in 2010, the Redskins attempted to pair him with free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe last season. On paper, the pair appeared to be a dynamic duo, with the ability to stop the run and create turnovers.

Unfortunately, injuries limited both players’ production in their first season together.

Landry’s best game of the season occurred in Week 3 against the Cowboys, where he had a strong performance in front of a national audience. He finished with four tackles and a forced fumble, but provided the type of presence that kept the Cowboys away from the middle of the field.

Landry’s problems with his Achilles returned in the following weeks, limiting his preparation and playing time. He was placed on injured reserve in Week 14.

Landry finished last season with 56 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. In the last two seasons, he has appeared in 17 games.

Atogwe had a similarly disappointing start to his tenure in Washington, starting only eight games in 2011.

His best game came against the New York Giants at MetLife Staidum, where he finished with six tackles and an athletic interception off a deflected pass.

Atogwe finished the season with 66 tackles and three interceptions to tie for the team lead. Knee and groin injuries prevented him from being a playmaker in the secondary.

Veteran Reed Doughty had a solid season in reserve, starting a career-high 11 games between the free and strong safety positions.

He showed durability at a thin position and the flexibility to switch between the two positions from week-to-week and in-game.

Doughty finished third on the team with 87 tackles and a career-high two forced fumbles.

Like Doughty, DeJon Gomes split time between free and strong safety. He earned starting assignments at free safety ahead of Atogwe at the end of the season.

Gomes finished the year with 30 tackles and two passes defended.


GARY FITZGERALD'S POSITIONAL ANALYSIS

Landry enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, so his future is uncertain.

While he has shown flashes of dominance during his five-year NFL career, he has not been a consistent force.

Landry must prove that his Achilles rehab is going well before he can sign a long-term deal. Will it be in Washington? It's an open question at this point.

Atogwe signed a long-term deal with the Redskins in March 2011, but he had a curious first year in Washington.

After losing his starting job late in the season, he admitted he was uncertain if he would be back with the Redskins in 2012.

Gomes replaced Atogwe at free safety. He is thought to be a better fit at strong safety, though.

Gomes impressed at times, but he also made his share of rookie mistakes. His development could be a key this offseason.

Doughty remains a steady, solid presence in the Redskins' secondary. He is not a dynamic performer by any means, but he can play both safety positions and excel on special teams.

Depending on what happens with Landry and Atogwe, it seems likely the Redskins will address safety in free agency or the draft.

Keep a close eye on this position this offseason.


Three NFL Safeties Eligible for Free Agency

As of March 7, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Jordan Babineaux, Tennessee Titans: Babineaux is a veteran option at the strong safety position. He has eclipsed 90 tackles in two of the last three seasons. He fits the mold of the playmaker, with 19 career takeaways including an interception in each season since 2005. At 6-0, 210 pounds, he has the size to cover tight ends and running backs.

-- Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals: Nelson qualifies as a ball-hawking free safety capable of patrolling center field. In 2011, he finished with a respectable 85 tackles, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two sacks and a touchdown.

-- Jim Leonhard, New York Jets: Leonhard has been plagued by injury each of his last two years in New York. A quality, hard-hitting strong safety when healthy, Leonhard finished last season with a modest 48 tackles, six passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble.

Three Safeties Available In the NFL Draft

As of March 7, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Mark Barron, Alabama: In a weak safety draft class, Barron is widely regarded as the No. 1 prospect. A three-year starter, he posted 317 tackles, 12 interceptions and 24 pass break-ups for the Crimson Tide. He is tall at 6-2 and 218 pounds and long-armed and projects as a strong safety at the NFL level.

-- Harrison Smith, Notre Dame: At 6-2 and 214 pounds, Smith is well-built to play strong safety. He lacks elite speed to cover wide receivers, but scouts say he plays with great instincts. A four-year starter, he posted 309 tackles, seven interceptions and 28 pass break-ups in his college career.

-- Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: At 6-1 and 198 pounds, Martin is thought to be sound as a coverage safety but he needs technique work when it comes to tackling. A natural free safety, he posted 178 tackles, three interceptions and 36 pass break-ups in his career.