The Redskins appeared to be in disarray at the safety position after Su’a Cravens, uncertain about his NFL future, was put on the reserve-left team list, ending his season just before Week 1. The 2016 second-round pick had been set in stone as the team’s starter at strong safety for the entire offseason and there were high hopes that he and free agent signee D.J. Swearinger could stabilize a position that has been a problem area for years.
Fortunately, the Redskins had a backup plan. Fourth-round rookie Montae Nicholson, who didn’t participate in OTAs and part of training camp due to a pre-existing injury from college, started in Week 2. His size (6-2, 215) helped him get drafted. When he finally got on the field, he impressed with his speed and physical play. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the Redskins’ best safety.
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However, the Redskins have not been able to get much production out of him lately. He missed two games with a shoulder injury, returned for the game in New Orleans, and left that one early with a concussion. Nicholson has been out the two games since then.
The good news is that he was on the practice field on Monday, having passed the concussion protocol to be able to participate. The Redskins hope that he can stay on the field, gain some more experience, and help them win some games.
“It’ll be good to get a great look at him the last four weeks if he is healthy enough to play,” said Jay Gruden. “Any time you have that size, speed, that range that he has, it’s a great luxury to have when he’s available.”
Another benefit of getting Nicholson back on the field is the opportunity to evaluate him. His NFL.com draft scouting report read in part:
Nicholson's lack of playmaking production combined with his unsure tackling make him a traits-only prospect who could have a hard time sticking in the league unless he finds more confidence and aggression.
He seems to have turned around the confidence and aggression issues—just ask Raiders WR Michael Crabtree, who missed a game after Nicholson popped him in the chest in Week 3—but the organization would like to have more evaluation time to see if he can become a mainstay at the position.
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Of course, if he is going to be a foundational member of the defense he needs to be available. Sometimes players learn to stay on the field after a season or two of learning how to take care of their bodies. Chris Thompson is an example of this, the broken fibula he suffered this season notwithstanding. There are also are players like Jordan Reed, who just can’t seem to stay healthy no matter what they try.
If Nicholson ends up being more like Thompson, the Redskins could finally have solved the longstanding safety problem.