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Redskins position preview: Strong safety


Redskins position preview: Strong safety

Over the next few weeks, Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ depth chart now that the team’s offseason program has concluded.

Some battles are straightforward. Others could get complicated. This much, however, cannot be debated: A player is not on the 53-man roster until it's finalized Sept. 5.

So who’s in? And who’s in jeopardy? Up today …

Position: Strong safety.

On the roster: Jeron Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, Kyshoen Jarrett, Phillip Thomas and Akeem Davis.

Likely to make the 53: Johnson, Ihenacho and Jarrett.

Comment: Like the competition at right outside linebacker (which we discussed earlier this week here), the battle at strong safety will take center stage when the Redskins report to Richmond next month.

When the Redskins signed Johnson, a former Legion of Boom backup in Seattle, the immediate speculation was that he’d be Brandon Meriweather’s replacement. That’s still a possibility, but he’s going to face more competition for the job than originally anticipated.

During the majority of the offseason practices that were open to reporters, Ihenacho worked ahead of Johnson in 11 on 11 drills. Johnson, though, worked as the starter on June 17—the final day of mandatory minicamp.

Ihenacho, who was sidelined almost all of last season with a foot injury, has the edge in experience, having started 17 games for Denver in 2013 as the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl. Johnson, meanwhile, has just one start on his resume, but he did appear in 46 games as a backup to perennial Pro Bowler Kam Chancellor and was targeted early in free agency by new GM Scot McCloughan. It should also be noted that Johnson was a standout special teamer with the Seahawks and his tenure in Seattle overlapped with McCloughan’s.

Both Johnson and Ihenacho are going to make the roster. And both are versatile enough to see some snaps at free safety, as well. But only one of them will start Week 1 alongside hard-hitting free safety Dashon Goldson.

Battling for a job: Jarrett, Thomas and Davis.

Comment: Assuming Goldson, Johnson and Ihenacho will occupy three of the five safety spots on the 53-man roster, that means the others will find themselves in a tight competition for backup roles later this summer.

They’ll all need to be flexible enough to play both free and strong. And, just as important, they’ll need to be valuable on special teams (like Trenton Robinson and Akeem Davis were last season).

The backups at the end of last season were Robinson, a free safety, Thomas and Davis. Now you’ve got to add to the mix versatile rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, who impressed Coach Jay Gruden this offseason with his tenaciousness on special teams.

“Kyshoen has done an excellent job, man,” Gruden said. “He’s fast. He’s flying around. He’s making his presence known on special teams. I mentioned that the late-round picks are going to have to make their mark on special teams, and Kyshoen has done that.”


As for Thomas, defensive backs Coach Perry Fewell indicated that he'll need to show continued progress in Richmond after he appeared to do a fair amount of spectating from the sideline this offseason.

“He’s a knowledgeable guy,” Fewell said of the 2013 fourth rounder. “He has ability to break on the ball. He’s a mentally tough guy, because [when] we’re in the classroom and we throw a lot at him, he can regurgitate it. If we can get him to do that on the field, as quickly as he regurgitates it in the classroom, then we’ve got something.”

So, yeah, it's going to be a battle to watch.

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass


Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”


Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”


Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.