Football Team

WFT Burning Questions: How will the safety position shake out?

Football Team

With training camp just around the corner, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux takes a look at one burning question for each position group on Washington's roster. Next up: safety.

How will Landon Collins, Kamren Curl and Bobby McCain work together?

For years and years, the safety position has been one of constant turnover and underwhelming play for the Washington Football Team. The names Laron Landry, Adam Archuleta, Reed Doughty and Brandon Merriweather come to mind for many Burgundy and Gold fans when thinking about overall disappointing play on the backend of the secondary over the past two decades.

Yet, during the latter part of the 2020 season, Washington's safety play was, surprisingly or not, quite solid. Then-rookie Kamren Curl stepped in for an injured Landon Collins exceptionally well, while both DeShazor Everett and Jeremy Reaves showed flashes alongside him.

In 2021, though, the group will likely look different than it ended last season. Collins is back from injury and plans to play in Week 1. The team also signed former Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain in free agency. Those two, along with Curl, all are gunning for the starting roles. Reaves and Everett could assert themselves into the mix as well, along with rookie Darrick Forrest.

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So, how will the safety position ultimately shake out in training camp?

The first thing that plays a factor when determining this is Collins' health. Yes, Collins plans to play in Week 1, but there's also a chance he begins camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. It was encouraging to see him participate in some drills and move around during OTAs and minicamp, but that's a lot different than training camp with the pads on. 

 

Tracking Collins' health and recovery process throughout camp will be something to closely watch, as the team will likely be careful bringing him back. It would not be surprising to see Collins return to live-action in a limited capacity before returning to his usual number of snaps later in the season.

When it comes to Curl and McCain, both players have positional versatility. That's something that both head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio love.

Last year, Curl played both safety positions for Washington and even played a little bit of nickel, too. His natural instincts, tackling and ball-hawking skills made him an instant fan favorite. Regardless of what his role is this fall, Curl is ready and prepared for it.

"Whatever role they got for me, I can play it," Curl said in June. "Really, I just want to be on the field helping the team out. So when that comes, we'll cross that bridge."

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McCain is in a similar boat, too, as he's played every defensive back position at some point during his six-year NFL career.

"I'm a defensive back. I can play all five spots on the backend," McCain said in May. "There's not somewhere you can't put me in. Whether it's safety, corner, or nickel -- no matter the spot -- I'll do my best to perform and win."

What McCain does bring to Washington's secondary -- something they desperately needed in 2020 -- is someone who can play that centerfield role. No, the former Dolphins safety is not an elite ballhawk, but he has the ability and experience to play the role as the last line of defense that Del Rio's unit needs.

When it comes to the rest of the group, Everett, Forrest and Reaves will all likely be competing for smaller roles.

Everett excels on special teams, where he's been a captain for years, and will likely once again make the roster because of it. Forrest showed promise during minicamp and a strong training camp could boost him up the depth chart. For Reaves, the third-year pro is hoping to build off a strong end to the 2020 season.

With defenses shifting away from base more and more every year, there's a solid chance Washington plays three safeties on the field at the same time for multiple snaps every week. They have the personnel to do so, especially considering the versatility of both Curl and McCain.

 

When it comes to Washington's safety unit, don't pay attention to the depth chart on paper. Hypothetically speaking, Collins and McCain could be listed as starters with Curl easily leading the safety group in snaps.

Del Rio has the personnel and talent to get creative with the backend of his defense. Expect him to do just that in 2021.