Perhaps no position group on the Redskins is more interesting the safety position in 2019.
After releasing former safety and defensive captain D.J. Swearinger after Week 16 of the 2018 season, the Redskins had a big hole to fill on their back line. They made a splash in free agency, signing former Giants safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million contract, solidifying the strong safety position.
In four years with the Giants, Collins made the Pro Bowl three times and first-team All-Pro once. He's been super durable, playing in 59 of a possible 64 games.
For a group that has a lot of "interesting pieces," Collins is the "one lock," according to NBC Sports Washington's Trevor Matich.
Collins may be listed as a safety, but he's at his best when he plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
"He's a safety, but he plays like a smaller, faster linebacker," Matich said. "He's a presence in the backfield and the line of scrimmage. Receivers and running backs need to know where he is at all times, because if they don't know, they will find out in the most painful way."
But when determining how successful the Redskins back line will be in 2019, a lot depends on the play of whoever is starting opposite Collins. When week 1 arrives, third-year pro Montae Nicholson will most likely be the guy.
"Montae Nicholson will have the first chance to start at free safety, with some switching out at strong [safety]," Matich said. "Nicholson has what you need there. He was a linebacker in college, but he's got the tools to play safety in the NFL. He's tall. He runs a 4.4 forty. He's fluid."
Nicholson was a fourth-round pick in 2017, but quickly made a strong impression as a rookie. But his inability to stay on the field has hindered his development. He started in six of the eight games he played, but suffered two concussions and a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his rookie season. A year ago, Nicholson started the season as the Redskins starting free safety alongside Swearinger, but a midseason trade for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix forced Nicholson into mainly a special teams role. He had some trouble off the field towards the end of the 2018 season, ending his season prematurely.
Clinton-Dix signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Now, the free safety position is Nicholson's to lose in 2019.
"[Nicholson's] progression was hindered because of injury," Matich said. "If he's able to pick up from where he left off a year and a half ago, he should develop into the complemental Landon Collins. Collins, the enforcer, Nicholson, the rangy guy that can reach out and deflect passes against tall tight ends and wide receivers."
With Collins and Nicholson the presumed starters, next in line is second-year speedster Troy Apke. In college, Apke started out at Penn State as a wide receiver before converting to safety; he is still very raw at the position.
In his rookie season a year ago, Apke was primarily used on special teams. With a year under his belt, it'll be interesting to see what kind of contributions he has at the safety position.
"He's very raw at that position, but he has what you can't coach: speed," Matich said. "He runs in the 4.3s, which is what you would expect from a fast corner[back]. Put that at safety, and it extends the range from that position. But because of his lack of experience, it takes time to develop."
Both Apke and Nicholson are raw but have the tools to develop. How much they develop in 2019 will have a great deal to do with how successful the defense is.
"The Redskins safeties have a lot of interesting pieces, it just depends on how they come together," Matich said. "If those young guys can develop, their length and speed on the field, knowing what to do and what to do with it, the Redskins safeties will not just be interesting, but they will contribute to victory."
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