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Montae Nicholson and Troy Apke's development will determine success of Redskins' safeties in 2019

Montae Nicholson and Troy Apke's development will determine success of Redskins' safeties in 2019

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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Ron Rivera describes situation with Trent Williams as 'fluid,' has no update on guard Brandon Scherff

Ron Rivera describes situation with Trent Williams as 'fluid,' has no update on guard Brandon Scherff

Redskins head coach Ron Rivera was asked a plethora of questions when he addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, such as what impressed him about quarterback Dwayne Haskins and what players the team will consider with the No. 2 pick.

While Rivera talked in detail about meeting with top quarterback prospects and what his view on free agency is, the head coach did not offer much insight about two offensive linemen: Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff.

Rivera confirmed recent reports that he had spoken with Williams, the team's cornerstone left tackle, but would not go much further than that.

"Trent Williams and I have talked. We had a good conversation," Rivera said. "Again, that's a work in progress and we'll see how things unfold. It's a fluid situation."

Williams, of course, did not play a snap for the Redskins in 2019, holding out after believing Redskins doctors misdiagnosed a cancerous growth on his head for nearly six years. But after the organization had practically a complete reboot this offseason, firing longtime team president Bruce Allen and athletic trainer Larry Hess.

Rivera stated he has a plan to get Williams to return. A report last week stated No. 71 will return to the Redskins because of Rivera. But thus far, nothing has amounted.

"I think where it is, we're still working through details," Rivera said. "We're in a good place. We had a good conversation and we're going to go from that."

The head coach was also asked questions about right guard Brandon Scherff, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Scherff reportedly turned down a hefty extension last year that would have paid him upwards of $13 million annually, but did tell NBC Sports Washington last October he wants to remain in Washington for the entirety of his career.

Rivera was asked about his plan with Scherff and whether the franchise tag was a potential option. The head coach gave a vague response while avoiding answering the question directly.

"Well, the biggest thing again, is that we like our guys," Rivera said. "We like our guys that are free agents. We want to try to bring those guys back, we'll see how things go."

The head coach's answer did not sound like he's confident the Redskins will be able to retain the three-time Pro Bowler.

"You have to look at everything," Rivera said. "What happens if they don't come back? It's a pretty fair free agency, but you never know, because guys are trying to re-sign their own players."

The Redskins have until March 12 to place the franchise tag on Scherff, should they decide to go that route. Until then, the two sides are expected to continue to work on reaching a long-term deal.

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Pass catchers take on the Combine Thursday, so here are 4 reasonable targets for the Redskins

Pass catchers take on the Combine Thursday, so here are 4 reasonable targets for the Redskins

Thursday at the NFL Combine is when the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends work out for pro scouts in Indy.

So, Pete Hailey and Ethan Cadeaux came up with a list of four pass catchers that could be options for the Redskins on late Friday or early Saturday of the 2020 NFL Draft. Those later selections will likely be where Washington nabs more targets, since they don't have a second-rounder and almost surely won't use their top pick on one.

Hailey found two wideouts, while Cadeaux identified two tight ends. Here's their list.

Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame

In Terry McLaurin, the Redskins already have a guy who can get by DBs with his wiggle. Claypool, meanwhile, would be more of a bully, wreaking havoc on jump balls and shoving smaller corners aside for key grabs.

As a senior for the Irish, Claypool went over 1,000 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He's also a capable blocker, bringing a toughness that Ron Rivera would no doubt like on the edge.

Claypool may be too much of a riser for the Redskins once draft season wraps up, but if he's there for them on Day 2, he'll be hard to ignore. Dwayne Haskins would surely approve of his arrival.

Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC

Like Claypool, Pittman Jr. will rely more on his physicality than his speed to stand out in the NFL. The former Trojan is coming off a senior year where he tallied 101 catches for 1,275 yards  and 11 six-pointers. That's a nasty stat line.

The son of a longtime pro running back, Pittman Jr. clearly learned a thing or two from his pops about getting defenders off of him. Some franchises may overlook him because he doesn't have top-line burst, but he's another prospect who could fit nicely alongside McLaurin. 

Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington

Bryant is a perfect "move" tight end for today's modern NFL.

A junior from the University of Washington, Bryant thrived in his first full season as a starter. With Georgia transfer quarterback Jacob Eason at the helm, Bryant recorded 52 receptions for more than 800 yards and three touchdowns.

Bryant has an expanded route tree and thrives over the middle. He has a quick first step and the speed to break away from linebackers, similar to former Redskins tight end Jordan Reed.

The Redskins scooped Reed in the third round of the 2013 draft, and if Bryant is still on the board by the time the Redskins pick at No. 66, he would certainly be a worthwhile selection.

Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt

Pinkney saw his production decline his senior season, but he was one of the most dangerous at the position in 2018 when he caught 50 passes for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

At 6-foot-4, 250 lbs., Pinkey has a solid frame and solid hands. While he's not necessarily a matchup problem with his agility in the passing game, he's willing to make contested catches between the numbers.

No, Pinkney doesn't have the quickness Bryant does. The trade-off, though, is that he's a strong blocker and not afraid to put his hand in the dirt. He will likely be available when the Redskins select at the beginning of the third round, and he could stick around as an early Day 3 target as well.