For the first two-thirds or so of the Redskins 2018 season, Washington's defense was arguably the strongest unit on the team. But around the same time quarterback Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury, the wheels started to fall off for the defensive unit as well.
In the first game without Smith at QB, the Redskins gave up 31 points in a Thanksgiving day loss to their rival Dallas Cowboys. Then, the following week on Monday Night Football, the Eagles dominated Washington in all three phases, resulting in a 28-13 Philadelphia victory that could have been even more lopsided than the score indicated. The week after, the Redskins hit rock bottom in 2018 as a whole, giving up 40 points to the lowly New York Giants at home.
Things did not go much better from there.
Following a Week 16 loss to the Tennessee Titans, defensive captain D.J. Swearinger was released, marking the first real change for the secondary heading into 2019. Torrian Gray, who served as the Redskins' secondary coach since 2017, was not retained following the 2018 season. Washington let safety HaHa Clinton-Dix walk in free agency, choosing to splurge on former New York Giants' safety Landon Collins with a six-year, $84 million deal.
Between the departures of Swearinger, Gray, and Clinton-Dix and the arrivals of Collins and new defensive backs coach Ray Horton, there has been a lot of turnover in the secondary. But one consistent piece to the unit has been cornerback Josh Norman.
Norman is entering his fourth season with the team, and is the longest-tenured Redskins player in the secondary besides Quinton Dunbar. On the latest Redskins Talk podcast, Norman spoke with NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay, where he had nothing but positive thoughts to share about the new additions to the unit, specifically Collins and Horton. You can listen to the podcast here.
Speaking with Finlay, Norman expressed how communication has been much better during training camp this year compared to years in the past.
"We have a crew this year where we are all on the same page, it has a great feel," Norman said. "We say it every training camp, but when you look at it, something is fresh about it. Guys are on the same page and having fun with each other."
For any good defense, communication is one of the most important characteristics. Another one is trust. Norman emphasized that he has that trust in the whole defensive unit. He specifically singled out defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, as well as a couple of free agent signings who are entering their first season with the Burgundy and Gold.
"There are guys I can trust like Jonathan Allen and [Jon] Bostic who came in off of free agency, and then guys like Landon Collins came in," Norman said. "So when you get that, you trust those guys since they played this game. They know what it's like. You lean on each other; I'm very excited for what's coming."
As high as Norman's praise was for guys like Collins and Allen, Norman specifically applauded the impact new secondary coach Ray Horton has had.
"There is no substitution for experience," Norman said on Horton. "He's been there before. I look at him cause he played the game and has already coached it."
Horton had a successful NFL career in his own right, playing 10 professional seasons in total, spending time with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. But he's also been coaching for just about 25 years and has plenty of experience both as a player and a coach to really improve the Redskins' secondary.
"So many people have rated him highly, I just want to soak it all up," Norman said. "I trust in him to give me those tools to understand that I have the ability to be all-world if I choose to. When you have a guy that pushes you in that space, you can only go high."
Norman was not done praising both Collins and Horton, saying it was a thrill to fill the room with people that want to be there and have "that love and passion for the game."
"This is the first time I can say we are all together and having fun," Norman said. "Landon [Collins] and Ray Horton have been great additions."
For a secondary unit that has experienced so much turnover in such a short amount of time, Norman seems thrilled about the changes.
The eight-year pro is not just excited about the changes on the back end, however. Norman specifically pointed out the impact newly hired linebackers coach Rob Ryan has brought to the Redskins defense.
"I didn't know much about Rob Ryan until I got here, but he has the linebackers hitting hard," Norman said. "That's intensity and will flourish through the entire defense. I have chill bumps thinking about that."
For a unit that head coach Jay Gruden has publicly said will be relied on a bunch in order to win games, Norman seems thrilled about the potential of the group in 2019.
"I am genuinely excited for what we have," Norman said.
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