Over the next few weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2015, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2016. Today, we’re taking a look at the safeties.
2015 starters: Dashon Goldson and Duke Ihenacho in Week 1; by the end of the season, Goldson and corner-turned-safety DeAngelo Hall were the starters.
Backups: Kyshoen Jarrett and Jeron Johnson.
Free agents: Ihenacho (restricted).
Rewind: The season got off to an ominous start for the Redskins’ safeties. Ihenacho, who had held off Johnson in training camp to earn the starting strong safety job, suffered a dislocated and fractured wrist early in the season-opener.
As a result, Ihenacho was lost for the season—again. In 2014, a heel injury sent him to injured reserve after only three games.
The safety position was pretty much a scramble from that point on.
Trenton Robinson started seven games in Ihenacho’s place. But he struggled with missed tackles, got hurt and was waived in December. Jarrett started three games, while Johnson also got a short-lived crack at the starting lineup.
The only safety to enjoy a steady role was Goldson, who started 15 regular season games and, despite resting in Week 17, led all Redskins' defenders in snaps played (995). Goldson, who turns 32 in September, also led the team in tackles (110) and proved to be an invaluable leader on the field and in the locker room. But he also missed 19 tackles, the second highest total among safeties, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Hall, meantime, began the season as the starting left corner but finished his 12th NFL campaign as a starting safety. D-Hall proved to be a quick study, surprised coaches with his physicality and, overall, performed solidly down the stretch.
In the final analysis, safety was not a position of strength for the Redskins’ defense. But given the injuries that besieged the backend all year, Goldson and Co. proved to be enough—just enough.
Fast forward: This is obviously a position the Redskins will want to bolster this offseason.
Goldson carries an $8 million cap hit in 2016. That might be a deal-breaker for the Redskins, who liked what he brought to the defense and to the locker room but will likely balk at his current cost. Will he take less to stick around? That remains to be seen.
Hall, meantime, seems to have the best chance of being one of the two starting safeties in Week 1. In fact, both Coach Jay Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan have said they’re confident he possesses the savvy and the skill set to thrive at safety.
Where does that leave the others? Good question.
Ihenacho has vowed to win back his starting job and, given that he’s an RFA and just 26, he might get that chance. The concern, obviously, is that he’s played a grand total of 13 snaps the past two seasons. Jarrett played all over the place as a rookie but figures to be in the mix, as well. And you can’t totally count out Johnson, though he made a bigger impact on special teams (seven tackles and a blocked punt) last season.
Given all the question marks and the age of Goldson and Hall, it’ll be surprising if McCloughan stands pat. I actually expect him to target a young free agent (like 25-year-old George Iloka of the Bengals) and perhaps seek an eventual starter in the draft.
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