The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.
This is a different kind of competition. It seems that both starters are set with D.J. Swearinger at free safety and Su’a Cravens at strong. The issue is, neither one of the safeties has played his position full time in the NFL. Swearinger was a strong safety for the first three years of his NFL career before playing some free in certain situations with the Cardinals last year. Cravens was a nickel linebacker as a rookie in 2016.
The depth behind the starters will be critical. There may have to be a lot of situational substitution if Swearinger and Cravens struggle in their new roles. At free safety, veterans DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon both return. Blackmon started six games at free last year while Hall, the starter going into the season, went out after three games with a torn ACL. Josh Evans, who was on the roster for a few games last year but didn’t play a defensive snap, started 36 games at free and strong safety for the Jaguars. Fourth-round rookie Montae Nicholson could be of some help here but it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to contribute much in 2017.
There aren’t as many options at strong safety. As noted, Evans is versatile as is Swearinger. Deshazor Everett appeared to be on the verge of earning some significant playing time last year but he ended up with just 40 snaps.
And the winner is . . .
Tandler: If you gave truth serum to Greg Manusky and defensive backs coach Torian Gray, both probably would tell you that they have major concerns here. It’s one thing to project that a player can handle a position switch or a major change in responsibilities. But you don’t know how it will work out until the games start.
I think that the uncertainty here helps veterans Hall and Blackmon. Although Hall had just converted to safety after a long career at cornerback he can handle free safety. Blackmon was solid during his starts at safety and his ability to fill in at any cornerback spot is a huge plus.
They kept five safeties last year so who gets the last slot? Everett is very valuable on special teams but Evans’ experience may give him an edge.
Finlay: Like Tandler said, the plan is for Swearinger and Cravens to be the starting safeties. Hall will need to rework his deal, he's due more than $4 million this season and has been hurt more than he's played in the last two years. Former GM Scot McCloughan used to describe Blackmon as a "Swiss Army knife" and his versatily will earn him a roster spot in the last year of his contract.
Everett has far more upside than Evans, and last season Everett forced his way onto the Redskins roster and played in all 16 games. Remember, too, that Everett will have a new DBs coach and a new D-coordinator. That could mean new opportunities for the hard-hitter. The wildcard in this roster battle will be the rookie Nicholson. He has good size and speed for the NFL, but questionable tackling ability. His injury could land him on the PUP list, which would give the Redskins some roster flexibility early in the 2017 season. Eventually, though, the 'Skins will have more safeties than roster spots, assuming no major injuries.
Cravens and Swearinger are roster locks. That much is certain. After that, there will be a lot to watch in Richmond at the safety spot.