With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the 2015 season.
Who starts at strong safety?
The Redskins said goodbye to starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather this past offseason. It certainly was time to move on from Meriweather, who was prone to missing games due to injuries and suspensions. But his departure left the Redskins without a proven strong safety to put in the starting lineup this year. Who will fill the void?
Tandler: The Redskins thought they had a succession plan working here in the form of 2013 fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas. But in a late-season audition he didn’t show enough in four starts to inspire confidence that he could be entrusted with the starting job. So the Redskins brought back Duke Ihenacho, who was picked up from the Broncos just before the start of last season but spent most of the year on injured reserve. They also signed Jeron Johnson, who backed up Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in Seattle. The two shared the first-team snaps at strong safety during OTAs and minicamp and it appears to be an even competition going into training camp in Richmond next month. Ihenacho has the edge in experience, with 17 starts for in 2013 Broncos on his resume including the playoffs and Super Bowl. Johnson has all of one start in his four NFL seasons. We’ll know more when they put the pads on in training camp but right now it looks close. I’ll give the edge to Johnson right now only because I think him starting was their original plan. But Ihenacho could force them to reconsider.
El-Bashir: I agree that the competition between Johnson and Ihenacho appeared too close to call after OTAs and minicamp. It’s not exactly clear how they divvied up snaps during the offseason because the majority of practices were closed to reporters. But we do know that Ihenacho worked ahead of Johnson in four of the five sessions that were open to the media. The only exception? The final practice before the team embarked on its five-week break between minicamp and training camp. In that practice, Johnson worked with the first team defense. Was that a hint of things to come? Or just another day in a rotation? Whichever it was, we’ll have a much better idea on July 30th during the first session of 11-on-11 drills in Richmond. Things will be subject to change as camp plays out, of course, but the player who gets the first team snaps on Day 1 of training camp is probably in the catbird seat. However this competition shakes out, we already know a couple of things for certain: 1) both Johnson and Ihenacho entered the NFL as undrafted players, so they are used to battling; and 2) a good, tight competition for a starting job has never hurt anyone. “It’s definitely all love between us,” Ihenacho said. “But we’re still competitors and we still understand that somebody has to get the job.” In the end, I think both players will see the field a lot in 2015, but put me down for Ihenacho as the starter Week 1.