Over the next few weeks, Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ depth chart now that the team’s offseason program has concluded.
Some battles are straightforward. Others could get complicated. This much, however, cannot be debated: A player is not on the 53-man roster until it's finalized Sept. 5.
So who’s in? And who’s in jeopardy? Up today …
Position: Strong safety.
On the roster: Jeron Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, Kyshoen Jarrett, Phillip Thomas and Akeem Davis.
Likely to make the 53: Johnson, Ihenacho and Jarrett.
Comment: Like the competition at right outside linebacker (which we discussed earlier this week here), the battle at strong safety will take center stage when the Redskins report to Richmond next month.
When the Redskins signed Johnson, a former Legion of Boom backup in Seattle, the immediate speculation was that he’d be Brandon Meriweather’s replacement. That’s still a possibility, but he’s going to face more competition for the job than originally anticipated.
During the majority of the offseason practices that were open to reporters, Ihenacho worked ahead of Johnson in 11 on 11 drills. Johnson, though, worked as the starter on June 17—the final day of mandatory minicamp.
Ihenacho, who was sidelined almost all of last season with a foot injury, has the edge in experience, having started 17 games for Denver in 2013 as the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl. Johnson, meanwhile, has just one start on his resume, but he did appear in 46 games as a backup to perennial Pro Bowler Kam Chancellor and was targeted early in free agency by new GM Scot McCloughan. It should also be noted that Johnson was a standout special teamer with the Seahawks and his tenure in Seattle overlapped with McCloughan’s.
Both Johnson and Ihenacho are going to make the roster. And both are versatile enough to see some snaps at free safety, as well. But only one of them will start Week 1 alongside hard-hitting free safety Dashon Goldson.
Battling for a job: Jarrett, Thomas and Davis.
Comment: Assuming Goldson, Johnson and Ihenacho will occupy three of the five safety spots on the 53-man roster, that means the others will find themselves in a tight competition for backup roles later this summer.
They’ll all need to be flexible enough to play both free and strong. And, just as important, they’ll need to be valuable on special teams (like Trenton Robinson and Akeem Davis were last season).
The backups at the end of last season were Robinson, a free safety, Thomas and Davis. Now you’ve got to add to the mix versatile rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, who impressed Coach Jay Gruden this offseason with his tenaciousness on special teams.
“Kyshoen has done an excellent job, man,” Gruden said. “He’s fast. He’s flying around. He’s making his presence known on special teams. I mentioned that the late-round picks are going to have to make their mark on special teams, and Kyshoen has done that.”
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As for Thomas, defensive backs Coach Perry Fewell indicated that he'll need to show continued progress in Richmond after he appeared to do a fair amount of spectating from the sideline this offseason.
“He’s a knowledgeable guy,” Fewell said of the 2013 fourth rounder. “He has ability to break on the ball. He’s a mentally tough guy, because [when] we’re in the classroom and we throw a lot at him, he can regurgitate it. If we can get him to do that on the field, as quickly as he regurgitates it in the classroom, then we’ve got something.”
So, yeah, it's going to be a battle to watch.