The Washington Redskins were a franchise with a plan to get better on the defensive side of the ball when the 2017 offseason began. Fast-forward just a few months later and it’s very obvious that the Redskins were committed to their main plan by the moves they made along the way. Much has been written about the Redskins defensive line, linebacker, and safety improvements over the last few weeks but today it’s time to take a closer look at the Washington Redskins options at cornerback in 2017.
The Redskins found themselves in serious need of depth in their secondary last year down the stretch. With Bashaud Breeland having an off year, and Kendall Fuller still learning the system, Washington should be extremely thankful for having Josh Norman, and to a certain extent, Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar is still learning the position now going into his third year but played well in sub-package rotation, and also started two games last season. Norman was the vocal and performance leader of the secondary despite dropping a league-high six interceptions, while only hauling in one less interception than he recorded in Carolina during the 2015 season.
While Norman didn’t make the All-Pro team, much of his “down” year can be attested to a number of things, including weaknesses behind him at the safety position and a high amount of top-tier receivers on the schedule to defend. A cornerback can only cover so much ground and must be able to depend on others to pick up players in certain situations once they get behind them. The Redskins improved the safety position this offseason, meaning the cornerbacks should expect more help in coverage in 2017.
Josh Norman will reportedly shadow WRs in 2017. Since 2012 he has allowed one of the fewest yards per coverage snap averages in the NFL pic.twitter.com/VCtJGww7sb— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 5, 2017
The story heading into camp this year at the cornerback position is, just how far has Kendall Fuller progressed since last season? Many wonder if Fuller will be the slot cornerback in 2017, or perhaps he might play the outside spot opposite Norman? No one knows yet and the depth chart heading into the season may depend on how well Breeland does. Depth chart aside, with the NFL being a sub-package league now it’s possible to see the Redskins use several different combinations with Breeland, Fuller, and perhaps others playing at the slot position, while Norman and Dunbar or Breeland play on the outside. It should be interesting to see how the team handles things and who steps up at the position during training camp. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden addressed his thoughts on Fuller heading into 2017 at minicamp a couple weeks back.
“I think his confidence in his body, number one, said Gruden. “Just talking to him yesterday or today, I think he feels a lot better with where he is physically and that’s important obviously for a DB. We probably pushed him a little bit too hard. He felt good, but I don’t think he was really quite his 100 percent self. He was good enough to play, he’s a tough guy, he’ll fight through anything, but I think this year he feels like the strength is back. He’s got a little bit more speed and quickness and I think you’ll see a better player.”
Behind those guys on the depth chart will be Dashaun Phillips, Lou Young, and rookies Fabian Moreau, Tevin Homer, and Joshua Holsey. Moreau and Holsey will make runs at the 53-man roster but Homer will likely be heading to the practice squad once Washington makes it’s final cuts this year barring any injuries or surprises.
If the Redskins expect to improve their defense in 2017 they will have to be able to depend on this cornerback group to be able to keep opposing receivers somewhat in check, at least as much as the rules will allow them. This year’s unit will be headed by new secondary coach Torrian Gray, who coached Fuller and former Redskins safety Kyshoen Jarrett while at Virginia Tech. Washington is expecting big things from Gray, most of his former players say he’s a hands-on type of guy who demands 100 percent from his players. Gruden recently spoke about Gray’s emphasis on preaching fundamentals to his players every day.
“That’s been his M.O. as far as the research that I did on him talking to players that have played for him and guys he’s worked with, he’s a fundamentally sound guy. No disrespect to the coaches we had, they were more of the big-picture-type coaches and they’re good coaches, but Torrian is more of a hands-on, fundamental, technique guy and I think that’s something we really needed to work on. There’s a lot of new coverage’s we have to talk about and where’s your new number two, who’s got number three, all that stuff, where you’re drop is, what are you looking at, and all of that stuff, but at the end of the day, so much technique with the defensive backs is very, very important and I think we can never over-teach that. Torrian is one of the better teachers that I at least interviewed and talked to.”
[Featured Image by Larry French/Getty Images]