This is the first installment of my evaluation of the 2011-12 Washington Redskins. Every day over the next week+, I'll be evaluating the Redskins in groups. Players, phases, and coaches will all be evaluated.
First up: Secondary.
Secondary was thought to have been a strength coming into this season. The addition of solid Pro Bowl FS Oshiomogho Atogwe was thought to be the key to actually playing safety, as Kareem Moore struggled most of last season to make plays. DeAngelo Hall would have spent another year in this scheme and was hoping to make huge strides. Josh Wilson was replacing Carlos Rogers, and was looking to bring the ability to come up with the football with him. And star safety LaRon Landry was hoping to return from his achilles injury that ended his 2010 campaign.
DeAngelo Hall: Hall really struggled this year, in every sense of the word. He was voted a team captain - he committed stupid penalties. He called this HIS defense, he was targeted even more in critical moments. He improved in run defense, he regressed in run defense. He plays hard... he doesn't play so hard. Hall had 6 INT's a season ago (4 of which came in one game against the Chicago Bears) and wanted to topple that this year with an improved pass-rush and better players for the system. Hall finished the season starting all 16 games, registering 90 tackles (2nd best in his career), 17 passes defensed (career best), 3 INT's, 1 FF, and 0 TD's. The $45M man even admitted he would have cut himself this year, and while Hall did have some pretty good stats, he still didn't do enough to prove he's the #1 corner. One would hope that Hall has a fiery-passion stoked by this year, others hope he's gone completely and replaced. I'm apart of the former.
Josh Wilson: Wilson found himself injured a couple times this year, but started all 16 games. It took Wilson some time to admittedly get comfortable in this scheme and used to playing in this defense. There were times early on when he looked really good, contributing to his career best 15 passes defensed, and times like Santonio Holmes' touchdown catch when he bit on a pump fake the entire crowd called out before the snap. Wilson's brightest moment may have been when he ended Tom Brady's redzone streak of not throwing a TD when he came up with a brilliant INT in the back of the endzone, or his spectacular catch the following week when he picked off Eli Manning, also in the endzone. It showed that Wilson got more comfortable, and he started looking like a true playmaker in this defense.
Grade: C+ (boosted by his play late in the year and his toughness)
Kevin Barnes: This was expected to be a big year for Barnes. Last season, he didn't see a lot of playing time in the Nickel behind Buchanon, filled in at times when Rogers was injured, and then was moved to Safety when both Moore & Landry were shut down (a position he seemed to have some comfort in). There was a lot of talk of Barnes blitzing this year which we saw early on, but when the offense sputtered and couldn't threaten opposing teams, Haslett was forced to keep Barnes in coverage, and he struggled often. He's a very aware player though, and came up with 2 solid INT's on the year. When he did blitz, he applied a lot of pressure, although he didn't register a sack. Late in the year, Haslett played Barnes less, either getting a feel for Byron Westbrook, or admitting Barnes wasn't yet ready to play in coverage still.
Byron Westbrook: Westbrook played in only 15 games this year, but played a lot outside at times when Josh Wilson was being looked at by trainers on the sideline. Byron did a lot of good things this year, playing very solid in coverage. One of the things I most liked about Byron's play was his concentration and trusting his physical ability to keep him from getting beat, he seemed to play the most confident out of this entire group. He's also a very sure tackler... not a lot of ticks in that column, but all of 'em were plays he made when he had to make them. The highlight of his year though was his forced fumble of Arizona Cardinals WR Chansi Stuckey under 2 minutes to secure the win for the Redskins.
Oshiomogho Atogwe: Atogwe had a very up & down year as well, struggling to stay healthy. He played through injury, but coaches could see his injury was apparent and decided to shut him down at times. Even being injured, Atogwe was able to make some big-time plays this year, with a couple of goal-line interceptions on the season. He also had one of the most remarkable INT's of the year as he duplicated Troy Polamalu's 1-handed diving grab, against Eli Manning and the Giants. He definitely didn't duplicate what he was doing as a Ram, but you'd have to believe an entire season under his belt, an offseason, and being healthy, would really give Atogwe a boost in his performance which started to look better towards the end of the season.
LaRon Landry: This was a very disappointing year for Dirty 30, whose 2010 season was shut down with a torn achilles. He opted not to have surgery, and he was estimated to return for the opener, which was delayed when he injured his groin, or hamstring, or something, in the preseason. Landry finally returned to play the Cowboys in prime-time, and looked like he was going to be the same force from before. But as the weeks progressed, Landry missed more and more time to other various injuries and was eventually shut down when his groin wouldn't heal and his achilles admittedly wasn't anywhere near 100%. Coaches hope Landry goes through with surgery, but 30 wants nothing to do with the knife. Time will tell if he goes in and has the procedure, but one has to wonder if he has disappointed this coaching staff in his contract year.
Reed Doughty: For all the life of me, I still can't understand why Reed is on this team. I know he's by far one of the smartest players on the team, if not the league, and I'm sure he's a great guy and teammate, but this is a sport where sometimes, smarts just aren't enough. Reed is so limited by his physical ability that you constantly have to wonder how on Earth anyone ever gave him the chance to prove he was intelligent after they saw how much he lacked physically. If he's in position, he can't jump high enough. If he's a step out, he's not fast enough to cover ground. I maintain that I'd love to have him as an assistant on the coaching staff... but as a player on the field, I find myself disappointed in his play far too often. Never a lack in effort, simply a lack in ability. If I could put his brain and heart in the body of every player on the defense, I'm sure we'd have a bunch of Pro Bowlers, but the fact is, he is limited. Also can't count how many times I saw him take bad angles against the run, especially on the goal line.
DeJon Gomes: The rookie out of Nebraska came in this year and played very solid. They blitzed him a lot which didn't yield sacks, but it did a couple times provide an edge to Kerrigan who capitalized. Gomes best play, to me, wasn't even a positive play for the Redskins, we gave up a touchdown to Tom Brady and Gronkowski, but I saw something on that play that stood out to me miles above Gronkowski setting the TE record for touchdowns. Gomes, who was far outmatched by Gronkowski in height & weight, was able to jam the TE but keep the inside position in man coverage. Gomes went up with Gronkowski in the endzone, but the height advantage went to Gronk. But Gomes' tight coverage on the play was a marvel when you've been watching the cushion coverage and flopping being done by corners like DeAngelo here in Washington. Gomes did do something wrong on that play, and that was mistime his jump or pull off the old veteran elbow to the gut, but far "better" players got abused by Gronkowski this year, so I can't be mad my rookie safety with perfect coverage got beat out by height. Gomes is going to be a very good player in this league.
Now, my grade of the entire secondary as a unit? C-; they did some very good things this year, they didn't give up as many big plays as last year, and didn't give up that many scores. They stepped up in run support, and they did give some receivers fits. However, Hakeem Nicks did drop a 60-yard bomb which was a sure touchdown, and DeAngelo Hall did watch as Gronkowski barreled upfield for another 40 yards after a catch and shred of 2 tackles, and Josh Wilson did get faked out at times, and the safety play simply was not up to par behind Gomes who didn't see excessive time anyways. There's a lot that will improve with health and growth for the younger/newer guys in this system, and there will be upgrades. It also won't hurt if the offense can build a lead so pressure up front can help us repeat what we did to Eli & the Giants the 2nd time around.
Next up: Linebackers