As the Lebron James-Kyrie Irving melodrama soaks in the rays of summer's slow sports schedule, it is a good reminder of an indisputable fact: breakups are hard to go through. Armed with that information, the 2016 Washington Redskins secondary were as monogamous as they come. Allowing the worst third down conversion percentage in the league, pass breakups and interceptions were fairly elusive for the beleaguered unit. They remained faithful to the principles of missed tackles and blown coverage until (playoff) death did them part.
Enter counselor and new defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky. Divorcing previous defensive leader Joe Barry's "bend and break" defense of the past few seasons stands to only be an improvement. As last year's outside linebacker coach, Manusky headed an aggressive, albeit flawed unit. Reports from OTAs suggest that his philosophy this season will be rooted in "fundamental soundness" and "attention to detail," which are the type of cliches one might expect to come from an NFL coach. The trick will be convincing Pro Football Focus' 26th-ranked secondary that those creeds are more than throwaway coach-speak and actual, tangible changes that net results.
Any great defensive backfield must possess players who can lay the boom, mix it up with receivers and scratch the surface of greatness. Meet the Redskins' newest disc jockey and free safety, D.J. Swearinger. The former second round pick failed to live up to expectations as a member of the Houston Texans, but excelled as a member of the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. PFF rated the hard-hitter as their top coverage defensive back for Arizona and seventh overall in the league.
Should Swearinger need a breather --and for $6 million this year, he shouldn't -- senior citizen and early bird special candidate, Deangelo Hall, will be there. While certainly a physical liability at this point, he brings a swagger and a ball-hawking quality that is hopefully contagious. Will Blackmon likely makes the team as additional depth and a special teamer. Safeties Deshazor Everett and Fish Smithson are potentially shark bait by final cuts.
Last season's defensive Swiss army knife, Su'a Cravens, is being moved to strong safety permanently and it is long overdue. While possessing the foot speed and instincts to defend receivers in the slot, his ball skills and athleticism have the potential for more impact in Manusky's two-deep safety shells. Behind him on the depth chart awaits rookie, Montae Nicholson. Nicholson is lauded by many as an athletic freak coming out of Michigan State, although so was Devin Thomas and...well...let's move on. Training camp crash test dummies, Earl Wolff and Josh Evans are both very long shots to make the final 53 at the position.
It was all good just three years ago. By the conclusion of the 2014 season, then rookie cornerback, Bashaud Breeland, excited talent-starved Redskins fans that the team's next Darrell Green and Champ Bailey had arrived. By the midseason of 2016, those same fans were counting down the days left on his contract. While picking up his play the second half of the season, Breeland still was one of the biggest disappointments on a side of the ball full of them. He enters the final year of his rookie deal as an entrenched starter at corner, but will need to prove himself again.
UCLA rookie, Fabian Moreau has good size for a cornerback and may be called upon in nickel and dime packages if he can get up to speed. Dashaun Phillips has been in an on again/off again relationship with the roster and will look to stand out. 6'2 rookie corner, Tevin Homer, will look to pick off some Nate Sudfeld passes and make the scout team.
As you may have gathered, the 2016 Washington Redskins secondary was quite poor. If it was an American citizen, it would currently be on the verge of losing its healthcare. However, there is hope. It is vested in the heart and soul of a brash, talented tactician who loves the burgundy and gold, and can't wait to tell you all about it.
Josh Norman, Prince of INTs, is the most talented player in the secondary, and likely, the entire defense. During last season a whopping 20% of all passes in his direction were either broken up or intercepted, leading the league. As one of the top-paid players at his position, Norman lived up to his lofty expectations in 2016 and looks to continue his hyperactive talk and play.
Behind #24 is converted wide receiver and last year's surprise contributor, Quinton Dunbar. Already having the hands, Manusky hopes Dunbar's growth at his new position continues. Second-year man, Kendall Fuller, hopes to have the antidote for the injury bug that curtailed his rookie campaign. He should also see time in nickel packages. Joshua Holsey is an interesting rookie prospect, but he and Louis Young will need the camp of a lifetime in Richmond to make it back signed in Ashburn.
Will anything change in 2017? Well, when it comes to third down stops, it literally cannot get worse. The NFC East features some impressive receivers and signal callers who are not afraid to use them. Copious times during the campaign, the secondary will be forced to make plays and not excuses. Greg Manusky's mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to make the impossible possible. His previous primary concern was the linebackers getting pressure; this season, his secondary concern cannot be the secondary.