Washington overhauled the cornerback portion of its roster this offseason in a series of steps, starting with the release of Josh Norman, saving the team $12.5 million.
Then, a disgruntled Quinton Dunbar was traded, a move that now looks even wiser given his May arrest on robbery charges.
Now the team has to see if the new parts can click.
“We have a lot of guys that have had a lot of success,” coach Ron Rivera said last week. “How are they going to mesh?”
Fuller and Darby have each won Super Bowls, but Washington faces a ton of uncertainty at the position. The team lacks a big name, superstar corner, like the one they hoped Norman would be when it made him the league’s highest-paid corner in 2016. It even is missing the unheralded, better-than-expected corner they had with Dunbar, ranked as one of the league’s best by Pro Football Focus.
But Washington hopes the additions — combined with an overall shift in scheme — will result in a secondary much improved from the one that ranked 24th in defensive DVOA in 2019, a metric that measures efficiency. The defense gave up 27.2 points (27th) and 385.1 total yards (31st) last season.
Part of Washington’s unrest revolves around which players will play which spots. As Rivera molds his team in his image, versatility has been a priority.
Defensive backs coach Chris Harris said figuring out who goes where will come down to reps.
“Right now, we haven’t really seen anyone out there on the field so it is kind of hard to envision,” Harris said.
Harris, 38, understands the expectations put on a Rivera-coached defensive back. After all, he was one. Before transitioning into coaching, Harris played eight seasons in the NFL, two of them under Rivera when the coach was a coordinator for the Chicago Bears. “He was a guy that demanded respect for the room,” he said, adding Rivera has a very personable approach.
As Washington’s competition for playing time begins, there are traits that the coaching staff is looking for when it comes to each spot in the secondary.
Inside cornerbacks must have instincts, a “great feel” for the ball and the man in front of them, Harris said. Outside corners have to be able to get in and out of breaks, play lateral and — perhaps most importantly — get their hands on the receiver.
Harris said an important part of Washington’s scheme will be being physical at the point of attack. Defensive backs can’t initiate contact past five yards, but there are ways to be physical, whether it’s at the line of scrimmage or making a play for the ball.
There are cornerbacks on the roster who fit what the coaching staff wants.
Harris said Moreau, a candidate to start on the outside, has great speed for his size (6 feet). He praised Moreland’s toughness and tackling, saying it stood out on tape. And he called Fuller, Washington’s highest-paid corner, a “tremendous talent.”
“I’m excited,” Harris said. “We’ve got some talent in the secondary. … There’s going to be great competition because we have some really able bodies and some good football players here. It’s just trying to get ready to get back on the field so that we can get that competition going.”
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