In Chris Thompson, Redskins have a punt returner. They hope a star safety and kicker too

Jason Reid
Columnist August 29, 2013

Three preseason games were all the Washington Redskins needed to answer most of their roster questions. In their fourth and final tuneup, they learned what they needed to know about safety Brandon Meriweather.

The veteran starter made his only preseason appearance Thursday night in a 30-12 victory over the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Redskins were cautious with Meriweather, bringing him along slowly in training camp and the preseason after he underwent knee surgery last season and missed all but one game.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Just having Meriweather in a game was encouraging for the Redskins, who are counting on him to provide big plays and leadership in their new-look secondary.

Meriweather had to get started again at some point, and even a little work in the preseason is better than none.

Cornerback Richard Crawford’s season-ending knee injury last week was a blow to the secondary and special teams. The Redskins entered Thursday’s game looking for a punt returner to replace Crawford, and rookie running back Chris Thompson made a here-I-am play. Thompson likely locked up a roster spot with a dazzling 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. Thompson’s speed could provide a shot in the arm for the return game.

The Redskins have been set at place kicker from the moment they signed Kai Forbath. In case anyone had forgotten, Forbath is very good. That was clear again throughout Forbath’s perfect preseason.

Meriweather waited weeks for the preseason playing time he finally got at Raymond James Stadium. It seems he did enough to shake off a little rust and remain on track to start in Week 1. For many reasons, Meriweather is extremely important to the defense.

Fingers crossed

Coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett didn’t need to see much from Meriweather.

And that’s good, because Meriweather didn’t produce anything statistically while playing the whole first half.

Meriweather backpedaled, cut and accelerated with ease. For the Redskins, those were good signs.

Entering his seventh season, Meriweather is — by far — the Redskins’ most talented veteran safety. Meriweather’s coverage skills (he was a cornerback in college) will enable Haslett to isolate him against receivers in some alignments, freeing other defensive backs to help elsewhere in coverage or rush the passer.

Longtime Redskins safety Reed Doughty is technically sound and a tireless worker. He’s a standout on special teams and is fine in a limited role on defense.

Doughty, though, isn’t the type of player who’s capable of energizing the entire team with a highlight-tape play. Before Meriweather suffered his knee injury, he was a highlight-tape guy at times.

Shanahan and Haslett are high on both rookie safety Bacarri Rambo and rookie cornerback David Amerson, who had an interception on Thursday night. Rambo has been a starter at one safety spot since training camp began and Amerson has a key role as well. They still need guidance, though, and Meriweather could help a lot in that area.

Also, with talented rookie safety Phillip Thomas sidelined for the season because of a foot injury, the Redskins would face depth problems if Meriweather were slowed during the season because of his reconstructed knee. Potentially, there’s a whole lot riding on it.

Well timed

Thompson hadn’t exactly impressed during the preseason. He had fumbling problems and was way down on the depth chart at running back. It appeared Thompson was headed to the practice squad or to another team.

But then Crawford badly damaged his knee on a punt return against Buffalo and the Redskins suddenly had a big hole in their return game. At first glance, Thompson isn’t the ideal candidate to replace Crawford.

First and foremost, returners must be sure-handed. Like all football coaches, Shanahan won’t tolerate turnovers in the return game. When returners give away the football, it often ruins the work of the offense and defense.

Of course, coaches are always seeking speedy players, and Thompson is fast. That was evident in the first quarter after he fielded a punt at the Washington 31-yard line, juked a few would-be tacklers, cut outside and sprinted along the right sideline as teammates cheered for him. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was the first player who greeted Thompson in the end zone.

Thompson will have to continue to work on ball security. He can’t afford to have a setback in that area during the regular season — when he’ll be returning punts for Washington.

A real kick

Forbath connected on 17 of 18 field goals for the Redskins last season. He drilled a 50-yarder and also made 33 of 34 point-after attempts. And he could be even better this season.

Against the Buccaneers, Forbath went 3 for 3 on field goals, including a 47-yarder. He made all seven of his attempts in the preseason and had a 53-yarder against the Bills.

The best news for the Redskins, however, is that Forbath’s kickoffs were better. The work Forbath did in the offseason to improve his distance seems to have paid off. If Forbath keeps it up, he’ll be one of the league’s best all-around place kickers.

The takeaway

The dress rehearsals are done. The Redskins will put the finishing touches on the roster this weekend and focus on opening the season Sept. 9 against Philadelphia at FedEx Field. Play time is over. It’s time for the return of Robert Griffin III.

For more by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.

redskins 30, buccaneers 12

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