Redskins feel better with LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe in the backfield

August 15, 2011

Instead of helmets, they each wear sun visors. LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe, both talented and both injured, stand about 25 yards behind the Washington Redskins’ defense. As other players go through 11-on-11 drills, the two safeties could only mimic the movements of their teammates from far away.

Atogwe calls out coverages, and Landry stalks the defensive backfield like a jungle cat, looking as intense as on any game day. It’s not as good as actually practicing and running with their teammates, but it's all Landry and Atogwe have been able to do for much of training camp.

While Landry has been building up strength in his injured Achilles’ tendon and Atogwe has allowed a sore hamstring to heal, the Redskins have yet to get a good look at their top two safeties playing together. Neither was dressed for last Friday’s preseason opener and their practice participation has been mostly limited to mental repetitions and mimicking the moves of teammates.

The Redskins hope that will soon change. While Atogwe’s status is day-to-day — he hasn’t practiced since Aug. 6 — Landry is expected to come off the physically unable to perform list Wednesday and could be fully practicing this weekend.

“Like I’ve been saying. . . I was looking forward to getting it stronger, and seeing how it reacts,” Landry said. “Well, it’s getting stronger and it’s actually responding quite well.”

Coaches hope that accelerates the relationship-building between Landry and the newly acquired Atogwe. They are considered potential Pro Bowlers, but the two must learn each other’s quirks, rhythms and tendencies. Perhaps no two positions on the defensive side of the ball are as closely tied as the strong and free safety.

“They have to be on the exact same page,” said safeties coach Steven Jackson. “If they're not, when safeties mess up, that equals touchdowns because there’s nobody behind them but the referee.”

And that's why Landry and Atogwe have been more active than other injured players during training camp, which formally concludes Tuesday at Redskins Park. They study receivers, watch the quarterback, spot the man in motion and call out play-action fakes.

“A lot of playing with somebody is just communicating,” Atogwe said. “In any relationship, the more you talk, the more you get the know them, the more you have conversations about what you're seeing. That's what is really going to develop the relationship.”

During team drills, they’re always deep in the secondary; rarely sitting idle on the sideline. As the quarterback approaches the line, Atogwe and Landry start chattering, swapping sides, moving into position and shadowing the play from afar.

“It's that rapport — Do you see what I see? Am I seeing what you're seeing? Are we communicating on the same page? — that's really going to strengthen the bond,” said Atogwe, who spent his first six seasons in the NFL in St. Louis.

“In this situation, it's the best that you can do: take your mental reps in practice, take more reps when you're watching the film,” he continued. “It's a value because you're still putting your mind in a position to react to what you see. Maybe physically you can't do it, but mentally you're still preparing yourself to play the game.”

Both players can hardly afford to miss much more practice time. Not only do they have to get to know each other, but they're still growing accustomed to their own specific roles. Landry missed the final seven games of last season with the Achilles’ injury, and Atogwe is still learning the Redskins’ defense.

While he played three seasons in St. Louis under Jim Haslett, now Washington's defensive coordinator, and has a grasp of the different coverage schemes, Atogwe is trying to get a handle on the Redskins’ terminology and understanding his new teammates.

“I'm still learning my role,” he said. “I haven't spent too much time with the guys now, haven’t really had a chance to go out and play with them yet. I'm still adapting to that and growing into it. But I'll pick it up.”

Landry, who elected to have platelet enrichment treatments rather than offseason surgery on the Achilles’ tendon, has sat out all training camp. The lockout not only prevented him from rehabilitating his Achilles’ tendon with the team’s trainers, it also meant he and Atogwe didn't start working with each other until recently.

“We’re just developing that bond, that trust,” Landry said, “It would’ve been great to get together during [organized team activities] and all that, but we couldn’t. I still feel like we’re going to do real well together.”

Landry shined last year moving over to strong safety and was among the league’s top defensive players prior to his injury. And Atogwe recorded 22 interceptions in six seasons with the Rams, including eight interceptions playing for Haslett in 2007. The two are athletic enough to mix up responsibilities and keep quarterbacks guessing.

“We can be interchangeable,” Landry said. “He’s kinda strong, so he can play in the box. And I’m kinda rangy, so I can play the middle of the field, or vice versa. It’s nothing that we can’t do — together. That’s my belief.”

The first step is lining up beside each other during practice. They each could be going through walk-throughs with the starters this week, practicing in pads this weekend and both could see game action for the first time next week at Baltimore. The partnership is coming together a couple of weeks later than coaches had hoped, but they feel Landry and Atogwe still have time to jell into one of the top safety tandems in the league.

“I'm not concerned about it at all,” Jackson said. “They’re both professionals. They’re two of the top guys in the league. I don't think it'll be a big problem.”

Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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