Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that tackle Tom Compton, a sixth-round draft pick assigned to the practice squad, played for the University of North Dakota. He played for the University of South Dakota. This version has been corrected.
A day after he learned that his team would be without safety Tanard Jackson for at least a year because of a substance abuse violation, a disappointed Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he still values Jackson as a person.
Shanahan and the Redskins signed Jackson, a fifth-year pro with a history of substance abuse violations, in April after he was released by Tampa Bay. Shanahan said at the time that he believed Jackson was deserving of a second chance. (His most recent violation was his third since 2009.) Jackson was competing for a key role in the defense and was expected to eventually wind up as the starting free safety.
Shanahan didn’t go into the specifics of Jackson’s most recent failed drug test, but he said the team learned of the indefinite suspension by the NFL on Friday. Jackson had missed last Monday’s practice for what Shanahan called “personal reasons,” but the coach on Saturday said that the absence was related to Jackson’s appeal, which the league rejected.
“I was disappointed because I really like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I like who he is. I like the way he worked. The guy’s never been arrested in his life. I’m just really disappointed for him. He’s out for a year. Obviously, he’s made some mistakes, but I’m just disappointed for the guy. . . . He’s a good football player, a great guy. He’s made a couple mistakes, but you know, I just like what he stood for.”
Meanwhile, as he assessed his newly finalized roster from top to bottom, Shanahan had a sense of optimism about the collection of players assembled.
The team cut 23 players Friday to bring the roster total to 52 — meeting the league’s 9 p.m. deadline for 53 players. Then on Saturday, the Redskins claimed cornerback Crezdon Butler off waivers to finalize their roster.
Shanahan has almost entirely reshaped the roster since taking over the Redskins in January 2010. Only 17 members of the 2012 53-man roster were a part of the team when Shanahan opened his first season. And only 10 of the current Redskins were on the team in 2009 — the year before Shanahan was hired.
When he looks at the 2012 roster in comparison to the 2010 roster, Shanahan sees a team that’s more talented, much deeper, more athletic and more closely resembling the vision he has.
“I feel really good about our football team,” Shanahan said on Saturday. “It’s changed, obviously, completely. And you’ve got guys who fit your system. You’ve got guys that you’re hoping will all step up and play extremely well. I like the attitude going in. I like the competition, and hopefully we play accordingly.”
Shanahan continues to believe that the Redskins can have success with a rookie at quarterback, not only because Robert Griffin III is a highly talented player, but because of the cast that Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen have assembled behind him.
The coach has preached the importance of this since January, and believes the Redskins are accomplishing that goal.
“A lot depends on the supporting cast,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think that people understand that regardless of what quarterback you have, you have to have a supporting cast, and you have to have a good system.”
Of that supporting cast, six were drafted by the team in April. The only draft pick not to make the team was sixth-rounder Tom Compton, a tackle out of South Dakota, who on Saturday was signed to the practice squad. That keeps with the trend started last season, when 10 out of 12 draft picks made the roster and contributed.
“You know, you feel pretty lucky, because that doesn’t happen very often,” Shanahan said. “I feel very good about the draft. Now, time will tell exactly what level they play at. But it’s kind of unusual to have as many draft picks as we’ve had in the last couple years now make the team and play as well and get some contribution to what we’re trying to do. And you just hope that they get to that next level: [that] they’re Pro Bowl players and not just good football players.”
Running back Alfred Morris, the sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, could be counted on more than any rookie other than Griffin. After rushing for 195 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries in two starts, Morris thrust himself into the competition for the starting job. Shanahan’s options are Morris and second-year pros Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr.
The coach said he knows who will start for him, but declined to name a starter publicly. Shanahan believes that although the collective group has limited NFL experience, all three can have an impact for the Redskins.
“They’re proven players, and what I mean by proven is that I like what I’ve seen in practice. I like what I’ve seen in games. Each guy’s got a little bit different quality. It will be interesting to see these guys compete.”
Shanahan felt good enough about the potential of the three young running backs that he elected to release veteran Tim Hightower, who was working his way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last October. Hightower aimed to compete for the starting job, but after his preseason debut a week ago against Indianapolis, his surgically-repaired knee flared back up again, and he was limited in practice the following week.