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Redskins need LaRon Landry healthy to find out what they can be

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One game without strong safety LaRon Landry wasn’t so bad. On defense, the Washington Redskins performed well in their opening victory despite missing their most talented defensive player. They managed fine. It’s just not what they prefer to do. 

This is a troubling situation because Landry is a tone-setter, so Washington needs him at work. The ongoing uncertainty about his lingering hamstring injury is among the team’s main concerns and a big problem for Landry, whose ascent to stardom has been delayed indefinitely again.

From speaking with Landry, you get the sense he isn’t close to returning at full strength any time soon. And even if he is cleared to play sometime in the coming weeks, with the unpredictable nature of sore hamstrings, it’s highly doubtful Landry will quickly display the strong form he showed last season.

Until he’s back and physically sound, we really won’t know how good the Redskins’ defense could become. As long as Landry spends more time with the medical staff than with Jim Haslett, Washington’s 3-4 will be missing an irreplaceable part.

“I’m not even gonna lie. I think about the accolades and all that stuff that I could have accomplished,” Landry said Monday while leaning against a wall inside the Redskins’ Ashburn training complex.

“If it wasn’t for the injuries, one thing after another, what could I have done? You think about that and all the stuff that comes with it. People ask me, ‘Are you frustrated?’ Man, of course I am.”

A badly strained left Achilles’ tendon derailed Landry’s climb in 2010, cutting short his productive season last November. Landry’s impressive performance in just nine games drew praise from Coach Mike Shanahan and Haslett, who each listed Landry as one of the best defensive players they’ve coached. Haslett took things a step further, saying Landry was the NFL’s defensive MVP in the first half of the season.

“Absolutely love the guy,” Haslett said. “Just love him.”

Landry sat out training camp while rehabbing from the tendon injury. He also underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, and has been slowed the past two years because of toe and shoulder problems.

He planned to play in the third and fourth preseason games and start the season opener. Instead, with his hamstring still not cooperating, Landry missed the entire preseason and Sunday’s 28-14 victory over the New York Giants.

Washington plays host to Arizona in Week 2, and “you know I want to be out there,” Landry said. “But wanting to do something and doing it are two different things.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t know how long it’s gonna be. I just know where Coach Haz wants me to be. That’s where I want to be, too.”

Haslett arrived just in time for Landry.

Drafted sixth overall in 2007, Landry failed to meet expectations his first three seasons. He wasn’t quite saddled with the “draft bust” tag, but there was a lot of negative chatter about Landry. And some of it was heard in offices at Redskins Park.

Teaming with Haslett, Landry felt liberated. He was perfect for the aggressive 3-4 scheme Haslett installed at Shanahan’s direction. Last season, Landry’s production finally matched his potential. Suddenly, it was no longer ridiculous to compare Landry to Pittsburgh strong safety Troy Polamalu. Landry provided about everything the Redskins envisioned he could.

For consistency, inside linebacker London Fletcher is second to none on Washington’s roster. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has a flair for the dramatic, “but 30 [Landry] . . . 30 is a killer,” Hall said. “There just aren’t a lot of guys like 30 around the league.”

Starting for Landry against the Giants, backup safety Reed Doughty had a rough opening half. During the first quarter, Doughty was burned in coverage on a 68-yard pass play from quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. One play later, the Giants took a 7-0 lead on Manning’s two-yard touchdown run.

On a six-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, running back Ahmad Bradshaw went past Doughty, who got caught leaning in the wrong direction after guessing incorrectly on the Giants’ play call.

“People can’t blame Reed for that stuff,” Landry said. “I don’t know if I make those [plays].”

Doughty is a core special teams player. With Landry sidelined, he handled his responsibility on special teams and played every defensive snap. Doughty is a smart, solid player. There are guys like him on winning teams throughout the league.

Doughty, though, is a backup. He plays behind Landry because the guy ahead of him is much better. Washington lacks quality depth in key areas. That’s just a fact. Upgrading the talent takes time when there are 53 spots to fill.

The Steelers’ secondary likely wouldn’t be as good if Polamalu needed time off. Green Bay’s pass rush works best when outside linebacker Clay Matthews plays because “when you have guys who are playmakers, like 30, in the lineup, it’s just different,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “LaRon has great range. His mentality is to seek and destroy.

“And when you have that in the run game, he’s gonna go in there and blow up a lot of things. He’ll make a lot of plays near the line and behind it. Then on the back end [in the secondary], people are scared. You’ve got him back there, lurking. You get a receiver who comes across the middle, he’s thinking about 30. They know they better be ready. He’s just such a big factor for us.”

Landry is vital to the Redskins. They need him to return soon. His presence could determine just how many strides the Redskins will make this season.

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