Redskins rookie defensive backs weren’t the quick fix they needed

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
December 6, 2013

After having one of the NFL’s lowest-ranked pass defenses last season, the Washington Redskins looked for cures in the draft last spring. They used a second-round pick on cornerback David Amerson and added two safeties, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, later on draft weekend.

The results have been mixed at best. The Redskins enter the final quarter of their season eliminated from playoff contention, and they’re ranked 27th in the NFL in pass defense, up a modest three spots from their ranking at the end of last season. They’re last in the league in passing yards allowed per attempt, and some observers say an offseason overhaul of the secondary will be required for the team to regain contender status.

Amerson has been in the playing rotation at cornerback, alongside veterans DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, all season. But Thomas, a fourth-round choice in April, has spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve list after suffering a Lisfranc mid-foot injury during the preseason. Rambo, a sixth-round selection, began the season as a starter at safety but lost that job quickly and now is a part-time player.

Even so, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week he likes what he sees from Amerson and Rambo, and he remains convinced they have bright NFL futures.

“I think they’ve improved in all areas,” Haslett said. “To me it’s more of an understanding of what the league’s about, the formations and the shifts and who you’re getting and the matchups and all those combinations. They’re just young guys, and I think they’re gonna be good players down the road. That’s what I believe.”

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether coach Mike Shanahan will be around next season after the Redskins dropped to 3-9 following a loss to the Giants. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Amerson has two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown during a September game at Oakland. He acknowledged this week that he’s made “some mistakes here and there” but said he’s pleased with his overall rookie-year progress.

“I’ve definitely got a lot more to learn,” Amerson said. “But I definitely think I’ve made some very positive strides due to experience and just being on the field. I’ve learned a lot of things. I feel good where I’m at right now.”

Amerson entered the league with a reputation among some talent evaluators for being a risk-taking cornerback who would make some big plays but also would surrender some significant catches when his gambles went awry. He said his focus as the season winds down is to work on minimizing his mistakes and developing into a consistently reliable player in pass coverage.

“My bump coverage on the line of scrimmage definitely has improved throughout the year considering it wasn’t something that I was really doing too much of in college,” Amerson said. “It’s just really . . . being able to understand film, knowing the defense and knowing where guys are supposed to be at, knowing where your help is. It’s all those little things. Experience is really the biggest part.”

It has been a topsy-turvy season for Rambo. He moved ahead of Thomas in offseason practices and training camp and he started the first two games of the season. But there were questions raised about his tackling, in particular, and he was replaced in the lineup after those two starts.

“It was very hard,” he said. “It was probably one of the toughest times in my football career. But it was just adversity, and I just continued to fight and, like I said, control things I can control, just try to get better in practice and when I get my opportunities, try to make the best of it. . . . A lot of the older players, my position coach, they said, ‘Just keep fighting. Don’t get down on yourself.’ So I just kept on fighting, and things hopefully are gonna work out.”

All four current starters in the Redskins’ secondary, cornerbacks Hall and Wilson and safeties Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty, are potential free agents in the offseason. The team will have the ability to spend money in free agency with the expiration of its two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction by the league. So it’s a highly unsettled situation in the secondary beyond this season, and young players such as Rambo perhaps are auditioning to be considered for future jobs.

“It’s just making me mentally tough . . . starting and then not playing and not getting playing time,” Rambo said. “So I’m just trying to get better. I’m only trying to control the things I can control, just myself, just trying to go out there and get better and try to work hard and improve in areas that I can improve in.”

Note: Doughty and tight end Jordan Reed said Friday that they anticipate playing Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs after experiencing problem-free recoveries from concussions this past week. The Redskins officially listed both players as questionable on the injury report. Also questionable for the Redskins are Meriweather (bruised sternum) and fullback Darrel Young (hamstring).

Listed as probable for Sunday’s game are linebacker London Fletcher (ankle), Hall (hip, back), left tackle Trent Williams (foot) and tight end Niles Paul, who missed the Giants game and the week leading up to it with an illness.

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