Washington Redskins can afford gamble on Bacarri Rambo

Jason Reid
Columnist May 5, 2013

If the Washington Redskins are right about rookie safety Bacarri Rambo, the sixth-rounder may wind up being a draft steal. If the Redskins are wrong about the former Georgia star, who had drug problems in college, Rambo’s off-field behavior could derail his NFL career. It will not, however, derail the Redskins.

The reason is simple: stability.

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

Coach Mike Shanahan created it. By drafting well and making sound decisions, for the most part, in free agency, Shanahan transformed the Redskins from one of the league’s weakest organizations to one capable of overcoming problems. Last season, the Redskins showed how far they’ve come in winning only their second NFC East title in the past 21 years.

Washington’s football team is solid. It’s definitely strong enough for the club, with major needs in the secondary, to gamble on a potential playmaker late in the draft. And Rambo’s issues are nothing new to the Redskins.

Only two seasons ago, left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis served suspensions for marijuana use. Safety Tanard Jackson, who was slated to start in 2012, missed all of last season after his third failed drug test. That’s three high-profiles players the Redskins lost in a span of nine months because of recreational drug use. But the locker room didn’t fall apart.

The Post Sports Live crew break down the Redskins's picks in the 2013 NFL draft. (Post Sports Live)

For the Redskins, the team is bigger than the individual. It used to be the other way around.

“To build it the right way, to have the type of team that you want, that you can be proud of, you have to have high-character guys. They’re you’re foundation,” Shanahan said Sunday, the final day of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp at Redskins Park. “When we started . . . you knew there were changes that you’d have to make.

“There were areas that weren’t where you wanted it to be. From your experience [of building winners], you knew you’d have to get a whole lot better. But we’re stronger now. We’re a whole lot stronger.”

It starts with dedicated professionals. Robert Griffin III, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Alfred Morris — the Redskins have many. Although Shanahan sets the tone, the group reinforces his message.

Positive peer pressure helped Williams rebound. He was a first-time Pro Bowler last season. Davis also was rolling until an injury cut short his season. To this point, Williams and Davis are success stories.

Still, you could argue that the last thing the Redskins need is another guy who displays poor judgment around drugs. Two drug-related incidents at Georgia resulted in suspensions for Rambo. Undoubtedly, those missteps contributed to his draft tumble.

Many talented players have watched their careers go up in smoke. Shanahan is convinced Rambo won’t be among them.

All teams investigate draft prospects. With hundreds of millions at stake in rookie signing bonuses and contracts, it makes sense to do your due diligence. Guys in Rambo’s position go under the microscope.

“We thoroughly checked him out,” Shanahan said. “We would not have drafted him if we thought there was a chance of a problem.

“You have to talk to a lot of people. You have to do that to actually check out somebody’s background and to see how he lives. You want to find out how he handles himself. I feel very good about that.”

Clearly, Shanahan erred on Jackson, who had two drug suspensions while with Tampa Bay. Even if Jackson is reinstated for the upcoming season, he would have played in only 12 games since the beginning of the 2010 season.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett needs safeties he can trust. Rambo raised his hand.

“I can’t go back and change anything,” Rambo said Sunday. “But when they [coaches] ask me about it, I just tell them I grew from it. Hopefully, they can realize and see that. . . . If they could see me from Point A to Point B, they would see how much I’ve grown, how it made me a better person, and how I’ve changed my lifestyle.”

On the field, Rambo is off to a good start. He worked at both safety positions during the rookie minicamp.

Rambo possesses the size, speed and coverage instincts (he had eight interceptions as a junior) to fill the Redskins’ need in the back of the defensive backfield. He knows it, too.

“I feel like I can get there [to the football] and create turnovers,” Rambo said after practice. “I want to be the greatest at my position.”

The Redskins would like that, too. Their secondary was the weakest position – by far – on the team. Shanahan used two of Washington’s first three picks on defensive backs – cornerback David Amerson and safety Phillip Thomas – and also got Rambo in an effort to rebuild the secondary quickly. Rambo’s best position is free safety.

“I just believe in myself,” Rambo said. “I have confidence in myself and I know what I can do. I know I’m not the best. But I can be the best.”

Rambo will get a chance to prove it. For a team finally built the correct way, he’s a risk worth taking.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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