By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007
After exploring trade options for their sixth-overall pick in the NFL draft, the Washington Redskins selected safety LaRon Landry with their first-round pick yesterday. Landry, 22, was the highest-rated defensive player on their draft board, according to sources, and will be called on to help improve a struggling secondary.
The Redskins attempted to acquire Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, and spoke to a few teams about their top pick in the minutes before selecting Landry, but there was minimal interest from other clubs to move up, league sources said, even with two top offensive players still available. There was significant support within the organization to push for a trade down, as the Redskins did not have a pick in the second, third or fourth rounds, but no match could be found.
Team officials entered yesterday morning fully expecting they would have to use the sixth pick themselves, and after some early debate concerning Landry and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the Redskins settled on Landry, who had an impressive workout for team officials at Louisiana State a few weeks ago. Landry is the third defensive back to be selected by Washington in the top 10 since Coach Joe Gibbs returned to the franchise in 2004.
"The sixth pick in the country is somebody who, to be truthful, a big part of the salary cap will go to this person," Gibbs said. "And as I said before, our feeling was with this pick we need to pick someone we feel like is going to play for a long time and has a chance to do some outstanding things. I would say most people in the league did their homework and most people in the league felt like this guy was going to be a high pick."
Safety Sean Taylor was picked fifth overall in 2004 -- like Landry he is among the highest-drafted safeties in NFL history -- and cornerback Carlos Rogers was taken ninth overall in 2005, but Gibbs said the team was not overly concerned with the trend. The Redskins' defensive backs were unimpressive last season as the defense slipped to 31st in the league. The team was beaten repeatedly for deep passes, intercepted only six passes and forced the fewest number of turnovers in league history. They yielded 54 passes of 20 yards or longer and have signed two free agent cornerbacks (Fred Smoot and David Macklin) this offseason.
Several scouts and personnel executives questioned how Taylor and Landry will fit together, given their youth, tendencies and similarities. As Gibbs said yesterday, both are aggressive, heavy hitters; Taylor has faced a steep learning curve adjusting his coverage skills to the NFL, often sacrificing positioning for the big hit and making mistakes. Landry reportedly is more of a film-room fixture than Taylor, but all young safeties must make adjustments and the Redskins have needed a calming presence to play with Taylor in the past.
"It will be interesting to see how he fits in with Sean," Gibbs said.
Landry, whose brother Dawan is a starting safety with Baltimore, said he is a fan of Taylor's and has studied his film from high school and college. Landry can play either safety position, hang deep as a "center fielder," stick to one-half of the field in a cover-2 scheme or play near the line to aid the pass rush.
"I'm the complete package," Landry said yesterday during a conference call when asked for a self-evaluation.
Should Landry land a contract bigger than the one that Taylor signed in 2004 -- which is highly probable -- that could become an issue. (Taylor has two years left on his deal, and began expressing dissatisfaction with that rookie contract shortly after signing it.) Taylor's play slipped in 2006 -- along with that of the entire defense -- and Gibbs hopes Landry's talent brings out the best in Taylor. "We need to get [Taylor] back to picking balls off," Gibbs said.
Said Landry: "I just give 110 percent effort. I have a very great mind-set, an educated mind for the game. I'm a student of the game and I try to get other guys to match my intensity. I lead by example. I'm not really a talker. I lead by example and try to get other guys to get on the same page as me."
While Landry, in time, could lead an elite secondary, the Redskins have yet to bolster their defensive line through free agency, trades or the draft. Creating turnovers -- something the team has not done much in Gibbs's second tenure -- starts in the trenches, and the Redskins have an aging line devoid of much individual flair or ends who cause matchup problems for opponents. They have lacked a homegrown impact pass rusher since taking Charles Mann in 1983, yet have not taken one in the first round since 1997 (Kenard Lang).
Gibbs said the franchise felt no particular pressure to take a defensive lineman and has continued to praise the unit, saying yesterday that defensive line coach Greg Blache "feels good about" the line. However, team sources have said defensive end is indeed an area of concern and expect Gibbs and owner Daniel Snyder to seek a trade for an established end.
The Redskins will try to find a defensive lineman and a linebacker at least capable of making the roster during today's second session of the draft, holding one pick in the fifth and seventh rounds, and two in the sixth. There are concerns that linebackers Marcus Washington (hip) and Rocky McIntosh (knee) could face lingering health problems while veteran defensive linemen such as Renaldo Wynn, Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a are either nearing the end of their careers or have been dogged by injury problems the last two years.
Finding a star at any position that late will be difficult, however.
"[Sunday] is going to be very important for us," Gibbs said of the latter rounds. "We've spent a lot of time on it."