By Thomas Boswell
Monday, April 30, 2007
By the time LaRon Landry, the Washington Redskins' new safety, and his older brother, Dawan, who starts at strong safety for the Ravens, were 5 and 6 years old, their father Frank knew he had to go to Wal-Mart and buy two pairs of Sugar Ray Leonard boxing gloves.
Dawan was bigger, but LaRon always initiated the fights. "When they were 3 or 4 years old, they used to battle over small things, a video game or sneakers or a shirt. When they were about 4 or 5, I said 'If y'all are going to fight, y'all fight with some boxing gloves,' " their father said.
"It was always LaRon who would do the crazy, wild things. When he was 6 or 7, I was driving with them in back of the truck. Dawan said, 'I bet you can't jump out of the truck and fly like Superman.' "
LaRon took the dare and leapt out of the moving truck. "He busted up his teeth and had to go to the dentist," said Frank, adding with a shrug, "He was all right."
That was the age when Frank Landry -- an electrician for 31 years for Monsanto, but also a youth league football coach -- began to realize that, when it came to taking and delivering punishment, LaRon was different. "LaRon was just tough. He just took the pain. He never did cry."
Even when he flew out of the truck and landed on his mouth?
"Okay, he cried then," chuckled Frank.
Did the boys share a bedroom? "No, thank God, they didn't," he said.
Although LaRon Landry is probably 100 pounds smaller than the No. 1 draft pick that the Redskins ideally need, he may become a memorable and excellent Redskin. He's definitely not what the team needs most -- a pass-rushing defensive lineman. Or two. And his hard-hitting skills almost duplicate the team's other safety, Sean Taylor. So, the entire NFL seems to be having a field day mocking the high-spending Redskins for another rock-head personnel decision. Maybe they're right. Maybe the Redskins should have traded their first pick for a veteran and a pick, or for multiple picks. Maybe they should have used it on 317-pound defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who graduated from Louisville at 19 and was taken 10th overall by the Texans.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Since the current Redskins decision-makers have lost much of the benefit of the doubt within their league, Landry will be looked at not only for his play but for the voids that are left by picking him -- at other positions and in salary cap. Even Coach Joe Gibbs has acknowledged, "The sixth pick in the country is somebody who, to be truthful, a big part of the salary cap will go to this season." So why spend it on Landry, who joins fellow defensive backs Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Taylor as top-10 overall draft picks?
With a defense that (let this sink in again) forced the fewest turnovers in NFL history, why wouldn't you add talent up front?
But that isn't LaRon Landry's problem. He didn't sign Adam Archuleta and all the other burgundy-and-gold blunders. Landry just showed up, all 6 feet 2, 205 pounds of 4.37-second 40-yard dash sledgehammer, saying: "I'm the complete package. . . . 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."
Sometimes, first impressions mean a lot, especially with Redskins draft picks. When Desmond Howard came to Redskins Park, the buzz was, "He's so little." And he played wide receiver that way, unable to escape the line of scrimmage. The first time Heath Shuler spoke, he seemed so methodical. Did he have the specific type of mental quickness -- instant recognition, take everything in in a glance -- needed in an NFL quarterback? Now, he's serving in Congress. There are different kinds of smart.
Landry's first impression was so self-assured, candid, yet consistent with his rookie status, that Gibbs simply sat beside him and couldn't hide his delight, especially when he said that his father was "a coach who'd rip your head off."
"The first thing LaRon's father said to me was, 'He can take hard coaching,' " Gibbs said. "I told him, 'He'll probably get called some names.' That's something you scout for at this level: 'Can take hard coaching.' "
As for LaRon, he wanted to play near his brother, and "With about seven minutes left on the [draft] clock, my heart was beating fast. 'Are they gonna get me?' Then the phone rang. I was so happy," said Landry, who will face his brother in a preseason game and scrimmages.
"Dawan's right up the road. He's says he's hoping to 'see me' on special teams. I'll be looking for him, too, most definitely," said Landry, who still remembers all the little-brother boxing beatings he took.
"He won the battle. I won the war," said Landry, whose brother made the Ravens as a far less well paid fifth-round pick.
Gibbs already may be inoculating Landry to the hard-eyed reception that the Redskins may receive after a 5-11 season and 15 straight years without getting beyond the NFC semifinals. "Our fans are an unusual group," said Gibbs to Landry. "Some have Redskin tattoos. They are very knowledgeable. So, LaRon, they are going to boo us if we don't do good things."
Even if Landry is not the player -- by position -- that the Redskins need, he may eventually prove to be the best player, at any position, that they could have selected. At LSU, he started 48 games in four years, becoming an impact player as a freshman, suffering only one (foot) injury in his career and staying on the field while consistently dealing big licks. Of course, at 205 pounds, will he have the playmaking impact of the 6-2, 232-pound Taylor, who truly intimidates many ballcarriers?
The Redskins do not emphasize the distinction between strong safety and weak safety. More often, Gregg Williams's defenses emphasize one safety who is "in the box" while another is playing "center field." Last year, Taylor fared better at the former than the latter, where he frequently was a step late on deep passes or took overly aggressive angles and whiffed on big hits. Now that Archuleta is gone, Landry may move fairly quickly into a role where opponents don't know, until the last second, which high-impact Redskins safety is threatening to blitz and which has deep responsibility.
Many are having a heyday at the expense of the Redskins, who traded away their second-, third- and fourth-round picks, and essentially have only Landry to show as a high-profile draft addition. However, a safety who jumps out of a truck to prove he's Superman could develop a following.
Does Frank Landry have any final advice on how to coach his son? "When we took the boys to Disney World, I bought a wooden paddle," he said. "It said, 'Heat for the Seat.' "
Soon, we'll find out if LaRon Landry is the right pick to light a fire under the Redskins.