The Redskins' Lone Ranger
Friday, October 17, 2008
It usually occurs as Washington Redskins practices wind down and LaRon Landry reflects on his performance. He often recalls long conversations with Sean Taylor following a day's work last season, two standout young safeties sharing their thoughts on football and developing a bond.
"You know, it was crazy" how much they just talked football, Landry said the other day at Redskins Park, smiling as he shared anecdotes about their identical approach to the game. "Me and Sean, we just knew. He knew he could count on me and I knew I could count on him. So do I think about him? Do I think about what we could have done now as a tandem? Yeah, definitely, I think about it. I think about it all the time."
Taylor died last November after he was shot during a robbery attempt at his Miami area home. The trial of four men accused of killing the Pro Bowler has been delayed until next year. A fifth man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May.
The Redskins could not have replaced him even if they had tried. Few players at any position possessed Taylor's combination of size, speed, talent and the ferocity with which he played. Landry is among that small group. Their unique abilities provided the foundation for Washington's secondary early last season, and the team envisioned having the league's best 1-2 punch at safety for years.
Now, Landry -- in only his second season and still learning to play the position Taylor once did so well -- is the leader of a group weakened by injuries, trying to set an example for rookies who have been leaned on heavily out of necessity.
The Redskins (4-2) have shuffled at safety as they prepare to face the Cleveland Browns (2-3) on Sunday at FedEx Field. Landry has assumed more responsibility in pass defense since late last season after he moved to free safety following the death of Taylor, and Washington continues to rely on him more each week.
"Those guys together, Sean and LaRon, they were special, and what made them special was that they fed off each other," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "Sean helped speed LaRon's progress, just because of the way they played. It was like looking in a mirror for them. It was like big brother, little brother.
"Sean wasn't going to let LaRon outdo him, and LaRon wasn't going to let Sean outdo him. Now, LaRon doesn't get pushed like that. Now, everybody just looks to him. LaRon has the most experience of all the safeties, in just one year, and with our situation, that's just the way it is."
On Tuesday, third-year player Reed Doughty, who began the season as the starting strong safety and also plays free safety, was placed on injured reserve, ending his season because of a nerve problem in his back. Rookie safety Chris Horton, who replaced Doughty with the first team, sat out practice the previous two days because of a sprained ankle and might not play against the Browns. Rookie safety Kareem Moore, slowed by knee problems until recently, has seen limited action.
With the team thin at safety, Washington this week signed Mike Green, who played six seasons with Chicago, including four in which defensive coordinator Greg Blache directed the Bears' defense. Blache had planned for Green to ease into a role with the team, but said: "I might have ended up lying to him. Not intentionally, but he may have to be ready to play."
Amid the upheaval in the secondary, Landry has provided a steadying hand. Landry, who played both safety positions as an all-American at Louisiana State, began last season at strong safety after the Redskins selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft. Taylor, a former fifth overall pick in his fourth season, was widely considered the league's top free safety. The Redskins knew they had something special in the "interchangeable" players, Jackson said.
"They had the freedom to decide who was going to be high [in the defensive alignment] and who was going to be low. They decided who was going to cover, and who was going to go back to the middle. They decided which half of the field Sean was going to take, and which half LaRon was going to take. If somebody got the hot hand, either one of 'em could be the enforcer to slow 'em down."