Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 11:49 PM
Before training camp began, Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson summoned LaRon Landry to his office and asked him to look at the large, framed photo of Landry and Sean Taylor that hangs prominently on the wall.
And then he issued a challenge.
"I told him, 'Remember why we drafted you. Remember what we brought you here to do,' " Jackson said recently. "And then I told him the time is now. Just go do it."
Landry is starting over after the worst experience of his career, moving back to strong safety following two uncomfortable seasons at free safety in a scheme he did not enjoy. He prefers the aggressive 3-4 approach of new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and is pushing himself to reach higher. Haslett has a variety of plans for Landry, who will blitz more than in Washington's previous defense. The new regime expects a lot from Landry, and he believes he needs to deliver - or else.
"Last year was a bad season for me," Landry said Tuesday at Redskins Park. "Coming into this year, I know if I don't put out, I possibly won't be here."
Usually reluctant to discuss his feelings about last season's 4-12 debacle and the former defense, Landry opened up about his frustration and revealed he's confident the partnership with Haslett will revive his career because "this is the way I need to play. This is my game. Last couple of seasons, man, it just . . . it wasn't good."
Selected sixth overall in the 2007 draft, Landry was supposed to form one half of the NFL's top safety tandem. The Redskins envisioned Landry and Taylor (selected fifth in 2004) being perennial all-pros and the foundation of a top-10 defense for years.
But Taylor died in November 2007 after he was shot during a robbery attempt at his Miami-area home. Drafted as a strong safety, Landry moved to free safety after Taylor's death and played there for the remainder of the 2007 season. Under then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Landry's transition was initially smooth because the positions, in large part, were interchangeable.
Although Greg Blache maintained the 4-3 defense Williams left behind when he was fired after the season, Blache generally took a much safer route in game planning. During the 2008 and '09 seasons, Landry was primarily responsible for deep coverage and rarely had a playmaking role near the line.
Redskins observers criticized Landry for taking poor angles on balls and going for the big hit rather than trying to intercept passes. And he produced only three interceptions those seasons (one in 2009), stirring questions about his coverage skills.
"People ask you, 'How's it going?' 'How's it going?' Of course, I was frustrated," Landry said. "I know I was capable of doing more than I did last year. Not even midway through the season I knew, 'Ah, man, it's gonna be a tough one.' . . . But I'm not going to go against the coach. I've got to do what they tell me to do.
"And I don't want to be one of those guys who can't be coached. It's nothing against coach Blache, nothing at all; it's just his package. That's just his style of coaching and you have to live with it and play through it. He had the mentality of, 'Okay, it's one on one, line up and beat your man.' With that mind-set . . . it's hard. You've got great quarterbacks that we go against every week and great offensive coordinators that we go against every week. They're going to notice that."
In fairness to Blache, the Redskins were a top-10 defense in his two seasons as the coordinator, and they worked without much room for error because the offense was inept. Washington also was among the league's least-productive at producing turnovers.
Blache's philosophy may have worked better if the offense was more productive, and "you could do what we did in certain situations. Yeah, you can do that," Landry said. "But every down?
"You definitely can't do it every down. That's how you get picked apart and you saw that. You saw what happened. But you can't blame it all on him, though. That's just his style. It's not all on coach Blache. Players got to play, too."
Statistically, Landry actually improved in certain areas last season. He had 90 tackles, including a personal-best 78 unassisted. Landry's problems in coverage, however, even prompted some in the Redskins organization to privately suggest he was better suited to play closer to the line.
Reflecting on the criticism, Landry shook his head and laughed.
"I don't like to get into a fuss with fans and the writers, but everybody was making a big deal about me being close to the line when, really, it was just about the scheme," he said. "When coach Williams was here, with his package, I made the transition from strong to free easy because it was basically the same thing. And that's how Haslett's defense is.
"It's basically the same thing. I'm going to end up in the middle of the field and I'm still the strong safety. Last year with Blache it was predominantly, 'Okay, you're a free safety. You're a free safety.' You're going to be center field and that's it.' And that's the whole thing. When everybody made a big fuss about strong or free . . . that's not the way it was for me. It was all about the scheme."
More comfortable training on his own, Landry missed much of the voluntary workout program after his first two seasons. This offseason, however, Landry was at Redskins Park often after coaches pushed him to assume a leadership role as Coach Mike Shanahan moved to change the culture of the organization.
"What Has [Haslett] asked LaRon to do was show he was all in with trying to build something great here, and that's what he did," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "And with what Has wants from his safeties . . . you about to see something from [LaRon]. You gonna see a whole lot. You better believe it."