By Rick Maese
Thursday, October 14, 2010; D1
There was a time in the spring when football-starved Washington Redskins fans, subsisting solely on a diet of unsourced offseason reports and speculation, were left to envision LaRon Landry wearing another team's colors in 2010. His name was linked to trade talks between the Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. Two team sources also indicated that Landry was led to believe the Buffalo Bills also might have been a possible landing spot, if he didn't improve.
Five weeks into the season, the Redskins have certainly benefited from Landry's presence. He was named NFC defensive player of the week Wednesday, and to hear Coach Mike Shanahan tell it now, there was no chance the Redskins were ever going to let Landry go.
The fourth-year safety certainly heard the rumors. Upset by the speculation, he briefly left the team's offseason conditioning program in April and wasn't pacified until he met with Shanahan later that month.
"I told LaRon, 'There may be some rumors and speculation, but I can guarantee you, you will not be traded,' " Shanahan said on Wednesday.
Landry and linebacker London Fletcher were two players who jumped off the film when the team's coaches first moved into Redskins Park, said one league source. Part of the reason the team altered its defensive scheme so drastically was to put Landry in better position to make big plays.
So far, he certainly has. While the Washington defense is giving up a league-high 410 yards per game, Landry has shined in the team's first five games.
"From my perspective, I did not want to play against him," Shanahan said of his early impression of Landry. "That makes it very easy when you see a guy out there and you say, 'I don't want him on another team that I have to play.' "
Landry, who turns 26 on Thursday, earned the NFC's top defensive honors last week for his performance against the Green Bay Packers. He was credited with a game-high 13 tackles - 10 unassisted - and produced both Redskins turnovers during a 16-13 overtime victory. Early in the game, he forced a fumble that gave Washington possession of the football at the Packers 21-yard line. And on Green Bay's final drive in overtime, Landry intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass, which gave the Redskins the ball at the Packers 39-yard line and set up the game-winning field goal.
The NFL doesn't consider tackles an official statistic, but according to the league's numbers, Landry leads the league with 41 unassisted tackles and is second in total tackles with 52. (According to the team's numbers, which are based on coaches' review of game video, Landry has played a role in 61 tackles, including a team-high 46 unassisted.)
"It feels great," Landry said of his early-season performance. "I moved back to my natural position. And the scheme fits me well. I feel comfortable back there."
Landry played the past 2Â½ seasons at free safety but is now lining up as strong safety in Jim Haslett's defense. It didn't take long for Landry to show a knack for gravitating to the ball.
"You'd think, watching him, he's been in this system for four or five years," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "He just feels that great in it."
Landry's also enjoying a greater sense of freedom. He still plays a role in deep coverage but also finds himself closer to the line of scrimmage, blitzing the quarterback, contributing in the rush defense and laying big hits on anybody within striking distance - at times, mistakenly, his own teammates.
Fellow safety Reed Doughty says Landry is talented at both free and strong safety, but his contributions are more noticeable this year.
"I think it's a matter of what is more dynamic for our team . . . But being a strong safety, it's a mentality for him, the way he's hitting receivers and the way he's getting to the ball and blitzing," Doughty said. "I think it's more of an impact."
Because Landry roves the field on most downs, opposing quarterbacks have to make sure they can account for Landry before each snap. Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts brings one of the game's top quarterbacks to town.
"You can just tell he's got excellent instincts," Peyton Manning said of Landry. "You see him on one side of the field, and . . . you see the play go to the other side, and all of a sudden, you see him show up on film making a big hit or whatever it may be."
The safeties also play a major role in the Redskins' attempts each week to disguise their scheme and their defensive play-calls. Manning prepares as well as any quarterback in the league, though, and Washington knows it will be difficult to fool the Colts' quarterback on Sunday.
"You might confuse him for a quarter or a half or maybe even three quarters," said Hall. "But at some point, he's going to figure out what's going on and he's going to be able to execute that offense.
"We couldn't even really confuse Sam Bradford, so how can we go out there and confuse Peyton Manning? Sam Bradford was able to see where the blitzes were coming from, get rid of the ball. So you know, with Peyton, we're going to have to go to the drawing board, figure out what we want to do as a defense, as a staff and try to execute it."
Whatever the game plan is on Sunday, Landry will play a big role in it. Landry has one more year remaining on his rookie contract, but he seems to know that while his first three seasons were steady, expectations were much higher for the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft. He finally seems to be fulfilling them.
"I think he's just had a chip on his shoulder," said free safety Kareem Moore. "He's going out there to prove everybody wrong."