Landry's Learning Curve

Safety Is Impressive, but Susceptible to Rookie Mistakes

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; Page E01

Assigned to blitz often against the New York Jets on Sunday, Washington Redskins rookie safety LaRon Landry knew he would have some fun. Pursuing quarterbacks is what the NFL newcomer enjoys most, and Landry's ability to apply pressure against Jets rookie quarterback Kellen Clemens was a key component of the Redskins' defensive strategy in a 23-20 overtime victory.

Of course, rookies are prone to mistakes. Landry had a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-down play in the first quarter, prolonging a drive that led to a field goal and angering Washington's coaching staff, which has emphasized avoiding penalties on third down. And the NFL weighed in, fining Landry for making helmet-to-helmet contact with Clemens on the play.

laron landry - washington redskins
"LaRon is a special talent," says teammate and fellow safety Pierson Prioleau. "He has the physical tools to be as great as he wants to be." (Julie Jacobson - AP)

Overall, however, Landry had another effective performance, the Redskins said, continuing to impress with his attitude and passion. After using the sixth overall pick in the draft to select Landry, the Redskins are certain they chose wisely, though he still has a lot of on-the-job training ahead.

"He's what we thought we were going after in the draft," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "There are guys who come up here and say, 'Hey, I belong here. This is what I was meant to do.' He feels like he belongs."

The Redskins' only rookie starter, Landry quickly established himself as a productive member of a veteran defensive unit. He is third on the team with 57 tackles, including 36 solo, and has 1.5 sacks.

Against the Jets, Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, took the reins off Landry. In the first seven games, Williams had primarily used a base cover-2 defense, having Landry and safety Sean Taylor playing deep in the zone coverage.

At Giants Stadium, Williams decided to test Clemens, who was making his second career start after replacing Chad Pennington as the starter early last week. Using Landry as the hammer, Williams called for more blitzes out of multiple formations than he had previously. For his part, Clemens played well, making things difficult for Washington, but Landry was a factor, too.

Landry had one of the Redskins' three sacks and hit Clemens on two other occasions. The coaching staff was pleased with how often Landry's presence in the pocket prompted Clemens to react and adjust. But Landry drew Williams's ire when, on New York's second possession, he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Clemens while a pass fell incomplete on third down.

Williams berated Landry on the sideline, and the NFL fined him $16,764 (the equivalent of one of his game checks) for unnecessary roughness. Williams was especially infuriated, the Redskins said, because Williams and Jerry Gray, secondary-cornerbacks coach, have instructed Landry to only attack an opponent's "strike zone," from the mid-thigh area to the shoulders, in an effort to avoid penalties.

Although the Redskins expected him to be fined, Landry earned the admiration of his teammates for playing "his type of football" when Williams increased his responsibilities, cornerback Fred Smoot said. "We knew we had those type of safeties, we knew that coming into the year once we drafted him. And we've got the type of guys you've got to let get around that ball. They're going to make plays."

Landry developed a reputation of being a big hitter while at LSU, which was among the reasons the Redskins made him their No. 1 target in the draft. But early on this season, coaches noticed problems with Landry's tackling technique, prompting the strike-zone rule. Taylor experienced similar problems when he was a rookie, and coaches will continue to work with Landry in practice. The Redskins, who plan to continue using Landry in a blitzing role, want him to remain aggressive despite the fine.

"I'm not going to stop playing the way I do," Landry said. "I'm not going to stop my intensity, I'm not going to stop being aggressive out there. That's just the way I've always played. I don't know any other way to play.

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