NEW ORLEANS -- Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan believes his defense has a potentially dominant tandem now that strong safety LaRon Landry and free safety O.J. Atogwe have been paired.

Speaking for the first time on the acquisition of Atogwe, who was signed March 3, the last day before NFL business came to a halt as a result of the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, Shanahan praised Atogwe as a playmaker and a leader.

“When we signed O.J., you’re looking at a guy that’s definitely a leader,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings here. “You look at what he’s done since his time in the NFL, and he’s very smart and makes a lot of plays, and we’re very excited to have him on our football team.”

Atogwe has recorded 22 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles in eight NFL seasons. Landry last season was limited to nine games by a strained Achilles’ tendon but still notched 85 tackles, one sack, an interception and a forced fumble. Atogwe and a healthy Landry should significantly improve a Redskins’ defense that ranked 31st in the league last season, Shanahan believes.

“Landry is one of the best football players I’ve been around since I’ve been in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “Hopefully he can stay healthy, and if he is, that really helps us. And having Atogwe, you have another proven starter. A guy that was voted captain of his football team [in St. Louis], so he’s a strong leader.”