The Washington Redskins this offseason set out to improve their cornerback unit, signing E.J. Biggers in free agency and drafting David Amerson with their second-round pick. None of that came as a surprise to Richard Crawford.
“In terms of GM thinking, I would’ve done that, too,” said Crawford, whom Washington selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. But don’t mistake Crawford’s agreement with the moves as a sign of resignation.
He believes that Biggers and Amerson can help the Redskins improve. But he also believes that he can play a part in transforming Washington’s defense from one of the worst against the pass in 2012 to a formidable unit in 2013.
The Redskins on Thursday conclude another round of voluntary offseason practices, and then next week hold their mandatory minicamp. Of all the defensive backs on the roster, it’s Crawford that has flashed the most during the limited media availability. He appears more aggressive and quicker as he has picked off passes, broken up others and blanketed receivers in coverage. Crawford also has displayed good versatility as he has lined up both opposite slot receivers and pass-catchers on the outside.
“Any player going from [Year] 1 to 2, you feel more comfortable,” said Crawford, who last season appeared in 10 games, recording 18 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. “You feel like you’re better. You keep pressing, working hard. OTAs aren’t really anything. They’re not playing on Sunday, so it’s just trying to improve to be better on Sunday.”
Asked about the biggest area of improvement in his game, Crawford said, “Just knowing the defense and being more comfortable. That’s the God’s honest truth. Being more comfortable is the biggest difference.”
That improved level of comfort has come from hours of video study and spending time learning more about playing cornerback in the NFL from Hall of Famer Darrell Green, who goes to the same church as Crawford.
The biggest lesson Crawford has learned from Green is the need for versatility in coverages and techniques.
“Just mix up your game,” he said. “Don’t always do the same thing when you come out. When I watch [Darrelle] Revis, he does the same thing, and Antoine Winfield, I can go on, and I seen [Richard] Sherman in the playoff game, and [DeAngelo] Hall mixes things up too. You just don’t want to be the same guy. Last year, I was a mirror guy and didn’t really put my hands on people much. This year, I aim to improve on that and mix it up. You can’t come with the same thing because those guys get paid, too, and they’ll beat you.”
But how exactly does a defensive back, who reacts to what a receiver does, “mix it up?”
Crawford explains: “Pressing, for instance. You can stay at the line of scrimmage, or you can work back, mirror them, or you can quick-jam them real quick, or you can bail, play off, inside and outside, just mixing up everything you get depending on the formation or look that you get.”
With the Redskins’ cornerback unit reduced to just five healthy players with starter Josh Wilson and roster hopeful Chase Minnifield both still rehabbing from surgeries, Crawford has gotten a chance to be on the field frequently during offseason practices. He has lined up at nickel, and on the outside. The increased playing time is helping him continue his growth as a player, and coaches have noticed.
“Richard is a guy that is a very smart football player,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “He stays in excellent shape. He is a person like London [Fletcher] as a young guy that will be in the film room studying all the time. He’s watching film. He’s studying offenses. He’s looking at our film cutups and he is always going to be in the right position. When you go into your second year, all of a sudden you start to feel more comfortable. The game slows down. He knows what to expect. He isn’t just thinking about the defenses, he is also thinking about the different types of patterns that are being run within a defense. He is a lot more able to intercept a ball and make plays, which he has done here throughout camp.”
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