The unexpected release Tuesday of veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick wasn’t met with disappointment from his former Redskins teammates. Not only did they support the decision of Coach Jay Gruden to rely on several younger players in the secondary, but they indicated that Scandrick didn’t fit the mentality of the defense.
A number of Redskins players shrugged their shoulders when asked about the timing of Scandrick’s release, with one noting “we don’t” care about the surprisingly timed roster move. Collectively, they acknowledged Scandrick didn’t fit with the coaching staff’s plans, including expressing frustration over the playing time given to younger, more inexperienced players over the 11-year veteran.
However, the move means that the Redskins have no choice but to rely upon some inexperienced players to hold down a secondary that was one of the team’s strengths a year ago, ranking ninth in the league in pass defense, but is without two key cornerbacks from last season. Bashaud Breeland left in free agency, and slot corner Kendall Fuller was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in the deal that brought quarterback Alex Smith to Washington.
“We’re young, but that youth draws fire,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “If you get that fire directed in the right direction — oof, that’s really some explosive things right there. You’ve just got to make sure we understand and are all locked in on the same page.”
Gruden said the decision had nothing to do with the play of Scandrick, who spent his first 10 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
“When we initially signed Orlando, we had just lost Kendall [Fuller], and it was before the draft,” Gruden said. “We drafted [Greg] Stroman and, obviously, we got Adonis [Alexander], and I think the emergence of Danny Johnson, Fabian Moreau at nickel. We wanted to get these guys reps at nickel and [Quinton] Dunbar at corner and move on.”
Scandrick’s removal essentially solidifies Dunbar, a fourth-year veteran, as the starting cornerback opposite Norman, and 2017 third-round pick Moreau as the nickelback. Stroman, Alexander, Johnson and Ranthony Texada are all rookies who add depth. Second-year corner Josh Holsey will also be in the mix, but he is expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
The Redskins need this young group to come together quickly — particularly Moreau at nickelback. After the team traded away Fuller, considered one of the top nickel corners in the NFL, Scandrick was signed as the expected replacement, given his experience playing both inside and outside.
The nickel cornerback position is essentially a starting job in today’s pass-happy NFL, with teams lining up with three wide receiver sets nearly 60 percent of the time in 2017.
“[Moreau has] grown a lot,” said Norman. “He’s gotten more confident. You can see his ability to go out there and … now it’s just going out and being consistent with what he has and continuing to grow. That’s the thing. We have faith in him and believe that he can hold that down. That’s maybe one of the reasons why Scandrick’s probably not here.”
Gruden added, “When somebody else is here and Fabian is not taking reps, it’s not doing anybody any good. So, we have to see Fabian. Fabian has got to . . . learn it, make his mistakes [and] we have to get them corrected.”
Dunbar has been working toward this moment since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015. The former Florida wide receiver switched to the defensive side of the ball and has eight career starts with three interceptions, but this will be his first opportunity as a full-time starter.
“I definitely feel like they’re putting a lot of faith in me, but I have faith in myself,” Dunbar said. “The body of work I’ve done the last three years, from me switching from wide receiver to cornerback, that was every bit of me buying into the process and the grind. I’m just excited to get out there and represent the Redskins.”
Johnson has been one of the biggest surprises of camp, and Texada has also impressed. Both are undrafted college free agents who have earned more practice reps over time. Stroman, a seventh-round pick, has been up and down, but his punt returning skills add to his value.
Gruden repeatedly said the young corners need more snaps and opportunities, and they’ll get that Thursday against the New York Jets in the team’s second preseason game.
“My faith is in them to compete every single day and come out and work like they’re supposed to,” Norman said. “Building that work ethic. It’s also going to have them building that experience because that’s what it is in this league. Seeing it and then coming back, if you miss a play, correcting that play and going and making another one. They’re working hard to become a great group and I think we have a good solid group.”
Kimberley A. Martin contributed to this report.
More Redskins coverage: