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Redskins’ free agent signings show how Ron Rivera values versatility

Nate Orchard (54) will be back with the Redskins in 2020. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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The Washington Redskins’ three free agent additions Wednesday — linebacker Nate Orchard, safety Sean Davis and running back J.D. McKissic — underscored the team’s early roster-building pattern. The Redskins prize versatility. Coach Ron Rivera has targeted players who fit multiple roles, as Davis does in the secondary, Orchard can in the defensive front seven, and McKissic can as a rusher, receiver and returner.

The Redskins signed Orchard in November after an improbable journey that included nine tryouts in 11 weeks, and he registered four tackles (two for loss), two quarterback hits, one sack and one fumble recovery in his first game with Washington. The 27-year-old made two crucial plays in the red zone to seal a Redskins victory over the Panthers, which ended up being the last game Ron Rivera coached for Carolina.

Orchard had other offers, according to his agent Kenny Zuckerman, but he wanted to remain in Washington. It’s a one-year deal, per Zuckerman. The linebacker said he based part of his decision on the thought that, if there’s no NFL offseason, familiarity might help him maximize his second chance.

“Super stoked and so is the family,” Orchard said on a phone call from his home in Salt Lake City. “I really want to be a part of this journey [for the franchise]. I want go out and do what I do. I hope I can bring that spark.”

Orchard believes the Redskins’ switch to a 4-3 defense, the scheme in which he rung up 18.5 sacks as a senior at the University of Utah, will help showcase his pass-rushing talent.

“It’s my bread and butter, it’s where I love to play,” he said, adding he’s excited to start under new Redskins defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

The signing was a relief for Orchard, whose Wednesday started with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake — Utah’s most powerful since 1992 — and included a fourth birthday celebration for his daughter Lottie as well as another workout in his basement, rather than at the gym, because of the continuing coronavirus situation.

“My kids are working out with me,” Orchard said, laughing.

Washington also agreed to terms with the 26-year-old Davis, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Davis, a former Maret School and Maryland star, was a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016 and could be an intriguing addition. He was a starting safety for the Steelers for most of the first three seasons of his NFL career, intercepting five passes and making 185 solo tackles. He offers adaptability because he’s played both strong and free safety, and he slotted in as a cornerback during college.

Redskins are moving carefully in free agency, but there could be more deals to come

A shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve one game into last season, somewhat limiting his value on the open market. NFL Network reported that his Redskins contract is for one year and worth up to $5 million.

McKissic, 26, is the perhaps most flexible of the three. The fifth-year running back out of Arkansas State bounced around after going undrafted in 2016, but he is a versatile weapon. He can line up as a running back or wide receiver and is a true
passing-game threat out of the backfield, as well as serve as a dangerous returner. During a 2016 preseason stint with the Atlanta Falcons, on his first NFL touch, McKissic returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown against the Redskins.

McKissic’s skills have become more valuable as the NFL continues to transition to a passing-dominant league. McKissic averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season with the Detroit Lions and caught 34 passes for 233 yards.

McKissic made his NFL name during three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. In Week 4 of the 2017 season, he had a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and a 27-yard touchdown reception in the fourth. Rivera and the Redskins will need someone in the backfield capable of these responsibilities, especially on third down and even more so if they wind up moving on from Chris Thompson.

The trio fits the broader pattern of flexibility. It’s been noticeable up and down the roster, including on the offensive line, where the Redskins have added or brought back a player who can play all three interior line positions in Wes Schweitzer; three linebackers who can contribute in different ways in Jon Bostic, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Thomas Davis; and, with their prime free agent addition thus far, prioritized a corner who can play both outside and inside in Kendall Fuller.

Davis was one of Maret’s highest-recruited players ever when he picked Maryland over Boston College, Connecticut and North Carolina. He was a three-year starter at Maryland, at both safety and cornerback, and forced five fumbles during his senior season in 2015.

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