With training camp set to begin next month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's cornerbacks.
The Washington Redskins will enter Richmond led once again by All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who enters his second season with the Redskins with the benefit of a full offseason in Washington. The Redskins will look for a dynamic year from Bashaud Breeland, entering the final year of his contract, and growth from Kendall Fuller and Quinton Dunbar to compete with a couple of drafted rookies.
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- Greg Toler
- Fabian Moreau
- Joshua Holsey
- Lou Young
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
The 2016 season was one of transition for the majority of the Redskins' cornerbacks, in a variety of ways.
First and foremost, the addition of surprise free agent Josh Norman instantly bolstered the group's depth and upgraded its talent level with an All-Pro cornerback. Without a full offseason with the Redskins though, Norman had to quickly adjust to his new surroundings and teammates, managing to have, in his mind, "the best year of his career," even as the defense struggled in key areas.
Overall, Norman compiled 67 tackles (a career high), 19 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, Norman allowed a reception once every 13.5 snaps in coverage, which was good for eighth-best in the league last season.
He played in much more man-coverage schemes, travelling with opponents' top wide receivers and showing off his versatility under defensive coordinator Joe Barry's scheme.
Norman's addition pushed Bashaud Breeland as the second cornerback, and after a slow start, picked up his play in the second half of the season. He tallied 73 tackles, 11 passes defensed and three interceptions with two forced fumbles, learning how to play with Norman on the opposite side of the field.
With Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett converted to safety last year, that allowed rookie Kendall Fuller to eventually stake his claim at the slot cornerback position, a battle he eventually won over Dashaun Phillips.
The Virginia Tech product had his first year struggles matching up with some of the game's quickest receivers. He collected 42 tackles with two passes defensed and will look to become a reliable option there in his second season after his first healthy offseason program.
Quinton Dunbar and Phillips will also look to keep improving as they enter their third year at cornerback. Dunbar grabbed his lone interception off Eli Manning, the second of his career, and is still refining his game after switching positions midway through training camp during his rookie season. Both players will be competing again for backup roles behind Norman and Breeland.
Greg Toler filled in as a veteran presence last year but was released this offseason. The Redskins filled up some vacancies with two rookies in the draft – third round selection Fabian Moreau and seventh-round pick Joshua Holsey.
Moreau appeared in 51 games, collecting 148 tackles with 26 passes defensed and three interceptions. Entering the draft process, Moreau was projected by some to be a first-round talent and pieced together a strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, as he ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash along with a 38-inch vertical jump and a defensive backs-best 136-inch broad jump.
But just a few weeks later when trying to showcase his skills at UCLA's pro day, Moreau suffered a torn pectoral muscle casting doubt over his rookie season starting on time. As of now, Gruden hopes he will be ready for the season, but isn't sure about how much of training camp he will miss.
Holsey is a promising player out of Auburn but slipped in the draft due to concern over two torn ACL's in his college career. He had his best season in 2016, selected as All-SEC third team after making 30 total tackles and three interceptions.
The Redskins also acquired Lou Young late into offseason practices. Young, a Washington, D.C. native, played in six games with the Panthers last year and recorded one tackle.
WHAT TO WATCH:
With relatively the same top group of cornerbacks returning to the team, 2017 should be a more successful campaign. Why?
Consider the addition of new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who has promised a more attacking style defense that will let Norman, and others, roam more into off coverages, letting them use more of their instincts to make plays.
Then consider the addition of defensive backs coach Torrian Gray, who has worked hard on returning to the fundamentals, teaching technique to the defensive backs and helping them re-learn their position again.
"I'm finally learning football. I'm learning techniques," Phillips said. "I'm learning what to be looking for, to be able to slow myself down and just play ball, you know, versus using athletic ability all the time. Once you understand the game, once you understand what's going on, you can slow things down and basically play faster actually. So I'm just learning the game."
With Norman and Breeland locked in as the starting cornerbacks, it should be interesting to see how younger players will shake out the depth chart beneath them. Head coach Jay Gruden has been impressed with Fuller, who spent most of last year rushing back from an injury he suffered early in his senior year.
"I think his confidence in his body, number one," Gruden said in June. "Just talking to him yesterday or today, I think he feels a lot better with where he is physically and that's important obviously for a DB. We probably pushed him a little bit too hard. He felt good, but I don't think he was really quite his 100 percent self. He was good enough to play, he's a tough guy, he'll fight through anything, but I think this year he feels like the strength is back. He's got a little bit more speed and quickness and I think you'll see a better player."
The Redskins will want to keep Moreau on the roster regardless of how much he is able to play throughout camp, but that should still give Holsey, and college free agent Tevin Homer, some valuable opportunities and reps to show their skills in an otherwise crowded field.
Gruden, for the time being, sees Holsey challenging Fuller and Phillips at the nickel cornerback position.
"He played very well [in college]. He competed against Mike Williams and did a great job," Gruden said. "I love his competitiveness. You look as his measurables and he's not the biggest guy in the world, but he competes as good as any corner we've seen out there. We're excited to throw him in the mix and let him compete at nickel/corner and special teams obviously."
REDSKINS IN RICHMOND: