After adding three free agent safeties with starting experience last season, the Redskins thought they were on the fast-track to improving the NFL's No. 12 passing defense.
But after losing Brandon Meriweather to a knee injury in the third preseason game vs. Chicago, and later losing Tanard Jackson to a year-long suspension by the NFL, the Redskins were down two starters in the secondary.
The result was a slide to No. 31 in pass defense last season, a disappointing fall that comes with a silver lining for head coach Mike Shanahan.
"Any time you lose a guy like [Brandon] Meriweather and Tanard Jackson, and other guys have to fit in, you have to feel good about the guys that did [play] and got some experience," he told Redskins Nation. "You've got a guy like [Jordan] Pugh; who knew who Pugh was? We picked him up off the street and I thought he played at a pretty good level. I think everybody knows what Reed [Doughty] has done for us.
"Hopefully you get some of those guys back, mix it in with a good draft, and hopefully it's the difference for us next year."
Even while maneuvering around a crippling salary cap penalty, the Redskins have managed to bolster the secondary this offseason, re-signing veteran DeAngelo Hall and adding free agent cornerback E.J. Biggers.
Biggers comes to Washington after four seasons in Tampa Bay. Known for his ball-hawking ability, he has 28 batted passes in the last three years and three takeaways in 2012.
The unit also returns intriguing second-year cornerback Chase Minnifield, who had his rookie seasons cut short by a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Another reason to believe the defense can improve in 2013 comes from the stability in the front seven, particularly along the defensive line.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen return for their third seasons with the team, while Jarvis Jenkins returns with a year of starting experience.
When Adam Carriker returns from an ACL tear suffered in Week 2, the Redskins should have a fierce rotation on the defensive line.
"That's what you want. You've get Cofield who is elected captain by the football team as well as Bowen," Shanahan explained. "You take two defensive linemen that come from different NFC East teams, and they're the guys going into the second year that your players are looking up to and playing at a very high level."
Coupled with the signing of coverage linebackers Darryl Tapp and Rob Jackson, Shanahan has faith that the pass defense will improve on the field and the locker room.
"That's what you are looking for in free agency," he said. "They're young but they're very character-oriented guys that can lead football players. That's where it starts."