With a mix of experienced veterans and talented youth, Redskins defensive backs coach Perry Fewell believes Washington's secondary will be a strong group during the 2016 season.
Josh Norman has had little issue transitioning from the Carolina Panthers to the Washington Redskins.
Yes, the two teams have similar defensive schemes and requests for their cornerbacks, but Norman came right in with the Redskins and got a jumpstart on his move over to Washington.
"I think that we are a team that can win in advance, much like what they were at Carolina several years ago, we are growing to become that winning program," Redskins defensive backs coach Perry Fewell said. "So I think he was really sold on the part of, 'Hey, I've been through this, I have some leadership and skills that I can bring to help elevate this football team.'"
Norman, of course, is coming off an All-Pro season with Carolina and was a shock addition to the Redskins after the Panthers rescinded his franchise tag. He's a shutdown cornerback who can hold his own against any wide receiver in the NFL.
But his presence will help the entire defense, particularly 24-year-old Bashaud Breeland.
Breeland, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been the Redskins' top contributor at cornerback over the last two seasons. With Norman around, offenses may attempt to target him more, which hasn't always worked out for the opposition.
"The best thing that could happen for Breeland is to have Norman come," Fewell said. "Because Norman has worked, he's a worker. Breeland's a worker also, so if you can channel that and get that work ethic, he can learn a few trick of the trade by example from Josh. And that just elevates him."
Options for nickel cornerbacks
While Norman and Breeland are the Redskins' top two cornerbacks entering the 2016 season, there are quite a few options for the nickel cornerback position.
With the 84th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected cornerback Kendall Fuller out of Virginia Tech. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
Among them are rookies Kendall Fuller and Mariel Cooper and veterans Dashaun Phillips and Greg Toler.
Unlike playing on the outside where it's often a man-to-man matchup, the nickel position has some nuances that require the ability to play in numerous situations.
"The nickel position, you have to have cover skills and then you have to have the ability to blitz and go in there and take on some of the big guys," Fewell said. "And then you have to have a little bit of safety in you, that you know you've got to take on sometimes a pulling guard or a tight end or what have you. So it's kind of like its three positions into one, but cover skills are the most important skills. The ability to think and be smart football player comes into factor."
During OTAs and veteran mandatory minicamp, Phillips received the most action with the first-team at nickel.
He appeared in six games for the Redskins last season.
"We worked him all throughout the year last year at that spot, and so he's brought that experience just from practice -- and some game experience -- to the spring and he's able to function," Fewell said. "He's gained about 10, 12 pounds, he's gained some muscle. He looks good, so he's taking advantage of this opportunity. He jumped on that nickel spot and he's not getting loose for anybody and that's what competition is all about. Now when we go into the fall it'll be a battle, but right now he's secured that position."
And for now, the Redskins are easing Fuller – who many believe could ultimately be the team's long-term nickel corner -- back onto the field after he suffered a season-ending knee injury last year at Virginia Tech.
"We have been very cautious with him and try not to overwork his knee," Fewell said. "But he is a fine, fine defensive back prospect and we are excited about what he can do."
DeAngelo Hall has the traits to succeed at safety, while David Bruton Jr. has been 'brilliant'
Like many of the great cornerbacks over time, Hall has slide over to the safety position for the final years of his career.
But the Redskins aren't moving him to the safety just to extend his career. They fully believe that Hall's combination of football smarts, natural talent and leadership skills will help bolster a revamped secondary.
"He's a smart young man, he's a smart football player," Fewell said. "He has great vision back there, his skills, as far as being a corner and what he does back there, he brings speed into the middle of the field, into the half portion of the field for us. We expect a lot out of him, as far as his steps and growth going into the fall."
Bruton Jr., meanwhile, has been working with the first-team defense all offseason as well.
Signed by the Redskins in March after seven seasons with the Denver Broncos, Bruton Jr. provides the Redskins a veteran who has succeeded on the biggest stage.
"He has a calming effect on our secondary because they believe in him and how he's making calls, communication," Fewell said. "He's really been a fine addition to our defensive secondary."