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Redskins Seeking Interchangeable Safeties

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden recently talked about the current state of the team's safety unit, giving high praise to Jeron Johnson and talking about the importance of versatility. 

While Jeron Johnson's reps for Seattle's defense over the last few years were limited behind All-Pros Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the Washington Redskins believe the Boise State product has the skillset needed to make an impact on their defense.

Most of Johnson's action came on special teams over the years, but last season in a start against the New York Giants, the safety showed he can get the best of NFL wide receivers, recording a team-high eight tackles in a 38-17 victory.

"We watched that game very closely, and he did a good job," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. "You know, he can play in the box, he covers some ground, and I think he's an interesting prospect."

Gruden hasn't yet committed to naming Johnson, or any other player on the roster for that matter, a starter, but the second-year head coach does believe he'll bring serious competition to a young group of safeties.

"I think, like every other position, you bring people in to training camp and you have competition, and that's what we're all about — trying to create a competition at every spot on our football team, which, in turn, will make us better," the head coach said. "It'll help our depth and it'll make us a better football team when we're out there competing."

And whether it's Johnson or another one of the safeties on the regular-season roster, Gruden said the starters need to prove themselves daily.  

"We'll have the starting lineup that we know who the starters are absolutely that they don't get challenged — we want people to challenge one another for their spot every day in practice, and the safety position will be a great fight," he said.

Last season, the Redskins' safeties experienced quite a few setbacks, as Duke Ihenacho, who was expected to make an immediate impact, was lost for the year Week 3 with a season-ending injury, while starter Brandon Meriweather struggled to remain in the lineup as well.

Ryan Clark, meanwhile, started all 16 games but battled inconsistent play, and Phillip Thomas was active for the second half of the season after starting the year on the practice squad.

In total, the safeties combined to grab just two interceptions and four forced fumbles on the year.

The Washington Redskins on Monday, March 16, 2015, announced the acquisition of safety Jeron Johnson. Here's a gallery of images from his career.

Clark is now a full-time member of the ESPN crew following his retirement in February, and Meriweather remains an unrestricted free agent, so Gruden wants both new and returning safeties to become bigger playmakers in 2015.

"I think we have some people in the building that can compete and hopefully, with another year under their belt and a new system, some guys will rise to the occasion and make some plays — whether it's in our building or maybe we have to go out and get one," he said. "But we have Johnson, we have Duke still, we have Phillip Thomas. We have some guys here — Trenton Robinson, obviously; Akeem Davis — we have some safeties here that are going to get a shot at it, get a crack at it. We'll see how they do."

Safeties Need To Be VersatileAs an offensive-minded coach, Gruden understands the rapid evolvement of the game as much as anyone.

More and more teams are incorporating spread attacks and no-huddle into their playbooks.

As a result, defenses, but particularly safeties, need to know various positions on the field, the second-year head coach said.

"You want them to be interchangeable," Gruden said of the safeties. "You know, with the change of strengths and people going in motion and the no-huddle stuff, you want to be able to have safeties that can do both. And that's what drew us to Johnson from Seattle, that he can do both. …Some teams have gotten away with more of a strong safety and a free safety over the course of their careers, so it's just a matter of what flavor you want and what type of guys we have."




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