August is the time for talk of potential and what looks good on paper. September is the time when that talk looks either wise or foolish. But when Hall looks around, he sees a secondary that should be vastly improved over recent years.
“It’s the best group I’ve been around,” Hall said. “I’ve said it from Day 1.”
Norman provides swagger and talent, coming off an All-Pro season, but the reason Hall made this statement is because of the others in the Redskins’ defensive backfield. One good player does not make for a great secondary. But fellow starting corner Bashaud Breeland has looked as good as anyone in the secondary early in camp. Yes, corners will lose one-on-ones in practice, but the Redskins’ receiving group is the offense’s strength.
However, the corner position in general should be a strength, too. Rookie Kendall Fuller and second-year Quinton Dunbar give the Redskins excellent depth, or at least that’s the hope. Dunbar’s awareness has improved this season, now that he’s had a full year playing corner. The coaches already loved his speed and length. Fuller has worked in the slot, often behind Dashaun Phillips, whom the Redskins were excited about in the spring. Fuller might have been a first-round pick had he not had microfracture surgery last fall. Instead, he slipped to the third round, where he could end up providing excellent value. Meanwhile, veteran Greg Toler has been one of the “bigger surprises” in camp. Someone from the Redskins’ cornerback group will be cut who can help another team. That’s not always the case.
At safety, Hall remains a slight work in progress as he’s still adapting to taking the best angles to the ball — whether against a pass or a run. But he likes playing the position, after switching from corner midway through last season. And he can handle more responsibilities, too. Last season, the Redskins simplified the scheme for him when he was on the field. Now, they can call for different blitzes because he’s faster than most safeties and can rotate quicker.
The Redskins hope David Bruton will add what Dashon Goldson did last season — leadership — while contributing more on the field. Bruton was mostly a reserve in Denver until last season. His benefit: playing with solid corners. The one negative: losing Junior Galette as a pass-rusher. Safeties can be made by pass rushes and excellent corner play.
Will Blackmon and Duke Ihenacho could provide more depth, but Blackmon is still adapting to safety after a career at corner and Ihenacho has played 11 snaps in two seasons because of injuries. So the potential is there, but so too are reasons to pause on that optimism.
It would help if the pass rush comes through, and that puts a lot on linebackers Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan. But with the Redskins it could be that the secondary needs to provide good enough coverage — or confuse quarterbacks for a split second — to buy the rush more time. The on-paper hope by the Redskins is that they can disguise coverages a little longer because of the experience they have and because of some of the speed at safety with ex-corners Hall and Blackmon. Bruton offers more physical play than Ihenacho, but the latter is faster.
Hall, right now, is obviously optimistic. But he’s also a guy who doesn’t always make such declarations.
“Just watching the guys compete and battle, there’s no doubt in my mind this is the most talented group I’ve ever been around,” he said. “We had a pretty good group in Oakland — myself, Nnamdi Asomugha, Gibril Wilson, Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson … Tyvon Branch. We had a squad out there. We couldn’t quite get it together, but we had a squad. This group top to bottom is absolutely more talented than that group I was part of.”
Time will tell if this is summer optimism or fall reality, and the Redskins aren’t ready to proclaim them anything. But they do like what they have compared to past years.
“In my three years here, it’s the best,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We have more depth. Their experience is a lot better and we have a lot of young guys. We have a good combination of veteran leadership and youthful guys. It’s an exciting room. We still have to prove it and play against some dynamic offenses and great quarterbacks. There are some great tests, but I feel good where they are.”