With a pass defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in 2012, the Redskins went into the 2013 NFL Draft needing help in the secondary.
To boost the secondary, the Skins selected cornerback David Amerson in the second round and safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo in the fourth and sixth rounds respectively.
Playing safety in the NFL requires a big step from the college game. The receivers are better, the offenses more complex, the quarterbacks much more accurate. Still, the Skins will rely on the young trio to improve one of the NFL's worst passing defenses last season.
For Thomas, the learning curve is high.
“We’re rookies,” Thomas said after Organized Team Activities at RedskinsPark last Thursday.
“We’re just getting into the playbook real heavy, trying to learn everything so we can get that communication down so everybody can be on the same page.”
Communicating an NFL defense can be like learning a new language for some rookies, especially with exotic blitz and coverage packages built to counter up-tempo offenses and the rising use of the spread option in the NFL.
“All the plays, the different things they’re throwing at us, all the communication, it’s a little slow right now,” Thomas said. “They’re throwing a lot of things at us.”
During OTAs, Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris often talks with the rookies. At times the conversations turn to yelling, especially when the players look out of position.
“We just got to go out there. All of us have these great ball skills, it’s going to allow us to make plays,” Rambo said. “Once we get on the same page we’re just going to fly around and make plays and have fun.”
Last season the Redskins gave up 282 yards per game through the air, good for third to last in the NFL.
Returning safeties like Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes and corners like DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson all show the potential to make big plays, but the unit tends to give up big plays as well.
To show it, the secondary gave up 31 touchdowns last season, tied at next to last in the NFL. Conversely, the Skins accounted for 21 interceptions, tied for No. 3 in the league with the New York Giants.
With Washington’s secondary, things could be boom or bust. In 2013, the team would like to see more consistency.
Much of that can come from better tackling, a skill Thomas showed in college. But all three rookies slated for the secondary come in with impressive resumes in the turnover category.
Rambo is tied for the all-time lead in interceptions at Georgia. Amerson lead the country in interceptions as a junior at N.C.State in 2011, and Thomas lead the country last season at FresnoState.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in the secondary,” Thomas said. “Just play fast and be the playmakers that we are.”
As for the veterans, both Thomas and Rambo were thankful of the support and guidance they get from the experienced guys.
“They go through it with us. They know we’re rookies and need to learn a lot faster,” Thomas said. “It’s been great, I’ve been enjoying it.”
Morris wants more from Thomas in the communication department. The coach told Thomas, a 2012 All-American at FresnoState, to be more commanding with his defensive calls.
“Just when I speak, when I make a call, make it loud so everybody can hear it, everybody can be on the same page,” Thomas said of Morris’ advice. “He said ‘be loud even if you’re wrong, everybody will play the same thing.’”