'It's A Nice Little Group': Redskins Molding Secondary With A Mix Of Youth And Experience

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With each passing day during OTAs and minicamp, a mix of experienced veterans and new defensive talent has continued molding into the secondary that will take the field for the Redskins this fall.

And from returners to free agent signees and all the way down to draftees, the group occupying the back line has impressed their coaches. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky enjoys the competitive battles he's seen from these players in practice, while head coach Jay Gruden feels confident in the secondary’s capabilities.

"Overall it's a nice little group showing up," Manusky said after Day 5 of OTAs on May 29.

Headlining the group is All-Pro Landon Collins, a prized free agent signing and proven leader with unparalleled production from the strong safety spot. Collins will serve as the tone-setter for the starting secondary, which will likely include cornerback Josh Norman, free safety Montae Nicholson and a mix of cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau.

Behind them, there's a talented unit of young players -- many of whom have shown flashes of promise during offseason workouts.

"Right now we're still judging every player, but overall I like where [Troy Apke] is at," Manusky said about the 2018 fourth-round safety out of Penn State. "He's in that second and third-year transition.”

Seventh-round rookie Jimmy Moreland has also made headlines. He snagged three interceptions in a single practice earlier in OTAs -- a feat Manusky has never seen in nearly two seconds of coaching -- and finished the offseason training program with five picks during sessions open to the media.

“He has made his presence felt, without a doubt,” Gruden said of Moreland. “He has a great idea of route concepts and breaking on the ball, obviously the ball skills. Yeah, he’s a fun guy to watch. I’ve been very impressed with him."

Other young players seeking the opportunity to make an impact include Moreau, Greg Stroman, Adonis Alexander and Danny Johnson.

Gruden said Tuesday that he has been "really, really, really impressed" with the development of Moreau, who started 10 games for the Redskins last season and amounted 58 combined tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception. Gruden added he's been one of the most impressive players during the offseason along with inside linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton.

As for Stroman, he's coming off a year with three starts and 38 combined tackles. And while Johnson and Alexander did not contribute much defensively last season, they're each vying to carve out their niche within a crowded defensive backfield.

Also joining the defensive fold are inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan and defensive backs coach Ray Horton, both of whom arrive in Washington with several years of coordinator experience. The up-and-coming group can learn a lot from these offseason additions.

"For me it has been watching the players and seeing where can they improve ... because everybody wants to be patted on the back," Horton said. "Nobody wants to say, 'You’re bad at this, you’re bad at that.' Well, what I want to do is show them where their deficiencies are so they can become better.”

Plus, these young defensive backs can certainty lean on their veteran counterparts such as Norman, Collins and free agent signee Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who's been in the league since 2008. It's a group that's made it's fair share of Pro Bowls and has lined up against elite competition.

“Every year you get older, every year you get another year up under your belt,” Norman said. “I’m just here to be a vessel; to just pass on information and knowledge like I got when I was young.”

Between them, as well as the coaching staff, there's a wealth of knowledge for the younger players to soak in, and doing so will prove beneficial as they continue fighting for increased playing time during training camp next month.

"We have a tremendous group of players with a lot of opportunity," said Horton. "I'm looking for a fantastic battle from some guys who are trying to win a job. I want an open competition. Let the best guy win."

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