When the Redskins signed cornerback Orlando Scandrick, they were looking to add a veteran to play the slot position after losing Kendall Fuller in the team’s trade with Kansas City. It was a practical move, before the draft, to fill a need and add quality experience.
But a lot has changed since then. The Redskins drafted cornerback Greg Stroman, added cornerback Adonis Alexander in the supplemental draft and have watched Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau develop into likely starters. And with undrafted rookies Danny Johnson and Ranthony Texada turning heads over the last few weeks, the depth in the room has expanded considerably.
In other words, the decision to release Scandrick on the last day of training camp, as head coach Jay Gruden explained a couple times at Tuesday morning’s press conference, was based on the crop of young talent that’s continued to impress in Richmond, Va., and the desire to get them more opportunities before the start of the regular season.
"Had nothing to do with his play, it was more of the rookies' emergence really,” Gruden said.
“Watching [Greg] Stroman and watching Danny Johnson compete and play, I’ve been impressed,” he said. “Watching Fabian [Moreau] move inside, I’ve been very impressed. So, you know, we still have time if it doesn’t work out or if somebody gets injured, we still have time to make moves also ourselves. [Ranthony] Texada’s done a good job also."
This kind of move implies a certain level of organizational trust. Even after losing Fuller and Bashaud Breeland in the offseason, the Redskins must lean on the growth they’ve seen from Dunbar, who has stepped into the second outside cornerback position. He made plays throughout camp and has learned to become less physical and rely more on his technique, something he gave credit to defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.
“I definitely feel like they’re putting a lot of faith in me,” Dunbar said. “But I have faith in myself. The body of work that I’ve done in the last three years, from me switching from wide receiver to cornerback, that was every bit of me just buying into the process and the grind. I’m just excited to get out there and represent the Redskins.”
The move is also a vote of confidence in Moreau, who the team wanted getting more reps at the slot position to eventually take over that role by the start of the season.
“I think that the whole point of it is, we have to get them the reps, you know?” Gruden said. “When somebody else is here and Fabian is not taking reps it’s not doing anybody any good. So, we have to see Fabian, Fabian has got to get through it, learn it, make his mistakes, [and] we have to get them corrected. So when we play Arizona [Cardinals] we have great confidence that Fabian knows what to do and how to communicate in the leverages and techniques that we want him to play and I think he will be fine once that hits."
“I commend Fabian,” Dunbar said. “Because at first, his mindset was always outside corner, outside corner. But like I told him, ‘You know how talented you are? If you actually put your mind to it, and focus on being a nickelback, that’ll make you more expandable.’ He took heed to that. He focused on playing nickelback and he came out here and had the best three days in a row that I’ve seen – got two picks in three days, and he looked amazing at nickelback.”
Cornerback Josh Norman is once again the veteran of the room, something he chuckled at before breaking camp. He has faith in the young crop of corners, knowing that they are all a group of grinders and will compete every day on the field.
“Youth draws fire,” Norman said. “If we get that fire drawn in the right direction, ooh. That’s going to be really explosive right there. We just have to make sure we understand, and be locked in on the same page. If we’re all locked in on the same page, there won’t be anything that can deter our group.”
Part of that belief comes in Norman’s observations of Johnson and Texada, who remind him of himself as rookie gunning to make the Panthers’ roster. Safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. is also a big fan of Johnson, comeone who continued to make plays in camp. They’ve caught the veterans’ and coaches' attention, and now they must keep it.
“These guys remind me of that fire inside that I see in them,” Norman said. “When I see them compete, I’m seeing a little bit more in them, so they have their moments. Hopefully they stay healthy, and everybody can come out here and be successful in what they do.”