Redskins could start a rookie at safety

RICHMOND, Va. -- When sixth-round draft pick Bacarri Rambo first looked at the Washington Redskins' defensive playbook this spring, he was surprised how familiar it looked to him. The Redskins' rookie safety saw a lot of similarities between the Redskins' defense and the defense in which he played at the University of Georgia.

"A lot similar," Rambo said after one of the Redskins' practices Friday. "We run the same 3-4, a lot of the blitz patterns and the coverages are the same, and also we had a linebackers coach from here that was at Georgia the last couple of years I was there, and he taught me a lot."

That coach was Kirk Olivadotti, who left the Redskins after the 2010 season and got the job as linebackers coach at Georgia. The experience of working with Olivadotti is one of several factors that have contributed to a surprisingly high comfort level for Rambo as he's run with the first-team defense here in the early days of training camp.

"Once I got drafted and got here during the rookie minicamp, I looked over the playobook and saw there were a lot of the same things, just different terms," Rambo said. "It helps me play a whole lot faster."

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said of Rambo, "you can see he's really relaxed back there," and that's part of the reason he's getting this early chance with the first team. But Shanahan also offered high praise for his other rookie safety, fourth-rounder Phillip Thomas. He's obviously a long way from deciding whether either of these guys can start at free safety for him once the regular season starts, but the team's need at the position is such that the rookies are definitely in the mix.

"I think we've got a chance to get better in the secondary," Shanahan said after Saturday morning's walkthrough. "We've got some good young guys with a lot of talent, and now it's how quick they learn it. But I like what I've seen."

Safety is one of the positions Shanahan always says is impossible to evaluate until the pads go on and the preseason games start. So it'll be a while before any final evaluations get made. He also has reliable veteran Reed Doughty, whom he knows can start if none of the younger guys is ready in time. The Redskins hope Brandon Meriweather is healthy and able to man the strong safety position, but free safety is wide open, which means opportunity for the youngsters.

So, since Rambo's the guy out there right now, let's quickly examine his case. He's a good instinctive player and a sure tackler, which bode well for his ability to handle a last-line-of-defense, center-field type role in the Redskins' defense. Pre-draft evaluations questioned his sideline-to-sideline speed, which could be an issue, and the Redskins don't know yet how he'll play if asked to move up in the box and play the run. Since they like to be able to interchange their safeties, this is something Rambo, Thomas or anyone else with designs on that spot will have to show.

The Redskins are likely to keep at least four safeties -- Meriweather, Doughty, Rambo and Thomas -- and holdovers Jordan Pugh and DeJon Gomes are in the mix for roster spots as well. They're likely to keep at least four cornerbacks -- DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, David Amerson and E.J. Biggers -- with Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield in the mix there. So there's still lots to sort out in the secondary, even beyond picking starters. Could Amerson play his way into a starter's role and make Wilson expendable? Can they count on Minnifield to hold up physically? Do they have to keep Crawford on the team as a return man?

Secondary is the position of greatest uncertainty for the 2013 Redskins, which is why it's no surprise to find them mulling the very real possibility of going with a rookie as their starting free safety.