DeAngelo Hall, Keenan Robinson facing new roles for Redskins' defense

Washington is using DeAngelo Hall at safety to take advantage of its improved depth at cornerback. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins' defense got a little healthier in the secondary -- and are hoping to do the same at linebacker. In both areas, improved health leads to tough choices.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall returned Sunday after spraining his toe in Week 3, but Hall did not return to the starting lineup. Rather, the Redskins used him at safety in passing situations. And linebacker Keenan Robinson, who sat out with shoulder and neck issues, might not return to the starting lineup when he’s ready to come back.

Will Compton replaced Robinson in the starting lineup and it’s likely Compton will remain there. That means Robinson or Perry Riley Jr. won’t start when the former recovers. Compton can play either linebacker position (he started for an injured Riley earlier this season). Compton has graded out well when he’s played; coaches like his aggressiveness against the run and ability to quickly diagnose plays and react. Robinson runs well and covers better than Riley, though the latter is considered more aggressive against the run (he's coming off his best game, but has struggled in others).

"We’ll have to figure that out if Keenan becomes 100 percent," Coach Jay Gruden said. "We’ll have a tough decision to make between the three of those guys. Will has played outstanding in his time, both linebacker spots. I would imagine he’ll be one of them."

Hall’s situation is different. His sprained toe made it difficult for him to push off and play with the same level of explosion he had before the injury. Hall struggled to cover in practice at times during one-on-one drills over the past two weeks as his toe recovered.

But the Redskins have more depth at cornerback these days, thanks to the contributions of rookie Kyshoen Jarrett in the slot and veteran Will Blackmon. Their play enabled the coaches to tap into Hall’s strengths: Smarts and coverage skills. So they aligned him at safety in a two-deep look.

Their top two cover cornerbacks now are Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland. And Hall’s worst season with Washington occurred when he played in the slot. Jarrett has handled that job well (and Breeland would likely go inside if Jarrett couldn’t). By using Hall in a deep-half look (or even in a single-high one), the Redskins have a safety who can cover ground.

It’s different than playing the spot full-time, though it could ease into such a situation. Hall is a smart player, but would need to adjust to playing much different angles, especially against the run. For now, though, they just need him to perform against the pass. Hall had been working as a safety on scout team.

"We wanted to find a spot for D-Hall, because he’s a big leader for this football team and a heck of a player, so we put him out there -- as he’s recovering -- at safety on scout team and he did some good things," Gruden said. "It’s a transition that I think he can make. How much of it moving forward, we’ll determine that later."