What the Clark and Thomas injuries mean for the safety depth chart?
When the Redskins open up their preseason tonight they will be without their free agent veteran free safety, Ryan Clark and 2nd year pro Phillip Thomas, who was expected to be the 3rd safety on this team. Both Clark and Thomas are out with hamstring injuries which have kept them out of practice the past few days. Though not expected to be serious injuries, hamstring injuries are the type that can easily re-aggravate and the team must be careful about how they bring them back.
For Clark it’s not such a big deal, even though he is apart of a new defense. Clark has been around for sometime and is considered a very smart player in the defensive backfield, he should easily be able to make up for a couple missed days. The Thomas injury is a bit more worrisome. Thomas missed all of last season (and most of camp/preseason) due to a foot injury, so he is definitely behind where you’d want a typical 2nd year player. While Thomas wasn’t expected to unseat starting SS Brandon Meriweather in camp, it’s possible the team will be looking at him at some point this year if Meriweather continues his struggles. The more time Thomas misses the harder it will be for him to unseat Meriweather or carve out a niche for himself as a super-sub. With Clark and Thomas out, the door opens for guys down the depth chart to step-up.
Filling Ryan Clark’s starting role tonight will be 2nd year safety Bacarri Rambo. Rambo was an all-conference player from Georgia who the Redskins selected in the 6th round of last year’s draft. The hope was originally that the Redskins had lucked into some major steal of the draft and that Rambo could become a starter in year 1. His chances got even better with the injury to Thomas last year. Rambo though looked flat out bad last season (even starting in the preseason) and had major issues with his tackling. While his coverage was better by comparison, he still had mistakes in that area as well. To make matters worse, Rambo struggled on special teams, which is typically the lifeline of late round safeties. Rambo’s play was so bad overall that he was not only benched from his starting role, but he was made inactive, despite the Redskins being incredibly thin at safety. The Redskins brought in Ryan Clark to handle free safety duties this year, but tonight Rambo gets a chance to redeem himself.
Unlike fellow starting safety Brandon Meriweather, Rambo will play more than the typical 2-3 series in the game tonight. Rambo will likely play at least the whole first half, and could even see some time heading into the 2nd half. Facing off versus the Patriots 1’s and 2’s, should be a good test to see what Rambo can do. Even though all the Patriots starters won’t be playing, even their back-ups will provide a challenge for Rambo who was notorious for being out of position and taking bad angles. While Rambo still looks likely to earn a spot on this 53 man roster it is definitely not set in stone, and he needs to earn his spot both on defense and special teams.
The other players who really benefit from the injuries are Akeem Davis and Trenton Robinson. Davis will likely replace Meriweather at SS and could see considerable action heading into the 3rd quarter. If he looks well on defense and special teams he could fight for a possible 5th safety role. Fighting him for a 5th safety role (and possibly the chance to unseat Rambo as the number 2 FS) is Trenton Robinson. Robinson was signed last season to help bolster special teams for the Redskins, but he didn’t really see much time on the field on defense. For him to keep a job and possibly move up the depth chart, he will need to prove he can do more than just play special teams. Though he will mainly be facing 3rd and 4th stringers, if Robinson looks good on defense and Rambo struggles some, perhaps Robinson gets work with the 2nd team next week to see if he can handle the improved talent level.
One last beneficiary to the Clark and Thomas injuries is cornerback E.J. Biggers. Last year with injuries and question marks riddling the safety depth chart the Redskins made the odd move of playing Biggers at safety early in the season as a starter (and then as a back-up throughout the year). While it’s not unheard of to have a corner move to safety, typically there is some background or at least prep time to get the corner ready for his new responsibilities. That wasn’t the case for Biggers who had not played safety since high school and who didn’t really play there in camp or preseason last year. Not surprisingly Biggers had his share of struggles as he adjusted to the new role. He did get better as the season wore on and proved to have nice versatility. While he was re-signed with little fanfare, Biggers is currently listed as the 4th CB and likely set to make the team. He’s got some stiff competition behind him with some good young corners coming up through the Redskins system. One thing that could keep Biggers on the roster though is his ability to help out at safety. Instead of keeping a 5th safety the Redskins could opt for 6 CB’s, with Biggers playing a hybrid role. With two top safeties banged up, it shows the need for quality depth and right now that is one thing the Redskins are really lacking at the safety spot. Biggers might not line up at safety tonight for the Redskins, but if the back-ups struggle, it will help firm up his roster spot for the Redskins this season.