Cedric Griffin’s four-game drug suspension has created an opportunity for a pair of unproven cornerbacks to contribute to a possible postseason push.
Newly-signed D.J. Johnson and rookie seventh-round pick Richard Crawford are preparing to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Johnson, at 6-1 and 191 pounds, provides more length than Crawford, who is listed at 5-11.
Johnson has been with seven NFL teams since Denver signed him as a college free agent in 2009. He spent three weeks on the Redskins’ active roster last November, and he re-signed here on Oct. 22.
“I’m a tall corner that can run,” said Johnson, his one gold tooth gleaming. “That’s what they’re going to pay me to do.”
Johnson said he’s willing to add defensive duty to the special teams responsibilities he has had the last three games.
“I’m earning my paycheck,” he said. “They tell me to go out there and cover 10 punts and then play 60 snaps, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s like the fourth preseason game for me where you’re getting all the reps.”
“I like D.J. because he’s long, he’s athletic,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He’s kind of bounced around, but I like his skills just from what I’ve seen. I haven’t really seen him live.”
Crawford in the preseason had two interceptions and five passes defended, but that wasn’t an accurate indication of his readiness to play, he said. His knowledge of the defense was insufficient.
“I was just kind of out being there freelancing,” Crawford said. “I was kind of being dumb about stuff like that. I feel like I improved on that aspect of the game.”
He helped to replace Griffin in Weeks 4 through 6 when Griffin was sidelined by a strained right hamstring. He played mostly in the slot, though, which Haslett acknowledged was a tough assignment for a rookie.
“That’s probably one of the hardest positions to play because you have to do so many things,” Haslett said. “You’re blitzing. You’re covering. You’ve got to handle the middle of the field. You’ve got to know where everybody is. You’ve got to know where your help is if you have help. It’s just a lot of different things. That’s why you usually have the better football players play in there. The Charles Woodsons play in there, and they can get a lot of action. If you’ve got a good football player, you can get a lot of production out of him with interceptions, sacks, different things.”
Crawford also is at a disadvantage in the slot because he is relatively short. Taller cornerbacks make seam throws more difficult because a quarterback has to drop passes in over him.
“Richard’s a guy that has great ball skills,” Haslett said. “He’s extremely quick. He doesn’t understand the game fully yet, but he’s getting better on the outside than the inside. We just try to utilize what we think they do best, kind of like we do with the safeties.”