The Washington Times - January 19, 2012, 11:14AM

(Updated March 5)

Continuing our breakdown of the Redskins’ offseason needs:

SEE RELATED:


Position: Secondary

Level of need: You have a scoop of quality ice cream, but it’s missing the brownie, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and cherry. Washington’s burgeoning defense is an incomplete product without adding to the back end.

Where they stand: Let’s start at safety, the bigger concern of the two secondary positions. “That’s one area we’ve got to make sure that we get some stability in the future,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said in December.

The play-making tandem of LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe never materialized in 2011. Landry, Washington’s first-string strong safety, suffered from an Achilles tendon injury that at least one specialist believes requires offseason surgery. Landry excelled in this defense during the first half of 2010, but he hasn’t been healthy since. The Redskins face a difficult decision about whether to pay Landry the big contract Landry believes he deserves. Washington could use the franchise tag on Landry, but in 2011 the safety franchise tag salary was close to $9 million. That’s too much money for a player whose health is in question.

Atogwe, the only true free safety on the roster, was limited by leg injuries and struggled to explosively change directions and consistently make plays on the ball. Whether his Redskins tenure continues depends largely on his health. After a busy 2011 offseason for him that included changing teams, a wedding and a long honeymoon, he must show up to training camp at peak fitness.

Reed Doughty is a solid backup a strong safety and a good special teams contributor but is susceptible in coverage. Rookie DeJon Gomes needs more playing experience, especially in coverage, but he is a willing and capable tackler near the line of scrimmage. Adding a play-making safety might be a luxury the Redskins don’t have resources for, considering their extensive needs on offense, but it remains a pressing need.

As for cornerback, a team can never have enough in the pass-happy NFL. The Redskins recognize they aren’t as deep at corner as would make them comfortable. Coaches believe Josh Wilson had a fine season in coverage in his first year in Washington, and they expect him to improve in his second year in the scheme. DeAngelo Hall was beaten in man-to-man on a handful of high-profile negative plays (see: both Dallas games), but he wasn’t beaten by the deep ball as often as he was in 2010.  

The Redskins tried Byron Westbrook out as the nickel cornerback at the end of the season, unconvinced that Kevin Barnes is a reliable best option there moving forward. Rookie Brandyn Thompson made plays on the ball in the preseason against second- and third-stringers but played sparingly on defense as the No. 5 corner. With questions about Barnes’ and Westbrook’s sustainability, he could have staying power if he can play the slot.

TOP PROS WITH EXPIRING CONTRACTS:

Safeties

SS Tyvon Branch, Oakland

2011 stats: 109 tackles; 1 INT; 4 PD; 1 sack

2012 Opening Day age: 25

FS Michael Griffin, Tennessee [franchise tagged on March 5]

2011 stats: 75 tackles; 2 INT; 7 PD; 0 sacks

2012 Opening Day age: 27

SS Jim Leonhard, NY Jets

2011 stats: 48 tackles; 1 INT; 6 PD; 0 sacks

2012 Opening Day age: 29

SS Craig Steltz, Chicago

2011 stats: 53 tackes; 0 INT; 2 FF; 1 sack

2012 Opening Day age: 26

Cornerbacks

Brandon Carr, Kansas City

2011 stats: 45 tackles; 4 INT; 15 PD

2012 Opening Day age: 26      

Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee

2011 stats: 75 tackles; 1 INT; 11 PD; 1 sack

2012 Opening Day age: 28

Brent Grimes, Atlanta [franchised on March 2]

2011 stats: 49 tackles; 1 INT; 14 PD (in 12 games)

2012 Opening Day age: 29

Carlos Rogers, San Francisco (yeah, yeah, I know)

2011 stats: 43 tackles; 6 INT; 18 PD

2012 Opening Day age: 31

TOP COLLEGE PROSPECTS:

Safeties

SS Mark Barron, Alabama

6-2, 218

2011 stats: 68 tackles; 2 INT; 1 sack

FS Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State

6-1, 198

2011 stats: 65 tackles; 11 PD; 2 FF

SS Harrison Smith, Notre Dame

6-2, 214

2011 stats: 90 tackles; 10 PD; 1 FF

Cornerbacks

Morris Claiborne, LSU

6-0, 185

2011 stats: 51 tackles; 6 INT; 12 PD

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

6-2, 192

2011 stats: 30 tackles; 9 PD; 2 FF

Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina

6-1, 193

2011 stats: 46 tackles; 4 INT; 1 sack; 11 PD; 1 FF