Redskins training camp preview: Cornerbacks

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Before the Redskins report to Richmond for training camp on July 24, I’m examining their strengths and questions at each position. Next up: cornerbacks.

(Previous position previews: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Offensive line | Defensive line | Outside linebackers | Inside linebackers)

CORNERBACKS

Returning starters: DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson

Top reserves: E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, Richard Crawford

Others: Chase Minnifield, Jerome Murphy

Notable departure: Cedric Griffin (expired contract, not re-signed)

New faces: Biggers (free agent, Tampa Bay) and Amerson (second-round pick, NC State)

Final cuts history: Mike Shanahan kept four in 2012 and five in 2011 and 2010.

What to like: Hall’s return (at a fraction of the $8 million salary he was scheduled to earn) was critical to establishing quality at the top and bottom of the depth chart. In 2012, he regained his status as the team’s best cornerback. Coach Mike Shanahan’s staff likes how Hall has improved as a tackler. Coaches believe he covered particularly well during the team’s seven-game winning streak en route to the NFC East championship. They can tolerate the occasional behavioral issue if he continues to run with receivers and play smartly with vision.

Last year’s experiment of using Hall in the slot is expected to yield to others getting an opportunity because Hall wasn’t as effective a blitzer as coaches had hoped. That’s OK, though, because Biggers excelled in the slot for much of spring practices. He changes direction well, has fluid hips and quick feet. He drives well on routes in front of him and can turn and run with receivers. He also played for defensive backs coach Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay.

Amerson’s physical traits are enticing. At 6-1, 205 pounds, he’s Washington’s biggest cornerback. His arm length of 32 5/8 inches is considered quality, and his hands are big at 10 1/2 inches. Those attributes help his ball skills. Also, he ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 4.44 seconds. His upside was evident in his sophomore season at NC State, when he led the nation with 13 interceptions. When he makes proper reads and is disciplined with his technique, he is an impact playmaker.

Crawford flashed during spring practices by being more physical near the line of scrimmage. He expects to play better in his second season because of his improved understanding of where his help is and the intent of defensive calls. Expect him to play a lot during the preseason.

Preseason questions: Wilson regressed in 2012 after playing better than any Redskins cornerback during his debut season with the team. Last year, he surrendered too many long receptions and back-shoulder touchdown catches (the latter often a product of being only 5-9). It turns out he played about half the season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Wilson is a physical corner who likes to use his hands, so it stands to reason the shoulder affected him. He had offseason surgery but missed all of spring practice. Whether he responds with a good season will greatly impact the quality of the entire secondary.

Just as Amerson’s upside was evident during his sophomore year, his downside was clear last season. He admittedly surrendered too many big plays because of poor eye discipline and a tendency to try to sit on routes. In order to get on the field and make a positive impact, he must take to Morris’ coaching, learn to read keys in receivers’ routes, and familiarize himself with NFL route combinations. Fortunately for the Redskins, Hall’s return lessens the need for Amerson to play extensively during his rookie season.

Minnifield flashed during spring practices in 2012 before tearing the ACL in his right knee. He’s fast, has quick feet and good burst out of his breaks. He could cause a numbers crunch if he shows no signs of his longstanding knee problems.

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