LaRon Landry expected the fine levied by the NFL in November. A repeat offender for late hits, the Washington Redskins rookie safety was docked an entire game check for his helmet-to-helmet hit on New York Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens.
What he didn’t expect was the tackling dummy outfitted with two strips of white athletic tape the following Wednesday.
Penalties in two of the last three games had forced safeties coach Steve Jackson to try something different. He didn’t want Landry to slow down, just to be smarter about where he pummeled a quarterback or receiver. Jackson put one piece of tape across the neck area and another in the waist region.
For 20 minutes that afternoon, Landry practiced blitzing and hitting the dummy between the strips. Sometimes even the most gifted NFL players need to drill through a fundamental.
“It was comical, but really it was important to tell LaRon that penalties like that can hurt the football team but to also tell him to not change what he was doing and to keep the intimidation factor,” safety Reed Doughty said.
Landry didn’t have another late hit the rest of the season.
The penalty was just one lesson he learned in his first season, which included 17 starts, 101 tackles and two interceptions counting the playoffs. In his second season, Landry will be given every opportunity to shine as a playmaker in the secondary.
“I want to see him start right where he left off,” Jackson said after the Redskins’ organized team activity session Tuesday. “You can’t simulate experience, and he got a big dose of it last year, and he did well. … I really can’t wait to see how he progresses this year.”
Much was made early in the month about a possible move to strong safety. But as was the case with Gregg Williams, the two safety spots are interchangeable in Greg Blache’s system.
When teams are more likely to pass, the Redskins will station Landry in a free safety-like spot - 25 yards downfield - to serve as an umbrella of protection for the cornerbacks from allowing the deep ball. Other times, he will blitz. Other times, he will line up in the box and play the run.
“Some guys are better suited for strong. Some are better suited for free,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the few guys who can play both.”
Landry’s versatility was why he was selected sixth overall in the 2007 draft, why he was a starter from his first day of training camp and why the Redskins have so many options as to where he can line up.
But things weren’t so great right away. Although he was starting, Landry was pressing. Instead of using his freakish athleticism, he would break down a play mentally. Problem was the ball already had been snapped.
“The overall thing for me was the mental aspect and the speed of the game,” Landry said. “It took a little time for me to get really familiar and comfortable with the playbook. It was a mind-boggling thing for me. But as the weeks went on, I started to learn more and more things, and then it became the same game.”
About a month into the season, Jackson told Landry “to stop being so cerebral and start being more visceral. Just let things happen with your instincts.”