Continuity has been the theme for the Washington Redskins on defense. Barring injury, they should have the same defensive line and linebackers as they did at the end of last season, and coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme remains in tact.
But the secondary is where changes have been made. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are still around, but the Redskins brought in safeties Madieu Williams and Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Cedric Griffin as upgrades.
From new faces to old standards, these defensive backs feel like they have something to prove.
"We always joke with each other, just saying we have a secondary full of misfits. We have guys that I feel like nobody else wanted in this league," Hall said. "We feel like this group of guys might look bad on paper, and some guys might rank us badly on paper, [but] at the end of the day you have to go out there and play. We definitely feel like we're ready to go. We feel poised, and we feel capable with the guys we have that we're going to make a lot of plays."
The Redskins are counting on different kinds of plays from the secondary. They were 22nd in the league in interceptions last season and in the middle of the pack in terms of passing yards allowed.
As for what this retooled group wants to accomplish, there's nothing set in stone.
"We're not setting any goals," Meriweather said. "We're planning on going into everything looking forward to the season. We're going to take every day as it's our last and try to get better day by day."
It's certainly a new-look secondary, but Meriweather said it didn't take long to jell.
"A day. It takes one day," he said. "All us professionals, we know how to go in and learn the playbook and get into it together."
In reality, it'll take longer for these "misfits" to figure out how to play together. The strength is that they have guys who can play multiple positions, but roles will need to be sorted out.
Meriweather is the hard-hitter with a history of NFL fines. He doesn't hesitate to go hard in practice, but Hall thinks past transgressions have helped the 28-year-old.
"He's probably a little bit more calm and relaxed about doing things. He's real slow to react to certain situations. He's probably not going to be making too many headshot tackles this season," Hall said. "But he's a guy who I feel like has definitely learned from his mistakes and feels like he's ready to go out there and help re-write his history."
Hall's challenge is adjusting his game and covering the slot receiver in nickel situations. But he's familiar with this defense enough to move around.
"I'm probably not a great corner, but I feel like I'm a great football player. To actually go in there in the slot gives me a chance to be a football player and that's what I like to do," he said. "I like to try to use tips and things that are going on with the offense and things like that and use the defensive scheme and try to use it to my advantage."
Williams, a Maryland product like Wilson and cornerback Kevin Barnes, is trying to use experience to his advantage despite this being his first camp with the Redskins. The 30-year-old has to toe the line between being a leader and a newcomer.
"You've just to got to make sure that verbally you're able to communicate, making sure that you speak the same language as the other guys that are here," he said. "Once you do that, I feel like your skill set will kind of take over and playing football becomes more easy."
Playing football starts next week at the Buffalo Bills. Even with Meriweather's confidence, it might take an actual game to see what this group is all about.
"But it's another step for us, as a new secondary, to play in the preseason together against another opponent other than our own team," Williams said. "Hopefully once we get into game-like situations through the preseason, we'll see how we react to live bullets."
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