Cedric Griffin's four-game drug suspension has created an opportunity for some of the Washington Redskins' 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 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."
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.
"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 defensive coordinator Jim Haslett acknowledged was a tough assignment for a rookie.
Crawford has been inactive for the past five games. That was an opportunity for him to learn in practice and as an observer during games.
Haslett sees upside in both players.
"I like D.J. because he's long, he's athletic," 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.
"Richard's a guy that has great ball skills. 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."
Rookie offensive tackle Tom Compton became the last healthy member of the Redskins' nine-member draft class to make the active roster when he was promoted from the practice squad to fill suspended cornerback Cedric Griffin's roster spot.
Compton, a sixth-round pick out of FCS program South Dakota, is the 10th offensive lineman on Washington's active roster. Fortunately for the Redskins, though, they haven't had to test that depth.
Washington is one of only five NFL teams to start the same five offensive linemen in every game, according to ESPN.
The line languished last season with first-string left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right tackle Jammal Brown out of the lineup. The performance drop-off helped to cripple the offense as a whole. This season, as quarterback Robert Griffin III and a new cast of playmakers fuel the league's top-ranked offense in yards-per-play, the value of Washington's healthy offensive line can't be overstated.
"You can't just have six or seven; you have to have 11 guys," coach Mike Shanahan said. "It is coordination of our offensive line. It is a group of five guys working together, including the tight end the majority of the time, to dictate that running game or that play-action game. When everybody is hitting on all cylinders, then you have a chance to move the football. But if you have one or two missing pieces, it is really hard to be in the elite status week in and week out."
Compton, who has practiced at left and right tackle, is behind veterans Jordan Black and Maurice Hurt on the depth chart, so it's unlikely he'll play offense this season. He might not even make the active roster on game days. But he believes he's much more capable of playing well now than he was at the end of the preseason.
In preseason games, Compton sometimes had difficultly blocking pass rushers that changed direction during their rush. For example, he would struggle to recover when rushers set him up outside and made a hard move back inside. He has spent the past three months working on those deficiencies.
"It was making sure that I was working on all the different types of protections, working on my footwork on every type of play, just sharpening it up because there was clearly a lot of work to be done from the start," he said. "Proper footwork, hand placement, knowing where to go on every play. I feel like I've come a long way for that."
Inside linebacker London Fletcher (sprained left ankle) did not practice Thursday. Left tackle Trent Williams (bruised left thigh) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (sprained right ankle) were limited. Shanahan has said he expects all three to play Sunday against Baltimore.
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