Getting Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson in the offseason figured to shore up the Washington Redskins' safety position. On Sunday they'll play their sixth game of the year without either, Jackson suspended indefinitely and Meriweather dealing with a left knee injury.
As the secondary as a whole has struggled, the Redskins will continue to mix and match Madieu Williams, Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes and Jordan Pugh to make do without Meriweather for the near future.
"Meriweather is probably going to be out for a little while," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "We're going to try to use all four of the guys we have and put them in the best position to help us win games."
In a perfect world for the Redskins, Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu would be on the roster and able to help out against the run and the pass. As is, it's hard to find the right combination to keep opponents from tearing up the defense on long plays.
"They don't fall out of trees. Safety's kind of a unique breed," Haslett said. "You'd like to have a safety that one, who can play the run, he's tough, he's smart and he understands because you've got to play a lot of different positions. You've got to play strong and free. You've got one that can go out and cover a receiver; that's not easily [done]. There's not too many guys that can do that."
Absent that, the Redskins took a step in the experimenting direction last week against the Atlanta Falcons by rotating the safeties in different packages. Williams said there was one for each of Doughty, Pugh and Gomes that helped play to each guy's skill-set.
Naturally, each guy wants to be the man, but there are advantages in splitting plays.
"Personally I think it helps us because all of us still play special teams, so I think it helps you stay a little bit fresher and not one guy is taking the whole load," Doughty said. "It's one of those things that the team is going to put us in the best situation to succeed. And also rotating might make us a little bit fresher so that everybody can do their job."
Doughty has been put in this spot before, a special teams ace forced to take on a major role because of injury. Gomes earned the right to start when Meriweather went down. And Williams was brought in to be an every-down safety.
Pugh was the unknown. Signed after Jordan Bernstine was injured in Week 1 after his release from the Carolina Panthers, the 24-year-old has spent more time studying than anything else since coming to Washington.
That's an ongoing process.
"He's a good athlete. He doesn't know what we're doing yet," Haslett said bluntly. "I think he's smooth the way he runs and a pretty smart guy."
To pick up the safety position quickly, Pugh has to be smart.
"I think coming in here and having to learn as much as he had to, he went a long way in terms of picking up stuff," Williams said. "It shows how cerebral he is and how smart he is."
Pugh made his first defensive appearance with the Redskins last week and could be put back into the safety rotation Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Despite being available as a street free agent, the 2010 sixth-round pick played in 27 games for the Panthers and even started three.
"Just go fast. That's the only thing that was going through my mind," Pugh said. "I practiced all week, I knew what I was doing. It wasn't my first rodeo out there. Just, hey, go have some fun."
The Redskins figured to let Pugh have some fun on special teams, but his increased role was necessitated by Meriweather aggravating his left knee injury in a freak pregame collision with Aldrick Robinson Sept. 30 at Tampa Bay.
Naturally, it had to catch him a little by surprise.
"You expect it to come because of course you want to play and you know the reason why you were brought in," Pugh said. "Then at the same time to come this quick, it's a blessing because everything comes with a process. And you know that the process is there. Sometimes the process moves faster than what you think it is."
The Redskins hope the process all around at the position moves quicker in the absence of Meriweather. They don't have another choice when safeties aren't dropping out of trees.
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