Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knows there are no real winners in the preseason. If a unit or player has a strong showing, expectations are tempered. If a player struggles, the player is ripped apart and the preseason suddenly has weight.
“It’s [just] preseason,” Haslett said Thursday, “and it’s not.”
That is one of the reasons why Haslett is looking forward to Sunday’s season-opener against the Houston Texans. Although he feels the Redskins‘ defense played “fairly well” in its four preseason games, he and his players are ready to bring that productivity to a game that matters on the road against a team with several offensive playmakers.
“We feel like we can be a top defense in this league,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “We’re tired of talking about it. We’re tired of listening to everybody else talking about it. We’re just ready to get out on that field and show it.”
Hall will be one of several players tasked with defending Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowler. Hall is expected to split the field with second-year cornerback David Amerson rather than trail Johnson throughout the game, although Haslett said it is “still up for debate where guys are going to go.”
“But I do feel good about David,” Haslett added. “And I feel good about D-Hall and I think Bashaud [Breeland] has made great strides since he’s been here. I think one group that was maybe a weakness at one time is a strength for this football team now.”
The Texans also boast a dangerous running back, Arian Foster, and a pair of explosive young receivers, DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey. All of them will work within new coach Bill O’Brien’s system, which has given coach Jay Gruden little film to work with.
“We know that Coach O’Brien comes from a New England Patriots style offense, and then from there it gets a little tricky,” Gruden said. “There are a lot of things he has done and been successful with.”
Much of the secondary’s success on Sunday will depend on whomever fills in for suspended starter Brandon Meriweather at strong safety. Bacarri Rambo is expected to start and drew praise from Haslett for his development as a tackler. Duke Ihenacho, whom the Redskins claimed off waivers Sunday, was described by Haslett as “a quick learner” but likely will not start.
“You guys think guys can walk off the street and learn how to play,” Haslett said. “It’s not that easy.”
In addition to Meriweather, the Redskins could also be without cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring) and inside linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee). Neither practiced Thursday. Brian Orakpo was a limited participant in practice but expects to play Sunday.