The locations of several Redskins safeties were notable over the weekend.
First, of course, Su’a Cravens was out West, standing on the USC Sideline in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday, but somewhere else on Sunday when the Redskins played on the same field. This was one of the final straws for the Redskins with Cravens, who was placed on season-ending Reserve/Left Squad Monday. Cravens could come back in 2018, though the 22-year-old is mulling retirement.
It wasn’t only Cravens, though. Rookie safety Montae Nicholson was somewhere new, too: On the field playing with starting free safety D.J. Swearinger Sunday when the Redskins were playing nickel defense. Nicholson, a rookie drafted in the fourth round, played only three defensive snaps in Week 1 but was on the field for 26 on Sunday.
“Montae has all the traits to be a great safety, we just have got to get him in there and get him some experience and the more experience he gets, the better he will get,” coach Jay Gruden said Monday.
Nicholson made a pair of tackles Sunday and was clearly endowed with more responsibility than in Week 1, when Deshazor Everett played 67 out of a possible 68 defensive snaps alongside Swearinger.
Nicholson did get injured on Sunday, when he suffered an AC joint sprain. He is considered day-to-day. Unless he misses significant time, though, it seems that Nicholson will compete with Everett for reps, particularly on passing downs, with Cravens gone for at least the next year. Everett hurt his eye Sunday but was fine after the game. Gruden did describe him as “banged up a little bit.”
“They’re different players, really,” Gruden said. “I think Montae covers a lot of ground. He’s very long and very fast and Montae is a good hitter too. Deshazor is still doing a good job at safety and on special teams. He was dinged up a little bit, too, but both of them are good football players and we plan to use them both. I think they’re both going to help us.”
Everett, who also excels on special teams, has a similar skillset to Cravens, who played linebacker last season and can really hit. Nicholson, on the other hand, ran a 4.42 40-yard dash.
Nickel packages are designed to defend the pass, so having a strong coverage player in Swearinger and a fast strong safety in Nicholson could be useful, especially with the Redskins defensive front becoming better against the run.
“I was impressed with Montae, the way he runs around,” Gruden said. “He had a big hit, unfortunately hurt his shoulder and his game got cut a little short. But he’s done a good job on special teams and the bit that he played in the game, he did a good job.”
Nicholson’s development is important to the Redskins overall, and particularly with Cravens gone for the year. The Redskins kept five safeties on their initial 53-man roster, but went down to four when Cravens was taken off the active list. Along with Swearinger, Everett and Nicholson, Washington has Stefan McClure, a 2016 undrafted free agent who has yet to play a snap on defense.
If Nicholson wasn’t ready – and he missed offseason workouts and was limited in training camp as he recovered from shoulder surgery – the Redskins would have been without any real depth after Everett.
“I think he has just progressed,” Gruden said. “We started him in training camp – obviously he wasn’t on PUP, but he was unable to practice, but he was getting all the walkthrough reps, so he was getting all the mental reps, which is important for him.
“Then when he was able to practice, he just got in there and made some plays. He is a big, physical guy that can run and we are excited about his prospects. Nothing against [Deshazor] Everett, we are just trying to get him out there and get him some reps. We know how important that position is. The last couple years, we have had a lot of injuries so we are trying to get all our guys ready to play.”