- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2019

RICHMOND — Quinton Dunbar stepped back in trap coverage, selling that he was covering the offense’s No. 1 receiver, and read the routes as the play developed. Seeing his opening, Dunbar broke off and grabbed Case Keenum’s pass for an interception.

The training camp setting aside, the play would have been impressive on its own. But it was Dunbar’s second consecutive interception of Keenum in 11-on-11 drills Saturday — and his third pick of the day.

Dunbar shrugged it off as just practice, but teammate Josh Norman still found it praiseworthy.

“Dunny had three today. I mean come on,” Norman said with a grin, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Such are the personalities of Washington’s top two corners — Norman enthusiastic, Dunbar even-keeled. With their tag-team reunited now that Dunbar has recovered from last year’s lingering nerve injury, the secondary could go a long way in elevating the Redskins defense in 2019.

“Oh man, we smashing this year,” Norman said. “I think just the pinnacle of rising up from what we built from four years to now. Oh man, we cooking, we really are. Just to see us out there and how we flying around, linebackers playing down hill and cracking.”

Dunbar missed nine games last year with a nerve injury in his leg. While he was out, Norman, the former All-Pro corner, experienced an assignment change: Rather than sticking to one side of the field, he started shadowing the opponent’s No. 1 receiver.

With everyone healthy now, the corners are expected to go back to sticking to their respective sides, but Dunbar felt Norman was in his element when following top wideouts last year.

“I feel like that’s the best fit for Josh, because obviously he’s a great player, but he tends to lack off when he’s not playing a top talent,” Dunbar said. “But when he’s on the top talent and you know he knows he has to be on his A game, he’ll be on his A game.”

Certainly, Norman could draw marquee receiver matchups in 2019 — Amari Cooper (Cowboys), Adam Thielen (Vikings) and Davante Adams (Packers) are on the schedule. But both he and Dunbar will be fine going back to the way things were.

Dunbar will be locked in on whichever man the coaches tell him to cover, he said, and Norman appears happy to rise to Jay Gruden’s offseason challenge for him to play at a “superstar” level.

“Every year is a rise … I’ll be better than I was last year,” Norman said. “Last year I was better than the year before that one and it’s just going to continue to go forth because that’s how I prepare, that’s how I push myself.”

Even without a healthy Dunbar for half the year, Washington ranked 11th in pass defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, and recorded 15 interceptions. Added to the mix in 2019 are safety Landon Collins, their marquee free agent signing, and depth options like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and seventh-round draft pick Jimmy Moreland (another recipient of Norman’s praise Saturday, being called “special”).

Norman said he’s glad that the Redskins secondary hasn’t been the subject of any offseason chatter or hype.

“That’s how we like it because we don’t want to be spoke on at this point in time,” he said. “We still got a lot of work to do. But when we get them pads on, come that first game of the year, then we’ll be matched up with our test.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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