Sunday, May 6, 2007

He has been on Washington’s roster for only a week, but LaRon Landry already has changed the Redskins’ defense.

After insisting for years his safeties were interchangeable, assistant head coach Greg Williams anointed Landry — the No. 6 pick last weekend — as his strong safety. Sean Taylor, the Redskins’ first pick in 2004, will become the free safety, putting him in a better position to make plays on the ball after the team had a record-low 12 turnovers last season.

“We had to use Sean in the box an awful lot last year,” Williams said after yesterday’s rookie minicamp practice in his first comments of the offseason. “We’d like to have better ball production this year. … I’d like to put Sean in a position more to go get the ball. I think LaRon will help us do that. He can cover tight ends and wide receivers. He gives us more flexibility because he can do so many things.”

In other words, veteran safeties Pierson Prioleau, Omar Stoutmire and Vernon Fox, all of whom started at least six games in one of the past two years, had better plan on remaining backups.

Williams usually keeps rookies out of the starting lineup early in the season. He kept Taylor behind the forgettable Andre Lott for two games in 2004 and kept cornerback Carlos Rogers (the ninth choice in 2005) behind Walt Harris until December of his rookie year. But Landry is apparently different.

“I don’t think it will be very long [until he starts] from what I’ve seen,” Williams said. “It looks like No. 30 can play. He has moved around very well. … You watch the Sugar Bowl and he wasn’t just trying to win his matchup. He was trying to hunt you down. Those are the kinds of things you like from an attitude standpoint.”

Landry, a brother of Baltimore Ravens safety Dawan Landry, started 48 of 52 games at Louisiana State. He had 68 tackles and three interceptions last season, including six tackles and an interception against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

After his first minicamp, there are no signs of slowing down.

“LaRon is showing why he was picked No. 6,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “The biggest thing right now is his intensity. We don’t have pads on and he improves every rep. He takes every play seriously. LaRon plays every play full-speed. He plays the game with a passion.

“He’s a hard worker with talent. The biggest change for LaRon will be the speed of the game and the knowledge of the game, not making the same mistakes over and over and over. You learn from your mistakes and get better.”

Prior to the draft, Landry worked with noted performance trainer Tom Shaw, who had six clients taken in the first round — including four in the top six. Landry trained with several current NFL players, including St. Louis safety Corey Chavous, to help him improve his skills at defensive back.

All that effort led to his career-best 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds before the draft.

As a result, Landry is the only one of 86 players on the field who’s not only guaranteed to be on the roster but also will soon have millions in his bank account. But he is taking nothing for granted.

“There’s nothing guaranteed,” Landry said. “I’m just like everyone else competing and trying to earn a job. I’m like the rest of the guys trying to get noticed. I’m grinding in the playbook like everyone is. The first day was kind of a shock. Practice was a little faster and more intense [than in college]. Today, I came out with a little more intensity and a lot more focus. I knew the playbook a little bit more and I was able to play fast.”

How he will work with Taylor — whom Landry compared to Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott — remains to be seen. But Jackson is confident, even though the pass defense suffered greatly in 2006 with Adam Archuleta, Troy Vincent and Fox playing next to Taylor.

“LaRon and Sean will complement each other very well,” Jackson said. “They both have a passion for winning and for going after the ball that will allow them to mesh together. Sean’s had the expectations on him his whole career. All the things that LaRon is about to go through Sean has already been through.”

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