Head coach Joe Gibbs said Wednesday that the Redskins will explore several options--including promoting from within--in replacing departed free agents Antonio Pierce and Fred Smoot.
Smoot signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday morning, opening up a starting pot at the cornerback position. On March 3, Pierce signed with the New York Giants, opening up the middle linebacker spot.
"We all realized here that if we lost any free agent, we had to have a plan that made sense in filling that position," Gibbs said. "In the cornerback and middle linebacker spots, we are going to make the best logical choices that we can, including moving a player who is currently with us to play that position."
Among the candidates to replace both players are two veterans: cornerback Walt Harris and linebackers Mike Barrow and Lemar Marshall.
Harris, a nine-year vet, was the Redskins' nickel cornerback last season. He overcame knee surgery in the 2004 offseason to play in 16 games with two starts, recording 21 tackles (12 solo), two interceptions and one forced fumble.
Marshall, who assumed the outside linebacker position when LaVar Arrington was sidelined with a knee injury, could be shifted to the middle. Marshall is about 15 pounds lighter than Pierce, but he impressed coaches last season with his tackling ability and speed.
Barrow, a 12-year vet, is more of a question mark. He missed all of last season due to lingering knee tendonitis and team officials have called his injury career threatening.
Gibbs said on Wednesday that Barrow is ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation.
"That obviously is very important for us," Gibbs said.
Regarding Harris, Gibbs said: "Last year, we made a decision on Walt Harris that was a risky decision because of his surgery. Was he going to be able to come from this? We looked at it and we felt like it was worth the risk. Thankfully for us, it worked out great for us.
"We were careful how we brought him along and we thought he played extremely well for us. He's a veteran proven starter at corner for us."
Another possibility includes moving fourth-year player Andre Lott, who has played safety his entire NFL career, to cornerback, which he played in college.
The Redskins will also look at some of the younger players on the roster, particularly at cornerback. Third-year cornerback Ade Jimoh and first-year defensive backs Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown could get a long look. (Brown is playing in NFL Europe this spring.)
The Redskins also recently signed Roosevelt Williams, a former third-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears who has 25 games played and five starts under his belt.
The team is also reviewing available free agents and carefully monitoring the waiver wire for potential pickups at cornerback and middle linebacker. And the draft is certainly an option; the Redskins hold the ninth overall pick in the first round and also hold picks in the third and fourth rounds.
"I would never rule anything out," Gibbs said. "We review who is getting released every day. We think there is a situation or two coming up here and we're going to be very alert to everyone who comes on that waiver wire. You need to stay sharp and if someone comes out there, you do your homework and make a decision on it."
Gibbs reiterated on Wednesday that it was difficult to lose Smoot to another team. But the Redskins did not want to spend too much money on one player, especially within the confines of the salary cap.
"We went after [Smoot and Pierce] hard and early," Gibbs said. "As an organization, what you do is try to go after the players we would like to keep. But it also has to be in the confines of what works for the organization. Here is what it impacts: It impacts the other players on the team and what you are paying the other players.
"The promise that we make to our players is if you play hard for us, we will doing everything we can to try and re-sign you. We're going to go after it hard and as long as it remains within reason, we are going to do what we can to sign players."