The Redskins cornerback liked a lot of what he saw from the team's young group of defensive backs this year. He's looking forward to the continuity they'll provide next season.
It's the time of year to take stock of the previous season, reflect on what occurred and project how the next one could be better. In the case of the Redskins' secondary, which boasts a few young and promising defensive backs in 2017, cornerback Josh Norman expressed high expectations for how the unit will shape up next season in the team's pursuit to get back to the playoffs.
"We're a good young, athletic, physical group but we want to get to that great, that next level," Norman said. "It's steps, it's processes you've got to take. We're still a work in progress. We're pretty good right now, just working on getting to that next level."
What makes him so bullish on the unit? It starts with the enhanced play of Kendall Fuller, last year's third-round pick, who has made big strides in his sophomore season.
Fuller missed spring practices and workouts recovering from knee surgery after an injury during his junior year at Virginia Tech and it took him some time to get adjusted to the NFL. But one year later, with a healthy offseason, Fuller has emerged as one of the best defensive players on the team. Primarily playing the nickel cornerback position, which requires the versatility to cover some of the quickest receivers on the field, Fuller leads the team with four interceptions and has already eclipsed his tackle total (42) from last year.
This year's third-round selection, cornerback Fabian Moreau had a similar beginning to Fuller, not participating in practices until the end of training camp thanks to a torn pectoral. He made a first impression with his speed that showed up in his first preseason game against the Packers as a gunner on punt coverage.
Moreau hasn't played much cornerback – he's primarily seen snaps on special teams and filled in where needed in the secondary -- but as a projected first-round talent before his injury, coaches see him as a starter as early as next season. Much of course depends on the status of cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who will be a free agent this year and likely be a prized player for secondaries in need, but coaches are confident in Moreau's ability.
"We evaluate him every day and he's got great movement skills and he can run," head coach Jay Gruden said. "There's no question about that. I think like all young players, coming off the injury that he had in training camp – he missed a lot of training camp or OTAs, he missed all of them and was a late add in training camp. So, this has been a great experience for him. I think he's, again, one of these players you love to keep in here and develop and he's got a special skill set. I think next year in the offseason and training camp is going to be a great test for him, but I think he's got the chance to be a true lockdown corner for us."
That's not to discredit cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who also has an opportunity to compete for a starting role with Moreau and has received the majority of snaps backing up Norman and Breeland this season. Dunbar has 34 tackles, eight passes defensed (careers highs) and an interception, but his physical play has gotten him in trouble on occasion.
And though he's missed five games with a concussion and was placed on Injured Reserve a couple weeks ago, the Redskins believe Montae Nicholson can be a strong player for them at safety based on the flashes he produced in his limited time on the field this year.
In eight games, he recorded 24 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception, one he grabbed against the Raiders, using all of his 6-foot-2, 216-pound frame, which immediately dictated the tone of the game.
"That guy's sophomore year, it's going to be better than his freshman year," Norman said. "I can guarantee you that. Working on him and developing him to something that, side to side, his range is unbelievable. Getting him in the right direction, you can build upon that."
As coaches start their evaluations of the previous season, analyzing not only games but how backups fared in practice and how they developed over the course of the season, they know they have several young options in the secondary they will count on in the years ahead.
"All these guys – these players that we have here – we view them as potential starters and potential players for us," Gruden said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be here. They're developing for a reason – for injuries, free agency, whatever it is. All these guys we have plans on being potential starters."