This is DeAngelo Hall’s 13th NFL training camp, and yet it feels like his first.
That’s because after a football lifetime of playing cornerback Hall is transitioning to safety full time at 32. He just doesn’t feel his age right now.
“It’s taking me back to my younger days,” Hall said. “I feel rejuvenated.”
Hall is making the switch alongside fellow converted cornerback Will Blackmon, while the Washington Redskins try hybrid rookie Su’a Cravens at linebacker and have already moved Trent Murphy from linebacker to defensive end and back. It’s a defense with plenty of moving parts, but one the team hopes thrives thanks to its versatility.
“It’s always valuable to have that,” Hall said. “We always joke around in this league and say the more you can do the better. Any time you’ve got multiple guys who can do multiple things and play multiple positions, it gives you an advantage.”
After the departure of Terrance Knighton, the Redskins could have no nose tackle in the traditional sense, but Kedric Golston, rookie Matt Ioannidis and others could fill the void. Safety Dashon Goldson left, but that opened room to move Hall and Blackmon and sign strong safety David Bruton Jr.
And then there was the addition of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
It’s not as if general manager Scot McCloughan, coach Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Joe Barry wanted to shake up the defense like a snow globe. And they didn’t take the position changes lightly.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, he’s been in the NFL for 10 years, he can go play another position,'” Barry said during minicamp in June. “There are subtle intricacies to every position. … It’s hard when you move positions, no doubt about it. They have attacked the position change and are really working their tail off.”
Golston, the graybeard of the group entering his 11th season with the Redskins, figures all the moving and shaking can’t be a bad thing.
“The versatility I think is what’s key because, as you know, injuries will happen,” Golston said. “You don’t want them to, but that’s just the National Football League. So to be able to move guys around and have that familiarity with those positions, it’s super important.”
It already proved important when Washington lost outside linebacker Junior Galette for the season with another torn Achilles tendon. Murphy spent the offseason putting on 20 pounds and learning defensive end, but earlier this week the Redskins moved him back to linebacker to compensate for Galette’s injury.
Even though he’s a linebacker again, that doesn’t meant Murphy should forget everything about the transition.
“On game day, if you dress five defensive linemen, four outside ‘backers, he can also be an extra defensive lineman,” Gruden said. “Or three outside linebackers, count him as a defensive end, he can be an outside linebacker. His value will be big because he can play both.”
Cravens, a second-round pick out of Southern Cal, can play safety and linebacker. McCloughan called that “a good problem to have.”
For now, Cravens is working at inside linebacker with plenty of time to change course.
“He can bang like a linebacker and he can run like a safety,” Gruden said. “He needs to learn the defense, so we figured inside linebacker in nickel and dime situations is the spot to teach him the defense first. From there we can branch off, see his skill set, move on and try him at safety.”
Expect plenty of experimentation from the Redskins when they open the preseason Thursday at the Atlanta Falcons, and in the weeks to come. Hall and Blackmon have to speak up in their new roles as defensive communicators, Murphy has to get back to the basics of being a linebacker and Cravens has to figure out the first things about playing in the NFL.
They’ll all be leaning on each other along the way.
“The cool thing about our group is that everyone helps each other,” Blackmon said. “Everyone’s just sharing information, everyone’s really smart, everyone’s real versatile.”
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