O.J. Atogwe Can Be Successful With The Redskins If….

O.J. AtogweI loved Thom Loverro’s Washington Examiner story Beware the buys of March. In a typical move, the Washington Redskins made the biggest free agent signing thus far with the addition of free safety O.J. Atogwe. Loverro and a lot of smart football writers, including me, like the deal for the strength it brings to the secondary.

Loverro closes his story thusly:

“On the merits of the deal, though, it looks as if while the Redskins are leading the league again in the month of March, it may not be at a cost of looking foolish once again in December — at least not because of this move.”

Whoa! I’m not ready to go that far. Afterall, the same could have been said of Adam Archuleta, Jason Taylor, Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Lloyd. Atogwe could be – should be – successful if the Redskins do not ask him to change his style of play too much.

Blloyd is a special case, but the defensive players I listed were busts because Washington used them so differently than at their prior team. Their performance suffered because of it.

Adam Archuleta was the hard hitting strong safety who had a career year with the Rams in 2005. He signed with Washington just as the ‘Skins were changing their coverage scheme to the Tampa-2 with the safeties playing deep. Archuleta came to a system where coverage skill was a premium for safeties. Archuleta was weak at coverage. That’s why he played strong safety for the Rams. 

Archuleta lost his starter role before the season even started. He got significant playing time only because of Pierson Prioleau’s freak non-contact injury in the first game of the season. By mid season, the Redskins concluded that Archuleta was more helpful on the bench, so that’s where he stayed.

Jason Taylor was the league’s premier pass rushing defensive end when the Redskins traded two draft picks for him in 2008. Washington lost left defensive end Phillip Daniels and Alex Busbee in training camp. The ‘Skins were comfortable with Andre Carter on the right, so Taylor, who had 37.5 more sacks than Carter between 2001 and 2007, moved to the left to play the run stopping anchor of the defensive line as Daniels’ backfill.

Taylor was a gifted athlete, but left defensive end was an adjustment. A medical condition with his calf kept him out of three games and hindered his play for half the season. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache was the other hindrance.

A preseason news snippet reported that Taylor and Carter were experimenting with schemes where they would flip sides, with Taylor playing his normal right defensive end and Carter on the left side. Blache, according to the story, objected to players tampering with the scheme. Nothing came of the idea…that struck me as a clever idea.

Taylor refused to play for Blache for a second season.

There’s been enough press about Albert Haynesworth, so I won’t go through his story. He had a basis for contending that the Redskins did not use him as a disruptive pass rushing defensive lineman in the 4-3 alignment as Tennessee did. Big Al hurt his case by being out of shape in 2009 and uncooperative in 2010. He, along with Taylor and Archuleta are evidence of the folly of assuming that performance follows the player. And you know what they say about “assume.”

The story is that Blache wanted neiither Taylor nor Haynesworth for the defense. Blache was set in his ways as a DC, but he was particularly rigid when it came to deploying Taylor and Haynesworth. So the team was fated to get something different in performance than fans expected to see.

Blache is gone, but Steve Jackson, the safeties coach who who could not convert Archuleta to a coverage back, is still on the staff. Jackson is the guy who will work with Atogwe

I’m not predicting that Atogwe will fail any more than I’m ready to pronounce the move a success. There’s more to it than that. How well did the front office vet the move with the coaching staff? Will the Redskins deploy Atogwe as the Rams did, or do they have something different in mind? (There’s NO reason for the team to disclose that now.) Does Jackson see flaws in in Atogwe’s skill set? If so, how does he intend to change it and will Atogwe respond?

Atogwe is an upgrade at the position, a compliment to strong safety LaRon Landry and a more time for Kareem Moore and Chris Horton to develop as they rotate in the secondary. Good stuff, but we could have much to critique in December.

Three that worked

If I raised s little skepticism with you about the move, that’s good. Skepticism is a defensive mechanism when it comes to the Redskins. Other transactions show that the move can be successful. Here are three examples: Santana Moss, London Fletcher and Clinton Portis.

The Redskins deployed Moss and Fletcher as they were used by their prior teams. They performed for the ‘Skins much as they did the year before. That’s how I hope the Redskins approach Atogwe. It’s the move most likely to work for veteran additions, so that’s what I want to see with Atogwe.

Portis is a successful example of the opposite approach. Washington changed his running style completely, from the slash and burn edge rusher that he was in Denver to a John Riggins style power back for Joe Gibbs’ downfield offense. It worked, as far as it went.

Washington’s only playoff appearances of the past decade came on the legs of Portis. There wasn’t enough oomph in the rest of the offense to make a run once the Redskins made the post-season. I figure the Redskins lost three games last season because of Portis unavailability. But I digress.

Portis average yards per carry dropped 1.4 yards in Gibbs’ scheme than in Mike Shanahan’s Denver offense. He scored once every 19 times he rushed the ball in Denver, but only once for every 36 times over seven seasons in Washington. Riggins over his career scored once every 30 carries.

Fans saw Portis’ performance in Denver and expected the same in Washington. A segment of the fanbase still knock Portis for not delivering even though his performance was just the offensive tonic Gibbs needed.

In a way, Portis’ departure from Denver in 2004 was a minor catastrophe for both him and Shanahan. Portis got the payday he deserved in Washington, but if he stayed in Denver, his career might have mirrored LaDainian Tomlinson’s. Shanahan never won a Super Bowl without rusher Terrell Davis. He might have won another if he kept Portis in Denver.

I’m so glad to know that Coach Mike is today more flexible and savvy in his treatment of star players than he was in Denver with Portis. 

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.