What Landon Collins' absence tells us about the bigger picture of the Redskins' defense


ASHBURN -- The Washington Redskins signed Landon Collins to a hefty free agent contract this off-season for a variety of factors. 

One of the more glaring reasons pops during those times when the talented safety is not on the field.

Collins was among the handful of veterans not participating in Tuesday's Organized Team Activities (OTA). That left the safety reps to an assortment of players making a run at likely three roster spots next to Collins on the final 53-man roster. 

Projecting the trio winning those slots might be easier than gauging what the team can expect from them in games. That's certainly the case six weeks out from the start of training camp.

Montae Nicholson's second season included the fourth-round pick losing his job and eventually his spot on the active roster following a December arrest for assault. 

Troy Apke's rookie campaign never took off he suffered an early hamstring injury that eventually led to landing on Injured Reserve.

Deshazor Everett offers the most experience, but the veteran primarily helped Washington on special teams during his four seasons.

While holdover Jeremy Reaves or undrafted free agent JoJo McIntosh could sneak into the mix this summer, someone from the Nicholson, Everett or Apke faction will start next to Collins. The others are a merely tweaked ankle away from taking the field defensively. They all did Tuesday with the ex-Giant skipping the voluntary session. 

The biggest mystery of the bunch is arguably Apke. Something of a surprise fourth-round selection last season, the Penn State product with 4.35 40-time only played two games last season before his season-ending IR stint.

"I know a lot more. More experience," Apke told NBC Sports Washington Tuesday. "The biggest thing for this off-season is just staying healthy, taking care of my body."

The key for the coaching staff is getting a more extended look at the player expected to serve as Collins' primary backup and key special teams performer. So far, so good.

"Apke is doing well. It has been good to see him get a lot of these reps and work," head coach Jay Gruden said Tuesday. "Obviously, last year he did not get a whole lot with his hamstring, so he is progressing nicely."

Nicholson wasn't just the Week 1 starter last season at free safety but an ascending playmaker based on his rookie work. The year one vibes never entirely translated into sophomore success. Injuries slowed down Nicholson, who lost his starting spot when the Redskins executed a pre-Halloween trade for Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix and then was suspended the final two weeks following his arrest. The assault charges were dropped earlier this year.

The real buzz for Nicholson's game will come during training camp and preseason. The only chatter that concerned Gruden during these early workouts involved talk among the safeties on the field.

"The big thing with Montae is getting the communication down with Landon and whoever the other safety is," Gruden said. "Communication is critical for those guys and the more work they get and the more situations we can put them in, red zone, third down, first and second down, all that good stuff, the better they are going to be."

Everett, an 11-game starter over the last two seasons, jumped a Case Keenum pass for an interception Tuesday. That type of ball-hawking prowess could turn him into a steady starter should it prove consistent.

"Everett also has picked up the slack. He has done a very good job. Reaves, he made some big plays out there today," Gruden said on the Collins-less Tuesday. "So, those guys are taking advantage of their time."

Time will tell if the Redskins have enough quality options to go along with Collins of if the three-time Pro Bowler's presence lifts the entire secondary. Signing the ex-Giant to a six-year deal counts as a long-term commitment. The other safety options are not on such solid footing. That could change by Week 1. The spotlight will shine on whoever is playing either way.


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