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PRO FOOTBALL: Amerson making progress

By Zac Boyer

The Washington Times

DeAngelo Hall knew the two-hour drive from Ashburn to Richmond could be, at its best, a lonely, miserable, soul-sucking affair, so when the Washington Redskins were scheduled to head south for the start of training camp late last month, he prodded David Amerson to join him for the ride.

Amerson was all ears. The second-year cornerback had been eager to avoid the drive himself, and the seemingly innocuous offer from Hall — a close teammate, a veteran — was enticing. After all, what better way is there to get out of making such a drive than to accept an offer from someone else?

Hall, as it turned out, had a motive. For the better part of 120 miles, he counseled and challenged Amerson — a strategy he designed to understand what makes his younger teammate tick.

They spoke about football, but not in terms of Xs and Os. They discussed their personalities, their passions and their performances. They touched on their reputations and their personal branding. And, before pulling up to the Omni Hotel in downtown Richmond, Hall left Amerson with one lasting charge.

Can you be great?

“It’s definitely motivation,” Amerson said. “It made me want to go work hard.”

Big things are being asked of Amerson this season, now that he’s shifting into a full-time role opposite Hall as one of the Redskins’ starting cornerbacks. Washington’s defense ranked in the bottom half of the league last season, and though its pass defense salvaged statistical respectability with a string of late-year successes, its expectation is that it can do much more.

That conviction has been hardened through the Redskins’ first preseason games. Their first-string defense did not surrender a scoring drive until Saturday’s 23-17 loss in Baltimore, when Justin Tucker capped the Ravens’ fourth series with a 36-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

All told, the Redskins’ top defense began the preseason by holding opponents off the scoreboard during its first nine series. The only touchdown it allowed came with 25 seconds remaining before halftime Saturday, when quarterback Joe Flacco connected with wide receiver Steve Smith for a 24-yard reception.

Baltimore likely would have scored earlier if it wasn’t for Amerson. Flacco nearly found wide receiver Marlon Brown on a fade route late in the first quarter, but Amerson played Brown perfectly, running in stride and reading Brown’s eyes well enough to put his hands up and knock down the ball.

Two plays later, Flacco tried to connect with Smith on a short screen pass, but Amerson headed it off by shedding a block and grabbing Smith by a leg as he attempted to lunge for a first down on third-and-2.

“He’s into the second year of a system,” defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said earlier this preseason. “He understands the little details of what he needs to do to get better, and he’s done a nice job of really coming in shape and ready to play. He’s made some nice plays.”

Amerson, 22, was the Redskins’ top draft pick last season, a second-rounder chosen out of N.C. State who arrived with conflicting reputations: that of a ball hawk who had an ACC-record 13 interceptions as a sophomore in 2011, and that of a cocky opportunist who snagged only five a year later.

He played approximately two-thirds of all defensive snaps as a rookie last season, rotating in on the outside while Josh Wilson, now in Atlanta, shifted inside to cover the slot. Amerson finished with 48 tackles and two interceptions, including a 45-yard touchdown return against Oakland in the fourth game of his career.

It was because of that promise that the Redskins chose not to look for another starting-caliber cornerback and instead added a few peripheral pieces, including free-agent journeyman Tracy Porter and fourth-round draft pick Bashaud Breeland.

“I think last year, it was really good for me to get out there and really get comfortable and really get into the emotion of a defense … and just really figure out mentally that I can compete with any of these receivers,” Amerson said. “I’m just as good. I’ve got the ability to be one of those shutdown guys. That’s what I’m trying to work towards.”

Hall can see it, which is why he’s tried to get on Amerson early in his career. Recently, he noticed Amerson is seemingly always leading the defensive backs in sprints, which reflects Hall’s hounding that greatness knows no shortcuts.

“I want to try to train his body to give me everything he got, so [nothing changes] when he gets on a game field,” Hall said.

As for his mind, Amerson knows only he can develop that. Thus, on the way back from Richmond two weeks ago, he hit up another teammate for a ride — strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who has played all over the defensive backfield during his college and professional careers.

With cornerback E.J. Biggers and strong safety Trenton Robinson also in the car, Amerson’s chat with Meriweather wasn’t as personal as the one he had with Hall on the trip down.

Then again, Meriweather said, it didn’t need to be.

“From what I hear, they say your second and third years are always the best years of your career,” Meriweather said. “He’s a young vet now. It’s not like he’s still trying to figure things out.”

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