LaRon Landry has dealt with endless criticism after a rough 2009 campaign in which the embattled safety came out on the wrong end of big plays routinely.
Landry's misfortunes went hand-in-hand with those of his team, as the Redskins stumbled to a 4-12 record in 2009. The team as whole struggled mightily and Landry was key contributor to the woes on defense.
Opposing offense feasted on the Redskins secondary, largely due to Landry's tendency to bite on double moves. Playing at free safety in former defensive coordinator Greg Blache's read-and-react system, Landry seemed lost in space as he gave up long pass after long pass.
Hitting has always been the dominant aspect to Landry's game. He relishes contact and embraces the "kill shot." Last year his responsibilities at free safety didn't allow him to play his aggressive game and it was apparent the free safety position wasn't Landry's calling in the NFL.
So with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, Landry was moved back to strong safety, where he could play closer to the line of scrimmage. Everyone held their collective breath, waiting to see if Landry would re-acclimate to a familiar position. After all, a player of Landry's athletic ability doesn't come around often. Landry is a physical specimen, and it would be shame to see his career fade away without fulfilling his potential.
Sunday night against Dallas, Landry put the concerns to bed with a monster 17 tackle performance to lead the defense. He was flying all over the field, making plays, applying pressure, and most importantly, finishing tackles.
Landry was thrilled with the new 3-4 defense Haslett debuted Sunday night, and expressed his enthusiasm at squaring up on the line of scrimmage rather than playing centerfield.
"Man, I loved it," he said following the game. "Like I said, this defense enables me to fly around, read my keys and I can just play ball instead of just sitting back in the middle of the field trying to get action. So this defense enables me where I can go really get it and not mess up [and] get beat on double moves. I'm closer to the ball [where] I can just read my keys and fly."
Landry wasn't the only one excited to go out and play this new style of up-tempo defense against an archrival. He revealed the entire unit had been preparing for Dallas since before the conclusion of preseason.
"During the Arizona week, the starters took it on our own initiative to watch tape on [the Cowboys] and just get the concepts and everything down, and we took advantage of it," said Landry. "So that's why we had a great two weeks, really, of preparation and we executed very well."
The defense as a unit was on the field for 34 minutes and 3 seconds, and they gave up 380 yards of offense. But despite the numbers working against them, Washington surrendered just seven points to an explosive Cowboys offense. Landry and his 17 tackles were a big reason the defense kept the Cowboys off the scoreboard for much of the game.
However, tonight was just the first step in a long campaign and he knows similar efforts will be needed throughout the season.
"I wish I could have gotten 30 [tackles], you know?" said Landry. "I mean it doesn't stop here. It's the first week, keep on pressing, just keep on doing what I got to do to help our team win; and that's what I was out there doing. Like I said, I'm a defender and that's my job."
That drive to improve and continue to win games is something the Redskins have lacked in seasons past, but Landry and others appear to be more focused and determined to succeed this season. Fellow safety Reed Doughty praised the defense and Landry in particular.
"[Landry] got to blitz a lot and I think it just lets him get in the flow of the game and not have to think too much. We didn't give up any deep balls; that was important. I'm sure we can play better in a lot of regards; tackle better at times, but we got a win."
Victory didn't come easily though as the Cowboys scored on the last play of the game only to discover right tackle Alex Barron held Brian Orakpo, negating the touchdown and ending the game with Redskins on top 13-7.
Landry told reporters he wasn't aware the play would be called back.
"I was thinking like, ‘Damn we got to go down here and block this field goal,' that was my mentality," he said. "But the flag came and hey, W! That's what it's all about."
Landry and the Redskins new 3-4 defense have passed their first test versus a dynamic offense. Of course it will take more than one game to erase the nightmares of the 2009 campaign, but after last night's gritty debut, it's tough not to think they are well on their way.