ASHBURN, Va. -- Five players on hand at Redskins rookie minicamp had been selected earlier in the draft than Baccari Rambo, but although second-round cornerback David Amerson, third-round tight end Jordan Reed and fourth-round safety Phillip Thomas all attracted some media attention after the open session on May 5, the biggest throng surrounded the sixth-rounder from Georgia.
That was true in part because Rambo had been projected as an early-round pick before he was suspended for the start of a second straight Bulldogs season after failing another drug test.
But the other reason for the focus on Rambo is that, along with Thomas, he has a decent chance to start at the position that was Washington's biggest weakness during its 2012 NFC East championship season. Tanard Jackson, who was supposed to start at free safety last year, remains on an indefinite NFL substance abuse suspension. Madieu Williams, who filled for Jackson in 2012, wasn't re-signed.
"Their ball skills were very evident over the last few days," coach Mike Shanahan said of Rambo and Thomas. "We do a lot of different things with our secondary. We put a lot of pressure on them mentally as well as physically. You've got be able to play both (strong and free safety). They've got the size and the athletic ability to play both positions."
Rambo, who was second in the nation behind Amerson with eight interceptions in 2011, came up with a nifty pick along the sideline during the final minicamp practice.
"I kinda knew the system because we run the same system at Georgia with (former Redskins linebackers coach Kirk) Olivadotti," Rambo said. "I really learned a lot from him and it carried over. I just follow the scheme and do what the coaches ask me to do. Once you do that, it allow you to make plays, it allow you to play full speed. It's just natural once the ball's there to go it and make a play. I want to be the greatest at my position so I know there's things I need to improve on like tackling, taking better angles, so I pay real close attention to those things."
One would think that Shanahan pays close attention to drug issues after having Jackson, cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Cedric Griffin, tight end Fred Davis, and offensive tackles Jordan Black and Trent Williams suspended during the past two seasons and linebacker Rob Jackson for the first four games of 2013.
"We do a lot of background checks," Shanahan said when asked about gambling on another player with substance abuse issues. "We talk to (the player and his) coaches. We felt very comfortable with (Baccari). We have different tests that they take that tell us what type of mental quickness they have, what type of dedication, commitment, those type of things that are very important to us. (Thomas and Rambo), one had a 10 and one had a nine out of a 10-point (scale)."
Rambo claimed that his off-field issues are a thing of the past and that Olivadotti helped make him a Redskin.
"I know Coach Olivadotti had something to do with it, told 'em what kind of player I was and about my true character," Rambo said. "All that's behind me. I've moved on from that. It helped me grow (into) the person I am today. I'm just a regular, cool guy. I know I still got things I need to improve on ... just to show 'em, 'Hey he's not that guy. He grew from that.'"
And if he either he or Thomas can grow enough over the next four months to keep holdovers D.J. Gomes, Jordan Pugh and Jordan Bernstine on the bench, the Redskins might have fixed their biggest deficiency from last season.
NOTES: Tight end Jordan Reed, Washington's third-round pick, and running back Chris Thompson, a fifth-rounder, were held out of rookie minicamp as they recover from knee injuries, but coach Mike Shanahan said that they should be ready for training camp in late July. OTAs being on May 20.
"It's six months since (Thompson) had the ACL," Shanahan said. "Doctors say the ACL is looking great. You can see him run. I'm very impressed. He's a guy that we think can help us. He's got big-play capabilities and a guy that we had ranked very high. I believe if he didn't have that injury, he would have been a first-round, second-round draft choice." ... Shanahan said Reed was slowed by a quadriceps pull, and subsequent knee soreness related to the quad. Reed, who Shanahan said hadn't done anything strenuous in almost three weeks, remains on a rehab program and likely "a couple weeks" from on-field work. ... Two names stood out among the 48 players who participated in minicamp on a tryout basis. Birmingham-Southern running back Shawn Morris is Alfred Morris' younger brother while Western Illinois center Andrew Robiskie's father, Terry Robiskie, was an assistant to Shanahan with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988-89 and was the Redskins' interim coach in 2000.
"Same personality, for sure," Shanahan said of Shawn Morris. "I'm not sure they both run the same, but what a quality young man."
While Shanahan didn't particularly try to bond with the younger Morris, he did with the younger Robiskie.
"I talked to him for about 10-15 minutes and shared some stories about me and Terry when I first got the Raider job," Shanahan said. "A class young man, you can see that he handles himself just like Terry. Very smart, just coming off (a right knee scope) and he did a heck of a job in our camp."