Crawford or Johnson likely will fill third slot

ASHBURN -- The answer required little thought. The Redskins' Richard Crawford knew what went wrongfor him, knew why he wasn't playing and knew where he must improve. And to prove his point, he was armed with mental illustrations.

He remembered a play in a preseason game vs. Chicago on which his instincts took him out of position but almost into a play. He nearly intercepted a pass when the slot receiver broke outside and he anticipated the throw.

"Go to the Cincinnati game, and they run the same route," the rookie cornerback said.

This time, Crawford anticipated the same play. So he stood flat-footed as Andrew Hawkins started to race past him, and he could do nothing but watch him catch a 57-yard touchdown pass.

"I know a lot better what I have to do and what I don't have to do," Crawford said. "I was trying to make every play instead of the plays I'm supposed to make."

Now he might get a chance to make those plays again. Or the Redskins could opt for D.J. Johnson, recently signed off the practice squad. Both of them have something to offer; both of them have a lot to learn.

But the Redskins need a third cornerback to replace the suspended Cedric Griffin. A third corner plays almost as much as a starter -- Griffin played 66 percent of the snaps vs. the Giants and 88 percent vs. Dallas, according to Pro Football Outsiders. There's little doubt the remaining four teams, starting Sunday vs. Baltimore, will test Washington's secondary and a pass defense that has surrendered 24 touchdowns -- tied for second most in the NFL entering Thursday night.

Crawford and Johnson offer different traits. Crawford is listed at 5-foot-11, but he's quick and patient at the line. Johnson is 6-foot-1 and has longer arms, which should help when he jams receivers.

"I'm a tall corner that can run," Johnson said.

Neither offers the same traits as Griffin, whom the Redskins considered a tough, physical cornerback. Johnson has played in 13 NFL games with three teams since 2009 with 11 career tackles; Crawford, a seventh-round pick, has played in six games this season but none since Oct. 14.

"I like D.J. because he's long and athletic," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "I like his skills, from what I've seen. Richard's a guy that has great ball skills. He's extremely quick. He doesn't understand the game fully yet."

Crawford, who intercepted two passes in the preseason, said he wants to be more of a "thinking player." At Southern Methodist, he used to help the defensive staff prepare game plans.

But he also said he wants to take educated risks.

"All the great corners do it. That's what makes you be more successful," he said.

Whichever one of them plays likely will spend the majority of his time covering on the outside. The slot, where Crawford worked some earlier this season, is difficult for a younger cornerback because of the responsibilities involved. They need more awareness of where their help is, they must blitz well and they must handle the middle of the field.

For Johnson, who played sparingly Monday vs. the Giants, it represents a chance to see how much he has learned. He has spent time with eight organizations and has learned different techniques.

What he won't worry about is whether he has to remain on special teams while filling the role of a third corner.

"That's the name of the game," he said. "I'm earning my paycheck. They tell me to go out and cover 10 punts and damn play 60 snaps, that's what I'll do."