Greatness awaited the Washington Redskins at the safety position.
The Redskins spent top-10 draft picks on All-America safeties Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry in a span of four Aprils, selecting Taylor fifth overall out of Miami in 2004 and Landry sixth overall out of LSU in 2007.
Taylor already had carved out his spot among the NFL's elite, earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2006, and the Redskins expected Landry to join him in Hawaii soon. Landry started alongside Taylor on opening day in 2007.
"There was a lot of hype when I got here," Landry said, "and we bought in. We knew we could be the best ever — and we were looking forward to it. It was up to us. We were so much on the same page and so much the same type of player that we could have done anything. Anything."
But the dream tandem lasted only nine weeks. Taylor suffered a sprained knee in the ninth game of the season against Philadelphia that knocked him from the lineup. Less than three weeks later, Taylor was fatally shot in Miami in a home invasion.
Landry is now teamed with Reed Doughty — a safety pairing the Cowboys will see today when the Redskins visit Texas Stadium. Fate deprived Landry of the chance to play with someone he idolized.
"I grew up with two role models — Ronnie Lott and Sean," Landry said. "I watched Ronnie as a kid.
"Then in high school, I locked in on Sean. I was recruited by everyone. I really wanted to go to Miami because of Sean. But when I got there, they had Sean, who was a junior, and a sophomore playing with him. I wanted to play as a true freshman. As much as I wanted to go to Miami, it wasn't going to happen for me there. So I went to LSU, where I could start as a true freshman."
Landry started four years at LSU — and waited four years for the chance to play alongside Taylor. But he was told his dream pairing could be a nightmare.
"There was all this talk that it'd be tough for me to work with this guy because we were both big-time safeties, we were both high draft picks and we both had big contracts," Landry said. "But it was totally opposite of that. The moment I got there, Sean said we need to sit down, me and you, and decide how we're going to do this."
The Redskins lined up Landry at strong safety and Taylor at free safety. The strong safety has greater responsibilities against the run; the free safety against the pass. Landry and Taylor were both physical players, and Taylor wasn't about to spend the season playing deep. He wanted to mix it up, too.
Through nine games, Taylor collected 46 tackles and ranked second in the NFL with five interceptions. He was voted posthumously to the Pro Bowl. Landry finished third on the team with 97 tackles and was voted a Pro Bowl alternate.
Now Landry has been moved to free safety. He's replacing Taylor in the lineup — but not as a field presence.
"I'm not looking to fill his shoes or surpass him," Landry said. "That's never going to happen. I respect him so much that I can tell you I'll never play like that guy. He was one of a kind."
Together, Landry and Taylor hoped to become an elite safety tandem like Yale Lary and Jack Christiansen in Detroit in the 1950s and Dick Anderson and Jake Scott in Miami in the 1970s. Alone, Landry hasn't altered his objectives.
"I want to be one of the top, elite safeties ever," he said. "That's all I want to do. I want them to be afraid to cross the middle. I want them to know that I can go sideline-to-sideline and make plays. Just like Sean."
Today's game WHO: Washington Redskins (2-1) at Dallas Cowboys (3-0).WHEN: 4:15 p.m.TV: Fox 35 43Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times