An Early Look at the 2012 Defense

Some of you may be familiar with my ramblings previous post entitled "An Early Look at the 2012 Offense" Today it's time for the Defense and Special Teams to get some love. The 2010 defense was atrocious and just hard to watch, we didn't have the right personnel and were getting trampled on the ground and ripped through the air. All in all it was a very forgettable season. Along came 2011 and the front office actually had a chance to add pieces who fit with the 3-4 scheme through the draft and Free Agency. The defense enjoyed a huge turn-around in 2011 and although we still have some question marks in the secondary, the front 7 is damn good.

Nose Takle:


Barry Cofield - We poached Big BC away from the Giants in last years Free Agency, it feels good to not only steal their talent but to turn our weakness into a strength while doing so. Cofield took a while to get going and at times didn't hold the Point of Attack as well as I'd like, but he made up for it with his ability to penetrate and cause disruption. Things really clicked for him in the second half of the year and drew rave reviews from Haslett and Mike Shanahan. He's almost a dead cert to start at the Nose for us and build on what was a successful first season.

Chris Neild - Was another Shanahan pick that nobody anticipated and was even more surprising when he made the 53 man roster. I thought Anthony Bryant was a great Nose Tackle and didn't expect him to be replaced, but Neild certainly didn't disappoint. In his first game he notched a sack and a half and contributed sparingly throughout the season. He brings good depth and figures to be Cofield's understudy this year.

On the Fringe;

Chris Baker - I don't really know much about him other then the fact that he has the prototypical size you look for in a NT and transferred from Penn State to Hampton. He was picked up as a UDFA by the Broncos and has bounced around the league and even had a stint under in the UFL which could be where a connection with Jim Haslett was formed. I think Cofield and Neild are going to take some serious beating out and the odds are stacked against him making the roster.

Vaughn Meatoga - I think he figures as a potential practice squad player at this point in time. He lacks the length to play the 5-technique, but lacks the strength and anchor to consistently take on double teams at the nose. I thought his best fit would be as a 3-tech where he would be able to use his speed to penetrate, maybe the plan is to bulk him up (he does have the frame to add another 10-20 pounds) Either way, I don't think he's going to make much of an impact with Neild and Cofield ahead of him but he does have some good development potential.

Defensive End:


Stephen Bowen - Another player who we poached from a division rival. This dude earned all of my respect, read his story about everything he went through while transitioning onto a new team and into a new city. Oh and guess what, he was our best defensive lineman and didn't miss a game. He was a great pick up for us and worth every cent, he is an asset to our team as a person and a player

Adam Carriker - Re-Signing him was a great move in my opinion, I don't know why so many people have a low opinion of him? He's not as good as Cofield or Bowen, but he is a solid starter who is a good professional and a hard worker. He is the strongest player on our roster and still has good athleticism. He isn't spectacular against the run or as a pass rusher but he is average to above average in both areas. I for one am glad to see him back in Burgundy and Gold.

Jarvis Jenkins - The Pre-Season Prince. He had a great off-season last year which quickly changed the perception that we reached for him in the draft. However, he hasn't actually played a meaningful snap in the NFL. I have been really impressed by the way he has rehabbed his knee aggressively and through all of his hard work, he is good to go for the 2012 season. If he has as strong a pre-season as he did last year I'd expect him to enter the rotation on the D-Line and could be a breakout player. He would round off the Line nicely and it would really become a fearsome unit with someone of his (potential) caliber coming in fresh off the bench.

Dark Horses;

Doug Worthington - Talking of Pre-Season Princes, Doug Worthington stood out to me and looked very disruptive. He has a slighter frame then the other players in the unit, but makes up for it with a good first step and a strong bull rush. Being that it was only a small sample and only the preseason he is a bit of a long shot to make the roster, but I would like to see him given an opportunity to prove himself.

On the Fringe;

Kedric Golston - He isn't really on the fringe so to speak, but if the FO prefers a younger player Golston cold be beaten out. He is a solid veteran presence and a hard working-team first guy so I have no qualms about him being on the roster, but I always thought that he was a better fit in a 4-3. He is also coming back from a torn MCL and ACL so his health could be a question mark. But all things considered he will more then likely be our 4th string DE and provide solid depth.

Kentwan Balmer - A big time draft bust from the 49ers. He has prototypical size and athleticism, but it has never translated onto the field in the NFL. If things click for him with the tools he's been gifted with he could be a beast, although at this stage in his career it's unlikely to happen. He should be at training camp, but I don't think he'll make it onto the roster

Darrion Scott - Another guy who spent some time in the UFL after having a few solid seasons for the Vikings. He played under Jim Haslett for the now defunct Florida Tuskers. He saw 112 snaps on back up duty and although he played well and didn't make any glaring mistakes, he didn't make any big plays either. He probably wouldn't have made the roster last year if it weren't for Jarvis Jenkins injury and is a bit of a long shot to make it this year. I could see him making it if Golston isn't healthy.

It all starts up front and one of the reasons we had a quick turnaround was because we solidified our D-Line by adding Bowen and Cofield to the (in my eyes) underrated Adam Carriker. All three guys will be 28 this year and hopefully they can all develop on what was a really solid 2011 campaign. Having a healthy Jenkins could be the X-factor for our D-Line, but I'm tempering my expectations until I see him in the regular season. All in all, what was a major weakness for us in 2010 should now be a strength for us going into 2012.

Outside Linebacker:


Brian Orakpo - An electric pass-rusher who got after the passer at an elite level last year. He is a good, hard working dude who has a team first mentality. I felt like he improved in Run defense and Coverage last year although I still wouldn't pass those areas as strengths. It's crazy to think about, but Orakpo still has some developing to do. He can improve a formidable pass rush by improving his technique and learning counter moves so that he isn't as one dimensional. In theory we should be in the lead more in games which will give him more opportunities to pin his ears back and get after the QB. 'Rak was a great draft pick for us and has become a cornerstone of our team, when he finally hits his stride I think he is going to take DeMarcus Ware's mantle as the best 3-4 OLB in the league. Another thing I'd like to see is 'Rak being moved around the defense to create mismatches, but that's not something he can control.

Ryan Kerrigan - Another pick that nobody saw coming, but kicked off what would turn out to be a great draft. There were questions whether he would fit as a stand up edge defender but he proved any doubters wrong. Apparently he lacked athleticism (but If you look at his combine numbers, they are eerily similar to Orakpo's) He compiled an outstanding Rookie season and played EVERY SINGLE SNAP! Watching him play, it was easy to forget that he was only a rookie. He finished just behind Julius Peppers, Chris Clemons and Kamerion Wimbley in Profootballfocus' Pass Rushing Productivity rank (20th overall) but was also a solid run defender and apart from getting Gronk'd he did a good enough job in coverage. A few areas I'd like to see him improve on are setting the edge better and biting less on play fakes, I think that will come in time when he learns to trust his initial reads and can play the game instead of thinking too much. I don't think you could have asked for much more from a rookie and he definitely exceeded all expectations.

Rob Jackson - Provides solid depth and has natural edge rushing ability. In his first and only career start he had a strong showing against the Jaguars in 2010, but since then he has been used in a reserve role backing up Orakpo after having a good pre-season (which included this gem). He tallied 111 snaps last year, and showed the ability to pressure the quarterback and had a few big plays negated by penalties, including what would have been a beautiful blind side sack on Romo. He needs to do a better job of holding the edge and play with more discipline, but if you're looking for raw ability he has it in spades. I would like to see him, Kerrigan and Orakpo on the field at the same time, which would be a nasty package. He is a good back-up who also contributes on Special Teams and I'd be majorly shocked if he didn't make the roster.

Markus White - A 7th round pick who made the transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 OLB, he has prototypical size and looked fundamentally sound. He looked good in the pre-season last year and figures to be our 4th OLB. While he was on the 53 man roster, he didn't receive any regular season defensive snaps. He looks like a solid developmental prospect and figures to be a depth player this year. I think his best bet for making an impact would be on special teams, but he is going to have a tough time overtaking Jackson on the depth chart.

From something which was once Andre Carter (who was and still is a great 4-3 end) and the One Man Gang (who played Defensive Line before the switch to LB) we have an up and coming youngster who has the potential to be an elite player and two solid back-ups. This was one unit that looked set coming into the off-season and for the foreseeable future. Orakpo and Kerrigan are going to be exciting to watch this year and with all the holes in the secondary their ability to rush the passer is going to be key to our defensive success.

Inside Linebacker:


London Fletcher - Do I really need to explain about 'El Capitan? One of the most underrated players in NFL history, after entering the league as an UDFA what seems like 3,956 years ago... People sometimes wonder what his career would be like if he was taller, but if he was taller he wouldn't be playing in the NFL, he'd be a star in the NBA. I think he's going to be our starter until he retires, he is a joy to watch on Sundays and if you couldn't tell by my massive homerism, one of my favorite players. Oh and at the age of 36, he just led the NFL in tackles...

Perry Riley - A 2nd year, 4th round pick out of LSU, he was our breakout player from 2011 and provided a huge upgrade over Rocky McIntosh (who isn't a fit in a 3-4) I'd like to see him stack and shed blockers a bit better and work on his coverage, but otherwise the future looks very bright for Riley and I expect to see him develop more next to London Fletcher and eventually take his place once he decides to hang up his cleats.

Jonathan Goff - Is the latest addition to the Linebacking corp and as me and Ronnie agree, he appears to be a beast against the run. I think he could push Riley for the starting job and it is certainly a battle to watch going into training camp. Not being at 100% after an ACL reconstruction is the only way he doesn't make the roster, but I doubt the team would have signed him if they were worried about his health, so he should be fine. It would be nice to see him rotate in on obvious run downs to help alleviate some of the pressure on London Fletcher, although Fletch is more then capable of handling it, it would be nice to have him at his best more at important times during the game. I would be surprised if he didn't make the roster because he adds really good depth to the team. A good pick-up for us.

Keenan Robinson - Another 4th round LB, this time out of Texas. He will transition from 4-3 OLB (although he played at all 3 spots) to 3-4 ILB. I really like the pick and I think he is going to be a future starter, although he could beat out Goff for the 3rd string place I don't think it's going to happen and he will have to make his impact on Special Teams. The kid can play though and has a balanced skill-set coupled with good athleticism. I'm looking forward to seeing him play in the Preseason.

Lorenzo Alexander - The One Man Gang, and another of my favorite Redskins. He is one of the best Special Team players in the NFL and will do whatever is asked of him to help the team. I admire his work ethic and attitude. He looks to be in great shape this year and should be more athletic then ever. It's unfortunate that he has been buried on the depth chart, because I would of liked to see how he played at ILB, we'll probably never know, but it never hurts to have a guy like LoAx on a team because you know he'll be ready and willing to step up if/whenever his number is called.

On the Fringe;

Bryan Kehl - Someone I don't know much about, but with how stacked we are I don't think he is going to make the roster. I doubt that he is going to outplay Jonathan Goff on the field, He isn't going to outplay Lorenzo on Special Teams and he doesn't have the upside of Keenan Robinson.

Donnell Holt - The artist formerly known as DJ Holt seems to have a good blend of college experience, intelligence and physicality, which is always a good thing in a Linebacker. The knocks on him are his athleticism and size, players can overcome those things but are usually brandished with an "over-achiever" tag... With all the depth we have at Linebacker the odds are really stacked against him of making the team.

It's amazing how quickly an area can change from a concern to an area of strength. Perry Riley was the only viable option who was signed at the start of the off-season, our starting situation was remedied when we re-signed Fletch and we added depth with Bryan Kehl... Then in the space of a week Goff (a starting caliber LB) and Robinson were added rounding the group off nicely. As is the running theme throughout our roster there is going to be a lot of competition this off-season, which should make ILB a strength in 2012 and in the future.



Josh Wilson - Was our best defensive back last year, we signed him for a modest deal considering how well he played for the Ravens. He didn't quite replicate the same form (my money is on the lack of a elite serviceable safety to help him over the top), but was solid and an astute signing by our front office. At 5'9 he is smaller then preferred but plays bigger than he is and has the grit and scrappiness to compete against bigger players. He isn't a shut down corner by any stretch of the imagination but is a valuable starter. I don't believe we've seen the best of Josh Wilson but I hope we get to this year.

You might want to get some Kool-Aid ready, because from here on in it gets pretty ugly...

Dark Horse;

DeAngelo Hall - Oh dear... He could be a legitimate (not courtesy of Jay Cutler) Pro-Bowl Corner, if he didn't have the attention span of a gold fish... Unfortunately he does. He is so frustrating to me because sometimes he looks like can cover anyone, but then the next play he'll get burnt... He is to CB's what Rex Grossman is to QBing, as in you never know what you're going to get. He has so much talent and has the ability to make game changing plays, but he has been exploited so much over the last two years that on current for I don't want him starting. Unfortunately we don't really have another choice. Don't get me wrong, I actually like Hall. I like his competitiveness and the fact that he has improved his tackling and doesn't mind getting stuck in (Unless it involves Gronkowski). He could have been great, in fact he still as a chance to be great he just needs to stop taking risks and trying to second guess the receiver all the time. I'm not even going to get started on his ridiculous contract... He could rebound from two disappointing years, or it could be his last season in Burgundy and Gold. If somebody else steps up and looks capable of starting, he might not even make the roster.

Chase Minnifield - His draft stock was all over the place last year but generally people had him marked between the 2nd and 3rd round. A knee injury destroyed his value which caused him to fall to us undrafted. His knee is a question mark, but according to him he is good to go.

If he is healthy I think he has a good chance of making our roster, partly because we are so weak at the position and partly because he has some talent to be a decent zone cornerback. Even if he isn't ready to go in 2012, stashing him away on the practice squad to give him time to get healthy could net us a talented Cornerback for little cost.

Richard Crawford - A 6th round pick out of SMU (Shanahans latest favorite college) he has a chance of making the roster and maybe even a chance of contributing early on. He is athletic, has good cover skills, good ball skills and can make plays as a return guy if he can translate his college game into the NFL he could be a future starter but right now he's probably about 50/50 to make the roster. He could also be in the mix for a job as our return guy.

Brandyn Thompson - Last years 7th round pick out of Boise State, a.k.a the Elevator guy. He was switched between the active roster and the Practice Squad on what seemed like a weekly basis. He should definitely be in the mix for a roster spot and may even earn himself some playing time. This was the NFL's take on him, and here is the mandatory clichéd highlight video. If he doesn't make it onto the roster he is a prime Practice Squad (then Active Roster, then Practice Squad, then Active Roster, then Practice Squad) candidate.

On the Fringe;

Cedric Griffin - He came into the league as a bit of a tweener between CB and Safety but ultimately stuck at Corner with the Vikings. He had a breakout year in 2009 and was a part of their good play-off run, unfortunately for him he tore his ACL in a play-off game. He managed to recuperate quickly enough to make it back in week 3 of the 2010 season but disaster struck and he tore the ACL in his other knee... That is seriously shit luck, one ACL tear can ruin a career, one in each knee is just unreal. Miraculously though he managed to return to the field for 2011 and was the week one starter, which is an extremely impressive feat. By all accounts though, he struggled a lot last year and was exposed numerous times. There has been talk of him moving to Safety and he has the physicality and tackling ability to do so. I wish him the best, but I don't think he's anything more then a stop gap at this point (unless he can replicate his 2009 form, which after 2 torn ACL's is unlikely)

Kevin Barnes - He had a chance as our Nickel Cornerback last year, but failed to step up. He will probably make it back on the roster as our 4th or 5th choice and contribute on Special Teams. I think his problem is an inability to turn his hips and stick with receivers downfield, but when he keeps the play in front of him he looks much better. He also flashes the ability to be a violent hitter which is why I prefer him at Free Safety

Leigh Torrence - I don't know much about him, but every single corner on our roster will be in the mix for a position on the roster, because we have virtually no quality after our first two corners.

Overall the Cornerback position doesn't inspire much (if any) confidence and is a major hole for us going into 2012. We only really have one CB who is a decent starter, Hall definitely has the talent but he doesn't play up to it. Crawford, Minnifield and Thompson are the guys to watch going into training camp and could end up being surprise contributors. Outside of Josh Wilson they are either unproven or proven to be crap, so we're just going to have to hold our breath and hope someone can step up.



Dejon Gomes - I thought Gomes had a really solid Rookie year, he contributed on Special Teams and stepped up when he had to start. He wasn't an explosive playmaker and didn't have any highlight reel moments, but he plays smart football and can be trusted to fulfill his assignments. At times he flashed strong coverage ability and I liked what I saw from him. He looked like the sort of guy who doesn't make many mistakes, but doesn't make plays that stand-out. I think hes going to be in the mix for the starting job this year and I wont be surprised if we see him starting at some point.

Dark Horse;

Jordan Bernstine - Nicknamed 'Boomstine' at Iowa he is a physical specimen who only put together one year of solid tape. Before hand his college career was marred with injuries and instability. To make the roster he is going to have to make his impression felt on Special Teams, he has experience as a returner but with his speed and physicality he could be an asset on coverage teams. The competition for places in our Secondary is wide open and if he shows the coaching staff that he can be a great football player and not just a great athlete he has a good chance of making the roster. The guys over at the Iowa SBNation site, put together an article about him which provides a good insight on his college career.

On the Fringe;

Reed Doughty - Let me just start by saying I love Reed Doughty. He is just a regular guy who worked his balls off to reach the plateau of professional sports and have a decent career and for that I commend him. He seems like a great guy and I wouldn't mind sharing an ale or five with him... However, I do not want him starting for, or playing defense for my beloved Redskins. I'm sick and tired of watching him whiff on tackles, not having the speed to get across the field and help out the CB's, being pancaked as a RB runs right past him... etc, etc. He's a great guy, but not a great football player and on anything outside of Special Teams he is a liability.

Madieu Williams - An outstanding guy off the field who was a recipient of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award and a philanthropist. He had a quiet year for the 49ers last year after being a starter with the Vikings. I don't think he is a factor to start but could push for a back-up job, if he is willing to play Special Teams and can do so at a good level. Barring an injury I don't think he's going to make the roster.

The C**ts';

Brandon Meriweather - Physically he is very talented, but I fear that he doesn't have the mental fortitude to have a role where he had to make multiple reads. His desire to play the game is also a question mark for me, as he has already landed himself in trouble for a suspected DUI. I could turn a blind eye to that sort of transgression, if say he was absolutely busting his balls on the field and really showed a willingness to do what it takes for the team, but if he isn't giving 110% then he isn't worth the risk. If he shows that he wants to be playing football and is used in a role that suits his playing style (similar to Landry, although not as strong or physical) we have netted ourselves a starter for a decent price. The fact that he's already gotten himself into trouble makes me think that it could be worth cutting ties with him before the season starts.

Tanard Jackson - Off the field Tanard is a similar concern to Meriweather, but on the field they have very different styles. Jackson is a pure Free Safety and can cover well. His downside is that he is an abysmal tackler and probably on of the worst tacklers in the league. He does have ball hawking skill though which is something we lack. We need more help in coverage then we do in run support so I think he could help us out in that aspect, but it's hard to overlook his shortcomings in run defense. It think he would be best served rotating in on passing downs where he is most effective.

I think our secondary is going to bite us in the ass this year. We are basically relying on unproven guys to step up, ineffective players to get better and numb-nuts to tow the line. If you don't think our secondary is a weakness ask yourself this question... Who do you want to match up against Marques Colston, AJ Green, Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin? Scary stuff right? On the plus side half of the games were played with Doughty and Gomes, so are we really any worse?

We still have some building to do on the defense and I expect/hope that the secondary is addressed in the draft next year, so we're just going to have to make do with what we've got. I don't think teams are going to struggle to move the ball through the air on us, so I hope Kerrakpo are ready to unleash hell on opposing quarterbacks and Haslett dials up a lot of crafty blitzes.


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