Last year the Redskins defense collapsed last season into one of the league's worst unit. They finished 31st in yards allowed, and were in the bottom third in every major statistical category. It became quite clear that the Redskins didn't have the talent or personnel to run the 3-4 defense. This offseason though that has changed as Redskins have made fixing their defense a top priority.
Gone are defensive linemen Albert Hayensworth, Vonnie Holliday, Phillip Daniels, Jeremy Jarmon and Ma'ake Kemoeatu; linebacker Andre Carter, and cornerback Carlos Rogers. To beef up their defense the Skins have brought in defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins, Barry Cofield, and Stephen Bowen; linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, and defensive backs Josh Wilson and O.J. Atogwe. While the Redskins made some nice additions and vastly improved their outlook, they could add some more depth. Here is my breakdown on each position on defense, and what they could do to further improve.
The additions of Bowen and Jenkins have vastly improved the talent level of this group, and should fit in nicely with holdover Adam Carriker. That is a strong three man rotation, that can take advantage of Carriker's run defense, Bowen pass rush, and Jenkins ability to help in both areas. If this trio can take the majority of the defensive end snaps, the Redskins should be a lot stronger against both the pass and the rush next season. Depth is an issue though, as it is good to have a strong fourth and even fifth piece in your rotation. As it stands now Kendric Golston and Darrion Scott are the next two choices for snaps. While that isn't awful the Redskins shouldn't be complacent and at least consider adding some more depth for the preseason battle. Two names I'd look at are:
Gerard Warren: Warren never became the star that was expected of him, but he's still a nice rotational player. He shouldn't cost more than league minimum and can give the Redskins some quality snaps. He has the bulk to occupy blockers, but he isn't a great run defender. He can still offer some pressure though, and has the versatility to kick inside on 4 man fronts.
Martin Parker: Now Parker probably has zero chance of making the 53 man roster at this point, but he has a good bit of upside for an undrafted player, and would be a great guy to stash on the practice squad if you could. He went to Richmond for college, and dominated at the FCS level. He's worth a look in the preseason and could be a great find.
3-4 nose tackle is a new role for Barry Cofield, but with some tweaks it could be a great fit. He generates good pressure and has great instincts in finding the ball and getting off blocks. He isn't a traditional run plugger, but he should cause enough havoc inside, that will free up the ends and linebackers to make plays. Depth is an issue for the Redskins as backing up Cofield the Redskins have a pair of tackles with good potential, but a fair number of questions. Anthony Bryant has bounced around from team to team, because he has never shown the consistency or ability that his size would suggest. Chris Neild is a NT that showed a lot of promise at the Senior Bowl, but is still quite raw. He was the 2nd to last pick in the draft, so while the upside is there he shouldn't be considered a major part of the Redskins. Two options that the Redskins should look into are:
Jamal Williams: Three years ago Williams was among the best nose tackles in the league, but triceps injury stole his 2009 season, and last year he wasn't as dominate as he was in previous years. At 35 years old he is just a rotational player, but he does excel at stopping the run. Even last year, he still was a good run stuffer. He shouldn't cost too much and can really help boost the inside of that line for a year.
Clifton Ryan: Ryan has never lived up with his potential with the Rams, but he has proven to be a solid run stopper. He should come cheap and is still quite young meaning he could be a nice 2-3 year signing. He also worked with Jim Haslett in St. Louis so he might grasp the system quicker. On the downside he has yet to play in a 3-4 defense.
With the first round selection of Ryan Kerrigan the Redskins have their bookend to Brian Orakpo. Last year Orakpo was the only Redskin who got any sort of consistent pressure, which allowed defenses to focus on stopping him. Now with Kerrigan opposite him and an improved defensive line, it will be next to impossible to shut him down. Teams will need to make the choice of who to give help to, and that should make the entire Redskins pass defense that much better. Depth is a bit of an issue as the Redskins only have fellow rookie Markus White, Rob Jackson, Edgar Jones and Lorenzo Alexander (who also will get looks inside). While it isn't a huge need, I'd love to see the Redskins add a veteran guy who can really ensure that their OLB's are top notch.
Matt Roth: I'm flat out shocked that Roth hasn't found a job yet. He is an extremely underrated pass rusher, and a very good run defender from the OLB position. He has experience in multiple fronts, but his time as a 3-4 outside backer could be invaluable considering the Redskins don't have anyone who has been a rush linebacker before last season. Roth can sub in on early downs for Orakpo to give the team a better run defender and help give both guys a rest, to keep them fresher. Roth can also put his hand down at DE in 4 man fronts, and given his pass rushing ability, on some passing downs I'm sure the Redskins can find ways to get all three of Orakpo, Kerrigan and Roth on the field at the same time (i.e. two with their hands down in a 4 man front and the other one standing up and blitzing). At this point Roth isn't likely to find big money or a starting role, so he could be happy for a 1-2 year deal to build up his stock.
This is one area where the Redskins appear to be set for at least this season. While re-signing Rocky McIntosh has some risks, the team is high on Perry Riley and they have the always versatile Alexander for good measure. With an improved line, this unit should be even more effective and should get Washington through this season just fine.
This area could be vastly improved this season with the addition of Josh Wilson, who was among the top corners in the league last season. While he doesn't get the credit he deserves, he should give the Redskins a valuable cover corner who can actually catch interceptions. Although DeAngelo Hall struggled last season when not facing the Bears, he should have a bounce back season this year. With an improved pass rush and some deep safety help in Atogwe, Hall's high risk playing style might actually payoff. Now he should get a lot more passes that were rushed thrown his way, which could lead to more interceptions. Having a quality safety like Atogwe behind him also means that when he does get burned, it won't amount to as many scores or big gains. Depth is pretty solid here, and with the market dried up I don't see them making another move.
The Redskins made a fantastic signing when they landed FS O.J. Atogwe before the lockout began. He gives them a FS that can both cover and tackle, which is something they have lacked since the tragic death of Sean Taylor. While Atogwe isn't on Taylor's level, he is quite good. Him and Landry teamed up has the potential for one of the best safety tandems in the league. Washington also did well to re-sign Reed Doughty who has the ability to backup either safety spot, and is a valuable special teamer. After Doughty though the depth thins out pretty quickly as rookie DeJon Gomes will battle with incumbents Kareem Moore and Chris Horton. While there isn't much they can do, one move I'd love to see the Redskins make is to make a trade for Taylor Mays if the price is right.
The Redskins have a great start and could be looking at a top 10 defense next year, which would go a long way to making the Redskins a contender sooner rather than later. Of the moves I suggested, my primary two would be signing Jamal Williams and Matt Roth. Sure they both might only be for one year deals, but they make the Redskins better this season at a bargain basement price. They also can offer valuable insight to the 3-4 system that quite a few Redskins aren't too familiar with. I'd also make the deal to buy low on Mays given his potential and special teams ability, and look to sign Parker with the hopes that you can sneak him on the practice squad. It won't be perfect, but it would be an amazing turn around for a defense that simply didn't have it last season.
Steve Shoup has been a Redskins fan his entire life and dreams of the day they get back to the glory days of his youth. In addition to his regular piece on Hogs Haven, you can find his daily writings at Fanspeak.com.