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Strength Down The Middle: On-The-Field

Taking a look at the Redskins foundation.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are many ways to build a team. Earlier this week, we took a look at how the front office of the Washington Redskins came together and debated if that was a recipe for success. Today, we are going to turn our attention to the gridiron. While it's good to have impact players all over the field, you want your strength to be down the middle. Because communication is a large key to success, down the middle is where you want your leaders and smartest players on both sides of the ball. Right down the middle of the field, the RB, QB, C, NT, MLB, and FS are the main communicators and can determine the success/failure of a play before the ball is even snapped. These are the positions you like to draft as your own and bring them up in your own system so they are a pure reflection of the coaches philosophy on the field. Of course, when you haven't had a true GM and your team is known for turnover at the coaches position, it's hard to implement.

Starting with the offense, lets take a look at Kory Lichtensteiger. While he was an upgrade over Will Montgomery, that isn't saying much. The Center is a key communicator because he makes the line calls and helps point out protections. Lichtensteiger was not drafted by this regime but was drafted by the previous regime under another team (Denver Broncos). In fact, he doesn't even fit the power-run scheme that Gruden prefers and could be moving towards.

Next, we have the QB. Whether it's Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, or Colt McCoy, they are all going to need to make major strides in the system to have a sustained hold on the job. When the Head Coach is offensive-minded or calling the plays (especially when he's a former QB like Gruden), he expects the QB to see the field the way he sees the field. Not one of the three listed did that with any consistency or even a long duration of time. The QB helps with line calls/pass protections/audibles (depending on system) and it's his job to check into the most successful play for the team. While Jay Gruden inherited Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, he took the job knowing what was on the roster and what the front office envisioned for them. Colt McCoy is the only one who Gruden brought in himself and he didn't do much better.

This brings us to Alfred Morris. Morris and Griffin certainly created magic on the field in 2012 but it has been waning ever since. I don't particularly think this is due to any fault of Morris, but the combination of Griffin's run threat diminishing and Gruden's shuffling of the OL has hurt him. The RB position is losing its value across the NFL but they are still extremely important especially in a situation like Washington. When you have a bad defense and QBs trying to adjust to a new system, the run game is so important to rely on. If you don't have it, that spells trouble. The RB also has to be smart in his ability to identify extra rushers and block them in the passing game. Morris was shaky in this category most of the season. To top it off, he didn't exactly "wow" the world with his hands out of the backfield (except in the Pro Bowl, of course).

(Editor's note: I'll preface this by saying obviously Joe Barry didn't pick any of these players so that is already a knock against them.)

On defense, let's start with NT. Not the biggest communicator in the group but the NT sets the tone in the run game. Whether he's a 2-gap space eater or a 1-gap penetrator, the NT has the quickest line to the ball and it's his job to disrupt things and force the RB to make a move before he is ready. He may line up differently on pass downs (1 or 3 tech instead of 0 tech), but his job here is important as well. We all know how important edge rushers are but some of their efforts are wasted if the QB has a clean pocket to step-up in. The most difficult pressure to deal with is right up the middle. As of now, it's hard to even tell who is the current NT. Barry Cofield has manned the spot for years but it looks like he could be moving out to DE depending on what Joe Barry sees from the group. Chris Baker has flashed but can he do it as a starter for an entire season?

Down the middle, the Redskins look best at ILB. Keenan Robinson took the job this past year and ran with it. He is the one getting the calls directly from the defensive coordinator. It's his job to listen to the QB, check in and out of plays and put everyone in the right position. He is the DC's eyes on the field. While Joe Barry has no history with these players, Keenan Robinson is still young and impressionable so hopefully Barrry can mold Robinson's young mind and give him the vision that Barry has for the defense. On Robinson's part, one can only hope that he has shed the "injury-prone" tag after losing his first two seasons.

Last but not least, we come to FS. A great FS gives you the freedom to do a ton of things on defense. You can disguise coverages, you can take more risks, etc. He is typically the one who helps best communicate the coverage calls to the other defensive backs. Not only does it help to have a smart player deep to recognize route combos and understand what the offense is trying to do, it also gives the underneath coverage guys more confidence to jump routes knowing that someone deep has their back. The Redskins, plain and simple, don't have a FS on their roster as of this current time. Depending on who you ask, they haven't had one for several years.

Again, this is not the only way to do things but it has proven successful. Raising guys down the middle in your own system is a great way to have your system implemented and executed on the field. Scot McCloughan is going to do his best with the draft picks provided to him this year but many of these positions will stay the same as last year because you can only do so much in one draft. Based on this strategy, it'll be interesting to see what positions he adds in the draft and what positions he adds in free agency.