- It is difficult to mount a stout rush defense without a big, strong body right up front and in the middle. The “true nose tackle” has proven to be somewhat elusive for the Redskins, like our own personal jackelope. Temporary solutions have cropped up at times (Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Terrance Knighton), and we even managed to cobble together multiple seasons with a guy like Barry Cofield. The changing scenery behind our defensive line over the years has also worked against establishing a lot of rhythm in our ability to be effective, but there can be no mistaking the value of a true middle-of-the-defensive-line presence. Today’s Sixpack is not about calling Phil Taylor “The Answer” as much as it is about the possibility that he could be the next intermediate solution to a problem no truly good defense has going into a season.
- I think we are all excited to see what Jim Tomsula can do with Phil Taylor, Jonathan Allen and The Irish Twins (Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain), among others. By most accounts, Tomsula is one of the more highly regarded defensive line coaches in the league (similar in many respects to what we heard about Bill Callahan prior to him taking over our offensive line). I want to tamp down both my own as well as everyone’s expectations for a player like Phil Taylor. After bring drafted in the first round by Cleveland in 2011, Taylor’s ability to stay on the field came into question thanks to a right knee that was operated on and became re-injured multiple times. The Clinton, Maryland native is a monster of a man that is currently displaying the kind of athleticism from the interior of the line that powers solid defenses. He’s 29 years old (with the aforementioned injury history), so perhaps our long term vision for Phil is lacking the...uhhh...long term, but the fact that he came in with almost no expectations has us feeling a little like we are about to get production from a mid- to late-round draft pick. When you couple that with the excitement surrounding Jonathan Allen and the expectations that go with free agent acquisitions like the Irish Twins, the sum of all these parts begins to look far greater than simple addition.
- I know I have concentrated on the defensive side of the ball a lot in recent weeks, but that is because unless this group outperforms last year’s group—considerably—any true chance to make the playoffs and win a game there is nonsense. I have said and continue to say that Kirk Cousins is the kind of quarterback leading the kind of offense that is worth eight wins. Maybe more, but probably not less. The defense has to be worth another two wins for postseason contention. This oversimplifies things to say the least, and glosses over the impact the offense can have on the defense and vice versa. Where the offense needs to figure out red zone efficiency, the defense needs to answer the bell on third downs. On offense, I think we would argue that the size of our newest pieces (Pryor, Doctson and even Perine) give us a leg up in the red zone. On defense, having a guy like Phil Taylor show up and play at a high level impacts the ability of a guy like Jonathan Allen, which impacts the ability of the edge rushers, which determines how long the defensive backs need to cover, which determines when and where our safeties take chances both pre- and post-snap. Again, not to put that much on the play of a 29-year old man that weighs almost 350 pounds with a banged up wheel, but...yeah...Phil Taylor is kind of an important piece.
- As we move into the slate of preseason games, I always like to come up with a few specific things to watch—especially early in that first scheduled exhibition. Let’s just tie a bow on the top half of this discussion and say that I will be VERY intently watching the defensive line on Thursday night. I want to see how easily the opposing offensive line is getting to the second level. I want to see if we have anyone that is demanding a double-team, and if so, if we have someone who can take advantage of his teammate drawing the double-team. This is something we can watch all the way through the game, as we are still trying to find out about guys like Matt Ioannidis, A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu.
- Another thing I will be looking for: I want to see how fast Zach Brown can get to the sideline wearing burgundy and gold. Coming out of the University of North Carolina, Brown was known for his speed. He may have slowed down just a little since his college days (who among us hasn’t?), but his speed should very much set him apart from his competition on the Redskins roster. I understand that Mason Foster stands ahead of Brown on the initial depth chart released, but I continue to believe Brown will ultimately win that job (I know Brent...there does seem to be something weird here, but until that weirdness manifests itself, we will have to believe our eyes.) Given that Brown could be looking at some time spent battling players on the other side of the field that weren’t in the Pro Bowl last year, he could end up looking pretty darned good. If he can beat his teammates to the ball on the sideline, his ascension up the depth chart could be just as speedy.
- Speaking of preseason, can we chat for a second on what the true impact of having 90 players until the end of August will be for us? I have argued in the past that the final preseason game will be as bad as ever because it will be played almost entirely by guys who will never see a regular season Sunday. I am thinking about changing my tune on that. Teams definitely won’t expose many—or any—starters to a bunch of players literally fighting for a chance to lay a bone-crushing hit on tape, but this thought has me wondering if the game might actually be compelling. Based on the desperation of these players, we might actually be treated to a game that could be surprisingly well-contested. If penalties can be minimized (a huge ask), the fourth preseason game could enter a new era for players and for fans. Since the game will likely be played almost exclusively by players who won’t be in the league, you might even see playcalling tendencies change a bit. In the modern pass-happy NFL, you could argue there are plenty of “vanilla” passing schemes and plays. Instead of handing the ball off 50 straight times, you might see coordinators decide to play the hand they have on the field with a heightened sense of adventure. After all, how much can future opponents read into being aggressive with a bunch of fifth-stringers? Does anyone out there think this can be a possibility? Does anyone out there think I am simply wishing and hoping for way too much?
The Redskins defense will be off and running if Phil Taylor can lock down the nose tackle position.