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Is the Time Right for the Redskins to Make the Switch to the 4-3?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tis the time of year for wild, rampant speculation - such is the nature of the beast. After the NFL season ends, and before the new league year begins, teams sit down with their coaches and try and figure out what went right and what went wrong; where they can improve, and what player/schemes are needed for that improvement.

Every year, usually around this time, fans of the team scream for change. That change can be positional, schematic or even coaching oriented. So far in this young 2018, the Redskins have seen a major change at quarterback, that will certainly alter the offense. Jay Gruden had eluded to the fact that there may be more designed quarterback runs, RPOs and a heavier does of the running game with Alex Smith under center. The days of checking the ball down on third and seven may be over.

With new players comes new schemes, and that also holds very true on the defensive side of the football.

It’s been no secret that the Redskins have been interested in adding a veteran presence along the defensive front this offseason. They made overtures to Mo Wilkerson and Jonathan Hankins, and were supposedly interested in Beau Allen, Sheldon Richardson and Bennie Logan. To date, they have not been able to ink any of these big names (although Hankins and Logan still remain). The one true 1-technique they did sign was the oft-injured Phil Taylor, and he’s not even a lock to make the roster.

The draft does offer some interesting prospects who can play situational nose tackle, and kick out to the 3-technique in nickle, but it’s not guaranteed that the Redskins will go that direction in April’s draft.

Two recent rumors that have surfaced is that the Giants and Jets may be switching their base defenses this year. The Jets, who have run a 3-4 base for what feels like decades, are rumored to be switching to a 4-3. The Giants may be going the opposite way.

For both these teams, it may be based on existing personnel.

The Jets have watched their once dominant defensive front vanish. Before last season started, they traded Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks. This offseason they cut Mo Wilkerson, who quickly signed with the Packers. They also recently lost Kony Ealy in free agency. The result - they are left with a depth chart that is much better suited for a base 4-3.

The Giants, thanks in part to recent free agent acquisitions, trades and recent drafts, are reeling in players who fit nicely into a base 3-4. New Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher is well versed in the 3-4 having served as a linebacker coach under former Cardinals defensive coordinator and current Jets head coach Todd Bowles. Bettcher took over as defensive coordinator in Arizona after Bowles left for New York, and now he’ll be tasked with running the defense for the G-men.

For the Redskins, their flirtation with potential nose tackles in free agency has been interesting, but their inability to sign one has been perplexing. It’s pretty clear, by watching the team over the last few seasons, that they do not value the nose tackle position. Furthermore, the team is in their base defense less than 30 percent of the time. If personnel and situational football tell us anything, it’s that the Redskins may be better off making the switch to a base 4-3 defense this season.

There are a few prospects in this April’s draft that have been linked to the Redskins at linebacker. It’s rumored that the team really likes Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. Fans have clamored for Virginia Tech standout Tremaine Edmunds, and recent reports suggest that the team has had contact with Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. All three of these prospects could be potential targets in round one (Vander Esch more likely in a trade-back scenario). If either player were to become a Redskins, they would be expected to get on the field and contribute early.

As things currently stand, Mason Foster is slated to be the team’s starting MIKE linebacker, with newly re-signed Zack Brown lining up next to him at JACK. All three of the previously mentioned prospects would be good fits at WILL in a 4-3 base, as they all have outstanding athleticism, solid coverage skills and the ability to rush off the edge. If one were to suit up in Burgundy and Gold, the 4-3 may become a necessity. Outside of the draftable linebacker prospects mentioned, the team also has second year linebacker Josh Harvery-Clemons, who is a great fit at WILL linebacker, and Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight, who can back-up the MIKE or SAM.

On the defensive line, the Redskins have second year defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who would offer great upside as a 3-technique in a 4-3 base. Matt Ioannidis offers the team great scheme versatility, as he can play the 3-technique or 1-technique in a 4-3 Under. Stacy McGee, Terrell McClain and Phil Taylor all have experience in both schemes. Anthony Lanier can be a pass-rush specialist from multiple defensive line positions.

Fortunately, our 3-4 outside linebackers are former 4-3 defensive ends. Both Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith are probably both better suited to be base 7-technique defenders. Newly signed Pernell McPhee has experience as both an outside linebacker and a base 7-technique defensive end, and Ryan Anderson may be able to double as a hybrid stand-up defensive end/SAM linebacker.

I feel it is important for a coach to be able to adapt to the talent around him. It appears Jay Gruden is willing to do this on offense with his new quarterback Alex Smith. If the team can modify their offense to fit the talent of the players on that side of the ball, why can’t the defense do the same?

Could a change be coming on defense for the 2018 Redskins, and could it be possible that the draft will dictate that change?


Could the Redskins be setting up for a potential switch to the 4-3 defense?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Yes - it makes too much sense not to
    (1006 votes)
  • 24%
    No - We’ll struggle again trying to fit square pegs into round holes
    (506 votes)
  • 26%
    Seriously, this again?
    (555 votes)
2067 votes total Vote Now