As promised this series which asks more detailed questions about the newest Redskins has returned. This year I had the pleasure of once again asking the writers at Roll ‘Bama Roll about a couple of the Redskins draft picks. Brent Taylor gave us some great information regarding new Redskin DL Da’Ron Payne.
Cadillactica: This is the second straight year the Redskins have selected an Alabama defensive lineman in the 1st round of the draft. We know Payne was selected to help the Redskins stop the run and Coach Jay Gruden has said Payne will start at NT in the Redskins base 3-4 defense. Some fans worry that a 1st rounder was spent on a part-time player. Does Payne have the pass rushing skillset to stay on the field when the Redskins go to their nickel package (which happens about ~63% of the time)?
Brent Taylor: Trust me, Da’Ron Payne is a 3-down defensive tackle. He was technically the nose tackle in Alabama’s base 3-4 defense... however, the current state of college football offenses had the Tide in nickel or dime somewhere like 85-90% of the time (don’t quote me on those numbers though). I won’t get ahead of myself since your next question is about Saban’s defensive scheme, but just know that Payne spent plenty of time on the field on 3rd downs. In the combine, he ran a 4.95 forty yard dash, which really turned some eyes for someone that large. He can MOVE. Now, I wouldn’t call him the next Aaron Donald. He’s still a 2-gapping wall of a defender at heart, but he’s got the speed and athleticism to really close on a quarterback in a hurry and has a solid repertoire of rush moves at his disposal.
Cadillactica: Speaking of pass rushing Payne’s critics will point to his lack of pass rush production and production overall during his time at Alabama. Some have said that Nick Saban scheme did not allow Payne to get after the QB like we saw with other top college DL prospects. Can you explain Saban’s defensive philosophy and Payne’s responsibility in it?
Brent Taylor: In name, Alabama runs a base 3-4 defense with Payne playing nose tackle and controlling both gaps on either side of the center while intentionally not breaking the block. In practice, however, that defense pretty much only gets used on 4th and 1 situations or against LSU, as college offenses are pretty much totally shotgun-based with 3 to 4 receivers. In base situations (1st and 2nd down), Payne will line up as a 1-tech defensive tackle, rather than a 0-tech nose. One defense end will move to a 3-tech tackle and the other will stay as an end, and then a linebacker walks up and become the other defensive end. In this case, Payne usually still 2-gaps in what is essentially a quasi 4-3 under front. However, since he’s now shaded to the side of the center, the defensive coordinator has the option to change him to a 1-gap penetrating role, rather than a 2-gap if he wants to pull off an exotic blitz.
In more likely passing situations, one defensive lineman will sub out for an extra linebacker. For the most part, either defensive end D’Shawn Hand or end Raekwon Davis would come out of the game, though occasionally Payne would instead to get a break. In this case, both original defensive linemen would play a 3-tech defensive tackle while the two linebackers would line up outside the tackles. It’s a role more similar to what you’d see from an Aaron Donald.
Now, obviously, Payne doesn’t have a whole bunch of sacks on the year. But he did get 27 QB hurries-- good for about 2 per game. A quarterback can step up and avoid a rusher coming from the edge, but a force coming up the middle can mess up a QB pretty quickly. Usually, they’ll have to flush to one side or the other, and then a linebacker can catch him on the way out.
Cadillactica: Payne came to Alabama upward of 330 lbs but is currently at a lean 308 or so. Has he ever had issues that you know up controlling his weight while at Alabama? If he played at heavier weights was he still effective?
Brent Taylor: He actually played somewhere around 350 his senior year of high school. But once he got into Alabama’s conditioning program, he dropped to about 320 before he even started his freshman season. He actually earned some media attention before his first season began when he won the bench pressing competition (above 500 pounds) over all of the upperclassmen. The next spring, after his first season, he dropped down 313 and got his bench press up to 545 while squatting 635. He played his junior season at 308. So, that to say, he definitely hasn’t had any conditioning issues or problems keeping weight down. He intentionally trimmed up some to get faster, and he did so while getting even stronger at the same time. He’s an athletic specimen for sure.
I figure he could put on 15-20 pounds if needed and still be effective, but I think he’d be best to stay around the 310 range. He’s already stronger than pretty much anyone, so why try to get bigger? At 310, he’s one of the fastest defensive tackles around too, and getting bigger might lose that speed without really adding more strength. I think that’s what smart people call the law of diminishing returns.
Cadillactica: He played well in the spotlight in the CFB playoffs. When considering questions about his production should fans be reassured that Payne steps up when the lights are on or should they be concerned that he won’t play to his potential during regular games? Is there any special that Saban does with his team to get the players amped up for the playoffs?
Brent Taylor: If there’s one thing about Nick Saban teams-- especially his defenses-- it’s that they take pride in treating a cupcake game with the exact same amount of preparation and attitude as they treat a championship game. Saban teaches and lives that every single game is made up of individual plays which are made up of individual moments by individual players. And when you break it down that far, what real difference is there? If the play design is for Payne to hit the center right in the nose and walk him back but not break the block until a ball carrier tries to slip through either A-gap, then that design and his responsibility is the same whether he’s playing Clemson or Vanderbilt.
So, no. Don’t expect there to be ups-and-downs with effort and performance. He’s about as consistent as you’ll get.
Cadillactica: Coach Jay Gruden has also said he is excited to get Payne on the line next to Jonathan Allen with Ryan Anderson attacking from the second level. Can you tell us anything about the chemistry between these Alabama players and how you think their on-field play will be helped by their familiarity with one another in the pros?
Brent Taylor: Well, they all started together on the 2016 defense, which was one of the most fun defenses I’ve ever watched up until DeShaun Watson went all DeShaun Watson on them in the 2nd half of the championship game. The entire defense was legitimately in competition to outscore the offense every single game the entire season. Allen would play defensive end, but often move inside with Payne to be the two interior rushers and Anderson and Tim Williams hit the edges. It was a blast to watch, and one of the most fun pass rushes I’ve ever gotten to see. I’ll just link you to a video, since I don’t think words are good enough for this:
Payne is #94, Allen is #93, Anderson is #22. They each get at least one touchdown in the video. Oh, and Hamilton is #20.
And if you want a video of just Payne, here’s a good link.
Cadillactica: What do you think are the key factors to Payne’s success in his first year? He is going to be working with the best defensive line coach in the league (in my biased opinion) in Jim Tomsula so his technical issues will be addressed. Can you tell us anything about how he received coaching and improves himself as a player?
Brent Taylor: I really think scheme fit will be the determining factor. He’s an elite, well-rounded player (which is why you guys took him at #13 overall). If he comes into an aggressive 4-3 scheme, then he may not be able to live up to it (though he has the athleticism that I think he could probably adapt, but it may take a little longer). But if he’s walking into a 3-4 scheme in Washington, then it’s hard not to envision him immediately become a base-down starter and work into becoming a 3rd-down interior rusher as well.
Cadillactica: If you had to choose one word or short phrase to describe Payne what would it be?
Brent Taylor: Terrifying teddy bear.
There you have it guys I want to thank Brent again for his time answering my questions. Brent also gave some great information on Shaun Dion Hamilton which will be in a future article.