They were high times indeed as we celebrated the addition of Alex Smith to the Redskins back in January. After Washington drafted Derrius Guice, who plummeted to the Redskins in the second round back in April, we raised our glasses yet again. From the “magical third-year for wide receivers” that has us breathlessly waiting for Josh Doctson to explode, to Jordan Reed’s preseason health and more, we as a Redskins fanbase have been rather excited about the offensive side of the ball headed into the 2018 season.
I can’t say I have steered clear of all this bleary-eyed revelry...ummm...because I have NOT. This is the modern NFL, in which rules are made to keep fans of offense and scoring and stats as happy as possible. Jay Gruden has what he needs to run a productive and efficient offense. Even losing a promising rookie Guice doesn’t change that fact.
While most people spend their time living and loving the offense, it is on the defensive side of the ball where I think the most eye-popping improvement will occur for the 2018 Redskins. Last season, Washington’s defense was 21st overall in total defense. They were abysmal against the run, ranking among the league’s worst teams in rushing yards given up, rushing yards per carry and total points given up.
Going into the 2018 campaign, the Washington Redskins are suiting a pair of first-round picks who also played together in college. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne were a dominant duo on the same defensive line at the University of Alabama. Today, they wear burgundy and gold and represent the middle of what all of a sudden appears to be a very stout defensive front. Allen lost a huge chunk of his rookie season in 2017 to injury, but it bears mentioning that when he was healthy for the first month of the season, the Redskins defense was ranked as a top-five unit. Offensive lines struggled to push him around, and the attention he drew enabled others along the line to make plays.
Teaming up the pair of Crimson Tide defenders is a dream scenario for Redskins fans paying attention. We have likely not seen that kind of interior defensive line tandem since Darryl Grant and Dave Butz—back in the 1980’s. Payne and Allen have already shown in limited preseason action that they are capable of having their way with starting-caliber offensive linemen. Nothing matters until September, of course, but it stands to reason that they are up to the task.
When you invest two first round choices to bolster the middle of the defensive line, the impact can and will be felt all over the field. The secondary spent last season getting run over. On passing downs, opposing quarterbacks enjoyed more than enough time to let routes develop, exposing the defensive backs to prolonged attempts to cover. If you watch enough football, you know that you simply can’t cover NFL receivers for that long.
As for the linebackers, it was an all too frequent sighting to watch them be manhandled by opposing offensive linemen. Offenses were able to get their blockers to the second level with a lot more ease than anyone would ever want to see.
Enter Allen and Payne.
Together, these two mountains in the middle of the Washington defensive line will succeed in putting more pressure on the quarterback, and will simultaneously also make it harder-to-impossible for blockers to release into our linebackers. Both Allen and Payne are three-down guys, so they will be asked to do all of this, as opposed to other big men who find themselves playing more situational ball.
I am still mourning the loss of what would have been one of the more fun stories to watch as a Redskins fan—that of rookie Derrius Guice. I have no delusions of a 33-year old Adrian Peterson coming in and looking like a 25-year old AP, but I believe Alex Smith and Jay Gruden will cobble together a competent product.
For my money, I am most looking forward to watching second-year defensive coordinator Greg Manusky deploy his new twin towers in the middle of the defense. Their names are going to get called. Frequently.
It is the perfect combination of incredible and youthful talent on the heels of a season where things were statistically almost as bad as they could be. The improvement will be visible. It will be obvious.
And oh yes...it will be exciting.