As the Redskins rookie minicamp approaches, the coaching staff evaluation of the 2019 roster commences. The months of March (Free Agency) and April (NFL Draft) are where NFL teams address their needs and envision the new makeup of their team. For the Redskins, along with the rest of the NFL, the months of May and June are for organized team activities and minicamps. The coaching staff will get early looks to see precisely where they are with some of their younger players, and what they will need to address by the time training camp arrives. So, for Washington, we know that the Redskins defense was the strength of the team in 2018. However, as the season went on, they started to wear down and possibly regress. Therefore it begs the question - As we head into May and June, have the Redskins done enough to solidify their defense?
Defensive Concerns/Needs for Washington heading into the off-season:
Inside Linebacker: The Redskins lost a weapon (speed and tackling) to the Philadelphia Eagles in Zach Brown, but gained third-year veteran, Rueben Foster via waivers prior to the end of the 2018 season. The inside linebackers struggled in coverage and struggled to remain true to their defensive assignments last season; there were issues with gap responsibilities or numerous instances of merely being out of position, which led to concerns about this unit as the weeks progressed.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, although had an insignificant amount of playing time in 2018, continues to develop as a linebacker by bulking up. He and Shaun Dion Hamilton will be looked at as young but key contributors to the Redskins defense. Linebacker Cole Holcomb also possesses the speed that Zach Brown previously provided to the Redskins, but can he prove himself on an NFL field?
If these young players can show they can play and are deserving of quality playing time, it is likely that Mason Foster may be a surprise training camp cut when it is all said and done. Mason lacks the speed needed to be a three-down linebacker and struggles in coverage; however, he is a productive two-down linebacker who is physical and big enough to take on the offensive lineman in the run game and blitz situations.
Edge Rusher: The Redskins lost Preston Smith and Pernell McPhee in this off-season, leaving a significant hole at the starting edge position opposite Ryan Kerrigan. Third-year player Ryan Anderson, before the NFL Draft, was slated to fill in the void Preston Smith left. The issue is, the Redskins have never had a young speed edge rusher that is so threatening to an offense, and Ryan Anderson does not come close to providing that. In addition to the lack of speed, he has not proven that he can be an every-down edge defender who can both defend the run and rush the passer.
Enter Mississippi State’s edge rusher, Montez Sweat, and Oklahoma State’s Jordan Brailford. Sweat is the speed rusher that the Redskins need. He does come with possible health concerns; he was taken off of some teams’ boards with questions about a heart condition. Nonetheless, he was cleared by the Redskins medical staff and others, which indicates the Redskins may have gotten a steal in Sweat when they swooped back into the late first round to take him. Brailford was the last draft pick of the Redskins for 2019, so though time will tell how he develops; there are not high expectations for him among the masses.
Safety: With the loss of D.J. Swearinger prior to the end of last season, the Redskins had mostly nothing at the safety position. As the free agency period began, the Redskins made their most significant veteran free agent acquisition in recent years, signing former All-Pro safety Landon Collins. Collins is an excellent addition for both the run game and pass game, a player who is capable of defending any part of the field, but who is most effective in the box, where he is most instinctive.
Outside of Collins, the Redskins have little to no experience as it stands today. They will need someone to step up for them in a big way because Troy Apke, Montae Nicholson, and Deshazor Everett have started only 24 games (of a potential 81) between them. Besides, there is currently no telling what Nicholson’s future with the Redskins will be; it is unknown if he is facing legal consequences or a team or league imposed suspension that may impact his chances of winning a starting job.
There is minimal experience among the Redskins safeties, so, although Landon Collins was a significant signing at the position group, how much stronger did it get this offseason?
Off-Season Grade: B-
The Redskins, overall, had an impressive off-season as they continued to strengthen their roster. The building blocks were put in place for the defensive side of the football, where “shoe-in” starters at key positions were needed. The Redskins were able to find them for the outside linebacker position and one safety position. There is still uncertainty and a lack of experience at one of both the inside linebacker position and the second safety position.
What is your offseason grade for the Redskins defense?
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