Here is the 2nd edition of my roster review for the Redskins heading into the 2008 NFL Draft. In this edition I will breakdown the Defense and hopefully, determine their needs in the draft and through the rest of the so called “offseason”(there is a quote used on a certain satellite radio station that states: “THERE IS NO OFFSEASON”, and I agree heartily!).
Greg Blache takes over as Defensive Coordinator for the Washington Redskins in 2008. He has been listed as the defensive line coach the last 4 season for the Redskins, so he is not new to the team or the players, and that’s a good thing. He has experience as DC, serving as DC for the Chicago Bears from 1999 through the 2003 season under then head coach Dick Jauron. His time in Chicago can best be described as “generally not good”. While his defense had an outstanding 2001 season, injuries and free agent losses contributed to a defense that simply was not very good the rest of the time. His defenses were known to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Relying on quarterback pressure(he was quoted several times saying that pressure did not necessarily mean sacks) to help defend against the pass, aside from 2001, his defenses did not fare well against the pass. All of this may mean nothing to the Redskins, but then again, it may be a sign of things to come. There is generally a feeling around the NFL that Greg Blache will, at the very least, maintain the Redskins’ overall solid defensive play(since the 2000 season, the Redskins have only finished the season out of the top 10 in overall defense twice). The upcoming draft and the team’s health will play a major role in his ability to accomplish that. I’ll start with the defensive line. Once again, I believe that the play at the point of attack(by both lines) is a close second for the most important play of any football team(number one being quarterback play). And now, the roster he will be working with:
- Defensive End: The 2007 season marked a dramatic improvement for the Redskins in terms of pass rush. Posting a respectable 33 sacks in 2007, the Redskins improved on what had been record setting sack total of 19 in 2006, an all time LOW for the NFL. Left Defensive End Andre Carter was major contributor to this improvement posting 10.5 sacks himself. Which was the highest sack total from a Redskins defensive linemen since the 2000 season. Phillip Daniels was the starter for the 2007 season at Right Defensive End and contributed only 2.5 sacks. Needless to say, rushing the passer is not one of Phillip Daniels strengths at this point in his career. At 35, Daniels is certainly in the twighlight of his career, and lost significant playing time to a rotation of players. LB Marcus Washington entered the season designated as the “Pass Rush Specialist” by then Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, moving to left defensive end on passing downs. M. Washington battled a pulled hamstring for a large stretch of the season missing 4 games and was largely ineffective in several others, posting only 5 sacks. Youngster Chris Wilson made the best of his limited action posting 4 sacks. The Redskins are high on the young and undersized defensive end, but how much better can he get? Demetric Evans has been a reliable backup for the Redskins and will likely battle for the same role in 2008. The Redskins have been looking for “bookend” defensive ends since the days of Charles Mann and Dexter Manley, and seem to one side taken care of with Andre Carter. Phillip Daniels will likely return to battle for a spot with the team in 2008, but the Redskins are on the hunt for another pass rusher to play opposite Carter. Don’t be surprised if Daniels doesn’t make the cut and isn’t on the opening day roster. Daniels has shown to be adept at the Defensive Tackle position in passing situations and played alongside Montgomery and fellow 2nd year player Kedric Golston often in 2007. This could be his niche to make the team in 2008. Chris Wilson could easily progress into the pass rusher the Redskins need but only time will tell. At this point, defensive end is an obvious position of need for the Redskins and is likely to be targeted in the upcoming draft. The issue for the Redskins will be value at each point in the draft. With the 21st pick, there is likely not going to be solid value in taking a defensive end, as the position is a high priority for many teams.
- Defensive Tackle: The true strength of the defensive line was stopping the run, finishing the season ranked 4th in stopping the run, giving up only 91.2 yards per game. Andre Carter also led the team’s d-linemen with 55 total tackles with veteran tackle Cornelius Griffin and 2nd year player Anthony Montgomery tied for second with 42 each. These numbers put all three players in the top 50 of all defensive linemen in the NFL in total tackles. Anthony Montgomery and fellow 2006 draftee Kedric Golston found themselves switching roles in 2007. In their rookie seasons Golston earned his way on the field filling in for injured started Brandon Noble and played on all 16 games, posting a solid 44 total tackles as a rookie. Montgomery by contrast, played in only 5 games in 2006, with a total of nine tackles to his credit. Expect both these youngsters to come in even hungrier in 2008. Golston will want to prove that his rookie campaign was not a fluke after all, and Montgomery will want to prove his improvement in 2007 was just the start of a long and solid career. Starter Cornelius Griffin has been a good player when healthy, but at 31 years old, how much is left? And can he stay healthy for 16 games? Versatile Lorenzo Alexander will continue on with his role as a backup and rotational player at tackle and along the offensive line. Ryan Boschetti will also return to compete for a backup spot. Matthias Askew was re-signed in March, and there is much hope he will also compete for playing time. There has been much talk that the Redskins are interested in finding a defensive tackle that can give the defense a push up the middle. Others say the need is at the DE position. Age and the health of both DT Cornelius Griffin and DE Phillip Daniels dictates that the Redskins need to look to improve at both positions.
The defensive line has 13 players under contract and there is no need for desperation here. Age and health has caught up with 2007 starters Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels, and the Redskins must find players who can contribute in the 2008 season and take over by 2009. With 9 picks in April’s NFL draft, don’t be surprised if the Redskins select as many as two or three defensive linemen.
- Middle Linebacker(The Mike): London Fletcher-Baker showed the league that the Redskins did not spend unwisely in 2007 at the middle linebacker position. Starting every game and posting a team high 128 tackles, Fletcher-Baker was critical in the defenses turnaround from a disastrous 2006 season. He easily stepped right in to “quarterback” the defense, and his leadership was quickly visible. The undersized linebacker will be 33 years old when the 2008 season starts, and cannot be expected to play many more years. His possible replacement in the middle of the defense, H.B. Blades, appeared in all 16 games during the season, filling in at both outside LB spots and played well. The coaches have been impressed with his preparation and work ethic. At 5-10 and 250lbs., he is a near clone of London Fletcher-Baker. A tackling machine in college, Blades has a good chance to take over for Fletcher-Baker over the next year or two, while taking advantage of playing behind seasoned veteran.
- Strong Side Linebacker(The Sam): Marcus Washington started the season at the strong side spot (lining up over the offense’s tight end) and was designated the player to put his hand on the ground and rush the passer from the left defensive end position on passing downs. M. Washington suffered a pulled hamstring early, and struggled to recover, missing 4 games, missing time in several others. Finishing the season with 48 tackles and 5 sakcs, it was a disappointing season for Marcus Washington, but was an improvement over his 2006 campaign. Randall Godfrey, H.B. Blades, Khary Campbell and Matt Sinclair spent time filling in at the position. There are many who doubt Marcus Washington’s ability to continue as a premier linebacker in the NFL, and the Redskins should be looking for his replacement in this years draft. There is no replacement waiting in the wings at the strong side linebacker position, and depth is a major concern.
- Week Side Linbacker(The Will): 2nd Year Player Rocky McIntosh started 2007 as the starter on the weakside, and proved that the Redskins knew what they were doing when they traded up in the second round to select him in the 2006 NFL draft. Posting 87 tacklesm forcing three fumbles and collecting 3 sacks, he was having a very good season when he was injured early in the week 15 matchup against the eventual Super Bowl Champion NY Giants. His injury was originally reported to be quite severe, tearing both the ACL and MCL in his left knee. According to Redskins.com, McIntosh is expected back by the start of the season, but since that report, there have been rumors that he may also have a degenerative knee condition, that could plague him his entire career. Such a condition could also cut significantly short a promising career for the young McIntosh. Veteran Randall Godfrey got most of the playing time following McIntosh’s injury, but is likely going to finally retire. H.B. Blades and veteran backup Khary Campbell also filled at the position and will likely be the primary backups at all 3 line backer positions.
Overall the LB position is in dire need of depth, and future starters. With 9 line backers currently under contract, the Redskins have several young LBs on the roster that can best be described as special teams players, Danny Verdun-Wheeler, Matt Sinclair and Rian Wallace are some young guys the Redskins hope will compete for more, but expectations won’t be high. Rocky McIntosh is a star in the making, but returning from his injury is the first step, and we don’t know how long that will take, or how effective he will be in the first year back. Players are often NOT at 100% pre-injury performance in the first year returning from reconstructive knee surgery. Expect line backer to be addressed in the upcoming draft, and much emphasis placed on the position in the undrafted class following the draft. The line backer position could easily go from a position of strength for the Redskins to a significant weakness if the team is not able to find some young talent quickly.
- Corner Back: 3rd year player and former first round pick, Carlos Rogers and 11 year veteran Shawn Springs (also a former first round pick) started the 2007 season and both played well. Leading up to his injury in the week eight debacle against New England Patriots, his progress was obvious. The Redskins defense was ranked in the top 10 against the pass at the time and his play had been a major factor. Returning from such a major knee injury (torn ACL and MCL) will likely mean he will not be ready for the start of the 2008 season, and may not be very effective upon his return. Shawn Springs is entering his 12th season and at 33 years old, the Redskins cannot rely on him for an entire 16 game season. Although he played in all 16 games, starting 15, one must question his ability to stay healthy and be effecitve again in 2008. Fred Smoot returned to the Redskins and showed immediately that his time in Minnesota was likely simply a bad fit for the seven year veteran. While he battled a hamstring injury early in the season, missing three games. He showed his toughness, playing through the injury. And then took over for Carlos Rogers when he went down for the season. Smoot and Springs play down the stretch was a major contributor to Washington’s push into the playoffs, and both will return for 2008. David Macklin was signed in the 2007 off season in the hopes that the former starter would be an upgrade as a backup. But he only appeared in six games, and never earned the confidence of the coaching staff. He is not returning for 2008. Second year player Leigh Torrence saw action in all 16 games in 2007 as the third and fourth corner, and occasionally at safety. He also earned the confidence of the coaching staff, and will have a chance for even more playing time in 2008. Second year player John Eubanks also saw action in 2007, playing in 6 games before being injured in week 15. Signed as undrafted rookie and spending all but the final week of the 2006 season on the practice squad, he is another player who has earned the confidence of the coaching staff and will be given the opportunity to compete for playing time.
- Safety: The obvious: Sean Taylor is gone. Breaking down his play before his murder would be an effort in futility, but I would like to express my severe sense of loss. The Redskins organization, the NFL as a whole, and all that knew and loved him continue to miss him. Following the loss of Sean Taylor, second year player and 2006 late round draft pick, Reed Doughty was inserted along side rookie first round pick Laron Landry, and quickly torched for four touchdowns by the Cowboys QB Tony Romo and WR Terrell Owens. Things didn’t look good. But then DC Gregg Williams moved Doughty to strong safety, and Landry to free safety, and things improved immediately. Doughty showed that he fit much better at strong safety and played very well down the stretch. Laron Landry started every game as a rookie, lending a little credence to the Redskins payer evaluation process. Landry finished the season with 95 tackles, tied for fifth in the NFL for defensive backs. Earning the nickname “dirty thirty”, he did a fine job of continuing the tradition of hard hitting safeties for the Redskins. Pierson Prioleau saw action in 15 games in 2007, returning from a knee injury suffered on opening day in 2006. He played at every position the defensive backfield at one time or another and was heavily relied upon by then DC Gregg Williams. He is not under contract for the 2008 season and many believe he will ultimately follow Gregg Williams to Jacksonville. Seven year veteran Vernon Fox played in 14 games in 2008 after starting much of the 2006 season. He will likely return for 2008 and compete for a backup role at both safety positions.
Overall the defensive backs are set. Injuries are a concern for Carlos Rogers, and many believe the Redskins will be looking for another safety to compete with Reed Doughty for one of the starting spots opposite Laron Landry. The Redskins currently list only three safeties on the roster, Doughty, Landry and Fox. Obviously, more will be brought in to compete for playing time and as backups, whether it be via the draft or free agency. There are currently seven corner backs listed on the roster. Byron Westbrook and Cedric Holt are both undrafted free agents who have not seen any game action yet. Westbrook spent the 2007 season on the Redskins practice squad, and the coaching staff has been quoted as saying he has great potential. Holt is a third year player who was signed in January 2008 by the Redskins after spending the 2007 training camp with the Indianapolis Colts. He was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Tennessee Titans in 2006.
A youth movement occurred for the Redskins Defense in 2007. I thoroughly expect that trend to continue in 2008. The Redskins needs are obvious, age and injury make the defensive line, line backer and corner back positions concern. Can Carlos Rogers return and be close enough to 100% to be effective? Can Rocky McIntosh return from his injury and be effective? With so many corner backs on the roster, are the Redskins concerned about the corner back position or are they covered? Can they find a pass rush defensive end or a dominant defensive tackle in the draft? These are the questions dogging the Redskins front office and must be answered on April 26th and 27th. With nine picks in the upcoming draft, the Redskins have the opportunity to prepare the team for a solid run into the future. Can they get it done right? I have high expectations, and I think they can.