Nick Wass/Associated Press
After four tough seasons largely failing to produce a stout 3-4 defense in Washington, coordinator Jim Haslett feels he finally has the pieces to make his schemes work.
Haslett's unit has a new look thanks to an influx of fresh talent in key areas, notably up front. The signing of former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Hatcher was a major boost for the D-line. Meanwhile, drafting Murphy has given Haslett a versatile sub-package weapon.
Haslett believes he can do more with his new personnel, via Jason Reid of The Washington Post:
I like our guys. I really do. We've got a good group. We’ve got some versatility to do different things.
We’re going to try to take advantage of some of the guys we have.
Making creative use of more versatile personnel is indeed the key to a defensive turnaround this season. That will require tweaking current schemes to suit the newbies.
Hatcher is a prime example of how different things could look this season. He is a deadly, one-gap rusher, particularly when attacking the B-gap between the offensive guard and tackle.
To take full advantage of that, Haslett must adjust his base three-man fronts to include more single-gap alignments and principles. He can be even more expansive with his rush linebackers.
That means letting Orakpo and Kerrigan blitz through the middle on occasion. It also means lining them up together on the same side in certain looks, as well as deploying packages with Orakpo, Kerrigan and Murphy on the field at the same time.
Gruden noted that Murphy was certainly put through his paces at various positions during OTAs, per Rich Tandler again, this time for CSNWashington.com:
Trent's done a great job. He's played both sides, he's played in nickel situations, he's played with the three technique, he's stood up and moved around. So Trent's done an outstanding job and I see him all the time in the film room watching practice. He's very aware of what his role is and what it's going to be and he wants to study it and be the best at it.
These are schematic ploys that must carry over into the new season. That didn't happen during the last campaign, despite Washington showing a lot of different looks during preseason.
Reid believes the influence former head coach Mike Shanahan exerted over the defense had a lot to do with that:
For four seasons — three of which ended with 10 or more losses — defensive coordinator Jim Haslett followed orders while former head coach Mike Shanahan made his job more difficult by tinkering with the defense, people within the organization say. And although Haslett often was frustrated that Shanahan, who had roster control, invested more heavily on offense during free agency, he kept his concerns in house.
That's easy to believe of the ultra-controlling Shanahan. But greater freedom means increased pressure on Haslett to finally deliver.
Despite any interference from Shanahan, the coordinator was rarely cautious on defense. Many fans will no doubt remember the high price the team sometimes paid for Haslett's risky Cover 0 blitz concepts.
The new regime must hope that better athletes along the front will make Haslett's bold calls succeed. It's a reasonable gamble to take.
A more creative and aggressive scheme can translate into more turnovers. Haslett has made that a season target, according to CSNWashington.com.
Training camp will provide a great opportunity to see just how expansive and daring Haslett is prepared to get with his schemes and personnel this season.