Many have questioned the Washington Redskins’ “failure” to address the defensive line in the recent draft. They did not draft a defensive lineman until taking Rob Jackson out of Kansas State in the seventh round. Jackson is a prospect but for 2008 he’ll be, at best, a long-term project.
Even without the addition of a high draft pick, however, there will be some lively completion for jobs along the defensive line. To say that it’s a star-studded group would be giving them too much credit, but it’s not a rag-tag unit by any stretch, either.
Andre Carter is the closest thing to a star player the unit has. While he did not have what I would call a Pro Bowl caliber season in 2007, I will say that any player who wore a star on the side of his helmet and who posted 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles would have been flying to Hawaii in February.
Phillip Daniels will start at the other end position. He’s been a warrior for the Skins and for a few other teams and he’s a leader in the locker room. He stayed healthy in ’07 and he’s was involved in competitive power lifting over the offseason.
The 35-year-old, however, is the player with the target on his back, the one that everyone wanted to replace with Calais Campbell or Quentin Groves.
In choosing to upgrade the offense in the second round and by staying away from taking a D-lineman until almost everyone at Radio City Music Hall had gone home, the Redskins expressed confidence in Daniels’ ability to get the job done this year.
We’ll see how well-founded that confidence is. He might have another good year or two left, but 35 is 35.
Plan B here could be Erasmus James. The Redskins took a flyer on him and, if he can regain his health, he could be the long-term answer as Daniels’ replacement. The health is a big if, however.
Since his freshman year at Wisconsin, he’s been dogged by hip, ankle, and knee injuries. Jim Zorn had him on the list of injured players who may not be ready for the start of training camp. James almost certainly makes the team if he can get back into playing shape.
Demetric Evans will be back as a solid backup. As the Skins will keep four or five ends, that leaves at most one more DE spot available.
Chris Wilson had four sacks last year, including two in the playoff-clinching win over the Cowboys and the team likes his potential. Ditto for Alex Buzbee, who was on the practice squad last year. Unless James winds up on the PUP list or on IR, Jackson will be joining Buzbee on the PS.
On the inside, Cornelius Griffin hasn’t been the force he was in 2004, when he was the MVP of the defense and was robbed of a Pro Bowl berth. Injuries have taken their toll. At 31, it’s unlikely that he has another monster season left in him, but he can be more than adequate.
At the other tackle spot, Anthony Montgomery beat out ’06 starter Kedric Golston and started 15 games last year. He could continue the improvement and become a stud DT, but it’s more likely that he’ll continue to be more steady than stellar.
Who else sticks besides those three may depend on how the Skins count two-way player Lorenzo Alexander. He played the Jumbo package as a sixth lineman on offense and he got some action as a defensive tackle as well.
It’s possible that he’ll setting into one position or the other or he may continue to go both ways.
The only other DT’s on the roster are Ryan Boschetti, who keeps on getting cut and keeps on getting asked back, and Matthias Askew, a fourth-round pick of the Bengals in 2004.
If Greg Blache and company keep four ends and Alexander is counted in his own category (perhaps using a slot that some other teams use for a kick returner), all of them could make it.
That’s unlikely, though. Daniels is capable of moving inside, and he did so last year in some passing situations when Marcus Washington moved up into a three-point stance to rush the passer.
Evans also can hold his own at tackle. It would make more sense to keep an extra end and cover any injury situations that may pop up during the season by moving someone inside. That’s good news for Wilson and Buzbee, bad news for Askew and/or Boschetti.
No matter who stays or goes, there is a decided lack of sizzle about the unit. Somehow, some way, however, the Redskins finished the 2007 season fourth in the NFL against the rush with most of those same guys on the front line. It should be a solid, blue-collar unit again this year.