The Redskins front office has made becoming more physically suited to a 3-4 scheme, a priority for the front seven. Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen demonstrated this firm intent in the 2011 Draft.
With their first choice the pair snared Purdue edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan. The former boilermakers sack specialist will be expected to become a key weapon in Washington’s pressure schemes. In round two, the Redskins tabbed Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins as a possible five-technique end. Jenkins is expected to partner Adam Carriker as Washington’s starting defensive ends in 2011. But there are question marks surrounding both.
As a rookie, Jenkins is obviously an unproven commodity. He would also need to transition from a 4-3 defense. Established veterans on the Redskins roster found this switch difficult in 2010. Carriker has often failed to prove himself a durable or impact player over the course of 16 games. He turned in some impressive performances towards the end of the campaign, but is he ready to be a productive full time starter?
As always, many have predicted that Redskins owner Dan Snyder will simply rectify any uncertainty with the customary big name free agent. Cullen Jenkins and Shaun Ellis are the two potential free agent 34 ends with the highest profile. But with Jenkins aged 30 and Ellis, 34, a move for either would seem to counteract the new regime's attempts to rejuvenate an ageing roster.
Continuing the move away from the days of big money hype, Washington could turn to its biggest rival for a solution at defensive end. The Dallas Cowboys are faced with the dilemma of having three linemen becoming free agents. With new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s attempts to implement his philosophy hindered by the lockout, Dallas would most likely want to keep at least two of the three potential defector’s.
All three linemen were signed by Bill Parcells. If there was one thing the Tuna consistently managed to do throughout his career, it was identifying defensive linemen ideally suited to the 3-4.
The type of line and the quality of its play dictates the characteristics of any defense. It would be ironic if the Redskins greatest rivals aided their 3-4 transition. Here are the three Cowboys who would fortify the defensive front in D.C.
Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, Marcus Spears is a pure two gap player. He is a highly durable lineman, having made 71 starts and appearing in every game since entering the NFL.
Strong at the point of attack, Spears excels in tying up double teams. His presence on the Redskins line would allow the linebackers to more easily flow to the ball. His ability to clog up an entire side of a blocking scheme would be vital in spilling opposing runners out wide, into the grateful arms of supporting safeties. This excellence versus the run could help put an end to the New York Giants annual ground based mauling of the Redskins.
Spears does not bring credible skills as a pass rusher. With this in mind, he should probably be viewed as a two down and goal line player. Washington would need an appropriate substitute for nickel and dime packages.
Aged 28, Spears could be entering his prime as a lineman. He is an established performer in a 30 front. His signing represents the safest value for the Redskins and would be a major coup for Mike Shanahan. If Spears is released by the Cowboys, he would come with a healthy chip on his shoulder, determined to justify his status as a former first round selection.
Often limited to a role as a situational player, Stephen Bowen could add an extra dimension to the Redskins base defense. Joining the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent from Hofstra in 2006, Bowen has flashed potential but has rarely been given starting opportunities.
Bowen is a competent pass rusher who has demonstrated some ability for the big play. He has proved to be an active contributor when shifted inside in nickel situations. He would lend Washington's defensive front a disruptive presence in the pocket. With Bowen in the mix coordinator Jim Haslett would not need to rely on overload blitzes quite as often.
There have been doubts in Dallas concerning Bowen’s capability to hold the point of attack on early downs. His strength and technique may not be best suited to occupying blockers in order to keep linebackers clean.
His pass rushing skills may not be completely wasted in the base defense. It’s important to remember that many pass rushers have been successful getting to the quarterback in a 3-4. Names such as Leonard Marshall, Bruce Smith and Aaron Smith are the most obvious.
Still, the question of how well he would fare fending off blockers against the run, makes Bowen a risk for 2010’s 26th ranked rush defense.
Standing 6’6” and weighing 311 pounds, Jason Hatcher has the perfect intangibles to man the five technique spot. The former undrafted free agent from Grambling represents the biggest upside as an option for the Redskins.
Jason Hatcher offers a genuine pressure threat. Like Stephen Bowen he has been an effective rusher as a three technique tackle on passing downs. Similar to Bowen, Hatcher would need to prove powerful and aggressive enough to hold up on early downs.
Hatcher’s quick first step combined with his intriguing size would increase the Redskins defensive options. He could be a playmaker if allowed to slide down into the tackle guard gap and attack as a one gap player. Hatcher has the speed to effectively run stunts and twists, either along the line, or in tandem with an outside linebacker. This would allow the defensive front to confuse opposing blocking schemes. Both Bowen and Hatcher would bring the motivation of proving wrong all those who overlooked them in the draft.
In keeping with the Redskins desire to become younger, stronger and faster, any one of these three Dallas Cowboys would be a good fit. Each player has something to prove and can offer invaluable NFC East experience and schematic familiarity.