Change is a constant in the NFL. Every team undergoes it—the question is simply how much. On the heels of a 4-12 campaign, general manager Scot McCloughan has brought much of it to the Washington Redskins' roster.
For the most part, you could note these changes as improvements.
Let's take the defensive line. It's better. Now, the defensive front was never bad to begin with. But with the signings of Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean-Francois, the defensive line is two-deep with starting-caliber players.
Pair this defensive front with the likes of Keenan Robinson and Ryan Kerrigan at linebacker, and the potential is there for Washington to sport one of the top front sevens in the league.
Then there's the changes in the secondary.
Dashon Goldson, Jeron Johnson and Chris Culliver were all brought aboard to fix Football Outsiders' 30th-ranked pass defense in 2014.
Are these improvements, though? Outside of Culliver, it's unclear if these players are even upgrades over their predecessors.
Like Ryan Clark, Goldson missed his fair share of tackles last season.
According to Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, Clark led the NFL in missed tackles last season. Despite playing nearly 200 fewer snaps, Goldson wasn't far behind him in this category. His 20 missed tackles in 2014 were just two off Clark's league-worst total (among defensive backs).
In the case of Johnson, he's simply lacking game experience. It's no fault of his own because of who was in front of him on the depth chart. The fact remains, though, that he registered all of one start in his four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
Well, if vast improvement isn't going to come from outside the roster, it'll have to come from within.
Enter Bashaud Breeland.
An improved pass rush helps, but for the Redskins to truly turn around their porous pass defense, they'll need better play from their cover men.
Looking at the team's options behind Culliver, Breeland is the likeliest to deliver just that.
David Amerson struggled mightily in 2014. Of the players currently on the roster, Amerson was rated as the worst defender in the secondary by PFF.
As for DeAngelo Hall and Tracy Porter, durability is a lingering question mark. Porter is literally a constant on the injury report. As for Hall, he turns 32 in November and is coming off two surgeries on his Achilles.
No reason to be confident in the alternatives, right?
Back to Breeland.
He had his warts in 2014. Penalties were chief among them, per The Football Database:
|Demar Dotson (OT), TB||14||127||4||7||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Brandon Browner (DB), NE||13||118||0||4||0||1||4||0||0||1||0||3|
|Bashaud Breeland (DB), Was||12||161||0||0||0||2||4||0||0||1||0||5|
|Darryl Skrine (DB), Cle||12||135||0||5||0||0||6||1||0||0||0||0|
|Willie Colon (OG), NYJ||12||87||7||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Michael Bennett (DE), Sea||12||79||0||0||6||0||0||0||0||1||0||5|
|Greg Robinson (OT), Stl||11||95||4||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Jason Peters (OT), Phi||11||90||5||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|Shareece Wright (DB), SD||10||127||0||1||1||0||7||0||0||0||0||1|
|Blidi Wreh-Wilson (DB), Ten||10||118||0||0||0||0||7||0||0||0||0||3|
Even with that said, his promise is undeniable. On a prime-time stage against one of the best receivers in the NFL, Breeland turned in a gem and showcased his vast potential.
Most important of all, though, is how Breeland accomplished this. As ESPN's John Keim noted, he studied his opponent:
Physical ability is a must-have in this league, but talent falls to the wayside if it's not paired with the proper preparation.
Taking into account what the Washington Post's Mike Jones had to report on Breeland's work habits, it's evident he won't lack the latter.
A veteran leader on last year's team, Clark spoke with Jones about Breeland's work ethic:
From Week 1, I would go into the meeting room early, and he was a guy in there copying things that [Morris] or [defensive coordinator Jim Haslett] had put on the board. He was watching film on different receivers he had to cover, meeting with Aubrey Pleasant, who’s our quality control guy, to get more film. When you have a guy who’s willing to do that from a young age coupled with his talent, I think that’s what you’ve seen: his constant progression.
Slighted by NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki ahead of the 2014 draft for a perceived lack of NFL-readiness, the former fourth-round pick's rookie season was undoubtedly a success.
In addition to his 67 tackles and two forced fumbles, Breeland led the team with two interceptions and 13 passes defended.
And yet, as he relayed to Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com, Breeland remains unsatisfied.
"I’m trying to improve on every aspect of my game. I wasn’t perfect," he said. "I jumped a lot of passes, but I’m trying to improve on my tracking as well as my technique at the line with my checking. I’m also trying to gain more football knowledge. My football IQ can be much better."
With six games on the 2015 schedule against teams that sported a top-10 passing attack last year, and this isn't including the Cowboys, Washington isn't just hoping Breeland takes the next step in his development. It's counting on it.
Improvement from quarterback Robert Griffin III would be nice. The same goes for the team's once-vaunted running game. Ultimately, though, the Redskins will only go as far as their defense takes them in 2015.
With the premium teams place on the quarterback position, the success of their defense will come down to their ability to defend the pass.
The success of Washington's defense will come down to the development of its X-factor in Breeland.