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Gruden confident defense can handle changes

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Gruden confident defense can handle changes

It is expected that 16 players will be key contributors on the Redskins defense this year. There are the 11 projected starters, DE’s Jason Hatcher and Stephen Paea, NT Terrance Knighton, OLB’s Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy, ILB’s Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley, CB’s Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland, and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson. In addition, Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois, and Preston Smith will rotate into the front seven and DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson look like the nickel and dime backs, at least to start out the season

Of those sixteen there are seven who are new to the Redskins organization. Paea, Knighton, Culliver, Goldson, Johnson, and Jean Francois will have to adjust to playing in a new city after playing for different NFL teams before signing with the Redskins as free agents. Smith will be making the adjustment from Mississippi State to the NFL.

Almost all of the holdovers will have new position coaches. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is gone and most of his assistants were let go as well. Only Robinson and Riley still have the same position coach in Kirk Olivadotti. Joe Barry will keep the 3-4 base but he seems to be planning to mix it up more with different alignments than Haslett did.

It adds up to a lot of changes in the Redskins’ defense. Change was needed for a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed, 20th in yards allowed and was anywhere from mediocre to outright bad in virtually every major and minor defensive stat you could name. But was it too much, too fast?

“It’s a great challenge for us as a staff to try to not only get our system taught the right way but to get everybody meshing together,” said head coach Jay Gruden last week.

Gruden said the free agents all are very smart and that will help the transition process.

“I think those guys won’t have any problem adjusting, it’s just a matter of getting used to the way Coach [Joe] Barry calls things and the way he wants things as opposed to the way they did at Seattle or Tampa or Chicago or wherever they’re from and getting on the same page from a mental standpoint,” he said. “But from a physical standpoint, I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble with these guys playing hard and physical football.”

Perhaps there was more change to the defense than was ideal but, again, it was needed. The expectations for the unit will be high but perhaps they should be tempered somewhat. It may take a few games, or maybe even a good chunk of the season, for them to gel despite Gruden’s sunny outlook on the situation. The sooner it happens the more I will be impressed with the hiring of Joe Barry. 

[MORE REDSKINS: WHAT DOES BRUCE ALLEN THINK ABOUT DESEAN JACKSON'S OTA ABSENCE?]

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Need to Know: Setting the final odds on the Redskins first-round draft pick

Need to Know: Setting the final odds on the Redskins first-round draft pick

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, April 23, three days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Setting the odds on the Redskins’ top pick

We have just three days left until the draft and it’s time to make the final predictions. For the last time before this draft, we’re going to break out the $100 in imaginary poker chips and see who is the favorite to be the Redskins’ top pick. 

Before we get started, all of these odds are set with the Redskins staying at No. 13. With a separate stack of chips, I’ll put $20 on them trading down, $80 on them staying put. There just isn’t an obvious team to deal with or a player that would be on the board to make a team want to move up. 

DT Vita Vea, $30—I would have this a little higher but I’m becoming less confident that he’ll be on the board when the Redskins draft at 13. Normally nose tackle isn’t a high-value position, but this is an odd draft and Vea is a freakish talent. He has to get past the Raiders picking tenth and the Dolphins at No. 11 and I’m not sure they will. 

S Derwin James, $20—If Vea is gone then there is a good chance that James will be there at 13, assuming that the four quarterbacks everybody thinks will go in the top 12 are indeed selected. Although the Redskins have D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson at safety, the versatile James could find snaps all over the field, as a third safety to cover tight ends and perhaps even at slot corner. 

DT Da’Ron Payne, $15—It’s starting to look like he’ll be a reach at 13; his real value lays more in the late teens or early twenties. But the analysts’ consensus doesn’t necessarily match up with what the Redskins think. If they believe that Jim Tomsula can coach some pass rushing ability out of him, they could well have him graded high enough to go ahead and fill the need with the first-round pick. 

LB Roquan Smith, $10—His size may concern enough teams to leave him on the board until the Redskins are on the clock. I’m not sure that the Redskins would take him because they just re-signed Mason Foster and Zach Brown. But he is fast, hard hitting, and he may be too good to pass up. 

DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, $10—Many project him to be a slot corner in the NFL. A few years ago, many teams would hesitate to take a nickel corner in the first-round. But today, with teams lining up with three or more wide receivers on 63 percent of the snaps a slot corner is much more than a role player. Add Fitzpatrick’s ability to move back to safety and you have a player the Redskins should covet if he drops to 13. 

CB Denzel Ward, $10—I don’t give much of a chance of being on the board when the Redskins pick but stranger things have happened. He would be a steal at 13.

RB Derrius Guice, $5—I don’t think that this will happen, but I can’t look at all of the attention the Redskins have given to him and believe that there is a zero chance of them taking a running back this high in an RB-rich draft.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Rookie minicamp (5/11) 18
—OTAs start (5/22) 29
—Training camp starts (7/26) 94

The Redskins last played a game 113 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 139 days. 

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Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 22, four days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five safe picks for the Redskins

Sometimes teams try to hit home runs with their draft picks. They may hit a few but they also will strike out a lot. Teams often are better off trying to hit solid singles and doubles. Here are five picks who would are unlikely to make many Pro Bowls but the Redskins would not regret the pick if they turned in the cards with their names on it. 

RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn—I’m starting off here with a player who would be a safe pick in the third round. Of course, the Redskins don’t have a third right now but if they do swing a trade and get one, Johnson would be a good pick. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which is one reason why he might be available in the third. He is a grinder who will be an upgrade over Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. 

DL Vita Vea, Washington—There is plenty of hand wringing over whether Vea is a three-down player or just a base defense nose tackle. But even if he can’t rush the passer very well his floor is a player who can go a long way towards helping the Redskins stop the run, a chronic weakness. This is why a lot of fans and media are urging the Redskins to not overthink this and take a player that will, at a minimum, bolster one of their weakest areas. 

OL Billy Price, Ohio State—He started 55 games for the Buckeyes, the most of any player in the storied history of the program. He did suffer the partial tear of a chest muscle in the combine but that will be fully healed by training camp. When he’s ready, he’s an explosive, smart, and powerful player. Just plug him in at left guard and the Redskins’ O-line is set with all home-grown talent. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State—He doesn’t have the ceiling that the more heralded Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have. However, he may have a higher floor. Smith is undersized, and Edmunds will be highly drafted based more on potential than on production. At 6-4, 256, Vander Esch has plenty of size, and he racked up 141 tackles last year on his way to defensive player of the year honors in the Mountain West. 

 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado—The All-Pac-12 selection has the size and athleticism that add up to a safe pick in the second round. He needs some work on technique, but he has enough natural athletic ability—he competed in the decathlon—to be a productive cornerback right out of the gate. One other plus that fans will appreciate is that his strength is press coverage, not off man. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 30
—Training camp starts (7/26) 95
—Redskins @ Cardinals (9/9) 140

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