In 2016, the Redskins defense struggled, ranking near the bottom in a number of categories. Their third down defense landed among historic lows, and besides sacks, no position group can claim they performed particularly well.
The Redskins biggest addition last season was the arrival of Josh Norman. He played well, though he missed a number of interceptions and racked up an inordinate amount of penalties.
Norman's arrival brought with it a lot of attention, as his release from his franchise tag with the Panthers came via unusual circumstances. His rivalry with Odell Beckham also carried a lot of visibility, and it seemed almost from the start, Norman was working to adjust to life with a new team while figuring out a new system.
Last week, Norman said he thought 2016 was his best season as a pro because he proved he wasn't a system guy like some claimed of his success in Carolina. Norman, though, believes the 2017 Redskins will be much better than last year's version.
"We're building something great, small steps first. We got guys that are really actually in the thick of things. Lockjaw. Dogs," Norman said (full video above). "Everything is about football, nothing else. That's what you need."
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Listening to Norman, it's easy to think about all of the distractions that popped up for him and the Redskins this time last year. This offseason, the franchise invested heavily in the defense.
The team used their first three draft picks on defensive players for the first time in 20 years, and took a defensive lineman in the first round for the first time in 20 years. D.J. Swearinger arrived via free agency, and he could be a big piece in stabilizing the secondary.
"He brings that attitude to our defense," Norman said of Swearinger.
Already on the practice fields, it seems Swearinger is shouting out coverages and play design pre-snap more than last year's safeties did. Pro Football Focus rated Swearinger as the 8th best safety in the NFL last season. Will Blackmon was the Redskins highest rated safety in 2016, and he ranked 29th. No knock on Blackmon, as he was converting from corner to safety anyway.
It's easy to be optimistic in June, but Norman seems genuine thinking this defense could be different. With Swearinger, and Zach Brown at linebacker and rookie Jonathan Allen up front, the Redskins defense has new horses from the front to the back in the interior. That should help.
For Norman though, it's the work ethic that stands out. No defensive player missed a single voluntary OTA session, and the from the first team to the third team, the group seems engaged and fired up on the sidelines.
"Nothing but football, eat, sleep, drink it. We got guys that are hungry," Norman said. "You look for those guys that want to prove something, because when you have those guys, man, the sky’s the limit, you can do whatever you want to do."
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