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More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

The Redskins defense struggled in 2016, especially on third downs.

The unit ranked dead last in the NFL allowing third down conversions, and that was one of many reasons the organization decided to overhaul their defensive coaching staff.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, secondary coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey are all gone. Players liked Barry but often, mostly privately but at times publicly, disagreed with schematic decisions. Fewell had few fans among the Redskins secondary, and Akey's defensive line just did not perform. 

The moves all made sense, especially looking at defensive statistics from 2016. 

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The hard part for Redskins fans to remember, however, is that new coaches will not necessarily deliver immediate results.

"It’s going to be a challenge. Anytime you have a new defensive staff, I don’t care how experienced you are, it’s your job to get the team to gel," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said during rookie camp. 

The changes start at the top, as Greg Manusky moves up from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Manusky is expected to deploy a more aggressive approach to the Washington defense, a move many players seem excited about. Players that worked under Manusky last season like Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy spoke highly of their position coach, which likely helped his candidacy for the coordinator spot. 

Replacing Fewell as secondary coach will be Torrian Gray, formerly of Virginia Tech. Gray has hands-on experience with second-year pro Kendall Fuller and knows DeAngelo Hall through Hokie connections. A fresh start will help in the secondary, where the unit often looked confused in 2016. More than one player would remarked last year that communicating with Fewell was never easy. That should be a first step for Gray.

On the defensive line, Gruden and 'Skins team president Bruce Allen think they got a star in coach Jim Tomsula. A powerful voice, Tomsula is known for developing strong players in the trenches, and he will be tasked with getting the most out of rookie Jonathan Allen as well as free agent additions Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. 

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"I think from a talent standpoint, we feel like we’ve done a good job in the offseason addressing some of our needs with the draft and free agency," Gruden said. "We lost a couple of good players, but we feel like we replaced them and upgraded our team with depth, which is very good."

Beyond McGee and McClain, the Redskins also added Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger. In the draft, they added Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson and UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau in the second and third rounds respectively.

One year after the Redskins spent nearly half of their salary cap allocation on defense as they did on offense, the team is trying to balance the ledger, particularly via the draft. It was the first time in 20 years the team used their first three draft picks exclusively on defense. 

Gruden believes in the players the team has acquired, and his defensive coaches now need to make it all work.

"I think we have a lot of depth on our defense right now as opposed to previous years, so it’s going to be their job and it’s a great challenge, that’s the challenge of all coaches is to get your team to gel defensively and play together. I feel like the talent is there for them to work with."

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Redskins leave Philadelphia with more injuries than they came in with, somehow

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AP Images

Redskins leave Philadelphia with more injuries than they came in with, somehow

The Redskins went into Lincoln Financial Field somewhat banged up. They left in worse shape than they were when they arrived.

The most significant injury seemed to be to guard Brandon Scherff. Coach Jay Gruden said that he had an MCL injury and that he will get an MRI on Tuesday. He left the game late in the third quarter and did not return. Scherff rarely takes plays off and the feeling is that he could have a significant injury. He headed to the team bus to the airport with a brace on the knee.

OT Trent Williams came into the game with a patella injury in his knee and he aggravated it late in the game, missing the Redskins’ last couple of possessions. He did not practice all week to rest the injury. We will see as the week goes by if the injury will allow Williams to continue to play.

OT Morgan Moses sprained both ankles and he returned to the game after each injury. He undoubtedly will be very sore tomorrow and we will see how he recovers.

MORE: FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM A DISCOURAGING LOSS

The other reported injuries were more minor in nature, although they could cost the players some games. CB Fabian Moreau had a hamstring strain and he left the game. OLB Preston Smith, who has been one of the team’s best pass rushers this year, left the game with a groin strain. He attempted to return but he had to go back out. CB Josh Holsey had a chest contusion and he returned after going to the locker room to be examined.

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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Five takeaways from the Redskins' discouraging 34-24 loss vs. the Eagles

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USA TODAY Sports

Five takeaways from the Redskins' discouraging 34-24 loss vs. the Eagles

Here are my five takeaways from the Redskins’ 34-24 loss to the Eagles:

The Redskins have to keep the hammer down—They scored the first time they had the ball and then they had a few empty possessions. Washington took a 10-3 lead but the Redskins then got into the cycle of short, ineffective offensive possessions getting their defense back on the field too soon. The way Carson Wentz is playing, if you give him enough chances you will pay for it.

They won’t win if they don’t run—The running backs carries 14 times. Sure, the game got away in the second half, reducing their opportunities, but the rushing game was an issue throughout. In the first half they had a pair of third and ones and a third and two and they passed all three times. All three were incomplete, which led to the issues in the first item here. If the Redskins have a balanced offense they have a shot at beating almost anyone. If they don’t run the ball enough the odds are against them.

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Redskins fans have the Cleveland Browns to thank for 10 years of Wentz—The Browns played Moneyball and traded the rights to draft Wentz to the Eagles. Like just about everything the Browns do, it didn’t work out. Now the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys will pay for the Browns’ mistake for years to come. That run out of the pack of rushing linemen was both amazing and critical. It turned a punt back to the Redskins, who were down by seven, into a first down and an eventual touchdown.

The defense needs to get itself off the field—It’s easy to blame the offense for the problems with possessing the ball. But the defense could do its part, too, by getting itself off the field. At times, it feels like the Redskins’ defense is better than it has been in years but they gave up touchdown drives of 81, 80, 80, and 75 yards. At some point you have to show you’re better and get a takeaway or just make a stop to get off the field. Until then, the group has not improved in a meaningful way. I should note that the injuries have something to do with it, for sure. Dunbar did not play poorly but they pay Josh Norman $15 million per year for a reason.

There is a lot of season left to be played—The Redskins are 3-3 and two games away from the midway point to the season. They would have to rely on an Eagles’ collapse to win the NFC East but it’s entirely possible that they could. All but one other second-place team has three losses and the Redskins get their shot at the Seahawks in a couple of weeks. Fans have every right to feel frustrated after this loss but it’s not the end of the line. There still is plenty for this team to play for. Some of the injured players aren’t coming back but if they can round into reasonably good health in the next few weeks they still have a lot that they can accomplish.

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.