Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 27, 3 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.
Question of the day
A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.
I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up firstname.lastname@example.org with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please.
Today's question is from Twitter, from a Redskins fan you may have heard of:
@Rich_TandlerCSN Lots of changes on defense. Coaching to players. How will this unit work to be more affective than in past seasons? #NTK— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 26, 2015
(Thanks to Dale for taking a minute to kick in a question for Need to Know about an hour before taking the track at The Brickyard.)
There have been more changes to the defense this year than any in recent memory. There will be at least five starters who are new to the team in NT Terrance Knighton, DE Stephen Paea, CB Chris Culliver, FS Dashon Goldson, and SS Jeron Johnson. There could be a sixth if Preston Smith can earn the starting role over Trent Murphy.
In addition, the coaches are almost all new. Kirk Olivadotti remains with the linebackers but Joe Barry is the new coordinator, Perry Fewell will coach the secondary and Robb Akey takes over the defensive line.
The changes were needed. We don’t need to rehash the numbers here again as we have been all offseason (108.3 opponent passer rating, 27.7 points/game, etc.). I think we can all agree the defense was bad.
Back to Dale’s question, will the defense be better this year? I think we’ve all learned over the years that different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Year after year, new players and coaches bring hope in the spring and summer but more of the same futility in the fall and winter.
On paper, the plan is to get an improved pass rush (t-21st in NFL) from the line. Outside of Jason Hatcher’s 5.5 sacks last year, the line kicked in just five. They are looking for more out of a (for now) healthy Hatcher, Knighton should be able to get some push up the middle when he’s in there and Paea had six sacks for the Bears last year. And if the line gets better pass rush that should leave spaces for Ryan Kerrigan, Murphy, and Smith to exploit.
It looks like the lion’s share of any improvement in pass defense will have to come from the pass rush. Culliver is a solid upgrade but the rest of the secondary remains suspect.
Knighton will be the huge, active run-stuffing body in the middle that the Redskins have been missing since switching to the 3-4 in 2010. His presence and an attacking one-gap system are set to be the solutions to stopping the run. In terms of raw yardage, Washington was a respectable 12th in the NFL in rushing defense but opponents did not run on them much because the weak pass defense was so inviting.
That’s how the Redskins would like to see it play out. Will it work? Maybe, but see the part above about change not always being for the better.
The challenge for Joe Barry and company will be to get the unit to gel in time for Week 1. The linebackers are the only unit returning intact (or three-quarters of it at least, pending Smith vs. Murphy). The sooner they are communicating and coordinating their stunts and other schemes, the better.
Having all of this come together by Sept. 13 is a big ask. While I think that the new players and coaches represent an upgrade, the improvement may not be immediate.
—It’s been 211 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 48 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.
—Days until: Redskins training camp starts 3; Preseason opener @ Browns 17; final cuts 40