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Redskins training camp preview: Defense

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Redskins training camp preview: Defense

At long last, training camp is finally here. Redskins’ players and coaches will report to Richmond on Wednesday and then hit the fields at the Bon Secours training facility on Thursday morning. Here’s your guide to the top storylines on defense. Go here to see our preview of the offensive side of the ball.

The big story: Following a 4-12 campaign in which the Redskins’ defense ranked 20th in yards allowed, 29th in points permitted and dead last in passing touchdowns surrendered, head coach Jay Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan overhauled the unit’s coaching staff and personnel.

Indeed, the biggest offseason changes at Redskins Park transpired on the defensive side of the ball, where there’s a new coordinator (Joe Barry), a new secondary coach (Perry Fewell) and a new defensive line coach (Robb Akey). The majority of the team’s offseason acquisitions are also defenders, a pricey group led by cornerback Chris Culliver, defensive end Stephen Paea, nose tackle Terrance Knighton and free safety Dashon Goldson. Those four players rank among the Redskins’ eight highest cap hits on defense.

All told, Barry’s retooled unit could feature as many as five (and possible six) new starters.

As for Barry’s more aggressive one-gap scheme, which has been praised by veterans such as Jason Hatcher and Ricky Jean Francois, we’ll get our first extended look at those plans in a couple of days. But we can already say this with certainty: Barry has a enormous challenge before him as he attempts to pull it all together ahead of the Sept. 13 opener against Miami.

The position battle(s) to watch: Trent Murphy vs. Preston Smith for the starting right outside linebacker job, and Jeron Johnson and Duke Ihenacho for the starting strong safety spot.

Let’s start with Murphy vs. Smith. Murphy, obviously, has the edge in experience, having started eight games as a rookie last season. The Stanford product also spent the offseason training with Olympic sprint coaches to help improve his first step and has bulked up to 267 pounds to bolster his strength. Near the end of the offseason program, Gruden called Murphy the team’s most improved player. Smith, on the other hand, is McCloughan’s guy, having been drafted 38th overall by the new GM. Smith also showed steady progress throughout the offseason. Murphy figures to enter camp with a slight advantage, but Smith has the physical tools to close that gap in a hurry. 

The battle at strong safety is too close to call at the moment. Ihenacho has more experience, having started for the AFC champion Broncos in 2013. Johnson, however, has a history with McCloughan dating back to their time together in Seattle. Both players come from winning programs and each of them worked with the first unit during the offseason. Though, based on the five practices that were open to media, it appeared that Ihenacho received more time with the starters.

The players on the bubble: In February, the Redskins and DeAngelo Hall agreed to remove a $1 million guarantee from 31-year-old’s contract. But I don’t really consider Hall to be on the bubble. As long as he proves, as expected, that he’s fully recovered from his twice torn Achilles’ tendon, I suspect he’ll not only make the 53-man roster but possibly reclaim his starting job, as well.

Defensive lineman Kedric Golston is 32 and the Redskins’ longest tenured player. But he's also savvy, versatile, tough and lines up on special teams. He should be safe but with five, and perhaps six, D-lineman ahead of him on the depth chart, the situation bears watching.

Two more players that find themselves in a tenuous position are outside linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat and safety Phillip Thomas. Jeffcoat notched a sack and an interception in limited playing time last season, but he’s behind Ryan Kerrigan, Murphy, Smith and possibly Trevardo Williams. Last season, the Redskins only kept four OLBs. As for Thomas, he’s behind Goldson, Ihenacho, Johnson and possibly Trenton Robinson and rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, too. Four or five safeties will make the cut. 

The injury concerns: Although Hall says he feels great, he also expects to be eased back into team drills. So don’t be surprised if he’s a limited participant in the opening days of camp. Ditto for Ryan Kerrigan, who sat out the offseason while rehabbing from a knee scope. I’m told he’s 100-percent, but it remains to be seen if he participates in 11-on-11 drills right away.

The bottom line: On paper, the defense seems to be improved. The unit has energetic coaches who are eager to teach and motivate. The talent level, too, appears to be higher, particularly on the backend. But also know this: even if everything goes according to plan, it's probably going to take some time.

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New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

News broke Tuesday that the Tampa Bay Bucaneers released former Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, and while the name certainly triggers value, his play of the last two seasons should calm the excitement. 

Since a 2015 season where Martin rushed for 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards-per-carry in 16 games, Martin has been suspended, undergone substance abuse rehab and missed games due to injury.

In the last two seasons, Martin has played in 16 of 32 games, rushed for 827 yards and averaged less than 3 yards-per-carry.

Over his six year NFL career with the Bucs, Martin has only played two full seasons. Those two seasons were great, in 2012 and 2015, but the other four have been largely disappointing. 

RELATED: WHAT SHOULD THE REDSKINS DO AT RUNNING BACK?

The Redskins averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry last season, and could definitely use a boost in the run game. It's entirely possible Washington might look to upgrade their offensive backfield this offseason, either in free agency or in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Martin does not look like the player to help. 

Early in the 2017 season, it appeared the Redskins run game might be a strength for the offense. After a disappointing effort on the ground to open the year in a loss to the Eagles, the Redskins rushed for at least 111 yards in their next three contests, including nearly 230 yards on the ground in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Injuries undid the run game, however, as Rob Kelley got hurt and the offensive line lost players, too. Over the course of the season, rookie Samaje Perine sustained minor injuries and Chris Thompson was lost for the year with a broken leg. 

Going into 2018, Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Kapri Bibbs are all on the roster and expected for now to stay with the team. That's yet another reason why the Redskins are likely to stay away from Doug Martin.

RELATED: 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT 5.0

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201