When scanning the Redskins roster from top to bottom, there's one position group that stands out above the rest: the defensive front.
In each of the last four drafts, Washington has used a first-rounder on a member of that unit: Jonathan Allen 17th overall in 2017, Daron Payne 13th in 2018, Montez Sweat 26th in 2019 and most recently, Chase Young second overall in 2020. And when discussing Washington's front four, Matt Ioannidis -- a fifth-rounder in 2015 -- cannot be forgotten, as he was the best of the bunch a season ago when he was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
All five of these players are 26 or younger and each one of them is under contract for at least the next two seasons. Head coach Ron Rivera has already stated he hopes the addition of Young was the final piece of a defensive line that can play together for years.
But as Rivera and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio take over this defense, they must find a role for the defense's most accomplished player: Ryan Kerrigan.
Del Rio was asked about how he plans to balance playing Kerrigan with the young talent, and the defensive coordinator admitted that having that challenge is both "good" and "not so comfortable."
"You're fired up for having all of these guys, but then they can't all go on the field at the same time," Del Rio said on a Zoom call with local media on Thursday. "So that is part of it, like being able to deal with that aspect of it, having guys understand, 'Hey, you're not going to play all the time.' Or, 'You're not the starter.'"
Since Washington selected him in the first round of the 2011 Draft, all Kerrigan has done is produce. His 90 career sacks are the fourth-most in the league since 2011, trailing on Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, and Von Miller. The pass rusher played 139 consecutive games before missing ever missing a contest, and entering 2020, remains just one sack behind Dexter Manley for the Redskins' all-time sack record.
Despite Kerrigan's longevity and success, his 2019 campaign was by far the worst of his career. With the pass rusher entering the final year of his contract this season and a new regime coming in, it's understandable if the new staff caters to the younger talent.
So, how does the defensive coordinator plan on splitting up the reps between Kerrigan, a proven veteran, and guys like Young and Sweat, who are much younger with a tremendous amount of potential?
"Those are things to me, that always get settled best with competition and once guys earn what they've earned I think everybody in the room pretty much understands that," Del Rio explained.
Competition has been a buzzword for the new Redskins regime, but it's something both Rivera and Del Ro truly believe in.
"It is all about competition and that is really what the league is all about," Del Rio said. "You have to perform. It is a performance-based business. You have to perform, and those who perform the best play the most."
Del Rio admitted balancing playing time between Kerrigan and the team's young talent will be hard to navigate. He compared it to having a star-studded roster on a basketball team, where there's not "enough balls to go around and you have a bunch of stars."
Although balancing the two will be a difficult task, Del Rio made sure to emphasize that this is a good problem to have for the Redskins. To piggyback off of Del Rio's basketball analogy, every championship roster needs a good bench (heck, Del Rio saw this first-hand when he was coaching in Oakland from 2015-17 during the Warriors' glory years).
"It is good to have good players," he said. "We have good players in our front, guys that were well thought of coming out of the draft and they were taken high and we should expect them to be really good players for us, and be a really solid foundation for us to build around."
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