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2017 Redskins Depth Chart Preview: Defensive line desperate for improvement

2017 Redskins Depth Chart Preview: Defensive line desperate for improvement

The Redskins are part of the way through the process of retooling their 2017 roster.

While the major part of free agency is over, they still can add a few veterans all the way through training camp.

They have 10 picks in the draft that starts April 27.

In this series, we’re going to take a look at what has changed on the Redskins roster since the season ended and what they need to add to remain competitive in the revived NFC East.

We’ll start with the defensive line.

2016 final game starters: Chris Baker, Ziggy Hood (NT)

Ricky Jean Francois was the third starter but he started many games on the bench when the Redskins opened up in a nickel defense.

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Departures: Francois (released), Baker (free agent), Cullen Jenkins (unsigned), Kedric Golston (unsigned)

Projected 2017 starters: Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee, Hood (NT)

McClain and McGee came in as free agents. Injuries have hampered them at various times during their careers. Both are coming off career-best seasons so the Redskins hope that the two players are on the upswing.

2017 reserves: A.J. Francis, Joey Mbu, Phil Taylor, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier

Ioannidis was a fifth-round pick last year who didn’t make the 53-man roster and spent two weeks on the practice squad. Lanier took Ioannidis’ spot on the 53 as a development project. He played in four games before a leg injury sent him to injured reserve.

Francis spent time on the practice squad and was on the 53-man roster for one game. Mbu was a Week 6 practice squad signee. Taylor is a former first-round draft pick who hasn’t played since 2015.

Where can the D-line find improvement?

If you have been paying any attention at all you know that the Redskins will need to bolster their defensive line in the draft. Ideally, they would like to add a nose tackle but finding one can be tricky since the need to defend spread offenses in college has brought lighter, quicker linemen into the pipeline. But even adding a young end like Malik McDowell or Caleb Brantley sometime in the first two days of the draft would give a needed talent boost to the group.

Jay Gruden is very high on the potential of Lanier to be a pass rushing presence. He has the most potential of the young players on the line. Last year as an undrafted free agent he was just battling to get a spot on the team. This year as a lock to make it he will be able work on refining his game.

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It seemed like the team gave up on Ioannidis last year, cutting him in the final roster reduction and then putting him on the inactive list for four midseason games, preferring to dress the 35-year-old Jenkins instead. He is in a situation where he needs to improve or he could well get waived and not return.

Locks and Bubble Players

They have carried six or seven DL most of the time the last two seasons. The locks are McGee, McClain, Lanier, and the guy they draft in the first three or four rounds. Hood probably is the fifth lock unless they draft multiple linemen.

That leaves Ioannidis, Francis, Mbu, and Taylor on the bubble competing for one or perhaps two roster spots.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

On paper, Jay Gruden's tenor with the Redskins is nothing to write home about. Through five seasons he holds a 35-44-1 record, good enough for a .444 winning percentage. Looking at that, some may draw the conclusion that Gruden hasn't been what the Redskins need at the helm.

But according to Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, that's not exactly the case. Taking into account the variables Gruden has dealt with throughout the five years, Gantt actually sees him as a "really good" coach.

"I have always come down of the side, maybe, of guys who are doing more with less," Gantt said recently on a Redskins Talk Podcast. "I think Jay has done a pretty good job keeping things in the middle."

Doing more with less and working in the middle essentially defines Jay Gruden's career with the Redskins. Besides his opening year in 2014 in which Washington went 4-12, Gruden's teams have consistently finished right around the middle of the pack.

In the last four seasons, the Redskins have not won more than nine games, but they also haven't lost more than nine. Hovering right around .500, they've always been around league average.

Part of the reason Gantt is willing to give Gruden praise for records that some coaches would get scolded for revolves around what he's had to work with. Gruden's time as head coach has been filled with injuries and other dilemmas both on and off the field. 

In those circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team completely flounder and spiral out of control. But, that hasn't really been the case with Gruden. Dealing with what he has, the head coach has kept the team competitive for the most part. The team hasn't been a perennial playoff contender, but it also hasn't been at the bottom of the league.

For that ability to keep the Redskins out of the basement despite all the problems he's encountered, Gruden is someone Gantt respects.

"They're able to keep it out of the ditches," Gantt said about Gruden and former NFL head coach John Fox, who Gantt followed during his time in Carolina.

"I think again in the NFL there's something to be said for that," Gantt added. "When things get sideways a Jim Zorn can lose control in a hurry. I feel like Jay just got sort of a steady hand on the wheel."

Until Gruden takes Washington back to the postseason, the critiques will continue to come, as they would for almost all head coaches in similar situations. But when looking at Gruden's time in Washington with a wide view of everything that has happened, Gantt believes the head coach deserves at least a little praise for keeping things afloat.

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