When training camp began three weeks ago, Chris Baker was the Redskins third string nose tackle.Now hes the backup and he has a chance to get some substantial playing time for the first time in his three-year NFL career.This is a big opportunity for me to step up and be the player I know I can be, Baker said Wednesday. I hate to see Chris go down, but when one man goes down another man has to step up.Baker was referring to Chris Neild, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during Monday. On Wednesday, Baker backed up Barry Cofield in practice.Although a few players, including Jarvis Jenkins, are able to line up at nose tackle, Shanahan hinted that its Bakers job to lose. Delvin Johnson, who is also listed as a nose tackle, appears to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.When you get a guy that goes down, Chris has more of an opportunity to show us what he can do, Shanahan said. And hopefully he takes advantage of that opportunity.Baker said hes spent the past 10 months preparing for the challenge.The 24-year-old out of Hampton spent the first three months of last season on the Redskins practice squad. He was activated on Dec. 7, but only a few hours later, tore a quadriceps muscle and finished the season on injured reserve.Baker, who makes his home in Northern Virginia, spent the entire offseason working out at LA Fitness in Leesburg with Jenkins, who was rehabbing a surgically repaired knee. Their rigorous regimen included high repetitions with light free weights and swimming.The goal of the carefully crafted workouts was increased endurance. And that figures to help Bakers cause because defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has said he hopes to play Cofield a little less and the backup a little more in an effort to keep Cofield fresher.Hes probably in the best shape hes been in, Shanahan said of Baker, who was 350 when he arrived in Washington and now is listed at 6 foot 2, 333-pounds. Hes really looked impressive and hopefully he can keep on doing that in the preseason games.
Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line
Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming week, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.
Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)
Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor
How the defensive line compares
To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then.
To the 2017 Redskins: The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010.
Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star.
Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.
Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances.
Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months.
Greg Manusky on Payne:
Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.
2018 position outlook series
With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold.
No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart
The Redskins top two linebackers rank among the most productive units in the NFL. When healthy, Mason Foster and Zach Brown are highly efficient tacklers. In fact, Brown led the league in tackles for most of 2017 before his season ended with a foot injury.
The healthy part is the trick.
Last year, Foster separated his shoulder against the Rams in Week 2 and was shut down for the season by October. Brown played through nagging injuries all year before shutting things down in December.
When both players were on the field, the Redskins defense excelled. In just four starts, Foster made 30 tackles to go with an interception, a fumble recovery and half a sack. Brown logged double-digit tackles in nine games last season, and probably would have more without the foot trouble.
Foster and Brown are very good in the Redskins scheme, and both players are expected to be fully healthy for the start of training camp. Their injuries from last season are not the type that suggest durability concerns, and both players posted full 16-game seasons in 2016.
Foster and Brown aren't the question. The depth chart after Foster and Brown are the question.
Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight, Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton are competing for two or possibly three roster spots.
Spaight is the most recognizable name in the group. He's been a good special teams player for Washington, and is well liked in the locker room. By last December, however, Vigil was playing better football.
More telling for both Vigil and Spaight was that Harvey-Clemons took the starter reps alongside Foster when Brown was absent during OTAs. The second-year man out of Louisville has more physical gifts than either Vigil or Spaight, and now given a full year to learn to play linebacker, Harvey-Clemons could make inroads.
A safety in college, Harvey-Clemons can run. He was a bit of a surprise last season making the 53-man roster out of camp, so expect him to definitely have a shot this year.
Hamilton will be the wild card. An ultra-talented player out of Alabama, he dealt with a number of injuries in college. Redskins VP Doug Williams talked gushingly about Hamilton after the draft, and if the former 5-Star recruit can stay healthy, he could certainly push for a spot as well.
Prior to 2017, the Redskins kept four inside linebackers on their final 53 roster. In 2017, the team kept five: Brown, Foster, Spaight, Will Compton and Harvey-Clemons. Compton left via free agency and is now playing in Nashville.
Foster and Brown are roster locks, and it seems like Harvey-Clemons gets the third nod.
Spaight, Vigil and Hamilton better be ready for serious competition in Richmond.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- Need to Know: Best QBs 'Skins will face in 2018
- Redskins Week That Was: Breaking down the Alexander pick
- Position Outlook: Quarterbacks
Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.
Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below.