Now that the Redskins have set their 53-man roster and the season is less than a week away, it’s time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Where are they better? Where will they still have issues? The series started with the offensive line and the offensive skill positions. Now we look at the defensive front seven.
Defensive front seven
Starters: DEs Jason Hatcher, Stephen Paea; NT Terrance Knighton; OLBs Trent Murphy, Ryan Kerrigan; ILBs Keenan Robinson, Perry Riley
The Redskins want to put more pressure on the quarterback and part of that will be getting more pass rush from the defensive line. If they can get the six sacks from Paea that he had with the Bears last year and have Hatcher flirt with double digits the will be happy.
Knighton’s role in the pass rush primarily will be to shove blockers back into the pocket, making it hard for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly. But his main responsibility will be to clog up the middle and reduce the running room available to the offense. He could be the biggest upgrade to the defense since last year.
Kerrigan got the big contract just before training camp started and now he needs to make his best year (13.5 sacks last year) his typical year. A lot will depend on Murphy and/or Preston Smith providing enough pressure to draw some attention away from him. If the offense can get a good working lead to force the other team into more passing situations he will be able to pile up some stats.
During the preseason, Murphy did a lot of what he did last year—he got pressure, got close to the quarterback but was unable to finish off the sack. He continues to work to gain that extra half step he needs.
With Kerrigan and Trent Williams now signed to extensions, Robinson is among the most important Redskins going into his contract year. He stepped in for the retired London Fletcher last year and played very well. Robinson could help his case by making a few more impact plays; he had just 1.5 sacks and forced no fumbles in 2014.
Riley is good against the run but he has issues in coverage. Former defensive coordinator Jim Haslett kept him in the game virtually every snap. It will be interesting to see if Joe Barry subs for him in nickel situations.
Reserves: DLs Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois, Kedric Golston, Frank Kearse; OLBs Preston Smith, Jackson Jeffcoat; ILBs Will Compton, Martrell Spaight
In Baker and Jean Francois, the Redskins have two linemen who are good enough to start coming off of the bench. Baker plays with a lot of energy and the change to a more aggressive one-gap scheme plays to his strengths. Between Golston and Kearse, one will be inactive on game days and the other will play 15 snaps or so in the rotation.
A lot is expected of Smith, the team’s second-round draft pick. He had two sacks in the preseason, albeit against backup players. Few would be surprised if he grabbed the starting job by midseason. Jeffcoat flashed some ability after he made the 53-man roster after injuries thinned out the linebackers. We will see what he can contribute over the course of a full season.
Compton filled in well when Riley and then Robinson missed games due to injuries. Spaight’s role this year will most likely focus on special teams.