It is expected that 16 players will be key contributors on the Redskins defense this year. There are the 11 projected starters, DE’s Jason Hatcher and Stephen Paea, NT Terrance Knighton, OLB’s Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy, ILB’s Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley, CB’s Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland, and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson. In addition, Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois, and Preston Smith will rotate into the front seven and DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson look like the nickel and dime backs, at least to start out the season
Of those sixteen there are seven who are new to the Redskins organization. Paea, Knighton, Culliver, Goldson, Johnson, and Jean Francois will have to adjust to playing in a new city after playing for different NFL teams before signing with the Redskins as free agents. Smith will be making the adjustment from Mississippi State to the NFL.
Almost all of the holdovers will have new position coaches. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is gone and most of his assistants were let go as well. Only Robinson and Riley still have the same position coach in Kirk Olivadotti. Joe Barry will keep the 3-4 base but he seems to be planning to mix it up more with different alignments than Haslett did.
It adds up to a lot of changes in the Redskins’ defense. Change was needed for a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed, 20th in yards allowed and was anywhere from mediocre to outright bad in virtually every major and minor defensive stat you could name. But was it too much, too fast?
“It’s a great challenge for us as a staff to try to not only get our system taught the right way but to get everybody meshing together,” said head coach Jay Gruden last week.
Gruden said the free agents all are very smart and that will help the transition process.
“I think those guys won’t have any problem adjusting, it’s just a matter of getting used to the way Coach [Joe] Barry calls things and the way he wants things as opposed to the way they did at Seattle or Tampa or Chicago or wherever they’re from and getting on the same page from a mental standpoint,” he said. “But from a physical standpoint, I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble with these guys playing hard and physical football.”
Perhaps there was more change to the defense than was ideal but, again, it was needed. The expectations for the unit will be high but perhaps they should be tempered somewhat. It may take a few games, or maybe even a good chunk of the season, for them to gel despite Gruden’s sunny outlook on the situation. The sooner it happens the more I will be impressed with the hiring of Joe Barry.
[MORE REDSKINS: WHAT DOES BRUCE ALLEN THINK ABOUT DESEAN JACKSON'S OTA ABSENCE?]