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Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

The Redskins are looking at potential free agents and continuing with the draft process as they try to move team from residing in the middle of the pack in the NFL to becoming annual contenders to go deep into the playoffs. The process is all about trying to build a solid 53-man depth chart. Let’s get out the crystal ball and see what that depth chart might look like.

Earlier this week we looked at the offense; today the defense is up. Although there could be a change to a 4-3 base defense in the making depending on who the coordinator is, we’ll line them up in a 3-4 until there is word to the contrary.

*Pending unrestricted free agent

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker*, draft pick/free agent X 2
Backups: Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier

It seems that Baker wants to stay and give that the Redskins would be starting their D-line virtually from scratch without him the chances of coming up with a deal seem strong. I will spend the entire 99 days between now and the draft saying that it’s not a given that they will take a defensive lineman, or any defensive player, with their top draft pick. But someone like Malik McDowell of Michigan State sure would fit in well here along with a free agent like Bennie Logan of the Eagles. The organization will be looking for leaps forward from Ioannidis and Lanier.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Outside linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Backups: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Although nothing is certain until pen is put to paper, the chances of Galette giving it another go after two torn Achilles in two years are strong. Trail and Houston Bates will battle for a fifth spot, if there is one. Given Smith’s inconsistency and the uncertainty of Galette’s health it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft an edge rusher.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Will Compton, free agent
Backups: Martrell Spaight, Mason Foster, draft pick

I’m putting Compton there in dry erase marker, not in Sharpie. They love his leadership and work ethic but he must make more plays. I have a free agent starting beside him because it’s a tough position for a rookie to learn. But if they spend a high draft pick that player could jump into a starting job quickly.  Foster moves into the nickel role that he performed well after Su’a Cravens went out with an injury. Steven Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, could push Spaight for a job.

Cornerback

Starters: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar
Backups: Kendall Fuller (nickel), Tharold Simon, free agent/draft pick

This could go in a lot of different directions. The only spot set in stone is Norman’s. I have Bashaud Breeland moving to safety, which is something of a speculative hot take. If they make that move, they could spend a high draft pick or substantial free agent money on a corner or they could stay in-house with Dunbar or Fuller. Simon could make the team and contribute or he could be cut.

More Redskins: An early look at first-round draft possibilities

Safety

Starters: Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, draft pick

Safeties are hard to find. In college, potentially good safeties gravitate towards cornerback, where the NFL money is better. If a good one hits the free agent market, the laws of supply and demand push the price up beyond the value of the position. For those reasons, the Redskins might try Breeland at safety. Some in the organization have believed for a couple of years that safety is his best position. Cravens announced that he would be moving to safety so that change is firm. Duke Ihenacho, who is a free agent, could be back but I think he moves along. Blackmon is a good veteran reserve who can play nickel also. Even though he made a key interception when forced into duty against the Eagles, it still seems that they don’t trust Everett at safety and perhaps a mid-round pick will replace him.

Specialists: LS Nick Sundberg*, P Tress Way, PK Dustin Hopkins

I predict that Sundberg will be the first of the team’s pending free agents to agree to a contract. Hopkins may get some camp competition but it is unlikely to be of more than the token variety.

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

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Watching Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum, one quarterback definitely stands out

Watching Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum, one quarterback definitely stands out

The Redskins might be just in the beginning of a quarterback battle, but at Monday's OTA session, it seemed pretty clear which player would eventually win. 

Dwayne Haskins made a number of impressive throws while he was on the field, and while Case Keenum had his share of good passes too, the rookie shined. Even on the surface: Haskins looks the part of a franchise quarterback, standing 6-foot-3 and 230 lbs. Keenum is listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 lbs, but that seems fairly generous. 

When Haskins throws the ball, it zips through the air. He can go deep and has touch on his underneath routes. Keenum gets the ball where it needs to be, but there's a difference in velocity. 

Let's be crystal clear, however, that one OTA session in May will not determine the starting quarterback job. While Keenum and Haskins are both learning the Redskins offense, Keenum has proved he can stand in the pocket of an NFL game and make plays. Haskins has never seen the size or speed of NFL defensive linemen. 

"It’s a long process and I think they both handled it well today," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Hopefully we’ll do better tomorrow and the next day and so on and so forth and I’m sure it will be a good, lengthy competition with some great players going at it."

A few, unexpected things stood out with Haskins.

Though he has a long windup on his throws, the ball gets out plenty fast. He also seemed quicker in the pocket than some of his NFL Scouting Combine numbers would suggest. Haskins certainly isn't fast, but he's not a plodder either. That said, Keenum does seem to have the advantage in squirting through the line of scrimmage and keeping plays alive. That's something Gruden really likes in his passers.

Both of the QBs seemed comfortable with their role in the competition. 

"It’s normal. I compete every day whether I’m playing football, playing ping pong, playing golf, I’m competing. I’m competing against myself. I’m competing against the defense. In the quarterback room, we’re always competing," Keenum said. "Competition makes you better and that’s what the spring is about."

Haskins sounded very tactful in his responses; respectful of the veterans already on the team in Keenum and Colt McCoy, yet also eager to get more work.

"I want to be with the best, be around the best, and compete with the best. All season I’ll be around working out with the best quarterbacks on my team," the rookie said. 

Planned or not, Haskins also seemed modest in his goals for the OTA session. 

"I didn’t have any expectations for today, I just wanted to execute. The biggest thing for me was going to play right in the huddle."

That stands out in stark contrast to the Redskins last first-round rookie passer, Robert Griffin III. Expectations for RG3 were out of control, almost immediately, and while parts of his rookie season actually lived up to the hype, that situation was not healthy or sustainable. It's smart for Haskins to set reasonable goals at this stage of his career. Calling plays correctly in the huddle will get him on the field more, and that will give him more chances to make big plays.

It's a learning process, and at OTAs, Haskins showed a willingness to start on the ground floor. In a world of egos and branding, that's a sage move. 

While McCoy was not present on the field at OTAs, he is in Ashburn. He will be a part of this competition, but he needs to get healthy soon. Gruden didn't provide much of an update when asked about McCoy, though the coach did say the quarterback should be back on the field for training camp.

McCoy knows the Redskins offense backward and forward, but without him on the field, Keenum and Haskins are learning the Redskins plays at the same time. And that means while Gruden is looking at a rookie and a veteran, neither player has much of a leg up on his playbook. 

"I think we have to grade them based on production out here every day. Every day is a new grade, every day you see how they’re developing, see how they’re getting better, see if they’re making the same mistakes over and over. But it’s a process, this is the first time Dwyane has had a chance to call plays in a live huddle and go after a live defense and this is the first time Case has had a chance to do that with the Redskins terminology. So, we don’t expect perfection on the day one, but we do expect the guys to know what they’re doing when we go out to the practice field, execute and then continue to get better each and every day."

Get better each day. Compete. That's the cornerstone of success in the NFL, and for the Redskins, how QB1 will find his spot.

"Somebody is going to rise I would think," the coach said. "The cream always rises to the top and we’re hoping that’s the case.”

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Reuben Foster believed to be lost for 2019 with major knee, leg injury, per source

Reuben Foster believed to be lost for 2019 with major knee, leg injury, per source

Redskins officials fear that linebacker Reuben Foster has torn the ACL in his left knee, sources tell NBC Sports Washington.

Additionally, there is concern about a more significant injury that could include the artery in his left leg, sources said. 

Foster went down on his first snap in a non-contact drill during OTAs on Monday after stepping on the leg of guard Tyler Catalina. Immediately, Foster fell to the ground, and it was obvious he was in intense pain. He was audibly screaming and crying while writhing in pain on the field. 

Moments later, the Redskins medical staff rushed out to Foster, and within a matter of minutes, his leg was placed into a stabilizing device. He was then helped onto a cart and wheeled off the practice field. 

After practice, Jay Gruden said the team was unsure of Foster's prognosis but did say, "I’m just very disappointed in what happened in his first rep as a Redskin. He runs through the gap and gets injured."

The Redskins took a major public relations hit by signing Foster last fall, and the team's belief was that his play on the field would be worth the controversy that enveloped his signing. Foster won't be playing in 2019, but remains under contract for 2020, and Washington will have the option to keep him in 2021. 

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