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Redskins Position Outlook: Defensive line needs burst of youth, talent

Redskins Position Outlook: Defensive line needs burst of youth, talent

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. Today we examine the defensive line. 

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker, Ricky Jean François, Ziggy Hood

Backups: Cullen Jenkins, Matt Ionnadis, Anthony Lanier, Kedric Golston

Injured/Reserve: Anthony Lanier, A.J. Francis, Joey Mbu

Free agents: Chris Baker, Cullen Jenkins, Kedric Golston, Ziggy Hood

Rewind: The Redskins defensive line graded out as the worst unit on the team. The 'Skins D ranked 28th in the NFL in yards allowed, and 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. It's not fair to simply blame Baker, François and Hood for their play as the franchise did not properly invest in the defensive line. 

The team needs to add young players this year in the draft after taking only Ionnadis in the 2016 draft. Baker is the youngest of the three starters, though he will turn 30 in October. François and Hood will turn 31 in 2017.

The team needs to add depth and perhaps starters via free agency. Reports suggest the Redskins have interest in Eagles nose tackle Bennie Logan, a player that would make sense for Washington. 

Fast Forward: Scot McCloughan will face a tough decision on Chris Baker. The team's best defensive lineman the last two seasons, Baker will have suitors on the open market. On the other hand, Baker is a strong example of the 'Skins actually developing a player, as he came from the practice squad to starter. With 10.5 sacks in the last two seasons, Baker has proven his ability to get to the passer from the interior of the D-line, a trait that is valued across the league. Like most free agency decisions, this will come down to price. Baker has a young family and is beloved by fans in Washington, but he might be more effective in a 4-3 scheme or paired with other strong linemen, allowing his burst to show without facing double teams. 

It's hard to see a scenario where Jenkins or Golston come back to the Burgndy and Gold. Jenkins signed with the team late in the preseason, was released for Week 1, then rejoined the team in Week 2. He is a 13-year NFL vet that made no starts last season and logged just 15 tackles and one sack in 15 games. Jenkins' play was exactly what was to be expected from an aging D-lineman signed in late August. That Jenkins played more than 300 snaps in 2016 last year is an indictment of the lack of investment Washington made in the defensive line. 

Golston is a trickier case, as he is a leader and long-time Redskin. An 11-year veteran with the 'Skins, Golston suffered a terrible hamstring injury last season and was lost for the year after Week 2. While Golston is well-known for his longevity with the franchise, the 'Skins will likely look to move on from Golston. He hasn't had a sack since 2011, and has started just 10 games in the last six seasons. 

Hood could be back, as he showed great effort throughout the 2016 season, though it would need to be on a similar one-year, minimum salary type deal.

For the 'Skins defensive line to improve, investments need to be made in the draft AND free agency. Logan could help, so could a player like Johnathan Hankins from the Giants. In the draft, McCloughan needs to consider either true defensive line or an edge rusher with the team's first pick, and supplementing the line with subsequent picks. After the first round, players like Auburn's Montravius Adams or Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson could give the 'Skins a true nose tackle, something lacking basically the entire time the team has deployed the 3-4 scheme. 

François will be back, as will Ionnadis. Both can be solid rotational pieces, but this area of the roster is likely to undergo a total rebuild. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 23, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Training camp preview—defense 

Here are some of the big topics surrounding the defense at Redskins training camp along with some of the things I’ll be observing closely when training camp gets underway on Thursday. I looked at the topics on offense yesterday

Lining up the line

Will Phil Taylor, who seems to be a long shot to make the team after they drafted two nose tackles, get some run with the first and second teams? Also, this is a young group and Jim Tomsula will have a lot of opportunities to teach. Watching him interacting with his line and going over the details of line play is fun to watch.

Spaight vs. Vigil

The two starting inside linebacker starters are safe and the team is intrigued enough by the potential of both Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton to make them likely bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight competing for the last ILB roster spot. 

Spaight is a known quantity who has been a mainstay on special teams since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. They kept him over Vigil in the cut to 53 a year ago. But last year when injuries hit, Vigil started over Spaight. In a way, this is Round 3 between the two. 

Ryan Anderson

We know what outside linebacker starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can do. Pernell McPhee will be good for four or five sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two. Anderson, who was team’s second-round pick last year, is a big question mark. He played 193 snaps in 14 games, but he barely dented the stat sheet with no sacks and just 11 tackles. Anderson is a hard worker and they need his 

The pieces of the cornerback puzzle

This is discussed in some detail hereby JP Finlay and I’ll look at it later this week. To pick out one detail, I want to see what the rotation in the slot is. Right now the guess is that Orlando Scandrick is the starter but who will be behind him? That’s important because Scandrick has missed 25 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. 

Apke’s progress

Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL. If Apke is going to be an alternative if injury problems strike Montae Nicholson again he needs to start making some progress while he is in Richmond. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 3
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 17
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 40

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 48 days. 

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10 Questions for 10 Days: After Josh Norman, what's the plan at cornerback?

10 Questions for 10 Days: After Josh Norman, what's the plan at cornerback?

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 before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No. 4: After Josh Norman, what's the plan at cornerback?

In a way, the Redskins are quite lucky. Not every team in the NFL has an unequivocal No. 1 corner. Washington has that in Josh Norman

His interception numbers in 2017 did not get the job done, but he still played quite well. Norman got targeted significantly less than the league average, which means NFL quarterbacks actively chose not to mess with former All Pro. 

Still, Norman needs more interceptions than last year. He grabbed none, and he will admit that he must create more turnovers. 

Regardless, Norman is not the Redskins question mark at cornerback. What happens after Norman is the question. 

Washington moved quick this offseason to lock up Quinton Dunbar off restricted free agency. Dunbar has size and range, and has looked quite capable, in spots. He doesn't have a ton of experience, however, and will be asked to start this fall. The team also signed veteran Orlando Scandrick - from the Cowboys - as a likely nickel/slot corner. 

Second-year man Fabian Moreau will be expected to take a significant step forward this fall. The Redskins would like very much to be able to primarily rely on Norman, Moreau and Dunbar while asking less of Scandrick. 

Don't forget Washington lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason. Fuller got moved to Kansas City as part of the Alex Smith trade, and Breeland remains a free agent.

Redskins coaches won't tell the exact truth, but the the team would love for Moreau to emerge opposite Norman and let Dunbar play in the slot. Or maybe let Moreau emerge in the slot, like Fuller did in 2017, and Dunbar opposite Norman. Scandrick hasn't played a full season since 2013, and the 'Skins brass can't expect that in 2018 for the 31-year-old corner. 

Josh Holsey, Adonis Alexander and Greg Stroman will provide depth at the bottom of the roster. That's two seventh-round picks and a supplemental sixth round pick. While each player provides reasons for optimism, it's hard to think any of the three young players will provide immediate help. They're better focused fighting for a roster spot than a starting spot. 

In 2017, cornerback ranked as a strength for the Redskins. 

In 2018, it's a big question. Elite play from Norman could change much of that equation. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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