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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. 


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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.”


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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.