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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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Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

From the moment Bill Callahan took over as the Redskins interim head coach, he talked almost exclusively about establishing the run game in the offense. 

Last week in Miami his team did just that, running the ball 33 times for 145 yards. It was Washington's biggest output from the ground game this season, and by a wide margin. 

This week, however, the Redskins face a much stiffer challenge against San Francisco. The 49ers boast the second-best defense in the league, trailing only the Patriots, and Kyle Shanahan's team is giving up fewer than 90 rush yards-per0game. That's nearly 100 yards less than the Dolphins were giving up prior to last week's game against the Redskins. 

Last week, it made sense for Callahan to preach running the football. Miami was awful at defending it. This week, things look much different, and Redskins fans might be surprised to know Callahan looks willing to change his offensive scheme. 

"Every game is different," Callahan said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.

"This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid."

Against the 0-4 Dolphins, the Redskins played a conservative offense that saw Case Keenum complete just 13 passes. He was able to connect with rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin for two scores, but there were plenty of pass yards left on the field in Miami. The truth was Washington didn't need to do that much offensively to beat the awful Dolphins.

Against 5-0 San Francisco, the opposite is true. The Niners' offense ranks fifth in the league in yards-per-game and third in points-per-game. Shanahan's team plays great football on both sides, and the former Redskins offensive coordinator will very much want to show off his new squad on Sunday. 

Callahan seems quite aware of the circumstances for this game, and that could mean a much more aggressive Redskins offense. 

"I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent," the coach said. "Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do. We will certainly focus in on that as we delve into the 49ers."

The Niners have won four out of five games by double digits, and two wins came by more than 20 points. This team is clicking on all cylinders right now. 

The Redskins have a serious task in front of them, and oddsmakers installed Washington as double-digit underdogs. The good news, even if minor, is Callahan looks like he understands the nature of his opponent and that he must adapt his team to best attack San Francisco. 


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Exclusive: JP Finlay sits down with Bill Callahan after the Redskins' first win

Exclusive: JP Finlay sits down with Bill Callahan after the Redskins' first win

Following every Redskins game of the 2019 season, NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay will sit down with an exclusive, one-on-one interview with interim head coach Bill Callahan to discuss the team's performance.

Here's what Callahan had to say following the team's Week 6 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

JP Finlay: This time last week, you had just taken this job. A lot has happened in a week. You were able to get your first win. How does all of this feel?

Bill Callahan: It's been a whirlwind. It's been a tough situation. Bittersweet. It was great for our team to come away with a win in Miami. This franchise hasn't won on the road in Miami forever. To come away with a win in those elements, in the situation we were, with the heat and everything else, was tremendous for our team. We're looking forward to building upon that as we move forward to San Francisco.

JP: That game looked pretty in-hand, then Ryan Fitzpatrick comes in late and things get nuts. What was going on, on your sideline, late in that game when they go for the two-point conversion? How relieved were you at the end?

Callahan: I thought our defense did a great job stopping the two-point play. We took a timeout prior. We took what we call a 'Kodak,' we took a picture of that offensive formation for that defense before they came back to it again. They showed the same play twice. Kudos to our defense and what they did. I got help from the box. Kevin told me, 'hey, let's take a timeout here. Let's take a Kodak moment.' We had a timeout to burn there, so we utilized it, and it really helped out defense diagnose what was going to be anticipated, what the play was going to be at that time.

JP: Bigger picture now, you've got 10 games left. What are your goals? Obviously, you're climbing out of an 0-5 hole. How do you tell these guys what the plan is next?

Callahan: It's one week at a time. The way the division is right now, it's a little bit crazy. If we just focus on what we need to get done and improve from week to week, that's all we can control. The vision is, 'let's get better this week. Let's build on what did last week. Let's improve the techniques and the schemes and the game management items that we weren't as good as, or could have been good as in Miami and carry our focus.' That's our intention going forward.

JP: You've been very clear with it, and you stuck to it [against Miami], this team is going to run the football. Is that replicable when you're not going against the Dolphins? The Dolphins were giving up 40 points per game, you came out with 17. That won the game. Do you want to stick with that formula against a 49ers time that scores a lot more?

Callahan: Well, I think every game is different. This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid. I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent. Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do. We will certainly focus in on that as we delve into the 49ers.

JP: Last week, much was made about when Bruce Allen talked about the culture at Redskins Park. I wanted to give you the opportunity; this team is yours now. How would you describe the culture of this team?

Callahan: Well, we're trying to establish structure. More discipline. Be more focus-oriented in the meetings and our preparation and on the practice field as well. We're a little bit more situational-oriented on the practice field. So that's a little bit of a shift. That's my personal thoughts. It's no disrespect towards Jay or anybody. I think anybody that would take over the team at this time would implement their own thinking, their own philosophy, and thoughts they believe could help improve the football team. All I'm trying to do is the best job for our team. I've got a lot of help from our players. I talked to our team captains, I get their input. I talk to our staff quite a bit, get their input. No man can do this alone. Trust me. There's a lot of help I'm grateful for, believe me. It's not about me, it's about our team. The more help I can get to help us win, I'm all for it.

JP: The situational football, the play call of that game, to me, was the play-action, down at your own goal line. Did you practice that this week?

Callahan: We did. I thought it was a great play, a great play call by Kevin. We're at first-and-10 at the minus-1, got stuffed. We came right back to the run-action pass, and what a beautiful ball by Case [Keenum] to Terry [McLaurin]. Great route, great stem. He separated beautifully on the deep cut, the throw was precision-oriented, and the offensive line and tight ends did a great job max blocking it. We were in eight-man protection.

JP: It takes some guts to call that down there. Any hesitation when you heard Kevin say it?

Callahan: Oh, no. Not at all. That was the right call. It was one that was planned. When you get in a backed-up situation, you want a set of plays, runs and passes, that complement each other. It was well-orchestrated, well prepared for, and well-executed.