Can this defense be a Top 5 Unit?
The talk of Redskins’ Training Camp has been the development of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the Trent Williams hold out drama.
Although the offense has a lot of growing pains to work out at Quarterback and Left Tackle, Washington has quietly (to the mainstream national media that is) put together a collection of talent, youth and depth on defense. The fact is, this defense can be dominant.
Additions on Defense
The Redskins continued to utilize the Alabama pipeline this offseason, but this time it was through free agency -by adding Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins. The former New York Giants safety looks to take over the vacant leadership role left by controversial, but always entertaining, DJ Swearinger.
Although Swearinger added an element in the backend that the Redskins’ defense has lacked, the miscues with the other defensive backs were rumored to be an issue, particularly with Josh Norman.
Collins has a tight bond with Tide alum John Allen, Daron Payne, Ryan Anderson and Shaun Dion Hamilton and this could speed up the cohesion on defense.
Also having a healthy and motivated Montae Nicholson should lead to more turnovers and improved play in the back end.
Washington utilizes zone coverage schemes while routinely playing off man and ultimately giving up too much ground. Defensive Coordinator, Greg Manusky, utilized this strategy to cover up their shortcomings in coverage.
Coaches believe Collins and company will minimize, if not eliminate, coverage miscues with the confidence that the frontline players will consistently apply pressure at the line of scrimmage.
Another “under the radar” acquisition is former Pittsburgh Steeler, inside linebacker Jon Bostic. The sixth-year veteran replaces Zach Brown, who has since signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was initially believed Bostic would be nothing more than depth, after Reuben Foster was lost for the season, but Bostic has impressed coaches with his ability & tenacity. In fact, Bostic has been named the Mike linebacker and will be making the defensive calls and adjustments.
Bostic will line up next to second-year ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton, with the promising 5th round rookie ILB Cole Holcomb and Josh Harvey-Clemons as depth. Although the inside linebackers are viewed as young and inexperienced, their athleticism is undeniable.
In the end, their success will hinge on the big boys lining up in front of them, which is the strength of this defense.
Depth Finally a Strength
Landon Collins wasn't the only former Giant added to the roster this offseason. Cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie came out of retirement, after a brief stint with Oakland, to join his former teammate on the Redskins.
The two played together in New York from 2015-2017. DRC & Collins formed a bond during their time together in New York, with the versatile Rodgers-Cromartie playing all over the field on passing downs.
Although 33 years old, DRC brings his knowledge and experience to the defensive backfield as a cornerback and adds potential depth at safety. The Redskins drafted PSU safety Troy Apke in the 4th round of the 2018 draft, but many believe he's not ready to step in as a starter if the opportunity arose. Thus, the addition of DRC could pay off.
Many fans believe the steal of the draft could be rookie cornerback Jimmy “Effin” Moreland. The small school wonder has been the talk of camp. Moreland has become a fan favorite, with his acrobatic interceptions and nose for the football.
He boosted his stock with multiple passes defended versus Cleveland while forcing 2 fumbles, one occurring during a goal line stand.
Many believe the JMU rookie corner will challenge third-year cornerback Fabian Moreau for playing time at slot corner, while also challenging Dunbar for CB#2. Both Dunbar & Moreau have been excellent in practice, but neither is a sure bet.
Josh Norman & Quinton Dunbar are viewed as the presumptive starters, but that could change if Moreland continues to impress. This will be an important pre-season for the Redskins’ corners because after Norman, the competition could intensify. Additionally, Dunbar hasn’t shown durability since 2017.
In the Trenches
The defensive line is, without a doubt, the strongest and deepest unit on the team, with John Allen leading the charge. Most fans and local media believe Allen will be named the Defensive Captain.
Allen's latest statement on JP Finlay’s Redskins Talk Podcast was telling. Allen was asked how he manages to push his teammates and maintain accountability.
“This is a man’s game, no room for sensitivity and feelings. What you do in the trenches isn't for nice guys. It is what it is. We have the same goals and have to get there together.”
Allen will only be as good as his supporting cast, though. His aforementioned Alabama teammates Daron Payne, Ryan Anderson and Shaun Dion Hamilton look to take the next steps in their maturation process and will be counted on to produce. Other than Allen, Matt Ioannidis is expected to take a bigger role this season after signing a 3-year extension.
It’s been well documented that coaches want the former Temple lineman in the game more often with Allen & Payne. Having a better rotation should also help the Tide duo stay fresher. The two played well over 75% of the snaps, together, during the 2018 season.
Another big man who’s opened eyes during training camp, has been second-year lineman, Tim Settle. Many in the local media have been surprised by how lean and quick Settle has looked in drills.
Per, ESPN Nation reporter John Keim:
“Tim Settle continues to look really good; seeing him mostly work with the 2s in the 1-1 sessions. But he’s dominating that group. His quickness is evident. On one rush, rookie G Wes Martin couldn’t get his hands on him.”
The second-year lineman also had Redskins OL Tony Bergstrom on skates, on multiple occasions during positions drills, looking simply unstoppable. The former Hokie could be the most intriguing second year player on the team and looks to be a major contributor this season and for years to come.
Third year defensive lineman, Caleb Brantley, has also opened eyes during camp with his aggressive play. However, the recent news of a Lisfranc sprain could keep him out a few weeks
On the outside, the always reliable Ryan Kerrigan returns, but the pass rush receives a much-needed boost, with the addition of rookie edge rusher, Montez Sweat. The Mississippi State edge rusher adds much needed size at 6’6” 262 lbs, but his 4.4 speed is an element this pass rush has never had.
Although Sweat still needs work on the technical aspects of his game, he could be the missing piece to this pass rush.
Coming off the bench, third-year outside linebacker Ryan Anderson has come into camp leaner and visibly quicker. How that translates to the field will become evident as the pre-season chugs along.
The team also has high hopes for 7th round rookie edge rusher Jordan Brailford. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a groin injury that he recently re-aggravated, that could land him on IR. That should open the door for second-year edge rusher, Cassanova McKinzy to contribute off the bench, particularly on 3rd down, when he can utilize his speed & bend.
Make no mistake, Kerrigan & Sweat are the only true contributors at outside linebacker and staying healthy will be the key to this defense’s pass rushing success.
The Redskins’ scouting department seems to have hit on a few late round steals, during the last couple of drafts, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The investment on defense has the potential to get this team through its growing pains on offense. Can they become a top ranked defense? The arrow is certainly pointing up.