For football fans it's the time of year in which the season is so close, but still so far away. For Redskins fans in particular, the start of Redskins’ training camp on July 25th will be an opportunity to get a look at Washington’s new acquisitions, in particular the rookie class.
The discussion among Skins fans has primarily focused on rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the whether he'll be ready to take the reins as the Redskins' signal caller this season and beyond. The primary question will be: can Haskins bring the offense back to greatness after decades of subpar quarterback play?
Fans hope Haskins can do what former Redskins' quarterback Robert Griffin III failed to do in 2013. During that unforgettable run and playoff appearance versus Seattle, fans watched helplessly as Griffin sustained a gruesome knee injury and the Skins’ hopes for a Super Bowl appearance went down in smoke.
The Redskins have struggled to stop opponents from posting fantasy type statistics. As important as the quarterback play for Washington is, the lack of defensive pressure has become concerning. Although the Redskins have had a few bright spots over the past two seasons, their defense has been inconsistent and at times played downright conservative.
The Redskins victory over Tampa Bay last season epitomized the their “bend don't break” strategy and inability to stop opposing teams from accruing large chunks of yards. Although Washington held the Bucs to only 3 points that game, the defense allowed journeyman backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 406 yards with Tampa Bay accruing 501 total yards on offense. The Redskins did force 2 interceptions, but only tallied 2 sacks against a weak Bucs o-line. The defense’s performance would be enough to get the 16-3 victory, but many around the league questioned if Washington could continue to squeeze out wins with their style of play. Sadly, they didn’t and fans watched as another season went down the tubes.
While the offense is a work in progress, the Redskins have the ability to be a top ten defensive unit. They've shown continued dedication to building the defensive line and more importantly their pass rush. After losing Outside Linebacker Preston Smith to the Green Bay Packers in free agency, Washington made the bold move of trading back into the first round of the draft and selecting a high caliber pass rusher.
Enter Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat.
Sweat was viewed by scouts and many in the football community as tailor-made for the NFL, but was misdiagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy during the NFL Combine. The error caused Sweat to drop out of the draft’s top 10. Washington traded their 2020 2nd-round draft pick to move up and selected the Mississippi State pass rusher 26th overall.
NFL Network columnist Ian Rapoport, who started his career covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs football team as a columnist for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger had the following to say about Sweat.
"Doctors at the combine accidentally included capillary muscle in their testing. Which would mean there is no risk for Montez Sweat under the previously reported heart diagnosis. This discrepancy would explain why some teams are absolutely fine with it."
In the end Sweat is another draft day steal. Redskins’ defensive lineman Jonathan Allen experienced a similar draft day slide for reported arthritic shoulder concerns. He fell to 17th overall in the 2017 draft after initially receiving a top 10 draft projection by many scouts. Unlike fellow teammate Ryan Kerrigan, Sweat saw time as a standup pass rusher as well as a defensive end in MSU’s defensive formations.
The rookie edge rusher is well versed at rushing the quarterback as a 1, 3 or 5 technique outside linebacker and routinely was utilized in stunts at MSU. Sweat utilizes his 6’6” 260 lb frame in conjunction with 4.41 speed to beat tackles on the outside, but also shows the ability to bull rush interior lineman.
What To Expect
Although some Skins fans were disappointed to see Edge Rusher Preston Smith leave via free agency, fans should be comforted with the thought that his replacement has a much higher ceiling and ability to impact games. Early on, outside linebacker Ryan Anderson could see snaps on obvious rushing downs, with Sweat adding a fresh pass rusher on 3rd downs. In saying that, coaches have raved about Sweat’s ability as a pass rusher, but he’s also showing the willingness to refine his technique as a run stopper.
Sweat is by no means a finished product, but hand usage, counter moves and the ability to disengage from would-be blockers seems to be the rookie pass rusher’s primary focus. Sweat’s ability to make plays all over the field while utilizing a non-stop motor separate him from the other rookie pass rushers.
The Redskins have shown patience and diligence while building their defense and have wisely invested in the defensive line and pass rush. Sweat alone won’t change the fortunes for this defense, but teaming the Mississippi State pass rusher up with Ryan Kerrigan along with a disciplined, albeit young Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle and Caleb Brantley could pay off in the short as well as long term.
The Redskins’ offense will need time to develop a new franchise quarterback. In the meantime, Sweat and the defensive front are primed to carry the load with health being the only issue that could stunt their overall progression. Washington will have an opportunity to show how far their pass rush has come when they face quarterbacks Brady, Wentz and Prescott during the first five weeks of the season. Redskins fans should be excited for what's to come, with the defense taking center stage. The Mississippi State edge rusher could be the missing piece for Washington, and Unleashing the bulldog could return this team to dominance.
By Adam Aniba