Washington's Search For An Identity: The Tide Blueprint
Welcome back to The Burgundy and Gold Report. We might have to change to the name to the Crimson and Gold Report after another flood of former, Alabama players that have made their way Washington. The current number of Crimson Tide players on the Skins roster has now risen to 7 after the blockbuster signing of seven All Pro safety Landon Collins.
Collins and his fellow Tide alums bring chemistry & discipline to a Redskins group that seems to lack cohesion. With Allen & Payne anchoring, it comes as no surprise that the defensive line has become the core and most reliable group on the team. Breaking player habits is always tough, especially for new coaches implementing new concepts. Washington will have new position coaches Ray Horton (Defensive Backs Coach) and Rob Ryan (Inside Linebackers Coach) who are confronted with the difficult task of bringing a young group together.
The question on many fans’ minds heading into the season will be, ‘does this team have a legitimate plan or identity?
The common argument following the Skins these days is that they are plagued by disorganization within the hierarchy and have no real direction. No Redskins fan would disagree with this. What is there to do when you have no plan? Borrow.
Does stockpiling Alabama players guarantee success in the NFL?
Is it a realistic recipe for success?
Pro Scout Kyle Smith’s expertise as an SEC talent elevator should give fans hope that The Tide Blueprint is a legitimate plan which could lead to long-term success. Smith’s involvement with the selection of Alabama players is obvious considering the high draft pick investments involved.
Washington has dealt with constant injuries, losing their own to free agency. When it comes to signing high priced free agents, the redskins frequently attempt to fit square pegs into round holes. Adding high quality players should be a priority, but finding the best players for scheme fit could arguably be just as important.
The Collins signing shows a belief in upgrading a defense with youth in mind, rather than high priced, past their prime, free agents. At only 25, Collins displays leadership and an innate ability to get the best out of his teammates. When it comes to the Crimson Tide mentality, no other player in the NFL has put that on display more than Collins. The Redskins defense could look dramatically different in 2019. The Tide Blueprint is all over this defense.
Third year defensive lineman John Allen is in-line to take a leadership role along with the newly signed safety Landon Collins. Allen will run the front line, while Collins takes care of the back-end. Both are primed to wear the coveted "C" on their chest this season.
Although Allen is soft spoken off the field, his fire & demeanor on the field can't be understated. The Redskins seem to have found a dangerous formation with Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis on the field together. Fans are well aware of what Ioannidis brings to this defense, but Payne will be expected to take a larger role this season in regards to rushing the passer.
Down the stretch in 2018, Allen & Payne routinely registered 90% of the defensive snaps. While getting the most out of the Skins 1st rounders is great, keeping the big guys fresh for the full 16 game season will also be key. Alabama blue chip lineman aren't accustomed to subbing out, but Coach Tomsula will need to utilize the team’s deepest position by rotating more often and putting John Allen in better position to rush the quarterback.
As for Collins, it's hoped he can bring the DB's and coaches together on the same page. Although DJ Swearinger attempted to play a similar role, in the end, his brutal honesty was a clash for coaches. Collins isn't the type to publicly bash coaches. He will be viewed as the face of the defense in 2019 by the Redskins organization. His $84 million contract confirms that. Although Collins was universally hailed by his former Giants teammates, having his Tide family should expedite the cohesion process.
Many in the national media just looked at Collins’s salary and scoffed at that kind of money for a "Box Safety". Collins has shown to be a valuable leader on and off the field during his brief career. At only 25 years old Collins will bring his Bama swag to Washington with the rest of the defense taking note on how Alabama prepare and dominate.
A Lot to Prove
Last year’s 13th overall selection, Daron Payne, still has doubters even though he had a decent season with 56 tackles 6 TFL and 5 sacks. Although those numbers are decent in a complimentary role, getting selected 13th overall demands better production. Payne has the benefit of playing next to Allen and one of the best up and coming, pass-rushing, interior lineman in Matt Ioannidis, so higher production should be expected.
Payne will need to show more on passing downs, in particular, and make more game changing plays. Adding a quicker Edge Rusher to replace Preston Smith who signed with Green Bay, will be imperative to Payne's progression & production going forward.
Ryan Anderson, like Allen, is coming into his 3rd year. But unlike Allen, expectations should be tempered with the outside linebacker. Although versatile, the Outside Linebacker is occasionally used as a short yardage Full Back. Anderson just seems out of position. At Alabama, Anderson's duties usually focused on rushing the quarterback from the inside. Anderson isn't an ideal NFL ILB, but his motor and ability to set the edge on the run game make him a valuable reserve.
With Washington expected to select an outside linebacker early in draft, don't expect Anderson to slide into a starting role, but his snap count should increase with more line rotations.
Anderson has been a valuable asset and long-time friend to Reuben Foster, as well as a good friend with Collins. Reportedly, Anderson was with Collins during the infamous Snyder pre-signing dinner in which Collins was presented with a Sean Taylor signed, game worn, jersey. This is a testament to Anderson’s role within the team.
Last season’s waiver acquisition of San Francisco ILB Reuben Foster could be the enigma of the squad. Foster is awaiting the NFL's decision on his 2019 availability, after a second domestic assault accusation last season. Although all charges have been dropped, Foster still awaits his fate on the Commissioner's Exempt List. based on the NFL’s personal conduct policy, it's likely the talented inside linebacker will receive a 2-3 game suspension and the decision should be announced soon.
As far as what to expect from Foster, once he's cleared to return his success will hinge primarily on his discipline & desire to be a great football player. As previously mentioned, Anderson has been an important person in Foster's life and could be the key to Foster staying out of trouble. Although some fans have high expectations for the Bama Inside Linebacker, his assimilation could take time. Having familiar faces around is a big plus and Foster could be the deal of the decade for the Redskins if he pans out.
The Redskins continued to utilize the Tide pipeline when Shaun Dion Hamilton was selected in the sixth round 197th overall in the 2018 draft. SDH is viewed a cerebral player who is best utilized at the Will Inside Linebacker spot, where he can utilize his field vision and call out defensive signals.
The issue with Hamilton has always been staying healthy, playing in only 33 out 53 games while at Alabama. While Hamilton was given an opportunity to start the final 4 games of the ‘18 season for Washington, his performance drew mixed reviews.
The immediate plan seems to be for SDH & R.Foster to man both Inside Linebacker spots, but with the draft and little depth at the position, look for the Redskins to continue to address Inside Linebacker. One thing is for sure, both players are well aware of each other’s playing tendencies and should mesh nicely.
Although not a defensive player, Sims certainly created some buzz last pre-season. Coming back from injury as an un-drafted receiver in 2018, Cam Sims might be the least talked about Tide player on the team and the biggest mystery. Although Sims only saw time during the pre-season, prior to an ankle injury, the 6-5 receiver dazzled with a few impressive catches, displaying his athletic ability and elite size as a red zone threat.
Sims will need to show he can be a solid special teams' contributor to make the roster though. With more receivers expected to be drafted and signed post draft, Sims could face an uphill battle to make the final 53. I, for one, am pulling for Sims.
The culture & chemistry that goes along with the Crimson Tide swag is what should appeal to Redskins fans. Washington has lost its identity from the 80’s and 90’s as a smash mouth football team with an equally feared defense. Does bringing Alabama players solve all of the Redskins woes? That question won’t be answered immediately, but future, Hall of Fame, Alabama, Head Coach Nick Saban’s players, molded in his vision, could form a new identity for the Burgundy & Gold.