Through July, I will be running positional breakdowns for the Washington Redskins. Each assessment will be broken down into four areas: Past Statistics, Experience/Potential, Positional Competition, and Intangibles.
The defensive line is easily one of the most changed, if not improved groups to come out of the 2009 offseason. From free agency to the draft, Vinny Cerrato finally acknowledged that big bodies win big games in November, December and January. Unfortunately in some of those cases, big bodies equaled big cash, and will now have to carry heavy expectations this season. The Redskins have had one of the best defenses in the NFL over the last five seasons, but if they expect to continue that trend, it starts up front. Like their NFC East brethren, they must get to the quarterback to ultimately succeed.
While the defense has been the best aspect of the team over the past several years, rushing the quarterback has never been their strong suit. In 2008, the defensive line was rock solid against the run, giving up only 95.4 yards per game, good enough for 8th in the league. They held rushers to under the NFL standard of four yards per carry (3.8) and were above average in rushing touchdowns allowed (12). Andre Carter led the group with 37 total tackles and sacks. Demetric Evans and Jason Taylor chipped in with four sacks a piece, and Kedric Golston, Lorenzo Alexander and Anthony Montgomery added two each. The line as a whole combined for 19 sacks, which was bottom-five overall in the league. As a result, they gave up a very average twelve plays of 40+ yards on the campaign. In order for the defense to clamp down on the big gains, they must get to the QB sooner, and more often than 2009.
Here we see a VAST improvement on the 2008 edition of the d-line. The Redskins added seven-year vet Albert Haynesworth, arguably the best defensive tackle (when he wants to be) in the game. Haynesworth brings his 6’6”, 250 pound frame to the middle of the line as both a run stuffer and a headache for guards and centers on passing downs. He has shown the quickness and athleticism to get to the quarterback on the outside as well as up the middle (8 sacks in 2008). If he plays to his potential, his addition could do wonders for guys like Andre Carter and Renaldo Wynn on the outside. He was the best player on the Titans line that racked up 44 sacks on the year, and occupies more blockers than any interior lineman Washington has seen in some time. The group also welcomes newcomers Brian Orakpo (on passing downs supposedly), who was a fiend in the Big 12 with 23 sacks (career) as well as Jeremy Jarmon out of Kentucky. Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels are also (effectively) new editions as well, with Wynn coming out of a complimentary role with the formidable New York d-line and Daniels coming off of injury. Jarmon is big and physical with the potential to learn under Daniels and Wynn, while Orakpo has the capability of being a sack-master, in the mold of (but I’m not saying necessarily as good as) DeMarcus Ware.
People tend to forget that the Redskins still have two young, promising tackles in Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery. While Cornelius Griffin has been strong when he’s been able to play, he’s been nagged by various injuries throughout his tenure as a Redskin. We all know that Haynesworth will not be taking 100% of the snaps at DT, so these two guys must develop into more disruptive players, rather than run-stuffing, mild-mannered guys this season. If either can improve enough in their fourth seasons and supplant Griffin, the Redskins will reap the benefits. Griffin will be much more fresh and valuable when he does play, and the future will be brighter once he hangs ‘em up.
ONE, HUNDRED, MILLION, and DOLLARS are the four words that will define how this group performs for the next seven seasons. Albert Haynesworth has been criticized for attitude problems and work ethic in the past, and his detractors believe that he only had a career season last year because he was playing for a contract. Big Al says he’s not earned his contract yet, but he has to mean it. Will we get the head-stomping, highway-speeding, spoiled athlete, or will we get a monster in the middle? Secondly, losing Jason Taylor is a plus here because he was obviously a bit of a spoiled baby last season. Daniels and Wynn should be good locker room presences, and hopefully will be able to help Haynesworth harness all of his pent up anger on Sundays.
I think that this group much stronger overall than a season ago, and Haynesworth not only adds a great starter, but enhances the depth at tackle as well. The ends should also have a little more depth and experience as well. I look for somewhere between 30-40 sacks this season overall, and if they do that, they can be a top 3 defense overall. Look for Haynesworth to put up 4-5 sacks but the ends to pull in a lot more than last year. Oh, and I know the head stomping incident was bad, but maybe Big Al can spice up the Cowboys rivalry by seeing Andre Gurode twice a year.