Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, left, sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Landover, Md.
The Redskins fielded a top 5 offense in 2016 behind QB Kirk Cousins and OC Sean McVay, but an under-manned front 7 continuously got gashed in the running game. This led to the Burgundy and Gold losing more games than they should have. A lot of this burden fell on the shoulders of former DC Joe Barry, but realistically the problem was the defensive personnel.
And As Tom Coughlin has probably said before: If you can/'t stop the run, you are at the other teams mercy and they will control the clock. Reclaiming their title as perennial off season winners, the Redskins addressed their front 7 by adding valuable pieces along the defensive line, edge rusher, and inside linebacker that hopefully will allow the defense to take a step forward and move the Redskins towards contender-ship. When the Redskins scored Jonathan Allen with the 17th overall pick in the 2017, hope and excitement reverberated through the fan-base.
After an off-season that saw our media-constructed-messiah Scot McCloughan be jettisoned by the organization, our top two WR/'s (Garcon and Jackson) and only competent Defensive tackle (Chris Baker) leave in free-agency, and our best QB in franchise history allegedly wanting to be traded, the over-arching feeling among Redskins fans was "Awesome, we/'re gonna suck again."
However, after that Thursday night it felt like the football gods smiled upon us for the first time in a long, long time. Allen is one of the best d-lineman prospects of the decade, and the team didn't even have to sacrifice anything in a trade up to get him.
This draft could be looked back on as the moment that changed it all for the Redskins.
Allen is exactly what the Redskins lacked last year: A blue chip interior pass-rusher who can be disruptive on all 3 downs. Allen was considered by many to be either the #2 or #3 overall prospect in this draft, being likened to Miami Dolphins pass-rusher Ndomakong Suh. His presence on the interior of Washington,/'s line will be the most talented the defense has seen in a long time.
The Redskins defensive line woes were the singular glaring weakness on an otherwise talented team for the past two offseaon/'s, and former GM Scot McCloughan neglected to address the position significantly in either the draft or in free agency. Players like Damon Harrison were available on the free-agent market and went on to be very successful in their new landing spots, but the Redskins missed out failed to add any talent to the devoid position group.
This offseason, instead of being passive about the problem, the team addressed the "retooling" process from many angles. First and foremost, they hired Jim Tomsula to be the defensive line coach.
You might remember Tomsula as the mustached menace that led the 49ers to a 5-11 record in 2015 as a head coach. However, it is his impressive pedigree as a defensive line coach that allowed him to skip the phase of "NFL coordinator" altogether and get him to that top position. Tomsula was the 49ers defensive line coach from 2007-2014 and has coached under defensive gurus Mike Singletary and Jim Harbaugh. He has a knack for scouting under-valued DT's in free agency and the late round of the draft and developing them into dominant forces (Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga)
Tomsula will change the entire philosophy on how the defensive line operates in Washington, and presumably already shared his scouting reports with the front office. After Tomsula/'s hire, Chris Baker (the Redskins best defensive lineman by a long shot) was unexpectedly let go in free agency with reportedly no effort to retain him. It is possible that Baker lacked a certain intangible attribute that Tomsula looks for in a player to develop, and as a result the front office allowed him to walk.
Instead, to fill the gap the Redskins signed part-timers Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. At first glance these signings seem a little conspicuous, especially considering the size of the contracts they were signed to as well as the other talent available. However, perhaps the randomness can actually attributed to being hand-picked by Big T himself. If Tomsula saw a trait in McGee or McClain that he believed he could work with, then likely this free agency haul was to fill the Defensive Line room with players who fit his mold and culture.
The presence of Tomsula should make the entire Defensive line unit operate more efficiently. Jonathan Allen is icing on the cake, as he is expected to be a day-1 disruptive force that will require extra attention and game-planning from offensive lines.
Ryan Kerrigan is underrated as one of the most consistent and productive pass-rushers in the league, and no matter what the rest of the defense looks like, offenses can always expect pressure from his side of the line. Thankfully for Kerrigan, the interior defensive line should now collapse the pocket in 2017, which will lead to more of the 1-on-1 match-ups with offensive tackles that he thrives in. (4 sacks against the Eagles in Week 6 last year)
On the opposite side of Kerrigan, former NCAA sack leader Trent Murphy had a break-out season last year with 9 sacks and looked to be a developing into another pass-rushing force for the defense. However, Murphy was recently suspended for the first 4 games of the 2017 season due to PED use. (He gained a ton of weight in the 2016 off-season to switch from OLB to D-line, and now we likely know how he did it.)
To fill this void and provide a disruptive presence from the left side, the Redskins will employ a combination of Preston Smith, rookie Ryan Anderson, and a hopefully-healthy Junior Gallette.
OLB Preston Smith was the Redskins 2nd round pick in 2015, and appeared primed for a solid career after a break-out rookie campaign with 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, Smith took a metaphorical step backwards in his sophomore season and no longer appears to be the long term answer opposite of Kerrigan.
Ryan Anderson was the Redskins 2nd round pick in 2017, and while he does not possess any eye-popping athletic measurables, he fits the mold of what former GM McCloughan called being a "football player." This term is semi-nebulous and maybe a bit cliche, but is generally encompassing of being tough, instinctive, high effort, and a high football IQ. Anderson displayed all of those traits in his tape during his final 2 seasons at Alabama. In just about every play, his number 22 was at or near the ball making the tackle. As a teammate of first round selection Jonathan Allen, Anderson should get some snaps at both outside and inside linebacker this season to show his prowess as an edge setter and most importantly, football player.
Junior Gallette has not appeared in a game in 2 years, after suffering disappointing back-to-back Achilles injuries in the 2015 and 2016 off seasons. However, prior to that injured stretch Gallette recorded 22 sacks in 2013 and 2014 combined. Gallette has showed his dedication to the Redskins organization by getting a huge Redskins tattoo on his arm despite never playing a snap in Washington, and if he can resemble anything close to his pre-injury form he will reward the Redskins for their patience in him by harassing opposing offensive tackles and QB's.
After moving stand-out rookie Sua Cravens from ILB to his natural position at SS, the Redskins still have a hole at inside linebacker. Will Compton is a fan favorite and currently is the Mike backer who makes all of the calls for the defense, but the truth of the matter is that he is athletically limited and this has showed up in big moments. (Que GIF of Matt Stafford targeting him during 4th the Lions 4th quarter comeback in week 7.)
2015 Free agent acquisition Mason Foster has played above expectations and is likely to compete with Compton to man one of the two inside backer spots (Foster is the athletic superior of the two).
The other spot likely belongs to new FA addition Zach Brown, who tallied 149 tackles for the Bills last year. Brown will be the leader of this defense provide a run-thumping presence in the middle of the field that Washington/'s defense has lacked since London Fletcher retired.
Ideally, all of the Redskins new pieces in the front 7 will mesh and make beautiful music together. (Nickname "Zach Brown Band" anyone? Too corny? You will come around to it) Unfortunately, the best case scenario for future football teams does not always pan out to be the most realistic scenario. However, the odds are pretty good that the Redskins front 7 will take a leap forward in 2017 and no longer be the weak spot on a playoff roster.
If the Redskins are able to overcome a suddenly-tough NFC East, look for it to happen in the hands of the new and improved front-7 that allows the Redskins to finally make stops on 3rd and 14 and shut down the run.
Who will be the most important acquisition to the front 7 this offseason? Let me know what you think.