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Sunday, September 1, 2013
Redskins roster analysis: Defense

By John Keim

Taking a look at the Redskins' roster after Saturday's cutdown to 53 (knowing it could change during the week). As on offense, I don't look at any of these groups as being worse than a year ago. The line is about the same, though they were pretty good last year and Barry Cofield continues to improve. The linebackers should be better and it's reasonable to expect the secondary to improve just because they'll play two young kids. But they have to prove what they can do in a regular-season game. Still, they're not worse. I'd be surprised if the defense doesn't improve. Is it a top-10 unit? I have my doubts. But they don't need to be, not with the offense and, besides, it's all about turnovers and points allowed. Those are the stats that will matter with this group.

Defensive line (6): Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Phillip Merling

Barry Cofield
Will a strong summer for Washington's Barry Cofield lead to a big regular season?
Note: This was a relatively easy area to project because of the inexperience behind these six.  Merling played well enough to earn a spot, too. Now he has four weeks until Jarvis Jenkins returns to prove he should maintain one.

They’ll get Jenkins back in four weeks; he worked on adding more explosion and a bigger first step to help his pass rush. But Jenkins did not show more as a pass-rusher than he did last season. He still never reached the QB in the preseason. Golston earned the start ahead of Baker in his place because of his consistency and penchant for doing his job.

Better or worse than 2012: Same. It’s hard to say they’re better only because they consider Jenkins a starter ahead of Golston and he’ll miss the first four games. I like Neild as a backup nose; but can Baker do what they need him to as the No. 3 end? He can play the nickel, but can he do the every-down duties -- occupying blockers, etc.? When Jenkins returns, it’s a solid group -- not because he’s a budding Pro Bowler, but because he can help. He improved against the run last year in terms of occupying blockers. Also, in some nickel situations he should help just by collapsing the pocket, though he didn't look much different rushing the passer this summer than in '12. Bowen isn’t better -- he was excellent last year -- but his numbers should be just because of Brian Orakpo’s presence.  Cofield looked terrific this summer and is as important as anyone to this defense. A third year in this system for Cofield and Bowen will help, too.

Linebackers (8): Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl

Note: Again, another spot that was pretty easy to call as long as Barnett’s knee was sound. He at least provides veteran insurance inside. The coaches like Kehl, but the fact is he’s only started five games (appearing in 67, though mostly on special teams). Barnett has started 139 games. Fletcher looked fine this summer, but at 38 you need an experienced backup behind him. Whether or not he can help after this season, who knows? But his experience will help in a pinch if needed.  Tapp and Jenkins are the latest to convert from ends to linebacker. Tapp was a pleasant surprise this summer; didn’t realize how strong he was at the point of attack. He had a couple big-time swats to get free for pressure. Jenkins is still a rather raw pass-rusher, but will help in certain looks. He’s rushed both standing up and with his hand on the ground.

Better or worse than 2012: Better. Orakpo’s return makes that so and Kerrigan’s increased versatility makes it even more true.  Kerrigan was more effective as a rusher when being moved around last season; I like him inside for a change-up -- it’s harder for guards to handle his rip move because he can close the space they need to combat it in a hurry. Orakpo makes others around him better in ways obvious and subtle. Riley seems to improve a little bit each year.

Defensive backs (10): DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, David Amerson, E.J. Biggers, Jerome Murphy, Bacarri Rambo, Brandon Meriweather, Jose Gumbs, Reed Doughty, Jordan Pugh

Note: This yielded two surprises in Gumbs and Murphy, at least when you go back to the start of camp. It’s doubtful many projected them to win spots. Murphy was helped by Richard Crawford’s injury and then by his own physical play (and, mostly, special-teams work). Gumbs adapted to free safety and showed he’s a hitter. I really like that the coaches rarely had to get on Rambo for missed assignments. I’m sure they did in private, but on the practice field he rarely seemed to be out of position. His big flaw in the preseason -- open-field tackling -- improved in the final two games. With no live tackling in practice, he had to learn on the run (no pun intended). The lessons will continue, but Rambo is a good learner.

Better or worse than 2012: Same, but with an asterisk. They have durability issues with Meriweather -- but that’s nothing new considering he played half a game last season. Wilson is coming off shoulder surgery, but they seem to have improved the depth here and I like Amerson’s potential. So if something happened to Wilson and Amerson had to start midway through, then the Redskins would be fine and, eventually, better just because of the rookie's potential. An improved rush will help them as will the infusion of youth. But the latter can take time to mature so at some point this season you could rightfully say they’re better.