- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Washington Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen made the sort of proclamation that never seems to work out well. At least in Washington. He told ESPN980’s Chris Russell the other day that the Redskins could have “the most dominant D-line in the NFL."
Too often, I’ve heard Redskins players profess what they could do, whether as a unit or a team. Too often it does not work out. Rarely, in fact. Just look to last summer when Pierre Garcon said they “have the potential to be the best offense ever, really."
I love the confidence and, really, they should believe in themselves. But this line does have questions: Will Bowen get back and, if so, at what level? Micro-fracture surgery combined with his age (he turns 30 on March 28) makes that a legit question. How will Jason Hatcher fit into this scheme (I think rather well; they will use him in similar ways in their nickel package that Dallas did a year ago)? Will Jarvis Jenkins ever be a consistent rush threat (he hasn’t shown that he can)? Will Chris Baker continue to develop? Right now there’s promise with him.
But I do like the line’s potential, regardless if it’s the most dominant or not. And if that’s what Bowen is tapping into with that statement, then that’s fine. It's not wrong to expect that if nothing else they should have a good front.
I like the group’s versatility. Baker can play nose and end, while Hatcher can play end and be an effective pass-rusher inside. Barry Cofield hasn’t played end, but could and having him next to Hatcher in the nickel should be effective. Both players are capable of winning one-on-one’s and that’s something that was missing in 2013.
If Baker plays as he did in the last few games of 2013, and if Bowen returns to a pre-2013 level, then the Redskins could have four players who collapse the pocket. Baker didn’t play enough to consistently do that last year, until late. Bowen was never right and that left a lot on Cofield, who had to also be drained from nose-tackle duties. Jenkins finally recorded a sack, but he was not an effective rusher.
Again, a lot depends on Bowen’s health and if his game responds. In March, anything and everything is possible. So if it does respond, then the Redskins will have more options inside for their nickel rush in particular. They often used run stoppers in nickel situations out of necessity. And that left more pressure on the outside linebackers to apply pressure (or to blitz).
As an aside on Bowen, it’s almost forgotten how well he and Orakpo worked together in 2011 on stunts and freed one another up. Bowen recorded a career-best six sacks that season in part because of Orakpo. That chemistry wasn't as evident last season, perhaps because Bowen's knee bothered him longer than he realized. I don't know. But it was good in '11. And it still appears as if Bowen will be back, which was told to me by multiple team sources after the Hatcher signing. Whether it’s at the same cap number ($7.02 million), I don’t know. But they’ve always liked Bowen’s game and the fact he does what’s asked and has mostly done it well for them.
It’s not a big leap to say the line should be more effective than last year. They did a solid job against the run last year, but they have the chance to do more against the pass in 2014. If you can’t improve the back end of the defense, doing it up front was an absolute must. Improving the rush had to be one of the top priorities -- and it certainly was based on Hatcher's signing and franchising Orakpo.
A healthy Bowen… Hatcher’s arrival… Baker’s improvement. It adds up to optimism, but how much?
There are plenty of “could do this” or “might do that” sort of statements attached to this group. The Redskins need to see it be a truth in October, rather than be a bold statement in March.
By the way, Bowen talks about his health in Russell’s article as well. He said he'll "absolutely" be ready for training camp.