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Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Re-examining Redskins' needs: pass-rusher

By John Keim

After taking a look at the safety need Monday, it's now time to check out an area that could help everyone on the Washington Redskins' defense: the pass rush.

Orakpo
What they've done: Re-signed Brian Orakpo and Chris Baker; signed Jason Hatcher.

Problem solved: Helped? Absolutely. Solved? Let's see. It helps quite a bit to add an interior rusher to complement Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins' coaches have said they're going to let the pass-rushers loose more often. That means not asking to rush contain so much -- when the goal is as much to keep the quarterback in the pocket as it is to sack him. Will this happen or is it just offseason chatter? The players say they're expecting changes based on what the coaches have told them as well.

What needs to happen: The coaches need to follow up on their offseason words and let the rushers attack more. But it's not always that simple. If they're in a base front, they can't just let both outside linebackers rush unless they want to constantly send five at the quarterback. But they do need to figure out a way to let Orakpo do what they need him to do: pressure the passer. And having a dedicated pass-rushing coach in Brian Baker is a positive step. I've never been around him, but do know that this is his area of expertise and that he's worked with excellent pass rushers. It'll help Kerrigan as well, along with Rob Jackson and Brandon Jenkins. The Redskins have not had a coach for this area lately and there's a huge difference between having a guy tell someone what to do on a play and having a guy who says this is how you can win on this play. One helps you do your job; the other helps you improve. Can that take Orakpo from a good pass-rusher to a great one? We'll see. You can't measure everything by sack totals, but the great pass-rushers still record a certain amount of sacks while also setting up others. He wants to be paid like a great pass-rusher.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Address in the draft: Sure. If a pass-rusher they really like is available at No. 34 (keep in mind if teams think guys will be great pass-rushers they get picked higher), then by all means. It's like pitching in baseball: You can never have enough pass-rushers. Baker might become a good rusher in the nickel, but he has a lot to prove. Hatcher should help. But how will Stephen Bowen fare coming off microfracture surgery? Big question mark. And can you count on an improved rush from Jarvis Jenkins? He has two sacks in 28 games. Point is, there's decent reason to think the rush will be improved, but there are an equal amount of question marks. And what if, say, Hatcher gets hurt? The more options you have, the better. Other positions need more help, but this is always an important area to address. Plus their better linemen -- Cofield, Hatcher and Bowen if he's healthy -- all are at least 30 years old.

Last word: Hatcher excelled at winning one-on-one matchups last season inside. The fact he's going back to a 3-4 is not a huge issue because when the Redskins are in nickel, he'll be rushing inside -- just like last season. And Washington played nickel nearly 70 percent of the time last season. In 2011, the Redskins had a good pass rush in part because of how Orakpo and Bowen worked together. They were in sync when running their stunts and it made a difference. Hatcher is a better pass-rusher than Bowen, so if he and Orakpo work well together, his signing will have made an impact. Barry Cofield should notice a difference as well. Teams won't double them both. Heck, they can still slide Kerrigan inside at times and allow him to work against just the right guard. With Hatcher next to him, possibly drawing extra attention. The key this season will be winning more one-on-one battles.