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Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Redskins' D adds versatility but needs more

By John Keim

They wanted more versatility, giving them the ability to fool the quarterback or at least make him wonder. And that would give the rush an extra second, they hope, to make a difference.

"As you know, great quarterbacks," Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last week, "if you're vanilla, they will kill you. So we have to be exotic a little bit here and there. But also sound in what we do."

Washington's Brian Orakpo
Can Brian Orakpo & Co. give coordinator Jim Haslett a bevy of options to work with in the coming season?
The latter part has been an issue for a while. The ability to be exotic will help coordinator Jim Haslett, but it won't cure all. Still, is the Redskins' defense more versatile?

Let's take a look:

The Redskins do have some versatility up front. Chris Baker can line up at either end or nose tackle and can play in the nickel. Barry Cofield plays nose, but can rush in nickel. Jason Hatcher can play end and serve as a legitimate interior rusher.

Stephen Bowen's effectiveness as a rusher decreased the past two years and he's now coming off an injury. So it's tough to include him with the others for now. Jarvis Jenkins can play either end, but has yet to prove he's a quality pass-rusher.

Still, they do have more versatility along the front with an improved Baker and the addition of Hatcher. Is it enough?

They also have it at outside linebacker where they now have three players who can line up in a variety of ways to rush the passer with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and now Trent Murphy. All three are fine rushing with their hand down or standing up; from both sides or even through the middle. Now, whether Murphy will be effective in doing so, it's impossible to say without having seen him in a game. But, in theory, it provides options for Haslett and the ability to use different looks and a better variety of blitzes.

But what that group offers is not just the ability to move around, but to provide different looks for a tackle (or even a guard). After blocking Orakpo much of the game, a left tackle might not be prepared for, say, Murphy's spin move. They can throw a curve at a player just by sending someone different at the right time. At least that's what the Redskins hope. Everything always sounds good at this time of the year.

I'm not sold yet that Brandon Jenkins is at this point; need to see more proof of his versatility. Rob Jackson can help, but he's not as versatile as the others.

They do have some versatility at corner with a couple players having the ability to line up at safety. Both DeAngelo Hall and E.J. Biggers have done so in the past, though there's a difference between lining up there and being effective in this role. Neither is really a great option back there to defend the run, but in providing a different look in coverage? Sure. It's also about being able to play different coverages and they'll have to prove they can; too many teams picked them apart last season and it wasn't just because of the rush. 

Also, one reason they wanted to draft corner David Amerson was his ability to perhaps do the same thing. He did not do this as a rookie. He has the skills to be more versatile, but I'd worry about the eye discipline among other things needed to handle this role. But it's a next logical step for him. Rookie Bashaud Breeland could develop here, but he needs to learn corner first -- and how to play it without being too grabby.

However, they don't have the versatility at safety. They lack a starting player who can cover man to man (we have no idea yet what Tanard Jackson still has left, let alone if he'll even start or can handle such a role). Brandon Meriweather did enable them to sometimes run different coverages because he had the speed others did not to get to vacated areas -- like when they want to blitz a corner from the outside, not just the slot. But he's far removed from his Pro Bowl days, so mistakes are made and tackles are missed.

Ryan Clark's strength was always in being in the right place at the right time, dissuading the quarterback from challenging his area. He's lasted this long because he's smart. If he does that again, the Redskins would be happy. But occasionally covering man-to-man? That's different. And if the Redskins want to grow the defense the next step is finding someone who can. The more versatile the secondary is, the more you can throw off a quarterback with various looks.