Free agent defensive linemen: A name, value and sleeper Redskins could target

Last week, I looked at some potential free agent wide receivers for the Redskins. This week I’m moving on to defensive line. Just like last week, here’s a look at a big name, a good value guy and an under the radar player.

Big name: Lamarr Houston

Washington has lacked creativity from its defensive line since switching to the 3-4, resulting in a subpar pass rush. Lamarr Houston is a big name who could help fix both of those problems. Houston was drafted by the Raiders originally as a one-gap, penetrating three-technique defensive tackle. Those types of players don’t fit into the two-gap, 3-4 system that Washington has run under Jim Haslett. But Houston has evolved into much more than that during his NFL career. Oakland lined him up all over the place to get the most out of his outstanding athleticism.

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Here he lines up as a standard 4-3 defensive end, where he spent most of his time this past season. He plays the seven-technique, on the inside shoulder of the tight end.

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This time he’s lined up even wider in a nine-technique from two-point (stood up, with no hand on the ground) stance. There aren’t too many players listed at 300 pounds who can be used as an outside edge rusher from a two-point stance.

left side

And here you see him lined up on the opposite side, once again in a two-point stance.

That sort of versatility is something the Redskins don’t have and haven’t had on defense in quiet some time. But it’s all well and good lining him up in different positions, can he be effective from them? Here’s an example of Houston putting his athleticism to good use.

athleticism 1b

Pittsburgh tries to fake a speed-option run with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shovel passing the ball back inside. Houston is left unblocked as they hope he bites on the fake run from Roethlisberger.

athleticism 1c

But Houston reads the play the whole way and works his way back inside.

athleticism 1d

He’s forced to dive full-stretch to reach the running back, but manages to wrap him up for a minimal gain. If Houston misses that tackle, the Steelers likely have a touchdown run right up the middle.

Houston is an effective pass rusher too.

edge rush 1a

Here we see him in a two-point stance again.

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He does an excellent job getting his hands inside the left tackle; That gives him the leverage.

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He uses his leverage to drop and rip through the tackle as he comes around the edge.

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Houston ends up wrapping up Ben Roethlisberger for a sack.

Questions arise as to how exactly Houston would fit in the Redskins 3-4 defense. In their base package, he would have to play as a five-technique defensive end unless Washington was willing to be versatile with its front. Houston isn’t experienced at controlling two gaps, as he would have to as a 3-4 defensive end. But Houston’s versatility would be a great asset in defensive sub packages, which can account for up to 60 percent of a teams snaps over the course of the season. However, Houston is likely to be asking for a big contract, if he’s even allowed to get out of Oakland. The Raiders have an estimated $58 million in cap space to work with this offseason and can afford to franchise tag or sign Houston to a long-term deal. If he hits the open market, he will be in high demand, which might force the Redskins to look elsewhere.

Good value: Linval Joseph

Joseph was thought of as a potential 3-4 nose tackle coming out of college. He was drafted by the Giants, who run a 4-3 defense, but Joseph still shows signs of being an effective two-gap defender. The Giants like to use him as the nose tackle in their 4-3 front, as he provides stout run defense.

controlling A gaps 1a

Joseph lines up on the outside shoulder of Eagles center Jason Kelce, one of the NFL’s best centers this past season.

controlling A gaps 1b

Joseph reads the direction of the run and attacks Kelce. He positions himself to control both A gaps, just like a 3-4 nose tackle would. He holds his position with Kelce and can go either way depending on what the running back does.

controlling A gaps 1c

Joseph’s teammate beats a block and flies through the backside A gap that is controlled by Joseph. This forces the runner to attempt to bounce the run outside.

controlling A gaps 1d

But the runner has nowhere to go outside, so he attempts to cut back inside. Joseph maintains control of his block the entire time.

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As the runner cuts back inside, Joseph decides to shed the block and make a play, making the tackle for a minimal gain.

While he’s known as a stout run defender, he’s no slouch when it comes to rushing the passer.

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This time Joseph is the under tackle, allowing him to work against the right guard without the threat of being double teamed.

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Joseph wins the block from the point of impact. He gets both hands inside and gets himself under the pad level of the guard, which gives him all the leverage.

pass rush 1c

Joseph uses that leverage to drive the guard back and put immediate pressure on the quarterback.

pass rush 1d

The pressure forces the quarterback to miss an open receiver and throw the ball away. Interior linemen don’t always manage to get the sack, but this play shows just how much pressure up the middle can have a similar effect to that of a sack.

Joseph would be a solid option for the Redskins. With Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker both potential cap casualties, Joseph could come in and replace either one, or even play nose tackle and move incumbent Barry Cofield outside to defensive end. He would likely take a fair chunk out of the Redskins’ free agent spending pool, but at just 25 years old, could be a worthwhile investment to tie down over the peak years of his career.

Under the radar: Arthur Jones

The Ravens developed fifth-round pick Arthur Jones into a solid contributor on the defensive line. Baltimore run a 3-4 defense, with Jones spending most of his time as a five-technique defensive end, so the transition from Raven to Redskin shouldn’t be too difficult for Jones. He’s primarily used as a run defender, often being sacrificed for an extra defensive back in sub packages. But he’s a versatile run defender. Baltimore switched him between nose tackle …

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… and, more commonly, left defensive end:

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He knows how to play two gaps and control his blocks, as demonstrated on this play.

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He fights to get his hands inside those of the right tackle. That gives him the initial leverage to enable him to control the gaps to either side of the tackle.

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As he recognizes the direction of the run, he drops his hands and sheds the block with ease, positioning himself to the outside.

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Jones’s positioning forces the runner to attempt to cut back into traffic.

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But Jones doesn’t give up, he chases the runner down and is credited with an assist.

Jones doesn’t offer a great deal as a pass rusher, but the primary goal of the defense is almost always to stop the run. Jones would be a reliable signing that Washington could rotate at left end and nose tackle and be comfortable with his contribution against the run.

Which defensive lineman would you like to see the Redskins sign in free agency?

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

What’s ahead:

At noon, Mike Jones’s latest installment in the offseason questions series, dealing with wide receiver Josh Morgan.

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