Jim Haslett thinks this year’s defense has a lot of potential

For four seasons — three of which ended with 10 or more losses — defensive coordinator Jim Haslett followed orders while former head coach Mike Shanahan made his job more difficult by tinkering with the defense, people within the organization say. And although Haslett often was frustrated that Shanahan, who had roster control, invested more heavily on offense during free agency, he kept his concerns in house.

With the arrival of new Coach Jay Gruden, with whom Haslett worked previously, things have changed.  Team President and General Manager Bruce Allen, who now has final say over the roster, committed almost $26 million in guaranteed money to retain outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive lineman Chris Baker, and lure defensive lineman Jason Hatcher from the Dallas Cowboys.

Haslett is confident Orakpo, Hatcher and Baker will play major roles in bolstering Washington’s pass rush, which hasn’t been good enough since Shanahan scrapped the team’s longtime, successful 4-3 defense in favor of a 3-4 alignment. Haslett is also optimistic about improvement in the secondary — Washington’s safeties probably couldn’t play much worse — and generally pleased with the defensive roster at this stage of the offseason.

On July 23, the Redskins report to training camp in Richmond. After the team completed minicamp on Wednesday at Redskins Park, Haslett is eager to get going again.

“I like our guys. I really do,” Haslett said the other day. “We’ve got a good group. We’ve got some versatility to do different things.”

Jim Haslett, Jason Hatcher

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, left, talks to defensive end Jason Hatcher during minicamp. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

With the arrival of Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Cowboys last fall, Haslett plans to be highly aggressive in rushing the passer. Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, Washington’s starting outside linebackers, are expected to have more freedom to attack than they had under Shanahan.

“We’re going to try to take advantage of some of the guys we have,” Haslett said.

Haslett has many ideas about how to best use Hatcher, who was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday and may miss the beginning of training camp.     “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know” when Hatcher will return, Haslett said. “I just know he’s a heck of a football player. We’e excited to have him on our team. He’s going to be fine.”

An improved pass rush would help the secondary. But the Redskins need their young defensive backs, especially David Amerson and  Bacarri Rambo, to take big steps forward.

“Obviously, that’s a key,” Haslett said. “You’ve got to have some guys grow up. It’s a maturation process. We expect all of those guys to get better and better.”
Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

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