After finally making many needed personnel changes during the offseason, Washington eventually could succeed in the defense. The Redskins have shown their commitment to the scheme after previously showing they seemed to have no clue.
Smartly, they rebuilt the foundation, committing significant resources to improving the defensive front. The most important area was the Redskins’ weakest, prompting internal discussions on the need to do things right for a change.
Assistants implored Coach Mike Shanahan to focus on the line during the draft and free agency, several Redskins people tell you, figuring it was time to get serious after mostly working with the wrong pieces up front.
Shanahan thought the Redskins could muddle through with defensive linemen who would have been backups on ballclubs such as Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the other teams that play the aggressive 3-4 style the Redskins only dabbled in.
His approach resulted in Washington’s defense ranking second to last in the 32-team league. It was the team’s worst performance statistically in 56 years.
It was a disaster from start to finish, and “it was pretty clear we needed to make some changes,” Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher said recently. “I didn’t know what the plan would be, what direction we’d go, but you can definitely see where [management] was looking.”
Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen focused on what they should have from the start: getting the line straight. The Redskins used their first- and second-round picks on outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. Then they spent wisely in free agency, luring defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen from NFC East rivals.
Suddenly, the Redskins have potential. They have the look of a team not only determined to run a 3-4, but a good one. Now, they can get rolling. The task of transitioning from their long-standing 4-3 is really underway because they upgraded the talent.
Friday marked an important starting point for a franchise trying to build an entire roster the traditional way for the first time in the Daniel M. Snyder era.
It’s all uncharted territory.
In 2010, the Redskins stuck their toes in the water with the 3-4. This time, they’ve dived into the deep end.
The next phase is to find out what they’ve got.
From watching practice at Redskins Park, the coaching staff has learned Kerrigan is strong. He has the power needed to become an effective edge rusher.
How will the converted 4-3 college end, however, handle his coverage responsibilities? Is the rookie athletic enough to adjust when his strength is, at times, nullified while battling against the NFL’s grown men?