Solid front seven
Whether it’s Green Bay, Pittsburgh or any other NFL team that runs the 3-4, coaches say the key to the scheme is finding the right bodies up front who can allow the linebackers and defensive backs to make big plays. After toiling with a rag-tag group in 2010, the Redskins feel they put together a front seven that can contribute into 2012 and beyond.
“You got a front seven that can be there for a long time,” Haslett said, “because they’re a bunch of young guys. . . . The front defensive linemen, there’s nobody over 27 or 26.”
Bowen and Cofield have long-term contracts. Defensive end Adam Carriker is coming off the best season of his career, and though he’ll be a free agent, he could be brought back. “He made a big jump from a year ago,” Shanahan said.
If the team re-signs Fletcher, it will have the same group of starting linebackers for a second straight season. Coaches expect Kerrigan and Riley to play more fluidly next year, and they’ll try to get more production out of Brian Orakpo, who has struggled at times with double teams and has seen some of his numbers dip in his third season. Though he’s improved in pass coverage, Orakpo enters the team’s final game with only seven sacks after posting 11 in 2009 as a rookie.
“I think we’ve taken some tremendous steps. . . . We got to be more consistent,” Orakpo said. “I think from Year 1 to Year 2, we hear it around the whole league — coaches, players — we’re a very top defense in this league.”
Coaches expect to see improvement across the board next season. And they say it wasn’t only front-line players who progressed in 2011.
“Not only do we have some first-teamers there, but we believe we have some second- and third-teamers there,” Shanahan said. “And that’s what you’re looking for is depth in that front seven, front eight. . . . We’re trying to keep all those players because that’s what we needed.”
Secondary help needed
When Shanahan announced in early December that Landry would finish a second straight season on injured reserve, he made no attempt to predict what the future might hold for the once-promising strong safety. “I really don’t know,” he said.
Landry’s Achilles’ injury forced him to miss 15 of the Redskins’ past 23 games. He’ll likely have surgery and will enter free agency needing to prove that he can again be a dominant player. Landry could look to sign a one-year contract in Washington or elsewhere, assuming the Achilles’ heals, to set the stage for a long term deal.
The secondary is the Redskins’ biggest defensive problem. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe battled injuries and was only able to start eight games in his first season in Washington. Cornerback Josh Wilson took a long time to adjust to the Redskins’ system and DeAngelo Hall gave up as many big plays as he made.
Coaches know there’s room for growth, but the Redskins feel they made big steps in this season.
“I think we still have a long way to go,” Haslett said. “We can improve in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of things we can do better, little things that make us a lot better in the long run.”