By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Starting Washington Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels could not play Monday in Philadelphia, but he was not without an assignment. Daniels was instructed to study teammate Demetric Evans on every play against the Eagles, offering as robust a critique as possible to the reserve who was filling his position in the game.
Evans, like the defensive line in general thus far, came through with passing grades. The line has been meeting early expectations after the unit was ridiculed last season for its lack of production.
On Monday night there were two starting linemen who played sparingly last year -- Evans and Anthony Montgomery -- and all of the defensive line reserves had a combined two NFL starts. Still, the group created ample pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb and helped keep the Eagles out of the end zone.
The Eagles game was indicative of the trend on the Redskins toward younger and quicker defensive linemen, with Evans, 28, a quicker alternative to Daniels, 34, and former starters Renaldo Wynn, 33, and Joe Salave'a, 32, who were released before the season began. Daniels is still trying to overcome his foot sprain, and though he is expected to play tomorrow against the New York Giants his ailment could lead to more work for Evans.
The Philadelphia game was Evans's first start in nearly two years, and he excelled in his normal role as a special teams ace, played regularly as a defensive end, dropped into coverage when need be and moved inside to play tackle.
"It was my job to watch him the whole game and he played pretty solid," Daniels said. "I saw nothing wrong with the way he played. Actually, I complimented him and said, 'Way to hang in there, you played a lot of snaps, played on special teams.' I've got nothing but respect for Demetric, the way he stepped in. I told him hopefully I'll be able to get back in there and help out and give you guys some rest and we'll go from there. But to me when I looked at him on the field he did everything that you can ask for a guy that stepped in. To come in Week 2 and do the things he did, I think that's special."
Evans has embraced being a "jack-of-all-trades" on the line, though privately teammates say he would naturally love to get more starting opportunities. Evans's ability to fill various roles made him a valuable commodity as a free agent in 2006, when the Redskins gave him $500,000 to re-sign with the club.
"He was excellent," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "That's the trademark of a guy who's kind of an unsung hero on this team, termed by other people as a 'journeyman' on the team. But the more you can do the better chance you have of keeping your job and Demetric can do an awful lot of things.
"He's a lot stronger than people give him credit for, as far as just a body strength standpoint. The fact that he can play in the run game at defensive end and then move in and play in the run game at a defensive tackle and that he has enough foot quickness to play on the wedge and do some things on special teams. That's the kind of guy you're looking at and those are the kind of guys that [Coach] Joe Gibbs likes, and I think that's why Joe made a commitment to keep him around here."
The Redskins sacked McNabb three times -- a total they reached only twice all of last season -- and provided enough pressure to prevent him from having time to throw the ball deep on several occasions.
"The defensive line is generating enough pressure and allowing us to do some things differently than they did last year," linebacker London Fletcher said. The linemen are being freed up to shoot the gap more this season with a four-man rush aimed at collapsing the pocket.
Veteran Cornelius Griffin, one of the most important players on the roster, is coming off several injury-plagued seasons, played rarely in the preseason and was substituted frequently at Philadelphia, with teammates saying he suffered a minor hamstring problem at one point. But even with him rotating off the field the line was stout. Second-year tackle Kedric Golston, a starter most of last season, filled in well and for several series Golston, 24, and Montgomery, 23, combined to anchor the line.
"We've got guys who, any one of us, can start and go out there and it's not a major drop-off," Montgomery said. "I know Coach [Greg] Blache will keep getting us to get better, and you have to expect that from him, but I thought we got a lot of pressure on the quarterback and we'll try to do the same this week."
The Redskins' linemen do not have as much individual talent as other groups around the league and face the difficult chore of trying to improve their interior run defense as well as their pass rush.
"Greg Blache gets those guys to play so hard physically they can't be playing in fourth quarter -- especially with the game on the line the way it was [Monday] -- if you don't have some type of a rotation," Williams said. "And we critique ourselves every week on those seven guys we have up, how can we even the workload as much as we can so that were fresh when the game's on the line at the end?"
Keeping Griffin fresh and healthy may be more important than anything else related to the defensive line. The unit is short on proven veterans, and Daniels and Griffin have been unable to stay consistently injury-free.
"We've heard all the comments that we can't rush the passer and do this and that," Daniels said. "But from what I'm looking at, we have more sacks than our opponents, so I really don't listen to or worry about a lot of the stuff that's said. They can say what they want to say, as long as we keep people out of the end zone and keep people from running the ball down our throats, then we're doing our job."