Defensive Line Is a Draft Priority

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

The last time the Washington Redskins selected two defensive linemen in the first three rounds of the draft was 1984. Many of the prospects in this year's draft weren't born then, but with newly promoted defensive coordinator Greg Blache looking to bolster the line, team sources said, the Redskins could fill needs at tackle and end on the draft's first day in April.

The Redskins hold the 21st pick, which complicates matters because so many teams will pick ahead of Washington. But as the club's coaches and scouts headed to Indianapolis for the start of the annual scouting combine at the RCA Dome today, defensive line is an area garnering heavy attention.

This is Jim Zorn's first combine as a head coach, and Vinny Cerrato's first as Washington's executive vice president, and the team will seek to accomplish much more than merely draft preparations. Also on the to-do list are meetings with player representatives as free agency approaches. More salary cap relief still is needed from a handful of contracts.

Much could change between now and April 26, when the draft begins, with trades and signings. But Blache's preference would be to address concerns at tackle and end through the draft, league and team sources said, as he favors players he can incorporate into his system. The Redskins' former defensive line coach also traditionally has shunned big-name linemen in free agency.

Two of Washington's regular starting linemen since 2004, end Phillip Daniels and tackle Cornelius Griffin, could be gone a year from now. The Redskins began overhauling an aging and sack-starved line a year ago by parting with veterans Renaldo Wynn and Joe Salave'a.

When the defensive coaches met at the end of the season, they agreed they faced three glaring needs, sources said: a bruising tackle big enough to play the run yet nimble enough to create havoc in the backfield, much like Griffin did in his standout season of 2004; an end with pass-rushing acumen to complement Andre Carter; and a cornerback to bolster depth.

There figures to be much company in the pursuit of young linemen, however, with the New York Giants' run to a Super Bowl title proving an elite rotation of six defensive linemen could overcome a lack of star power at linebacker and a porous secondary.

The Redskins have not used a first-round pick on a defensive lineman since 1997, when they took end Kenard Lang 17th overall out of Miami. Lang is the only defensive lineman the club has selected in the first round since 1992. The last defensive lineman drafted by the Redskins in the top three rounds to make a significant impact with the team was Charles Mann in 1983 (third round).

Depth has been available in later rounds in recent years. Anthony Montgomery (fifth round) and Kedric Golston (sixth round) have shown the ability to play at the professional level since being taken in 2006. Montgomery became a starter last season, and Golston is a valuable reserve and special-teams standout.

Pairing them regularly could be problematic, and finding a blue-chip prospect to replace Griffin, injury-plagued much of his time in Washington, is imperative. Daniels, who is slowing but still boasts tremendous upper-body strength, could play even more at tackle this season, and besides Carter, reserve end Demetric Evans is the only other proven end on the roster. Speed-rusher Chris Wilson emerged from CFL obscurity to have a fine rookie season but must add size, strength and considerable polish to his game.

The Redskins could address tackle or end in free agency, but most of the best players available were given franchise designations by their teams and can't be acquired without considerable draft-pick compensation in return. Still, there will be recognizable players on the market.

Blache, when working with former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams the past four years, put a premium on acquiring teachable players. Last season, for instance, owner Daniel Snyder and Cerrato were enamored of several veteran linemen who became available -- Simeon Rice, Sam Adams and Corey Simon, in particular. But Blache and Williams staunchly resisted acquiring those players, with age, work habits and/or selfishness an issue (none of the bunch came close to being productive in 2007).

The hiring of John Palermo as Blache's replacement as defensive line coach could point to a continued youth movement as well. Palermo spent 29 years coaching in college, but has no pro experience (he is friends with Cerrato from their time together at Notre Dame). Palermo has ties to one lineman projected in the first round of this draft from his time at Miami -- end Calais Campbell. The Redskins have loaded up on Miami players via the draft and trades in recent years.

The highest-rated linemen, such as Virginia end Chris Long, son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, and LSU tackle Glenn Dorsey, will be gone in the top five picks, most likely, while a run of line talent could occur in the top half of the draft, leaving the Redskins to ponder trading up or selecting whoever they deem the best choice at No. 21.

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