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Aging Defensive Line Will Try to Hold Its Own

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008

With an aging defensive line that struggled to rush the passer last season, finishing tied for 16th in the NFL with 33 sacks, the Washington Redskins entered last weekend's NFL draft with needs at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

But after trading out of the first round, the Redskins used their three second-round picks on pass catchers, selecting wide receivers Devin Thomas (Michigan State) and Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma) and tight end Fred Davis (Southern Cal), and did not address the line until the seventh round, when they selected defensive end Rob Jackson from Kansas State with the 242nd pick of the draft.

The Redskins' decision not to use early draft picks on younger linemen is considered to be a gamble by some, with starting defensive end Phillip Daniels, 35, and tackle Cornelius Griffin, 31, having missed games or been limited by injuries in recent seasons.

On Friday, Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said the team had to focus on what they had on the roster and not on what they might have wanted to add.

"You can try and establish that you'd like to have something and if it comes, fine you work with it," Blache said. "But if you don't, you can't sit around crying and worrying about what you don't have."

Blache said he believes the team can find depth from players who weren't selected in the early rounds, pointing to Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston, selected in the fifth and sixth rounds, as examples.

"We have some guys that you may not know of them today, but today's not important," Blache said. "It's important that you know about them come December and January."

Several defensive players said Saturday they expected a defensive end to be taken early in the draft.

"We thought one was going to be drafted but it didn't happen this year, maybe it'll happen next year," defensive end Andre Carter said. "If they did draft a D-end that's just part of the business, that's just life. You get young, you get old, that's it. This is my eighth year in the league, Phil's going on 55, we all talk about it."

Daniels, who is entering his 13th season, competed in power-lifting competitions this offseason and said he bulked up to 290 pounds after playing at 273 last year. The additional size and strength, Daniels said, will help him be more effective when he rotates inside to defensive tackle this year.

"I got good push last year, I just wasn't big enough to get back there," Daniels said. "A bigger me, a stronger me, I can help this defense a whole lot better with where I'm at right now. . . . I got two and a half more months to really get after it again. Hopefully I can get a 700-pound squat and come back in here and it'll be hard for people to stop me. I expect a lot of double-teams this year."

Early Optimism

After wrapping up his first minicamp as coach of the Redskins, Jim Zorn said he was pleased with what the team was able to accomplish in three days.

"I think we got a lot done," Zorn said. "We could have probably slapped in a few more plays, but it wouldn't have helped. I think what we did here in these five practices [is] got the nucleus down. What I told the group right after practice is, 'Okay, we know where we are because of these five practices. We know where we want to be and now we have to work towards closing that gap.' "

Several players expressed optimism in the early progress made implementing a new offensive system, and praised Zorn's energy and approach.

"We're having a good time out here," center Casey Rabach said. "We just kind of touched on the playbook this weekend as far as what will carry over into the regular season, but Coach Zorn definitely brings some enthusiasm to the practices and to the meetings and we're all here having fun right now."

Zorn said the learning has carried over off the field as well, where he now has more duties with the press.

"With the media, this is my first time," Zorn said. "Nobody has punched me in the face and nobody has got after me or anything like that, so it has been great allowing me to start learning what it is like to have to answer questions."

Step for Step

It was just a simple play during the final day of minicamp: A screen pass to running back Clinton Portis. But when Portis reversed field and starting safety LaRon Landry ran him down, the friendly jawing started.

The trash talk continued in the locker room after practice and bets started being placed, so the two stars headed back outside for a 40-yard dash to end any speculation.

"I didn't want him to think . . . you know, I was running sideways and he ran me down and 'ooohhh,' you know what I'm saying," Portis said. "Don't think you got it, bro."

With teammates gathered on a nearby hill to watch and Zorn still being interviewed near the main building, the two raced on a practice field. Portis jumped to an early lead, but Landry had a late kick and seemed to take the 40-yard race in a photo finish.

"You know the defensive backfield, we knew we were going to win, that's why I put out my money there," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Clinton got the burst but [Landry is] a defensive back and we used to chasing people. He had to go get him and that's what he did."

The race didn't stop the trash-talking though.

"About the 25-yard line I came straight up looking at the sky cause I knew I was gonna win, you still down trucking. Come on, man," Landry said to Portis, who stood by laughing.

"If he want to feel like he won, he can feel like he won," Portis said. "We gonna keep running until it's just hands down [that] I won it."

As he walked inside, Portis joked he hoped the sprint would count as an organized team activity. When told, Zorn laughed and said that wouldn't happen.

"Nope," Zorn said. "He was on his own, that was strictly voluntary."

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