Given the Redskins' needs, drafting a quarterback would be indefensible

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 12:09 AM

Don't do it, Mike Shanahan.

Don't give in to temptation.

As much as you want one to help you rebuild the Washington Redskins, don't draft a young quarterback with the 10th overall pick in April's draft.

The offensive-minded coach in you initially may be drawn to one of the former college stars available. And a few of them may impress in workouts and interviews during this week's draft combine in Indianapolis.

But you're also responsible for Washington's entire football operation, so you should know better. The Redskins have too many holes (craters, actually) on defense to use their first-round pick on offense.

Washington's long search for a franchise quarterback will have to extend into the future. This draft, defense has to be the focus. It's as clear as the roads to FedEx Field before a late-season Redskins game.

In your first season as head coach, the Redskins had their worst defensive performance since 1954. Generally, it's hard to do anything in life worse than it has been done in 56 years.

Washington finished 31st out of 32 teams and ranked last for much of the season. It was a stunning drop-off for a team that had a top-10 defense eight times in 10 seasons between 2000 and 2009.

Growing pains were inevitable after you ordered the radical shift from the team's longstanding 4-3 defense to an aggressive 3-4. The total collapse, though, occurred because you didn't make the substantive personnel changes necessary to give the new scheme a chance to succeed.

No impact draft picks or free agents were added on defense. In fact, linebacker Perry Riley (fourth round, 103rd overall) was the only defensive player you drafted. Given an extended opportunity late last season, Riley proved he wasn't ready for a major role.

Selecting left tackle Trent Williams fourth overall made sense, especially considering the offensive line previously seemed like an afterthought. As a rookie, Williams showed he has the talent to become a perennial Pro Bowler. We'll soon see if he has the desire, as well.

There were many defensive players still available in the second round who would have potentially fit in well. They could have contributed last season along the defensive line and at outside linebacker, where help was definitely needed.

Of course, the Redskins didn't have a second-round pick. You traded it (along with a conditional pick that became a fourth-rounder in the upcoming draft) to Philadelphia last April for quarterback Donovan McNabb, whom you benched in December and hope to trade as soon as possible.

With the team's strategy centered on offense in the last draft, you should have done more to address the 3-4 through free agency and trades. Your biggest moves - signing nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu and trading for defensive end Adam Carriker - didn't move the needle. Washington was left with a below-average front seven for what it was trying to accomplish scheme-wise.

That's why the whole 3-4 thing last season was such a head-scratcher. The defense doesn't work well without an effective nose tackle, and the Redskins lacked one on their roster. Hoping Albert Haynesworth would eventually accept a position change in his ninth year in the league showed you didn't understand Albert Haynesworth, Mike.

The Green Bay Packers have provided the blueprint for the right way to transition from the 4-3 to 3-4. Before committing to the change in 2009, the Packers drafted two top prospects at the scheme's most important positions: nose tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Raji and Matthews provided the foundation for the stout, big-play defense that helped the Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl earlier this month.

The style of defense played by the Packers, Steelers and Redskins works best with a dominant nose tackle occupying multiple blockers in the middle and outstanding edge rushers at linebacker. Green Bay and Pittsburgh have the needed personnel up front. The Redskins just have needs.

Assuming the Redskins keep the 10th pick, they should have options at outside linebacker. Adding another gifted one to complement Brian Orakpo could provide the pass-rushing balance that was missing last season. A play-making end also would help.

Mike, I understand why you'd like to get a quarterback high in the draft. Your brief, disastrous partnership with McNabb cost the team two valuable picks and resulted in more anonymous backstabbing than victories.

Drafting and "raising" a young quarterback would be just the thing to re-energize you. It's why you were so eager to find some way to get Sam Bradford last season despite the St. Louis Rams' clear message they were not willing to trade the No. 1 overall pick.

This likely isn't the draft where you'll find the next Bradford or John Elway. Even your people at Redskins Park believe there is much more talent on defense than offense in this draft, at least in the top 20 picks.

So do yourself a favor, Mike: Use your top pick on a defensive player and draft a quarterback in the second round.

It's time to show you understand what it takes to run the 3-4. It's time to begin assembling the pieces you need before it's too late.

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