The Redskins have made what Coach Joe Gibbs calls "a definite commitment" to stay with a 4-3 defense, although he admits he isn't satisfied yet that the team has sufficient line talent to make that alignment work properly.
During the offseason, Washington coaches had considered switching to a 3-4 setup, which is used by the majority of National Football League teams. The Redskins have many linebackers and have had problems with a consistent pass rush, but the staff decided its personnel still was better suited to a 4-3.
"We don't have a nose guard and you really need three tackles to play the front in a 3-4, and I don't think we have that kind of personnel, either," defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon said. "Give me a nose guard and a few others and that might change our minds.
"Also, we have a lot of linebackers, but they haven't shown us yet they can really play. Don't get me wrong, I think they have ability. But they have to show it on the field. They haven't so far."
Petitbon and Gibbs say the Redskins will experiment with a 3-4 in training camp, in part to help out the offense, which will face 3-4 defenses in two-thirds of their games this season. But Petitbon says he also is curious to see how some of his players perform in a 3-4.
"We might even use a 3-4 in a preseason game," he said. "I'm not going to say we will never be a 3-4 team. Things can change. But for now, I just feel we are better suited for a 4-3."
Gibbs says he will feel better about a 4-3 once he sees how well the Redskins' young defensive ends perform. Those ends have been scrutinized closely during a three-day minicamp at Redskin Park that ends today.
"Guys like Mat Mendenhall, Mike Clark and Dexter Manley have to prove they can play in this league," Gibbs said. "We just didn't have good enough end play last season, either against the run or as pass rushers. If our ends don't come along, then maybe we will have to go to a 3-4. That will have a lot to do with our eventual thinking."
Gibbs also said that Larry Kubin could alleviate some of the pass-rush problems if he is used as a third-down pass rusher, either from his linebacking spot or as a defensive end. Kubin, a 1981 sixth-round pick, sat out last year with a knee injury but already has shown he is one of the most aggressive players on the squad.
"Kubin will fit in somewhere," Petitbon said. "We'll find a way to utilize his talents. He was a pass rusher in college and he goes after people. Maybe he will play so well in training camp that he will force us to use two middle linebackers (along with Neal Olkewicz), and that means we'd switch to a 3-4.
"But we also need help from guys like Mendenhall, Clark and Manley. This is a key season for all three. Mat is bigger and he is moving much better than I have ever seen him. That's a good sign. We know Dexter has all the physical abilities, and now he has to show he benefitted from a year's experience. We didn't get to see that much of Clark last year but he is quick and has ability. He can play his way into the lineup."
Mendenhall (No. 2, 1980) and Manley (No. 5, 1981) wound up as starters last season. Clark was a 1981 seventh-round pick by Los Angeles before being acquired on waivers. He hurt a knee after joining Washington and was placed on injured reserve.
Another young player, Darryl Grant (No. 9, 1981), is being touted by Gibbs as a possible line starter, either at tackle or end. Grant was drafted as a center and guard, but was switched to defense late last season. He now weighs 275 and has fine quickness, although Petitbon says he "has a lot to learn. He's got raw ability and he could be a real good one, but you can't expect much at first."
Grant has been used at tackle during the minicamp, a position at which he would be competing with Perry Brooks for a starting job.
"Moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 isn't going to solve our problems," Petitbon said. "There is no magic in a different alignment. It all has to do with personnel. Our guys have to play better. But I'll say this. This is the best group, overall, that I've ever seen here. They are bigger and quicker. That's an encouraging way to start, even if it is only minicamp."
Punter Mike Connell, who missed the opening day of camp, agreed to a new contract yesterday . . . Receiver Art Monk stunned the coaching staff and scouts by running a 4.4 40-yard dash, fastest on the team and the fastest he's run since joining the team.