Returning players: Defensive ends Ricky Jean Francois and Anthony Lanier and nose tackle Matt Ioannidis remain under contract. Nose tackle Phil Taylor signed a futures contract in January, as did defensive end A.J. Francis, who spent a portion of the year on the practice squad.
Review: Washington’s defensive line was one of the weak points of the team. The patchwork collection of players featured only one returning starter (Baker), one reliable returning rotational player (Jean Francois), a couple of aging free agents (Hood and Jenkins) and two seldom-used rookies, in Ioannidis and Lanier.
This unit’s two biggest disappointments were Stephen Paea and Kendall Reyes, the two leading free agent signings of the past two offseasons. Both got cut within weeks of each other; Paea before the start of the season, and Reyes only weeks into the season. Both were signed to start, but neither fit well into the system. The failed signings left Washington on short on impact players.
Game-changing plays were few and far between. The above six players combined for only 7 1/2 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
The line got gashed against the run early on, and improved slightly. But in the end, Washington’s linemen still didn’t make the kind of impact they needed, and that played a part in the defense giving up 119.8 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry (both ninth-most in the league).
Individually, Baker also didn’t have the kind of year that he had anticipated. A year after recording 53 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles (all career highs), he saw his numbers decrease (47 tackles, 3-1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles). Part of that had to do with the lack of a true nose tackle. In 2015, Terrence Knighton may not have wreaked as much havoc as coaches hoped. But he did draw double-teams and free up Baker for one-on-one matchups. But without another force in the trenches, Baker frequently was targeted by opponents, and his impact diminished.
Hood was somewhat of a surprise. When the team signed the eighth-year veteran to a non-guaranteed deal in January, coaches didn’t even know if Hood would make the opening-day roster. But he proved that he had something left in the tank and started 14 games, recording 33 tackles and a sack.
Jenkins brought experience, but no longer was able to provide the consistent impact that he had earlier in his career.
Lanier showed signs of promise in limited action, but he remains a work in progress, as is Ioannidis, whom coaches tried to groom into a nose tackle, but seems better suited as a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end.
Big questions: There are several, but the overarching theme involves the way that management will decide to improve this unit. The Redskins haven’t used a high draft pick on a defensive lineman since Jarvis Jenkins in the second round of the 2011 draft. And whiffs in free agency have also left the cupboard bare.
The Redskins need to invest both in the draft and free agency. The team must decide whether to re-sign Baker, or to let him walk and start completely fresh along the three starting positions. If they stick with the 3-4 front, it would seem that the Redskins will need to acquire a true nose tackle instead of trying to get by without one last season.
If the new defensive coordinator opts for a 4-3 front, then that raises a whole set of additional needs and questions.
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