Washington Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has been quietly building the team’s most dominant position group, and his defensive front could be among the best in the NFL. It’s a close collection of players — led by Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Daron Payne — that does almost everything together.
But in the past few weeks, Tomsula has noticed that the defensive linemen have added another player to their group, one who technically doesn’t play their position: the team’s second first-round draft pick in April, Montez Sweat. On the roster, Sweat is listed as an outside linebacker or an edge rusher. But there are moments when the Redskins will play four down linemen, and when they do, Sweat moves up to the front, making him — at least for a few plays — a defensive lineman, too.
Away from practices and meetings, the defensive linemen have brought Sweat with them to lift weights or do boxing work in the weight room. It’s a small gesture but one Tomsula recognizes as a sign of respect.
And what Tomsula, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach and one of the Redskins’ highest-regarded position coaches, has seen of Sweat in a handful of organized team activities and three days of minicamp has amazed him.
“Physically? Yeah, it’s freakish,” Tomsula said this week. “I mean, you know the stuff you saw on college tape, the stuff you saw in workouts; I mean, you don’t hide 4.4 speed. You don’t hide that height; you don’t hide that length. Then coming out here, obviously we don’t have pads on, but do you see a guy heavy-handed? Yeah, he’s a heavy-handed guy. You don’t write checks before you can cash them, but it’s exciting to watch.”
Sweat, who is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds and impressed at the scouting combine, had 22 1/2 sacks in two seasons at Mississippi State but drew criticism in the predraft process for not having enough pass-rushing moves and not playing hard enough at times. Tomsula, a demanding coach who pushes his players hard, seemed excited about Sweat, raving about him as a person as well as a player.
“He’s been an impressive young man, very impressive,” Tomsula said. “It’s still early, but he seems to be a built-right type of person with his DNA; he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. Obviously somebody has done a good job with him growing up.”
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