When the Redskins arrive for training camp at the end of this month, there will be some notable faces missing. They have moved on from some notable players, which leads us to examine who will be taking their places. We began yesterday with the offense, so today we’ll move over to the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive Line: Jason Hatcher & Terrance Knighton
We’ll pick up where we left off yesterday: with the big guys up front. Jason Hatcher was a formidable starter for two seasons and most importantly, a big leader in the locker room. Due to his age and salary, the Redskins waived him before he decided to retire. Terrance Knighton was only signed to a one year deal last offseason and did not do enough to warrant the Redskins giving him the money he was asking for. Both of these players started 15 games last season and played big roles on the defensive line rotation. Knighton was the team’s primary nose tackle and was used primarily to stuff the run, while Hatcher was Pro Football Focus’ 13th best pass-rushing interior defender.
The Redskins have shown the tendency under Joe Barry to rotate their defensive linemen in different positions. They failed to acquire a big nose tackle this offseason, and will likely use multiple players to fill the roles of both Knighton and Hatcher. Chris Baker and Stephen Paea can both play in the middle of the defensive line or on the end, with Kedric Golston and fifth round draft pick Matt Ioannidis vying for a backup role at nose tackle. Baker is the team’s best pass rushing defensive lineman and has expressed that he does not want to be stuck in the middle. He racked up six sacks last season, and revealed that his goal is 10 this year. Joining him and Paea at defensive end will be Ricky-Jean Francois and converted linebacker Trent Murphy, who has six sacks through his first two NFL seasons.
Linebacker: Keenan Robinson
When the Redskins drafted Keenan Robinson in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the expectation was for him to become a starter at inside linebacker. Unfortunately, injuries led him to miss time every season, including missing all of 2013. After a poor performance and another injury in 2015, the Redskins let him go, and we will now see him twice a year on the Giants.
Will Compton and Mason Foster took over for Robinson and Perry Riley as the starting inside linebackers last season, and they remain the favorites to start at this point. None of them did enough to secure their job, and this is likely a battle that will continue through training camp. Su’a Cravens will also be mixing in at inside linebacker this season, and will surely be on the field in passing situations. It remains to be seen whether he will become a full time starter at the position or whether he will be sharing time with one of the aforementioned guys.
Safety: Dashon Goldson & Jeron Johnson
Both Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson were brought in last offseason to bolster the secondary that gave up the ninth most (249.4) passing yards per game in the NFL in 2014. Goldson started in 15 games for the Redskins in 2015, but that was mostly for lack of a better option. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 74th best safety in the league last season, and the Redskins chose to move on after just one year. Johnson was signed with the hope that he could compete for a starting spot at either safety position, but he failed to win either job, making his release an easy decision.
The Redskins are going with a veteran duo at safety, but they are hardly experienced. DeAngelo Hall enters training camp as the starting free safety, after playing the first 13 years of his NFL career at cornerback. With 43 career interceptions, Hall has shown big play ability throughout his career, and has established himself as a leader in the locker room. The questions around him center on how easily he can make the position switch, and whether he can stay healthy after missing a combined 18 games over the past two seasons.
David Bruton has been the starting strong safety throughout OTAs, and will begin training camp at the top of the depth chart. He played the past seven seasons with the Broncos, but mainly on special teams, only starting eight total games. His primary competition for the starting spot will be Duke Ihenacho, who came over from the Broncos last year. He had a big year in 2014, racking up 73 tackles in 14 starts. Since coming to Washington, injuries have held him to only appearing in four games. He earned the starting job last offseason, and getting healthy could be all it takes for him to take the job back from Bruton.
Cornerback: Chris Culliver
There seems to be a theme here with secondary players brought in last season being shipped away after one year. Scot McCloughan liked Chris Culliver from their days together in San Francisco, so he brought him in last offseason to be the top cornerback in Washington. Due to injuries and suspensions, he only appeared in six games last season. When he was on the field, he did not play well, and Pro Football Focus ranked him 110th of 111 eligible cornerbacks last season.
In the epitome of turning a weakness into a strength, the Redskins replaced Culliver with Josh Norman, who was Pro Football Focus’ 11th best cornerback last season. I wrote about this signing in depth when it happened over on numberFire.com, and there is plenty to be excited about. While shadowing Dez Bryant last season, Norman held him to only two catches on eight targets for a grand total of 26 yards and no touchdowns.
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