Two weeks into the 2011 preseason it appears the Redskins' emphasis on bolstering last season’s 31st-ranked defense has paid off.
It’s still uncertain as to whether this success will translate over to the regular season, but the unit is currently ranked No. 1 in total defense and second in points allowed per game in the preseason.
A big reason for the turnaround is the performance of the revamped defensive line. After finishing 26th against the run and contributing just 8.5 sacks in 2010, the Redskins d-line is set to bounce back with the help of some new faces.
“We’re coming along well,” said new nose tackle Barry Cofield. “We’ve got a lot of talent, but everybody’s optimistic at this time of year. It’s going to come down to the work we put in. “We [need] to continue to get better and continue to grow as a unit, but I like the path we’re on right now.”
Despite a disjointed offseason, Washington managed to acquire some premier talent on the defensive line. Stephen Bowen and Cofield left their respective homes in Dallas and New York while the front office also drafted Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Neild to give defensive coordinator Jim Haslett some much-needed depth and versatility up front.
“We got a whole bunch of different combinations on defense,” Haslett said. “We tried to upgrade, we still got some of the guys we had last year that give us good depth and guys who can go in and play and understand what we’re doing. We feel good about the guys we picked up. We just need to work and [get] time together.”
In 2010, the Redskins’ attempt at a transition to a 3-4 defense was anything but smooth. Many of the issues came at the point of attack, where the defensive line lacked the personnel to command double teams and fill gaps.
With Cofield, Bowen and Jenkins joining the mix, that changes. Cofield is a bit undersized to play nose tackle, but he plays with tremendous leverage and his quickness off the ball makes him the every-down sparkplug the Redskins were without last year.
Bowen, widely considered to be one of the top up-and-coming 3-4 ends in the NFL, can play either end position and had a sack in a Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jenkins, a 309-pound defensive end out of Clemson, has also drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff and even spent time at nose tackle during last week’s game against Indianapolis.
“I think we have the biggest, most athletic defensive linemen in the league,” Bowen said. “We’re all able to probably play every position and you’re never going to know where we’re coming from.”
If things are as interchangeable as they seem, Haslett has plenty to work with.
“We’re not a prototypical 3-4 d-line,” said Cofield. “We have very athletic ends and I’m an undersized nose from a lot of standpoints. [But] we have a lot of athletes; we got guys who can rush either side on third down, first down, second down; it doesn’t matter. The ‘Skins did a great job acquiring talent and now it’s our job to go out there and execute.”
Adam Carriker, one of the few holdovers from last season’s defensive line, has been impressed with what he’s seen even though Haslett has kept the play-calling vanilla.
“We got guys who can move all over the place and that’s huge,” Carriker said. “Barry’s a nose guard, but he can play in our pass rush situations, which isn’t very common with a 3-4 nose guard so stuff like that is huge.”
Carriker was the only guy in 2010 that seemed to fit into Washington’s long-term plans. He’s back and is expected to start alongside Cofield and Bowen while Kedric Golston -- who has starting experience -- and Jenkins will come in off the bench to make up a formidable rotation of down linemen.
“It’s incredibly important to have depth in this league, and I think we have a lot of it,” Cofield said. “The guys who come off the bench are talented and experienced, so put it all together and it’s a recipe for success.
“Coach Haslett has a great plan and I think this year we have a lot of pieces for him to work with,” he continued. “I think everyone’s excited and I think [these past few games were] just a glimpse. We got to continue to get better and make sure we’re playing our best football come playoff time.”