Early Redskins Roster Preview: Defensive Line

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There about 90 players on the roster of the Washington Redskins right now, but the team will have to trim down to a final roster of 53 before the start of the 2016 season. Here is an early look at what that roster might look like, position by position. This time we cover the defensive line. Likely starters in bold.

Previous in this series: Quarterback // Running Back // Tight End // Tackle // Guard // Center // Wide Receiver

POSITION: DEFENSIVE LINE

ON THE ROSTER: Chris Baker, Corey Crawford, Kedric Golston, Ziggy Hood, Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean-Francois, Anthony Lanier, Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea, Jerrell Powe and Kendall Reyes.

LIKELY TO MAKE THE ROSTER: Chris Baker, Kedric Golston, Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean-Francois, Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea, Kendall Reyes.

ANALYSIS: The first thing to understand about Washington’s defensive line is that players will rotate in and out almost constantly. In fact, starters may not play the most downs from scrimmage, depending on the opponent and game situations. Washington was only in its base 3-4 defense about 25 percent of the time in 2015.

The second thing to understand about Washington’s defensive line is that it didn’t play well in 2015 and needs to play a lot better in 2016. Most draft scouts expected the Skins to devote plenty of attention — early and often — to the defensive line in the draft. However, that didn’t happen. GM Scot McCloughan only drafted one defensive lineman — tackle Matt Ioannidis in the fifth round.

Washington used a traditional 3-4 nose tackle in 2015 with the massive Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, but the team didn’t make a big push to retain him and he fled for the New England Patriots. The problem was Washington did not have a good run defense in 2015 — giving up 4.8 yards per rush — and had major problems when offenses got creative. In the playoff loss to the Packers, Green Bay confused the Skins by going no-huddle and then running out of their passing formations. Washington didn’t have Knighton on the field and couldn’t get him on the field because of the no-huddle and because the defense started out facing a passing formation. The Skins decided they wanted their linemen to be more versatile in 2016 so competing offenses could not do that to them again.

So 33-year-old Kedric Golston — the oldest and longest-tenured Redskin — is the new nose tackle. [In honor of his age and experience, Goston was recently presented with a personalized burgundy and gold rocking chair.] The 33-year-old Golston, going into his 11th season with the Skins, has performed well in OTA this offseason and should be able to lock down the starting nose tackle job, even though he’s not a traditional nose tackle. Goston is big and strong and he’s played some nose before, but he’s mostly a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense or an end in a 3-4 defense. How much the Skins wind up using him will vary based on success, opponent and situation, so don’t expect to see Golston out there for 50+ plays per game. That’s just not the way Washington will run its defense in 2016. However, the team will be counting on Golston for at least one more season and need him to do a better job up the middle than Knighton did last year.

Backing up Golston at the nose is likely to be the aforementioned Ioannidis. I liked this draft pick a lot and think he probably should have gone a round earlier than he did, but Ioannidis is still a rookie and expectations for him should be tempered by that knowledge.

Chris Baker was the team’s best lineman last season and, arguably, the team’s best defender. He finished with six sacks and was stout against the run. Baker led all defensive linemen in snaps last season and figures to do so again, assuming he is healthy. Baker is in the final year of his contract and so has plenty of incentive to play well and produce.

The final starting spot on the defensive line, held last season by Jason Hatcher, is up in the air. Vying for that job will be Stephen Paea, Trent Murphy, Ziggy Hood, Ricky Jean-Francois and Kendall Reyes. Jean-Francois, the first free agent signing by McCloughan in 2015, is a team leader and has typically been used as a situational pass rusher. Ziggy Hood is a 29-year-old  former first round pick who spent the first part of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hood has plenty of natural ability, but has never really produced at anything close to a first round level. Paea came over from the Chicago Bears in 2015 off a good season, but disappointed in Washington and finished the season injured. Murphy is a converted outside linebacker who put on 30 pounds to convert to defensive end, a position he often played in college. Murphy is no speed demon, but the first look at him at end has been promising. Nevertheless, it is important to be reasonable about what Murphy will be capable of in his first year at 3-4 defensive end. It’s likely Murphy will be no more than a productive part of a rotation and the Skins will be happy if that happens. Reyes is another newcomer, from Jacksonville, in his case, and he will also compete for the final starting job.

I am predicting Paea wins the final starting job, but it’s really up in the air and will be decided in training camp and preseason. Paea was a fairly expensive [at the time] signing by Washington and he needs to start living up to his contract.