July 19, 2009

Redskins Roster Review: Defensive Tackles

Defensive tackle is the heart of the Washington Redskins in 2009. This is what will either make or break this team.

I’m not simply saying this because of the money poured into the position.

I’m saying it because the DT Effect will trickle down to the rest of the defense, which will in turn, benefit the offense.

Should Albert Haynesworth be as good as advertised, the Skins will have two DTs capable of wreaking havoc in offensive backfields. Haynesworth and Cornelius Griffin are two of the better penetrating DTs in the NFL and they will have to live up to expectations if the ‘Skins want contend.

If the DTs can provide consistent heat up the middle, it forces the offense to do two things.

First, it disrupts the blocking scheme of opposing offenses and forces them to use an extra blocker on the DTs. Secondly, the pressure from the middle prevents QBs from stepping up in the pocket leaving them vulnerable to the speed rush off the edge from DEs.

Once the offense is focused on stopping the two men in the middle, it makes blitzing much more effective. Previously, the Redskins have struggled getting pressure with the blitz, but now bringing just one linebacker on the blitz may be enough considering the talent in the middle.

Haynesworth is the key. He will be the one to command double teams and cause the most problems. He was signed in the offseason as a free agent, and of course it’s been well documented that he is making $41 million in guaranteed money.

Haynesworth is criticized for his lack of durability and the fact that he has really blossomed only in contract years. Those criticisms ring true, but the ‘Skins made a big gamble that for once I believe will pay off.

Haynesworth is a good athlete with plenty of gas left in the tank. Even if he doesn’t put up big numbers, he should still draw an extra man to block him. Having a player who constantly demands a double team is a luxury the ‘Skins haven’t experienced in this decade.

In addition, the ‘Skins have a veritable smorgasbord of quality depth behind him. Fresh bodies rotating in all game on the defensive line is also something Washington isn’t familiar with. It will keep Haynesworth healthy, and ensure that Griffin will be able to keep his 32 year-old legs under him.

The top two backups are Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery. Both are entering the prime of their careers and have starting experience.

Montgomery played in 14 games last year, registering 23 tackles (nine for a loss) and two sacks. He’s a tall DT at 6-6, but still packs a punch at 312 pounds.

Golston had 28 total tackles (eight for a loss) and two sacks as well. He has flashed some excellent play since being drafted by the ‘Skins in the sixth round out of Georgia. He penetrates well at times, and could really come into his own now that he is backing up Haynesworth and Griffin.

Montgomery and Golston have always been flipped back and forth on the depth chart, but Golston has a higher ceiling. Montgomery has been a steady presence while Golston has shown some playmaking ability. Expect Golston to win out and be the third DT on the depth chart.

Lorenzo Alexander could very well be the most versatile player on the team. He has played on both the offensive and defensive lines, special teams, and a some tight end.

This makes Alexander a valuable asset to the team, but with the ‘Skins holding talented DTs in spades, things might get dicey for him. Washington currently has seven DTs on the roster, and three will most likely be gone come September. The Redskins only had four DTs entering the 2008 season, which is the norm in the NFL.

Alexander is a bit undersized to play every down on either line (6-1, 300). However, he makes up for it with a tenacious approach and a high football IQ. His 2008 stats are actually comparable to Montgomery’s and Golston’s with 17 tackles (11 for a loss) and two sacks.

Alexander will need a monster camp to vault over Montgomery and Golston. There is a chance Alexander could still make the team due to his versatility, but this roster already has an overload at several other positions so somebody is getting the ax.

The remaining players are longshots to make the final roster.

Vaka Manupuna was singed by the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2006 from Colorado. He has been on the roster several times, but has never made it past the final cuts. Last year he played in the Arena Football League and this year, he’ll be playing there again.

Antonio Dixon of Miami was singed as an undrafted free agent this offseason. He recorded just 45 tackles and 2.5 sacks during his collegiate career and was considered an underachiever by scouts with good upside. Unfortunately upside isn’t going to be enough with Albert Haynesworth and four other talented DTs ahead of you.

Overall Grade: A

How can it be any lower? Of course there are question marks, but on paper this is an impressive bunch of DTs.

Remember the DT Effect. They will need to play just as impressively as they appear on paper if the Redskins want to create takeaways and sacks.

If Haynesworth plays as well as he has the previous two years this might be the best crop of DTs in the NFC East. And even if his production dips, this is still an above average group.

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