Projected starters: DE Adam Carriker, NT Barry Cofield, DE Stephen Bowen
Key reserves: DE Jarvis Jenkins, DE Kedric Golston, NT Chris Neild, DE Darrion Scott
Vet in trouble: Scott. It’s hard to imagine Golston being in much trouble as long as his knee holds up and, besides, Scott is always in trouble of not making the roster. Kentwan Balmer, a former-first round pick, and Chris Baker, who hurt his quad after getting signed to the 53-man roster last December, are also on this list. And there’s Doug Worthington, who was signed last August. He’s big and is better vs. the run than Scott, who is considered more of a rusher. But he’s been active for only three games in two seasons and has yet to play.
Camp battle: The rotation seems fairly set, at least entering camp. Jenkins is the No. 3 end and Golston, provided he’s healthy, would be No. 4. Scott must hold off Worthington and Balmer among others. Neild has to hold off Baker, but without having seen much of the latter it’s tough to predict the incumbent won’t retain the job.
What I like: Jenkins’ potential. He was quick off the ball last season and disruptive despite technique that needed honing. He can play all three line positions if necessary and can help in the nickel. That should keep Cofield (and the others) fresher by removing some of his pass-rushing duties….Cofield’s ability to make plays even after he was seemingly taken out of the play. But he had the athleticism to recover and help. More than a few times I’d see him get moved back a couple yards only to get off the block and stop a guy for only a few yards. …Cofield’s potential improvement. …Bowen’s improved pass-rush skills. He’s not an elite rusher, but he did get better last year, taking better angles to the quarterback. He was more direct than he’d been in the past. It made a difference…Depth. If a healthy Golston is the fourth end, you’re in good shape. He’s an excellent reserve….Carriker’s consistency. Not a great player; he rarely made the Studs list and I talked to one scout last week who considered him fairly average. But he also was an absentee on the Duds list too. Not flashy; doesn’t need to be and just does his job.
Remaining questions: How long will it take Jenkins to get acclimated again? It’s not as if he were a refined player before tearing his ACL last summer. He was playing well, but there were holes in his game that needed correcting … How much better will Cofield be in his second season at nose tackle?…How much will a second season in the Redskins’ version of a 3-4 help Bowen? It made a big difference for Carriker and even though Bowen played in a 3-4 with Dallas, he was asked to play it differently. … Is Chris Neild a capable backup? More evidence is needed that he can be anything other than an 8-10 snaps a game guy. As long as Cofield is healthy that’s OK…Will they be more consistent vs. the run? The run defense ranked 18th in the NFL and 16 teams allowed less than the Redskins’ 4.3 yards per carry. But only eight teams allowed more runs of 20-plus yards (14) and only seven allowed more carries of 40-plus yards (three). That speaks to the entire defense, not just the line…Will they apply more pressure? Carriker and Bowen combined for 11 1/2 sacks, which was more than anticipated.
Better or worse: Better because of Jenkins’ return. Otherwise they’re about the same. Then again, Cofield has a higher ceiling than most simply because of his inexperience at the position. He talked a few times last season about how often he’d see a different blocking scheme in a game. Then, he wouldn’t be able to correct his technique to combat this and had to wait until after the game what he could have done. His goal in the offseason was to study various blocking techniques by offensive linemen – for example, knowing when a guard or center might block him and from what angle — so he could know going into the season how to counter. It’s subtle, but it could make a big difference. But a lot still rides on what Jenkins can do to help improve this group. They’re solid regardless, but he adds another dimension.
Final word: Back to Jenkins. And as good as the coaches thought he could be last year, they also knew he had work to do. That’s why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is not expecting a finished product Thursday. For example, he was inconsistent with his knees, bending them at times and not at others. It led to inconsistency in his results too. There were times when he’d move his man back and disrupt a play without bending his knees. So it looked OK. But had he bent his knees, generating more power, he may have done more than just disrupt the play and that’s what the coaches see. It’s something to watch in the preseason because it will make a huge difference once the games begin. Jenkins said he learned from sitting in the meeting rooms last season: the tempo he needed to play with; how to beat double teams. Once he gets his technique down and applies these lessons, he could make a big difference.
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