With training camp set to begin later this month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's defensive ends.*
The Washington Redskins will venture down to the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center later this month with nine defensive ends led by Chris Baker, coming off a career year.
Along with Baker, the Redskins currently have Ziggy Hood, Rick Jean Francois, newly-transitioned Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea and Kendall Reyes, along with fifth-round pick Matt Ioannidis and college free agents Corey Crawford (2015) and Anthony Lanier (2016).
- Jason Hatcher (Retired)
-* *Frank Kearse (Free Agent; Signed With New England)
- Kendall Reyes (Free Agent; Signed From San Diego)
- Ziggy Hood (Free Agent; Signed From Chicago)
- Matt Ioannidis (Drafted In Fifth Round)
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
Probably the most scrutinized position on the field this offseason for the Redskins, the defensive line was regarded as an area of need before the NFL Draft. So it was a bit of a shock when the Redskins didn't select anyone in the first four rounds to help bolster the group.
General manager Scot McCloughan eventually took just one, Matt Ioannidis from Temple in the fifth round, a testament to his belief in the veterans already competing for spots in 2016.
The breakout season from Chris Baker, which included six sacks and 53 tackles, gave the Redskins more options to mix and match along the line, something that will be even more important on a roster lacking a standard nose tackle. Baker's best game came during Week 4 in a victory against the Eagles, in which he recorded two sacks on three tackles.
The return, and hopeful enhancement, of Ricky Jean Francois and Stephen Paea, who never seemed right last year and was eventually placed on the injured reserve list near the close of the season, should also help fill the void left by retired veteran Jason Hatcher, who provided a physical edge.
Paea is hoping to get back to the stat line he boasted with Bears in 2014, in which he collected 33 tackles, six sacks and two passes defensed.
"All I got to do is stay healthy and I got one year under my belt of the playbook," Paea said. "Right now what I have to do is execute and play fast and that's one thing I learned is to play fast. When you put your hand down you already know the playbook and all that. That's the best thing about it for me last year."
The new additions to the group come from both inside and outside the organization.
Trent Murphy, formerly an outside linebacker, spent this offseason bulking up to 290 pounds to get his body ready for a position switch. With the return of Junior Galette and emergence of Preston Smith at outside linebacker, coaches believed Murphy would be best served putting his hand in the dirt, and so far the transition seems to be smooth.
"I had mixed feelings at first," Murphy said of the switch. "Then I realized I was dropping into coverage more than 80 percent of the time in base defense, so I feel this new position gives me a chance to move forward and make some more plays behind the line of scrimmage and be disruptive."
During the free agency window, the Redskins were quick to snag Ziggy Hood, a veteran who began his career with the Steelers and then spent the last two years in Jacksonville and Chicago, respectively. Washington later grabbed Kendall Reyes away from San Diego, where he had a previous relationship with defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who coached linebackers there from 2012-14.
In his career with the Chargers, Reyes racked up 126 tackles and 13.5 sacks over four seasons.
Ioannidis was viewed by many as a steal in the fifth round after the defensive lineman boosted Temple's defense with 27 total tackles along with 3.5 sacks and five passes defensed in his senior season.
While Barry's 3-4 defense was anchored by nose tackle Terrance Knighton last year, the Redskins believe their diverse group of defensive ends, all of whom could plug into the starting rotation -- and have done so during offseason workouts – can be just as capable of stuffing up the run and provide a necessary push against opposing offenses.
As more teams offer 11 and 12 personnel packages on offense, and as more defenses combat them with nickel packages, having a conditioned, versatile group that is able to stay on the field for more than one or two plays at a time, has become a new priority.
"It's good to have fresh horses at a point in time," defensive line coach Robb Akey said. "But we have a lot of work to do to find out what that's going to be, how much depth we actually have and plug guys into the situations that suit them the best. That's in the process of forming itself right now."
WHAT TO WATCH:
Pay special attention to how the rotation of the defensive line shakes out over the first week or so of training camp.
With the 152nd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis of Temple. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
In minicamp, Baker and Reyes saw the most time with the first team defense, bookending Kedric Golston at nose, but Jean Francois, Paea and Murphy should all get plenty of reps and opportunities to prove themselves in the base formation.
After a big year, Baker will still have plenty to prove as he plays in the final year of his contract. Since Knighton moved onto to New England, he has helped take more of a leadership role within the unit.
It's also worth watching how the youngster Corey Crawford sizes up.
After playing on the practice squad all of last season, he's been determined to get on coaches' radars this offseason, even participating in rookie minicamp, which he was eligible to do based on his status last season.
Ioannidis was also told to learn just about every technique on the line in the case coaches need him to fill in at nose tackle. Because of the versatility of the group, expect to see many try on that role as the team determines who is more capable there in running scenarios.