The Washington Redskins' issues against the run in 2017 have been a talked about subject over the last few months.
Selecting Jonathan Allen in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft was supposed to be the key piece to improving what was the No. 24 run defense in the 2016 season.Of course, Allen went down in Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers with a season-ending Lisfranc injury, which served as the first of many dominoes to fall on the defensive line, ultimately leading the Redskins to the worst run defense in the NFL last year.
Even with losing his primary weapons to stop opposing rushing attacks, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula understands that there really was no excuse for the poor play last season. It doesn't matter if you are the second-string nose tackle or a starting defensive end, there is an expectation that you will play at the highest level anytime your number is called.
"The easy answer is to go out and talk about injuries and the players that you don't have and all that kind of stuff," Tomsula said last week. "The bottom line is we need to be able to do it with the people we do have. That's another thing when you bring a couple of young guys in there."
With so many talented players working under Tomsula on the defensive line, there seems to be a growing consensus that the line is deep enough to where even if the injury bug returns, there shouldn't be a drastic change in play. This is important as it reinforces what Tomsula said in making it work with the people the Redskins have on the roster. The "next man up" mentality may actually hold true this year with this depth on the line, which can easily make the difference when looking at Washington's chances to return to the playoffs.
"It's very, very important to have those big guys that can be interchangeable and not just be a one position, one-trick pony," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "Subbing guys in and out and keeping them fresh throughout the course of the football game, whether you dress five defensive lineman or sometimes six, a good, sound rotation is what you are looking for with big guys that are very talented that can multitask and do different things."
Of course, the ideal option for Tomsula and the rest of the defense is to have the most talented players out there as much as possible. It's reasonable to say that the Redskins are going to be a better run defense this season when you add another first-round draft choice in Daron Payne and have veteran Ziggy Hood return to his natural defensive end position.
The more important question to look at is if everything will come together early on this season.
Payne was praised for his lack of mental errors and physicality throughout OTAs and minicamp by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. He did a great job picking up on calls that veteran quarterback Alex Smith would expect to easily fluster a rookie. The rookie's excellent knowledge of the game has stood out to Tomsula.
"I've watched the guy for two years," Tomsula said. "A guy I was really excited about trying to get. He's athletic, smart and I like his DNA. I like who he is as a guy. The difference between confidence and arrogance is ignorance. I've got to have real confident guys, but you can't cross over and be an arrogant guy because than you're just ignorant. He's got that confidence, he doesn't say a lot and he just loves football."