Injuries to the Washington Redskins' defensive line impacted the way the defensive line handled the run in 2017.
After losing Phil Taylor Sr. in the preseason and 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen to season-ending injuries, the Redskins finished off the season allowing 134.1 yards per game, the most in the NFL.
With everyone on the defensive line healthy during OTAs, though, that's allowed them to focus on improving against the run this season.
"When everybody can stay healthy, everybody is going to make each other better," defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said. "The line is going to make the linebackers better and it's going to make the secondary better. The No.1 goal is to stay healthy going into training camp and make sure we stay healthy going out."
For defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, stopping the run has been a point of emphasis during OTAs.
With Tomsula entering his first year on the Redskins' staff in 2017, Manusky said that he's already seen improvements with the position group in terms of knowing the signals and chemistry.
With Allen having played with 2018 first-round pick Daron Payne at Alabama and Hood playing alongside Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier II last season, that familiarity has resulted in the defensive line coming together more quickly.
"We're in the process," Manusky said. "You know, just over time, last year was the first year coming together as a group with the calls and stuff like that, and I think this year, with everybody kind of having their mesh together, I think that's what we're trying to do out there right now. It looks good now, but hopefully in the future it'll pay off its dividends."
The Redskins upgraded their defensive line during the 2018 NFL Draft by selecting Payne. Earning Defensive MVP of both the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship Game as a junior, Payne prided himself on plugging running lanes, with 45 of his 53 tackles coming up stopping running plays.
Washington also picked former Virginia Tech defensive lineman Tim Settle in the fifth round. Earning second-team All-ACC honors in 2017, Settle's mindset is focusing on what he can improve on and getting the little things right.
"Doing mental reps when I'm at home or in my room, I'll have the image in my head of what I'm supposed to do on [plays] and how I'm supposed to do this on techniques," Settle said. "I always have it in the back of my head. If I don't do it right, it's going to bother me."
With Allen and Payne having played together previously, that has made the adjustment to NFL football easier for the rookie. Both Payne and Settle have already impacted the defensive line against the Redskins' offense during OTAs, with Payne excelling in the nose tackle role and Settle nearly picking off Colt McCoy's pass during Wednesday's practice session.
Even though the defensive line has shown improvement in stopping the run and has shown flashes during OTAs, Hood said that a final judgement call on the potential of the defensive line can't be made until they put on pads in training camp.
"We have potential," Hood said. "But like I said, everybody looks good in shorts and helmets and stuff like that. It's not until you start hitting somebody in the mouth is when you find out if they want it or not."