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Need to Know: Who will make the biggest difference on the Redskins’ defense?

Jun 20, 2015, 6:27 AM EDT

Knighton-OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 20, 40 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Nickel coverage

Here are a five more thoughts on the state of the Redskins after they wrapped up their offseason program. Look here and here to see what I’ve written the last couple of days.

—The biggest single difference—both literally and figuratively—between the Redskins’ defense of 2014 and the one we’ll see this year is Terrance Knighton. Barry Cofield played well at nose tackle at times over the past few years but it’s hard to make up for a lack of sheer size. When Cofield was out injured for a good chunk of last year, Chris Baker was just OK filling in. Knighton brings the size and athletic ability the position needs.

—Baker didn’t play much nose tackle during the offseason practices that were open to the media. I think he might stay on the outside for the most part and that’s probably better for him. He should play about 30-35 snaps per game at end. The new, attacking scheme plays to his strengths much more than the two-gap setup that they played last year. Baker could well play fewer snaps but make more big plays.

—It appears that Chris Thompson and Silas Redd will be competing for one job barring some sort of unexpected injury situation. Keeping four running backs plus fullback Darrel Young would create a numbers crunch that would force another position to be cut short. They both will make it only if they both make a compelling case to stay. I think Thompson might have the edge going in due to his speed but the coaches and other players really like the way Redd goes about his business. If both stay healthy (not a given with Thompson’s history) it could come down to the final hours on cutdown day on Sept. 5.

—The most underrated move of the offseason may have been adding strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark. He has some different ways of doing things but just looking at the players in the pre-pads segment of the offseason you have to like the results. Players who needed to get bigger (Trent Murphy, Niles Paul) are bigger and others who needed to get smaller (Trent Williams) lost some noticeable pounds. Jay Gruden said during minicamp that the players are in great shape.

—I think that when all is said and done Jeron Johnson will end up starting at strong safety in Week 1 against the Dolphins. Duke Ihenacho has been getting plenty of snaps there with the first team but it’s probably Johnson’s job to lose. But Ihenacho isn’t going anywhere. I had him on the roster bubble for much of the spring but it looks like he’s locked into a spot. Even if Johnson does start against Miami, Ihenacho could push him all season long.

Timeline

—It’s been 174 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 85 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 40; Preseason opener @ Browns 54; final cuts 78

If you have any questions about what’s going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I’m always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

  1. bangkokben - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    Chris Baker was OK. That’s how I would assess it but the organization seemed a bit more critical. Signing Paea first and then being surprised that Knighton was available at their asking price before latching him. Now Baker doesn’t appear to be more than an emergency nose tackle solution. I hope that he excels at end and isn’t just another bad contract better off on the team than off (i.e. Roberts, Lauvao, etc,)

    The Silas Redd vs Chris Thompson match up is intriguing. As much as Redd impressed during last year”s preseason, He clearly is the biggest loser as the result of drafting of Matt Jones. Jones now is guaranteed that feature back back-up roll. So Redd has to beat out Thompson as the change of pace/primary pass catching back. Thompson wins if he stays healthy. He seems to be unbeatable due to this speed that Redskins fans haven’t seen used in Burgandy & Gold.

    Kudos to all here who had changing the strength & conditioning coach as possible significant move. So far, so good. Let’s see come November.

    Duke seems to be the primary safety back-up for either safety. Reed Doughty 2.0?

    • rtcwon - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      Baker was bad to worse at nose. He is a natural end & I think will start over Paea, who is the back up nose.

      I don’t understand how Johnson is viewed better than Duke. He may turn out that way but right now, Ihenacho has tape being an above average NFL strong. To think Denver releasing him had anything to do with his play on D is wrong. They signed TJ Ward, the best strong in the league & their backup safties, Bolden and Brutton are among the best teamers around. Like all good safties, Duke can play teams, but he’s not a standout. Until there is tape otherwise, Johnson is the backup at both safety spots & teams beast, Duke is the turnover machine at strong.

      The new weight training coach or DC may be the best answer to the question but if you’re looking for a player, I’ll suggest merely average play from Golston to be the biggest diffdifference maker.

      • bangkokben - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:02 AM

        Johnson is viewed better than Ihenacho because his cap number is twice that of Duke’s and he was signed by the GM that has knowledge of Johnson (drafted, seen practice, etc.). The GM did this with Ihenacho already on the team and the film already out there. Most teams do not cut former starters in their rookie contract even if they have better options on the team. The fact that Denver not only felt the need to upgrade at safety giving Duke’s successor top dollar (17th highest safety contract – avg – and 4th highest cap number this year) but also released Duke when his cap hit was just $560K gives the impression that he is not a starter in league, plays like Bacarri Rambo, or does stuff away from the field that isn’t worth the headache. {I love the art work on the akle tape, btw.} I, personally, am willing to trust the coaches as to who they want to play but Ihenacho’s experience doesn’t give him any significant edge in this battle.

      • Trey Gregory - Jun 20, 2015 at 4:00 PM

        RCT, I get your point and I am a big believer in waiting to see people put it on the field before I judge them as a player. However, I really want to see Johnson get the starting nod. He’s been lights out on special teams. That show good commitment and a strong mindset. Also, in the few snaps he has taken, he looks great. I want to see if he can consistently play at that level. Because if he can, we have a pretty damn good safety on our roster.
        Nothing against Duke, I just think his play has shown he’s more not at that level. I also disagree about why Denver let him go. Teams just don’t let solid players go when they’re paying pennies for their services. In the grand scheme of things, they saved nothing by cutting him. But if he really was that good, they hurt their depth at a position that the whole league has issues with. It doesn’t make sense for them to let him go unless they were unhappy with his level of play.
        I expect to see both guys play regardless of who starts week one, I would just like to see Johnson get the first crack to show us who he is.

    • Skulb - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:21 PM

      Yes Baker was OK after filling in totally off his position for much of last season. It hardly seems fair to me to judge an end on his performance as an emergency nose. Especially with Knighton in the middle, who knows what Chris could do on the end?

      • bangkokben - Jun 21, 2015 at 9:25 AM

        I’m just noting my observations of the tea leaves. Baker originally made this team as a back-up nose tackle when Chris Neild was injured. He later beat out Chris Neild as the primary back-up for the position. They liked what he did at nose and his versatility that he could also play end they gave him a big (for him) contract. He was then moved to end then back to nose when Cofield got hurt. Now he is not even getting reps at the position. So I’d say the organization no longer sees him as a solution there. Maybe this is a jump but again it is my “reading of leaves.” So, his transition from nose to end albeit gradual and unheralded is complete. It has some saying he was an end all along which is historically inaccurate.

        • Skulb - Jun 21, 2015 at 2:21 PM

          Maybe you`re right. Personally I hope to see Bake as an end this season and extra fired up from playing with Knighton.
          Although of course what I really hope to see is a winning Redskins. if that happens by leaving him out then so be it. I`ll miss him anyway. He was one of the few positives on the defensive line last year.

  2. Stephfan - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    I like either safety, anyone of would start on my team

  3. mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:19 AM

    I said it all along that jeron johnson will start because hes not only a in the box saftey he gets after it in pass coverage he has the edge over nacho but if dont think we might not see nacho and jeron johnson on the field at the same time this season you wrong its gonna be a three man rotation until akeem davis is ready to step in…I think Phillip thomas might get cut …barry colfield down fall was losing weight he came to the redskins bigger he left the redskins lighter…this team got much more attitude then years pass…..when jay gruden spot the ball at the 5 yard line terrace knighton shouted MAKE THEM WORK FOR THAT SH** …keenan Robinson and Darrell young got into a verbal shouting match….I love it this team need to push each other and hold each other accountable its the only way this team will get better….mike clark was the underrated hire of this team because he also brought in joe kim who worked underneath him in the pass…perry farwell is another underrated hire hes a teacher he breaks every little thing down so you can understand it then you got deangleo hall who is a player/teacher who is extra help ..the DB group as a whole should be better then last year….jay gruden cancel the last day of mini camp to have a meeting with his players and have film study with the players why im pointing this out is because the bills went golfing the bucs went bowling and the jets went to play ping pong but the redskins in the film room studying tryna get better and tryna create good habits its things like this seperate good teams from great teams

    • wvredskins - Jun 20, 2015 at 3:16 PM

      Good post

      • mr.moneylover - Jun 21, 2015 at 11:12 PM

        Thanks @ wvredskins

  4. kenlinkins - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:06 PM

    With so many new faces on defense I have no clue who will make a impact yet. Rich, Have you seen what I would call a new “Firmness” at Redskins Park? IMO from the new GM, the new position coach’s and the new group of players there seems to be buy in of the Plan. With answers like “We just have to get better each day” or ” I tell them why and what results I am looking for and they go do it” to ” It is a work in progress” most of the Redskins seem to be on the same page for once. The only person who seems to fall off the wagon from time to time is the Head Coach. He seems to over explain in some of his answers and sometimes cross himself up when called on for details. Rich: Can a new GM really install a new mind set if the head coach has a problem staying on point or message? Can a GM teach a Head Coach how to become a leader if he is unclear in what is happening. It seems to me that Coach Gruden needs to stop being concerned about feelings and joins the ranks of those with the newly found “Firmness” of results matter! Your Thoughts on what is happening at Redskins Park!

    • Trey Gregory - Jun 20, 2015 at 3:48 PM

      I understand what you’re saying, but how a coach answers media questions doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think it has anything to do with how the actual games are going to go. If these guys are being smart and professional, they shouldn’t be paying attention to what’s said in the media anyway. I 100% believe that mindset is a huge part of it. Actually, I know for a fact, from first hand experience, that mindset is key. I just don’t think anything Gruden said to the media has been a positive or negative from a mindset aspect.

    • Skulb - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:28 PM

      Repeating platitudes to the media is sports personality 101 though. “Everyone`s on board and God save the queen!”. It`s the same rigmarole every offseason with this stuff. I don`t care what anyone says on the Redskins team. I just care what they do on the field. And it`s looking promising. Still doesn`t mean it can`t end up in another miserable season though.

  5. sidepull - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:21 PM

    Knighton. From no true nose to hitting the lottery. Knighton will wreak havoc and the rest of the D will benefit. Go ahead try to run up the middle.

  6. cowboyhater - Jun 20, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    You guys crack me up when I read your responses…..I knew this……I thought this….this guy is better than that guy…..You talk as if you are professional talent evaluators, or know what a coach is thinking because you make assessments off of a little press conference. Bottom line….no one can say who will have the most impact, or who will disappoint, or who will be injured. All of this will be answered when the season begins. The question is….will this team be improved, and show that competitiveness that has been lost since they won the division in ’12? Even then, they were not very good (defensive wise) before they went on that miraculous run. I don’t care who starts. It’s not for me to say because I’m “joe the fan”. I will let the actual EXPERTS make those decisions. I will sit on my couch on the opening day on Sunday and hope and pray this team will actually look good, and not lost in all facets of the game.

    • sidepull - Jun 20, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      I didn’t see where anybody thought they were making any decisions? Like what there opinion is has any input on the EXPERTS. I think everybody on here is old enough to understand this is just for people to express there opinions and they really don’t have anything to do with decisions or challenging EXPERTS. Nor do we have a crystal ball that gives us an answer as to what will happen. I never read into anybody’s post that they thought they were professional talent evaluators. Where do you get that? Its just peoples opinions, nothing more. I am with you, I just want to watch this play out on game day but it doesn’t stop me as a fan of thinking for instance Knighton will give a much needed boost to this years D. Maybe he wont but as a fan, I hope he does. Just don’t see how your post is any different than anybody else’s except you think it is. They are all fan posts.

      • cowboyhater - Jun 21, 2015 at 8:55 AM

        I respect all of the fans on this site…..but sometimes when I read these some fans take it to the extreme in their own personal evaluations even when the have not seen any of these guys play a single down. Sidepull there are a couple on here that are already anointing players starters, or speak as if they have some kind of inside information about this team. All I’m saying is we all can evaluate, but you can’t really evaluate before we actually see these guys play. I can say who I think will be an impact player, but what the heck do I know. I know a ton about this sport, but I have also learned through the years with this team to tame my expectations until the big lights come on, and the real games begin. How many times have we seen these guys play above their heads in pre season, but come out flat during the regular. Until us fans start seeing some consistency and effort week in and week out there is no way anybody on here will be able to say who will be a starter, or what a coach is thinking, or who will be a break out player. Bottom line….everyone has a right to a opinion, and I will express mine as well without trying to offend anyone on here. We are all hoping for the same thing, and that is a good product on the field for years to come.

        • manchild157 - Jun 21, 2015 at 9:42 AM

          Your blather is as painful to listen to as the people you are complaining about. You have a choice not to read Fan’s comments and since you seem to have a higher calling then”Why are you even commenting?”.

        • bangkokben - Jun 21, 2015 at 9:46 AM

          I understand your point. Look at this way, when Rich puts out a hypothetical it is the equivalent of asking “us” who’s going to win a horse race at Charles Town. None of know. Some of us are going to base our opinions on aesthetics – the way the horse looks, the color of the jockey silks, or the number; some of us got a little experience on the track and are going to base our opinion on more cerebral factors, some of us are going to base our opinions on historical factors and play the odds. You’re basically saying, “I don’t know. I’m not putting any money down. If you guys think you know, you’re nuts. Enjoy the frigging race!” Hey, that’s fine too.

    • Trey Gregory - Jun 22, 2015 at 12:19 AM

      So we’re not allowed to have an opinion because we aren’t paid to? You sound ridiculous. Just because you don’t have any insight, doesn’t mean some of us don’t.

      You know, a lot of the people who cover these teams and write these articles are also not professional talent evaluators (I assume you mean more scouts than professional sports writers) or part of the organization, that doesn’t mean they can’t write their opinion about the team too. One of the purposes of these comment sections are for fans to share their thoughts and opinions, and that’s what we’re doing. A lot of people are also really careful to state that what they’re saying is only their opinion, it’s too early to know for sure, they could be wrong, and that the players have to do something on the field before anyone knows for sure. Maybe you should try digesting people’s comments instead of sitting on your high horse and judging, you might even enjoy the conversation a little bit.

  7. murphsman - Jun 20, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    I think the most underrated move was bringing in a new strength and conditioning coach. I’ve known for a couple years our guys were getting hurt too easy

    • Trey Gregory - Jun 20, 2015 at 3:52 PM

      Yes. You nailed it. Our guys were getting hurt too easy and that has a lot to do with strength and conditioning. Not all players who’ve been hurt a lot are genetically prone to injuries. Some people are obviously prone to injuries, just saying not everyone who’s been hurt a lot are. How you prepare your body has a lot to do with it.
      For that reason, I’m cautiously optimistic about Reed. There is a chance that his body will respond well to the new program and that he can limit injuries. I say cautiously optimistic because history is not on his side, but there’s a chance. This could be a really good thing for our team.

    • mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 5:06 PM

      Yeah they finally got rid of that bum ray wright who was more focus on bein friends with players then to actually help these guys get stronger in areas that they didnt realize was a weakness…I believe players like rg3 and p.garcon who said they feel way better then they did last year around this time…I think this team will lose the reputation of bein soft

      • Skulb - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:30 PM

        Have you ever heard a football player say that they feel worse than the year before?

        • Trey Gregory - Jun 22, 2015 at 12:23 AM

          Ha nope. I also haven’t seen them bash a new coach from the get go. I’m just cautiously optimistic that this will produce positive results. Just because, scientifically, it is possible that the player’s bodies will respond better to the new program. That’s the only reason I have any optimism about it, because there’s a chance. That and because I want it to be true. So I’m just hoping it happens. But I’ll be more shocked if Reed stays healthy most of the year than I will be if he gets hurt. I’m still teathered to reality.

  8. mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 4:58 PM

    One thing I notice this year is that jay gruden is not gonna tell or show the media everything….we still wont know who will be starting even after the last preseason game leading up to week 1 they can easy make a switch when they game prep for the miami dolphins…when rg3 put up good numbers last year when he was healthy the defense struggle to stop the other team…if you got a good defense you dont need to put up 20+ points game…

  9. mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    Im just wondering if jay gruden gonna cut a player with true talent over a struggling vet because that wont change a culture it will keep this franchise at the bottom so if rookies standout in training camp and in the preseason they have to keep those players on the team dont cut them because a vet who best days are probably behind him

    • kenlinkins - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:02 PM

      The battle to set the 53 man roster and Practice Squad between the GM and Head Coach will be the real test. IMO I do not see anyone over 28 years old that the Redskins could not do without. (Hatcher, Golston, Hall, Kory L, Hayward and Nsekhe). Other than the Cap Hit of Hatcher I would not be sorry to see any of these guys leave (well maybe Hall would hurt as CB’s are hard to find). I would also like to see the new GM release a few poor performers to show that plateauing / declining Vets will no longer make a living in DC.

      • mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:59 PM

        I want to see andre roberts,perry riley,david amerson,phillip thomas and alfred morris to leave the redskins…I just think the redskins will be better without them and scot m. Said there is more roster moves to be made after teams cut down players to they 53 man roster…so there might be a surprise cut or trade might happen…the media think the last two players scot m. Sign was the roster moves he was talking about but its not hes really talking about signing other teams diamonds in the ruff …scot m. Had his eyes on undrafted rookies that signed to another team and hes keeping his eyes open to see if they get cut so he can sign them thats the roster moves thats on deck when its time to start cutting players

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:27 PM

          I agree with Roberts but cutting the others would not be smart. Riley is pretty good against the run and Robinson can be the cover guy. You don’t give up on a guy with as much talent as Amerson because he had 1 bad year early in his career. Phillip Thomas has really only had a little playing time due to injury he had great talent in college and should be given a shot now that he is healthy. Morris ha had over 1,000 yards every year enough said

      • timwillhidetimwillhide - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:32 PM

        Hatcher played pretty good when not hurt. If Hall still has his speed he can still shut down the opposing teams top guy ie. Dez, Megatron, Marshall, he has shut them all down

  10. mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:06 PM

    Roster moves are still on deck to happen when its time to start cutting players scot m. had his eyes on undrafted players who signed to other teams and is waiting to see if a few of them get cut ….I dont think I seen a post about this….but scot m. Still scouting players so it might be a surprise cut or a trade on deck before the start of the season

    • timwillhidetimwillhide - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:11 PM

      I mentioned this same thing and got ridiculed for it.

      • bangkokben - Jun 21, 2015 at 9:54 AM

        I remember you saying we were going to pounce on some other teams veteran linemen that would be cut – not other teams undrafted free agents that our GM wanted but signed to other teams. When are we signing Evan Mathis?

      • Trey Gregory - Jun 22, 2015 at 12:24 AM

        That’s a ridiculously thing to get ridiculed about. There is certainly a chance we still acquire players off waivers.

    • mr.moneylover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:55 PM

      @timwillhidetim the ppl that got on you dont know what they talking about and dont know scot m. Plan or philosophy he said right after the draft what his plans are and what he plan on doing…something is bound to happen we just dont know what it is weather its a surprise cut or a surprise trade but something is gonna happen…im surprise rich aint make a post about this because its something ppl should remember before they start assuming whose backup and who will be cut and who will be starting

      • bangkokben - Jun 21, 2015 at 9:57 AM

        What you’re suggesting exists in the realm of possibility but until it exists in the realm of “likely-to-happen,” don’t expect a post. I’m not saying it can’t happen; just that it likely won’t happen.

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