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Need to Know: Preston Smith could be the key to Redskins’ defense

Sep 3, 2016, 5:13 AM EDT

Preston-Smith-vs-Bills-USAT

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, September 3, nine days before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Off day, no availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 237 days ago. It will be nine days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 15; Browns @ Redskins 29; Redskins @ Ravens 36

Stock up/stock down vs. the Bucs

—The key to the Redskins’ defense could be Preston Smith. He has been playing well ever since the start of OTAs. The second-year player gets it in terms of what it takes to prepare to be successful. If that translates onto the field he will be a player opposing offenses will have to account for on every snap. That will make the whole unit better. I’m not sure how good he will be, but I’ll predict that he gets at least one interception, a rarity for a Redskins OLB. That’s because he takes pride in working on coverage and studies it, unlike others who have viewed it as a chore.

—Last year the offensive line was pretty good in pass blocking (4.6 percent sack rate, 5th in NFL) and not very good in run blocking (3.7 yards/carry, 30th in NFL). Given a choice in 2016 I’d rather have a line that can pass block well but, of course, you want a group that can be competent in both. Rushing in the preseason is a hodgepodge of different backs and linemen with no game planning so at this point it’s hard to tell how much progress the Redskins O-line has made in the run blocking department. They should be better but time will tell.

—I’m more bullish on Matt Jones’ chances of becoming a solid running back than most. I get the knocks on him, with his NFL-low average of 3.4 yards per carry. But that stat requires some context. Alfred Morris, who ran behind the same line last year, had an average of 3.7 yards per carry. That is by far the worst of his career. His worst before that was 4.1 per carry in 2014. It’s probably not a coincidence that both backs struggled behind that offensive line (and the tight ends might as well be thrown under the same bus here). If the line gets its act together in run blocking Jones can produce. If they don’t Adrian Peterson couldn’t produce behind them.

—As the O-line struggled last year, Bill Callahan, that unit’s position coach, didn’t come under much criticism. He also is the run game coordinator and the Redskins didn’t run the ball well. There were some good reasons for giving him a pass, primarily that it was his first year on the job and it wasn’t reasonable to expect an instant turnaround. And Callahan does have a good track record. But he did inherit a Pro Bowl performer at the most important position on the line and the No. 5 overall pick in the draft went to his unit. If things don’t start to turn around at some point this season Callahan should get more scrutiny than he has.

—Things haven’t been this quiet around the quarterback position in years. Kirk Cousins came in, played his 54 snaps, and went about his business. No controversy, no noise, no injuries, just some pretty good quarterback play. That doesn’t mean that he’s Pro Bowl bound or anything but it will be an interesting experiment to see if tranquility at the position contributes to competence and winning.

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  1. colmac69 - Sep 3, 2016 at 6:08 AM

    I got no doubts the offense (stays relatively healthy) will put up big numbers this yr and win a few games on its on

    How successful a season we have will again come dwn to how the defense holds up (not xactly going out on a limb I know)….can we sustain a gd pass rush and b reasonable vs the run

    But division title is definitely there to be had

    Can’t wait till Monday night

    • redskins12thman - Sep 3, 2016 at 6:38 AM

      So true; until we see how the team performs against the Steelers, my concerns for the game are:

      1. How defense does against no huddle, few subs offense
      2. Pass rush generation / QB pressure
      3. Run defense
      4. Minimize penalties
      5. Don’t fall behind by more than TD
      6. Offensive line play

  2. redskins12thman - Sep 3, 2016 at 6:16 AM

    I agree that Smith looks as if he will be the front seven’s most impactful player; I expect Compton will be important because he gets everyone playing well too albeit for different reasons.

    Yeah, we all knew that the O-line, D-line and Safety were the areas most in need of improvement, which is why it is strange that relatively little attention were given to them, but in Scot / BPA we trust. Hopefully Bruton will be a great addition. I feel as if the Redskins were counting on players like Long, Kouandjio, Paea and Reyes to step their game up but it hasn’t happened. Bringing in players like Painter and Jenkins show the Redskins are not happy with where the lines are at, and I can’t blame them. With Galette done for the season, they don’t have OLB depth either.

    I hope you are right that the O-line is better but we will start to find out September 12th. The first string O-line has not looked great during the pre-season but the pre-season can be very deceiving. Callahan can coach but he can’t play; I’m sure Callahan is teaching what are and are not penalties.

    I agree with you that Washington’s running problems have more to do with the blocking than anything else. That’s why Al Morris and Christine Michael leave here and have done fantastic elsewhere. I have not studied it closely, but Jones does not seem to run as compactly as Kelley.

    The Redskins need to do a better job at evaluating line players; they’ve done a better job of evaluating players at other positions and are especially strong in general among the college ranks.

    How many Redskins roster changes do you expect after today until September 9th?

  3. austrianhttrfan - Sep 3, 2016 at 8:33 AM

    Preston looks like in the star in the making in my opinion…hope it plays out this way as well…
    I am not sure about Bruton…like there hasn´t been much talk about him…now we have our 2 great corners…obviously Hall who “shines” on his new position…only question is…is Bruton just average, not good enough to be recognized? I guess we will see when the season start..

    I hope Everett will stay here…with Duke getting hurt each single time the season starts it´s not smart to let him go :D…

    We will see about the line….I just have super strong doubts in Kory…but obviously the team sees him as well as the weak point….so improvement will need to come at some point…

  4. garg8050 - Sep 3, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    The defense has a chance to be pretty good if Smith and Kerrigan can stay healthy. They will need to commit 7 and 8 in the box to stop the run because the d-line remains mediocre at best. That will put a lot of pressure on the secondary; hopefully they’re up to the task. Same thing on passing downs. I would expect Barry to blitz more to make up for the lack of an elite pass rusher.

    The poor offensive line play in terms of the running game still baffles me. Do these o-line men not fit Callahan’s scheme? Is it all because of mediocre center and LG play? I don’t understand the disconnect. But another mediocre year running the ball should bring additional scrutiny to his coaching.

  5. rtcwon - Sep 3, 2016 at 12:13 PM

    I’m still not sold on Smith. He seems like just an average pass rusher to me. But if he can be the guy instead of just a guy, this team can have a special season.

    I’ve been giving Callahan heat, he came in and destroyed our run game. But with all the fuss this pre-season, I went back and watched Dallas circa Murray. I threw up in my mouth a couple times but it was beneficial. We’re doing the same scheme and plays. I actually see it starting to come together for us. Good news, it doesn’t ask for much blocking from the TE. Expect a lot of 2-3 yard runs but it counts on getting one or two big hits a game. Get those and the averages will look fine.

    I’ve never doubted Jones’ ability as a feature back nor worried about his ball security. My only concern is will he learn to take care of his body on and off the field?

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