Redskins roster analysis: Defense

Redskins roster analysis: Defense
September 1, 2013, 12:00 pm
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The Redskins cut their roster to 53 players yesterday. We've already taken a look at the players who are gone, so now let’s examine the players who are here. 

Earlier today, Rich Tandler took a close look at those who survived on offense. Below, Tarik El-Bashir puts the defensive roster under the microscope. 

Nose Tackles (2): Starter Barry Cofield; backup Chris Neild

  • Strengths: Cofield has become one of the best nose tackles in the game and, along with London Fletcher, fills a vital leadership role in the locker room.
  • Weaknesses: Cofield is dealing with a broken right hand and will play early this season with a hard cast on it. He says he doesn’t anticipate the injury slowing him, but he won't know for sure until he takes a snap against the Eagles.
  • In summary: If Cofield’s hand does not hamper his performance, nose tackle figures to be the least of the Redskins’ concerns. Neild, meantime, has recovered from ACL surgery and appears primed to build on the promise he showed in 2011 as a rookie. 

Defensive ends (4): Starters Stephen Bowen, Kedric Golston; backups Chris Baker, Phillip Merling

  • Strengths: After a decline in his total number of tackles and sacks in 2012, Bowen says he’s healthy and motivated to reestablish himself as a dominant force. 
  • Weaknesses: Jarvis Jenkins will miss the first four games due to suspension, which means Golston will be pressed into a first string role. Golston is a steady, reliable vet but has not started a game since 2010.
  • In summary: If Bowen returns to form and Golston, who had a strong preseason, proves to be an adequate stopgap until Jenkins returns, the Redskins should be in good shape. The ends also need to provide a more sustained pass rush after recording just one sack last season.

Inside linebackers (4): Starters London Fletcher, Perry Riley; backups Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl

  • Strengths: Riley, 25, registered 129 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season, and possesses the stats and the skill to contend for a Pro Bowl berth in 2013.
  • Weaknesses: Fletcher had some uneven performances early last season as he battled age and injury. The 38-year-old did, however, finish strong. Look for opposing teams to test him early.
  • In summary: As usual, it all revolves around Fletcher. If he stays healthy and staves off Father Time one more year, inside linebacker won’t be an issue. And with Keenan Robinson out again because of a pectoral muscle tear, Barnett, 32, could become Fletcher's potential successor. 

Outside linebackers (4): Starters Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan; backups Darryl Tapp, Brandon Jenkins

  • Strengths: A healthy Orakpo, plus Kerrigan and Jenkins, should turn around a pass rush that ranked 23rd in sacks last season. The “speed” package that utilizes all three was constant headache for opposing QBs in the preseason.
  • Weaknesses: Tapp has impressed coaches since signing in the offseason, but Jackson’s athleticism (4.5 sacks, 4 INTs in 2012) will be missed. (Did you see his sack against the Bucs?)
  • In summary: This is a contract year for Orakpo, who has been chomping at the bit after missing almost all of last season. If he’s going to join the game’s elite pass rushers, this has got to be the year the 27-year-old does it.

Safeties (5): Starters Brandon Meriweather, Bacarri Rambo; backups Reed Doughty, Jordan Pugh, Jose Gumbs

  • Strengths: When healthy, Meriweather is an impact player. Rambo, meantime, has shown significant upside after falling into the Redskins’ lap in the sixth round.
  • Weaknesses: Meriweather had a tepid preseason debut in Tampa and has played one half of football since December 2011, while Rambo is learning one of the game’s most complex positions on the job. The loss of Phillip Thomas to a foot injury also hurts overall depth. 
  • In summary: Safety was the Redskins’ Achilles’ heel last season and it remains a question mark as the ’13 campaign begins.

Cornerback (5): Starters DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson; backups E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, Jerome Murphy

  • Strengths: Biggers should be an upgrade over Cedric Griffin and Amerson has shown the potential to develop into a standout. Hall, Biggers and Wilson are all on one-year deals, so motivation shouldn't be an issue.
  • Weaknesses: At the end of the day, you are what the numbers say you are. And last year, Hall and Wilson were starters on a defense that gave up more passing touchdowns than all but one team. 
  • In summary: An improved pass rush should translate into better play on the backend. Amerson’s growing confidence and comfort level in the scheme should help a lot, too. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the rookie push Hall or Wilson for a starting job in the second half of the season.