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20 questions in 20 days: 4 Is the defense ready to carry the load?

20 questions in 20 days: 4 Is the defense ready to carry the load?

By Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler
CSNwashington.com20 questions in 20 daysAs we count down to the first game of the Redskins season, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to be looking at some of the big questions facing the team and attempting to look into their crystal balls and answer them.Question 5:Is the defense ready to carry the load?The background:The preseason focus has been on Robert Griffin III and rightfully so. Although expectations are high for Griffin, he is still a rookie quarterback and it is unreasonable to expect the offense to light up the scoreboard right away. If the Redskins are going to be successful the defense will have to keep the other team out of the end zone and do a better job of taking the ball away than it did last year (21 takeaways, 24thin the league).Tandler:The conventional wisdom is that the front seven, one of the best in the NFL, will have to cover for deficiencies in the secondary. And in this rare case the conventional wisdom is right. Any secondary is vulnerable if the quarterback has all day to throw and it could get ugly if the likes of Eli Manning and Drew Brees have the time to pick apart the shaky back end of Washingtons defense. Brian Orakpo needs to reach his potential as a pass rusher and Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley need to take steps forward in their second seasons as starters. But the front seven cant do it all. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall will need to make plays when they have opportunities and Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams have be solid as the last line of defense. It seems to be a tall order.El-Bashir:When the Steelers switched to a 3-4 scheme under Bill Cowher in 1992, their defense jumped from 22nd to 13th to 3rd in the NFL in a span of three seasons. The Redskins made a similar switch two years ago under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and last season improved to 13th, up from 31st. But can the Redskins make a Steelers-like leap in 2012? The players are familiar enough. But are they talented enough? The concern is a secondary that recently lost hard-hitting safety Tanard Jackson to suspension. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall needs to bounce back from a subpar 2011 season, while his counterpart, Josh Wilson, needs to find consistency. Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams, meantime, need to be better than they were in the preseason. A unit, after all, is only a strong as its weakest link.20 questions in 20 days20 Aug.20Will Jammal Brown play this year?
19 Aug.21Will Chris Cooley make the team?
18 Aug. 22Can Brandon Meriweather get he job done at safety?
17 Aug. 23Is Garon a No. 1 receiver?
16 Aug. 24Can Trent Williams go from good to great?
15 Aug. 25Can DeAngelo Hall be a defensive playmaker?
14 Aug. 26Can Santana Moss regain his old form?
13 Aug. 27Can Orakpo post 15 sacks?
12 Aug. 28Will Leonard Hankerson break out?
11 Aug. 29Can the Redskins flip their turnover ratio?
10 Aug. 30How much can Hightower contribute this year?
9 Aug. 31Was making Billy Cundiff the kicker a good move?
8 Sept. 1Will Josh Morgan be worth the investment?
7 Sept. 2What can Jarvis Jenkins contribute?
6 Sept 3Is the offensive line depth good enough?
5 YesterdayWill a running back by committee work?
4 TodayIs the defense ready to carry the load?
3 TomorrowHow many wins is enough?
2 FridayHow much should RG3 run?
1 SaturdayCan RG3 . . . ?

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With receiver group in flux, might Redskins make run at Alshon Jeffery?

With receiver group in flux, might Redskins make run at Alshon Jeffery?

It seems likely the Redskins stand to lose one or both of receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon in free agency. That could mean more than 2,000 yards receiving exiting the offense, a significant blow.

Could Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery come to Washington and cushion the blow?

Multiple reports say that Chicago will not put the franchise tag on Jeffery, which means the 6-foot-4 receiver will hit the open market when free agency opens in a little more than a week. Coming off consectuive injury-marred seasons, still expect the market to be ripe for the former South Carolina star.

RELATED: Could FA Dontari Poe fix the Redskins nose tackle issue?

A five-year veteran that will turn 28 in August, Jeffery posted more than 2,500 receiving yards in the 2013 and 2014 seasons to go with 17 touchdowns. An extremely gifted red zone receiver, Jeffery is one of the best in the league at high-pointing the football and coming down with circus catches. His last two seasons, however, the Bears wideout only played in 21 of 32 games and his numbers dipped dramatically: just over 1,600 yards and six TDs combined.

Though Washington will likely lose at least one of Garçon or Jackson, and very possibly both, that does not necessarily make Jeffery a prime target. 

Expect cost to be a major factor as the Chicago receiver will likely command the top free agent payout at the position. And his recent injury history could be a factor as well. 

Further, the Redskins must believe they have a No. 1 receiver already in house in Josh Doctson. The No. 22 overall pick in 2016, Doctson hardly played as a rookie due to an Achilles injury but appears to be progressing well in his rehab. At 6-foot-2 and extremely athletic, Doctson was drafted to be a prime red zone target with the ability to go up and get TDs.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Could likely free agent Dontari Poe be the Redskins' answer at nose tackle?

Could likely free agent Dontari Poe be the Redskins' answer at nose tackle?

Many Redskins fans have been keeping a close eye on the Chiefs all offseason. Kansas City has two pending free agents in positions that are of great need to Washington. Fans have been watching since January to see what the Chiefs would do with safety Eric Berry and defensive lineman Dontari Poe. They may have their answer.

The organization’s hope was that they could sign one and use the franchise tag on the other. But with the deadline for the tag two days from now and with free agency starting in 10 days, it appears that plan is not going to happen. They are forced to decide and per Ed Werder of ESPN they are going to tag Berry and let Poe test free agency.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 4.0

Poe is a load at 6-3, 348. His impact is hard to measure in numbers; he has just 13 sacks in his five NFL seasons including two in the last two years. The Chiefs first-round pick out of Memphis in the 2012 draft has forced two fumbles and recovered one. But he is exactly what a defense like the Redskins’ 4-3 scheme needs in the middle to eat up double teams and keep blockers off the linebackers. They would go from having had no credible nose tackle in the seven seasons they have been in the 3-4 base defense to having one who at age 26 is of the very best in the league.

The problem with acquiring the best in the business is that you must pay top dollar. The contracts signed by Marcell Dareus of the Bills, a six-year deal with an average annual value of $15.8 million and Fletcher Cox of the Eagles, who signed a six-year extension with an AAV of $17.1, will be used as guidelines for a Poe free agent deal.

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The Redskins possibly could make that work but it would be a stretch. They already have a top-heavy salary structure with their top three players taking up 35 percent of the salary cap. Another cap hit in the $15 million range would put them in a precarious spot.

It seems unlikely that the Redskins will be real players in the Poe sweepstakes but given that he would be a perfect solution to a long-standing problem area it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.