When training camp began three weeks ago, Chris Baker was the Redskins third string nose tackle.Now hes the backup and he has a chance to get some substantial playing time for the first time in his three-year NFL career.This is a big opportunity for me to step up and be the player I know I can be, Baker said Wednesday. I hate to see Chris go down, but when one man goes down another man has to step up.Baker was referring to Chris Neild, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during Monday. On Wednesday, Baker backed up Barry Cofield in practice.Although a few players, including Jarvis Jenkins, are able to line up at nose tackle, Shanahan hinted that its Bakers job to lose. Delvin Johnson, who is also listed as a nose tackle, appears to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.When you get a guy that goes down, Chris has more of an opportunity to show us what he can do, Shanahan said. And hopefully he takes advantage of that opportunity.Baker said hes spent the past 10 months preparing for the challenge.The 24-year-old out of Hampton spent the first three months of last season on the Redskins practice squad. He was activated on Dec. 7, but only a few hours later, tore a quadriceps muscle and finished the season on injured reserve.Baker, who makes his home in Northern Virginia, spent the entire offseason working out at LA Fitness in Leesburg with Jenkins, who was rehabbing a surgically repaired knee. Their rigorous regimen included high repetitions with light free weights and swimming.The goal of the carefully crafted workouts was increased endurance. And that figures to help Bakers cause because defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has said he hopes to play Cofield a little less and the backup a little more in an effort to keep Cofield fresher.Hes probably in the best shape hes been in, Shanahan said of Baker, who was 350 when he arrived in Washington and now is listed at 6 foot 2, 333-pounds. Hes really looked impressive and hopefully he can keep on doing that in the preseason games.
Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140
In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run
One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.
Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league. Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.
The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.
You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.
It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.
The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).
But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.
The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.
In case you missed it
Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141
The Redskins week that was
Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.
Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.
Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.
The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.
Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy.
Tandler on Twitter
Teams picking between 33-45 will need to make sure they are comfortable with R. Foster, cause he will be there.— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) April 21, 2017
Would hate to see my TL if the Redskins pass on Foster at 17. But they are seeing the same red flags other teams are. https://t.co/xyDZTxb0L7— Rich Tandler (@Rich_TandlerCSN) April 21, 2017
In case you missed it
- Chris Thompson has re-signed with the Redskins.
- Redskins' Thompson and Compton still unsigned but options are very limited
- Redskins mock draft roundup: Picks tilting towards defense
- Five pivotal games on the Redskins' 2017 schedule
- One reason to watch each Redskins game this year