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More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

The Redskins defense struggled in 2016, especially on third downs.

The unit ranked dead last in the NFL allowing third down conversions, and that was one of many reasons the organization decided to overhaul their defensive coaching staff.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, secondary coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey are all gone. Players liked Barry but often, mostly privately but at times publicly, disagreed with schematic decisions. Fewell had few fans among the Redskins secondary, and Akey's defensive line just did not perform. 

The moves all made sense, especially looking at defensive statistics from 2016. 

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The hard part for Redskins fans to remember, however, is that new coaches will not necessarily deliver immediate results.

"It’s going to be a challenge. Anytime you have a new defensive staff, I don’t care how experienced you are, it’s your job to get the team to gel," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said during rookie camp. 

The changes start at the top, as Greg Manusky moves up from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Manusky is expected to deploy a more aggressive approach to the Washington defense, a move many players seem excited about. Players that worked under Manusky last season like Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy spoke highly of their position coach, which likely helped his candidacy for the coordinator spot. 

Replacing Fewell as secondary coach will be Torrian Gray, formerly of Virginia Tech. Gray has hands-on experience with second-year pro Kendall Fuller and knows DeAngelo Hall through Hokie connections. A fresh start will help in the secondary, where the unit often looked confused in 2016. More than one player would remarked last year that communicating with Fewell was never easy. That should be a first step for Gray.

On the defensive line, Gruden and 'Skins team president Bruce Allen think they got a star in coach Jim Tomsula. A powerful voice, Tomsula is known for developing strong players in the trenches, and he will be tasked with getting the most out of rookie Jonathan Allen as well as free agent additions Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. 

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"I think from a talent standpoint, we feel like we’ve done a good job in the offseason addressing some of our needs with the draft and free agency," Gruden said. "We lost a couple of good players, but we feel like we replaced them and upgraded our team with depth, which is very good."

Beyond McGee and McClain, the Redskins also added Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger. In the draft, they added Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson and UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau in the second and third rounds respectively.

One year after the Redskins spent nearly half of their salary cap allocation on defense as they did on offense, the team is trying to balance the ledger, particularly via the draft. It was the first time in 20 years the team used their first three draft picks exclusively on defense. 

Gruden believes in the players the team has acquired, and his defensive coaches now need to make it all work.

"I think we have a lot of depth on our defense right now as opposed to previous years, so it’s going to be their job and it’s a great challenge, that’s the challenge of all coaches is to get your team to gel defensively and play together. I feel like the talent is there for them to work with."

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

 

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Odell Beckham Jr. leaves Giants-Browns game after nasty-looking hit

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Odell Beckham Jr. leaves Giants-Browns game after nasty-looking hit

NFL preseason games usually don't cause a stir on the Internet. That is, until a very important player suffers an injury in one.

That's exactly what happened during Monday night's Giants-Browns game in Cleveland. While going up to snag an Eli Manning pass, Odell Beckham Jr. was cut down by Briean Boddy-Calhoun on what was a gruesome-looking play:

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At first, Beckham Jr. somehow looked like he was going to be OK. But he eventually had to head to the New York locker room, and the team later said his ankle is what they were concerned about:

If that's all it turns out to be, consider the receiver and the Giants lucky. In looking at replays of the hit, it's remarkable to think that he could emerge from it with no knee issues. 

New York will surely update his status once they find out more.

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Phil Taylor has a similar story to Junior Galette, and he could have a bigger impact

Phil Taylor has a similar story to Junior Galette, and he could have a bigger impact

There's a member of the Redskins' front seven who hasn't played in the last two seasons, and yet, the team is relying on him to produce at a crucial position in 2017.

C'mon, you've read enough stories about Junior Galette by now, haven't you? Because while Galette certainly fits the above description, Phil Taylor does, too — and if he stays healthy, he could end up mattering more to Washington's defense than Galette.

Taylor, who hasn't played in the NFL since 2014 and hasn't had a sack since 2013, looks to be the favorite to win the starting nose tackle job for Greg Manusky's defense. He had a promising camp in Richmond, and through two preseason games, has carried that positive play into game action.

On Monday's edition of Training Camp Daily on CSN, Trevor Matich spoke about what he's seen from No. 99 so far.

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"He has not only earned that starting position," Matich said (full video above), "he has shown that he might be that missing force in the middle that the Redskins have not had for a long time, and that is a nose guard that can be a plugger against the run and not get pushed around, but who can also be disruptive."

A 3-4 defense without a nose tackle is like that one Jason Bourne movie without Matt Damon: not very good. And that's an issue that Washington's had for a few years now. So while a rejuvenated Galette would do wonders for the all-important pass rush, having an effective Taylor in the middle of everything may be even more necessary to the Redskins' success.

JP Finlay gave one example of how Taylor can impact a matchup.

"If you got Phil Taylor there at nose, that's going to open those gaps up for Jonathan Allen," Finlay said. "And you talk about what could be a pretty dynamic tandem on the defensive line, a position where the Redskins have not had anything close to dynamic for a number of years. What a veteran like Taylor could do for a rookie like that could be special."

The usual caveat for someone with this story is to not get too excited over a small sample. And some would say the Redskins are foolish for putting so much faith in Taylor's ability to stay on the field and do damage on it as well.

But so far, the reviews on Taylor have been quite encouraging. So while his name isn't as big as Galette's or many other members of the defense, his influence will be if he manages to keep developing.

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