On Monday, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that even though there have been a lot of changes to his team’s defense, there would be no grace period for them to gel and start playing effectively.
“We have a new defensive coordinator, new defensive line coach, new secondary coach,” said Gruden. “We have some new players on defense, some free agent acquisitions, some draft picks. They’re going to have to learn on the fly and learn to play together, which is going to be the biggest challenge for us.
“I don’t think patience is in the dictionary here in D.C. We have to be good now.”
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The defense had plenty of issues last year. They were 19th in points allowed but 28th in yards and 20th in opponents’ passer rating. The unit saved its worst for the most critical situations, finishing 26th in red zone defense and dead last in third-down conversion rate.
The organization responded by promoting Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator, hiring the well-regarded Jim Tomsula to coach the defensive line, and by bringing in some more talent. Their top two draft picks, DE Jonathan Allen and OLB Ryan Anderson, should contribute to the defense right away. D.J. Swearinger was signed as a free agent to man the free safety spot while Su’a Cravens moves from linebacker to play strong safety. Free agents Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee should bolster the defensive line along with Allen.
Cornerback Josh Norman likes the changes and is confident that the team will do better.
“We will be [good]. Fixed points, will be,” he said. “We’ve got guys that’s capable of being that, of doing that. They will do that and we will be better. We’re definitely not going to have the product that we had last year, that’s for sure.
“We’ve got . . . edge rushers out here that’s pretty darn good. We got some guys in the draft that’s going to help us out. In the secondary as well, we brought guys in that’s going to fill that void for us.”
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In addition to drafting Anderson, the Redskins hope to have OLB Junior Galette healthy and contributing to the pass rush this year. He has missed the last two seasons after two Achilles injuries. The last two seasons that Galette played he had double-digit sacks each year and he was out participating in team drills yesterday, a good sign that he is on the road to good health.
“We’re going to be a whole lot better than we was last year,” said Norman. “The stuff they have us going, the scheme we’re going to be playing in is going to fit to what suits us, what we’re most capable of doing. I think it’s going to be a lot different result, the product on the field.”
A better defensive product on the field will almost certainly lead to a better overall Washington Redskins team. They will need to be better to keep up with what looks to be an improved and very competitive NFC East.
Trent Murphy enjoyed the best season of his NFL career in 2016, delivering nine sacks for the Redskins. The excitement took a blow in the offseason, however, as the NFL suspended the former Stanford star for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.
Murphy will miss the first four games of the Redskins season, and the news devastated Murphy.
"It was extremely disappointing to find out. It’s kind of like a gut-wrenching feeling," he said. "Took me by total surprise."
He spoke Wednesday for the first time since the suspension became official in April. With an early bye week for Washington, the four-game punishment will actually mean Murphy does not take the field for the Redskins until Week 6 against the 49ers.
A second-round pick in 2014, Murphy registered only six sacks his first two seasons in the NFL before last season's breakout performance. Six of his nine sacks came in the first seven weeks of 2016, and Murphy's production slid late in the year as he battled a serious foot injury.
Without Murphy for the first month, the Redskins will lean heavily on Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan. All three players logged more than 400 snaps last season in pass rushing situations, with Kerrigan going nearly 500 snaps. The team also added outside linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round of the 2017 draft, he could push for playing time right away, especially with Murphy unable to suit up. If he remains healthy, Junior Galette could also be an option at edge pass rusher, though after missing the past two seasons, the Redskins would be smart to limit his offseason work.
For Murphy, the time off will hurt but he will remain focused on football.
"I kind of moved on the only way I could, which was just to get back to work," he said. "The people that are closest with you know your character, know where you come from, they’ll always be by your side. My team has rallied around me, they’ve been very supportive so I’m just going to do the best I can to recover from this."
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