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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan to improve the defense?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan to improve the defense?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 27, 3 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today's question is from Twitter, from a Redskins fan you may have heard of:

(Thanks to Dale for taking a minute to kick in a question for Need to Know about an hour before taking the track at The Brickyard.)

There have been more changes to the defense this year than any in recent memory. There will be at least five starters who are new to the team in NT Terrance Knighton, DE Stephen Paea, CB Chris Culliver, FS Dashon Goldson, and SS Jeron Johnson. There could be a sixth if Preston Smith can earn the starting role over Trent Murphy.

In addition, the coaches are almost all new. Kirk Olivadotti remains with the linebackers but Joe Barry is the new coordinator, Perry Fewell will coach the secondary and Robb Akey takes over the defensive line.

The changes were needed. We don’t need to rehash the numbers here again as we have been all offseason (108.3 opponent passer rating, 27.7 points/game, etc.). I think we can all agree the defense was bad.

Back to Dale’s question, will the defense be better this year? I think we’ve all learned over the years that different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Year after year, new players and coaches bring hope in the spring and summer but more of the same futility in the fall and winter.

On paper, the plan is to get an improved pass rush (t-21st in NFL) from the line. Outside of Jason Hatcher’s 5.5 sacks last year, the line kicked in just five. They are looking for more out of a (for now) healthy Hatcher, Knighton should be able to get some push up the middle when he’s in there and Paea had six sacks for the Bears last year. And if the line gets better pass rush that should leave spaces for Ryan Kerrigan, Murphy, and Smith to exploit.

It looks like the lion’s share of any improvement in pass defense will have to come from the pass rush. Culliver is a solid upgrade but the rest of the secondary remains suspect.

Knighton will be the huge, active run-stuffing body in the middle that the Redskins have been missing since switching to the 3-4 in 2010. His presence and an attacking one-gap system are set to be the solutions to stopping the run. In terms of raw yardage, Washington was a respectable 12th in the NFL in rushing defense but opponents did not run on them much because the weak pass defense was so inviting.

That’s how the Redskins would like to see it play out. Will it work? Maybe, but see the part above about change not always being for the better.

The challenge for Joe Barry and company will be to get the unit to gel in time for Week 1. The linebackers are the only unit returning intact (or three-quarters of it at least, pending Smith vs. Murphy). The sooner they are communicating and coordinating their stunts and other schemes, the better.

Having all of this come together by Sept. 13 is a big ask. While I think that the new players and coaches represent an upgrade, the improvement may not be immediate.

Timeline

—It’s been 211 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 48 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 3; Preseason opener @ Browns 17; final cuts 40

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Jay Gruden presser recap: Enough is on Chris Thompson's plate already

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USA Today Sports Images

Jay Gruden presser recap: Enough is on Chris Thompson's plate already

Here is a recap of Jay Gruden’s press conference on Wednesday:

—The injuries are covered in a separate post here. Jordan Reed was the only non-participant. Gruden said his status is “wait and see.”

—Gruden doesn’t see them playing Chris Thompson more than they do now. He noted that in addition to being the third-down back he also returns kicks and comes in on second and long plays. “It’s important for us to keep him healthy,” said Gruden. “He’s not a guy that I personally want to give him 30 carries a game.”

RELATED: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS' WIN IN LA

—In a year, Matt Ioannidis has gone from being on the practice squad to being a key member of the defensive line. Gruden was impressed with his play against the Rams. “Against the Rams, he played very well,” he said. “He had pressured the quarterback four or five times, he hawked down Tavon Austin on a jet sweep, which was a big play on the first play of the game. If he gets out of there, it could’ve been a 70-yard touchdown.” Gruden said that work in the weight room with help from fellow DL Ziggy Hood helped in Ioannidis’ transformation.

—Gruden said that the Rams game might have been the best of Jordan Reed's career despite gaining just 48 receiving yards on six catches. “Yeah, Jordan was awesome,” he said. “I thought he had the best all-around game he’s had in a while. I think, not just route-running, but blocking. He was outstanding in blocking. Had a key block on the touchdown Chris Thompson had on the second series of the game, was physical and did a great job.”

MORE REDSKINS: FIRST LOOK AT REDSKINS VS RAIDERS

—The Su’a Cravens situation was dismissed rather quickly. The Redskins will not be adding another safety to the roster. “No, we have Fish [Smithson] already as our fifth guy on the practice squad and he’s doing a good job, so we’re OK at safety spot,” said Gruden. “As far as Su’a’ is concerned, we just have to put it behind us, move forward and let him take care of his personal life and let us take care of this season.”

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.

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Redskins injury report: Jordan Reed out of practice, six are limited

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Redskins injury report: Jordan Reed out of practice, six are limited

There were a lot of wounded Redskins on the practice field on Wednesday as the team started preparations for their game against the Raiders on Sunday.

One injured player was not on the field. Jordan Reed was out with a chest injury. Obviously, there is concern but Jay Gruden said that it is too early to rule him out of the game.

A half dozen players were limited: RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Montae Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder), OT Morgan Moses (ankle), S Deshazor Everett (knee), and LB Mason Foster (shoulder).

RELATED: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS' WIN IN LA

While none of the injuries seems particularly serious, they still could affect each player’s status for the game.

Foster suffered a separated shoulder during the game, popped it back in, and continued without missing a snap. He said that said that he was letting the athletic trainers handle it. “I’m going in, getting my treatment, doing what they tell me to do,” he said.

Kelley suffered a rib cartilage injury in the second quarter on Sunday. He said that the pain was very high that day but that it has subsided since.

MORE REDSKINS: FIRST LOOK AT REDSKINS VS RAIDERS

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.