Revamped Washington Defense Has the Need for Speed

The Washington Redskins defense in 2018 was a tale of two halves. In the beginning of the season before Alex Smith’s devastating injury, the Redskins defense was playing some of its best football in recent memory.  Their ability to control the line of scrimmage behind the trio of Allen-Payne-Ioannidis allowed Washington to contain some elite running backs including Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffery to subpar games. Along with the offense controlling the clock and committing few turnovers behind the game management of Alex Smith, the formula for winning was clear in the District.  

However, after Smith went down with the gruesome leg injury in November everything changed. The time of possession advantage the defense had enjoyed the whole year was suddenly gone and teams began to exploit the one big weakness in the Redskins defense; a lack of sideline-to sideline-speed. Mix this in with poor tackling and even more injuries down the stretch and the Redskins defense suffered a monumental collapse.

Even with the late-season debacle, the foundation of an elite defense was in place, despite some missing pieces. Before the offseason started the Redskins focus for more speed and athleticism was clear when they took a chance and claimed 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers. Foster, who is a rare combination of power and speed, was released by San Francisco following domestic violence charges that were later dropped.  Foster who avoided suspension is set to be the Redskins starting MLB come week one and is expected to make an instant impact. During his rookie campaign in 2017, Pro Football Focus gave the Alabama product an overall grade of 81.2, which lead all rookie linebackers and was good for the 10th-highest grade among all NFL linebackers. Foster is a special player and if he can stay out of trouble he’ll be a difference maker for the Redskins for years to come.

Of course the biggest acquisition the Redskins made this offseason was former all-pro safety Landon Collins. Although, for the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the players who will bring the most speed to the Redskins defense.

The Redskins need for additional speed carried over to the draft when they decided to trade back into the first round and select DE Montez Sweat from Mississippi State. After Preston Smith signed with the Packers this offseason the Redskins were left with a gaping hole for a pass rusher on the opposite side of Ryan Kerrigan.

Sweat and the Redskins are a match made in heaven. During the combine, Sweat ran a 4.41 40 yard dash which set the record for fastest 40 time by a defensive lineman since 2003. In fact, his time was faster than that of Odell Beckham, Amari Cooper, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown. With Sweat’s combination of freakish speed and length, he will immediately provide the Redskins with speed off the edge to match the power of Kerrigan on the opposite side.

Washington also has two role players in 5th round pick Cole Holcomb and last year’s fourth-round pick Troy Apke who will provide additional speed and coverage ability in the secondary.

Apke may have been forgotten by Redskins fans after missing his rookie year due to injuries. Let me remind you of the show Apke put on back at last year’s combine when he shocked even Deion Sanders with his blazing 40-yard dash. In addition, Holcomb had one of the best coverage grades of any MLB in the draft this year, ran a 4.4 40, and will provide an immediate impact on special teams.

It’s clear the Redskins front office had a plan going into this offseason to add speed on the defensive side of the ball, and for once it seems Bruce Allen and Co. pulled off their plan to perfection.  

-Sean Hannegan

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