Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If you simply looked at the overall rankings from the 2008 season, the Redskins' defense was among the best in the league. But that number couldn't cover up the fact that the Skins didn't create enough pressure and cause enough turnovers.
That's a big reason why owner Dan Snyder paid former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed to become the centerpiece of his defense. Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and he's capable of drawing double and triple teams. With that one move, the Redskins' defense gained instant credibility in terms of becoming a disruptive force.
"It's pretty amazing to see how he goes about his business," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He can blow up the pocket on his own and that creates a lot of opportunities for the rest of us."
According to several players, the presence of Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with.
Haynesworth told me that he and Orakpo have been coming up with "games" during practice that will hopefully lead to sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth is coming off an 8.5 sack season, but says that is a total he is not worried about surpassing in 2009.
"I could have two sacks and still be happy as long as I'm taking on triple teams," Haynesworth said. "I love it when a team has to send everyone my way. That's when I really feel like I'm doing my job."
Haynesworth's only made it through all 16 games once in his career, but that doesn't concern him in the least.
"I'd rather play in 14 games at 1,000 percent than go out there and limp around through 16," he said.
Who is going to end up as the No. 2 receiver?
Coach Jim Zorn is pleased with the progress that second-year wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are making. Kelly has shown a lot of maturity since struggling in last year's training camp. Quarterback Jason Campbell told me that Kelly has "crazy hands," which basically means he's snatching the ball from the air in traffic. Thomas is more of a deep threat. He's learning how to approach the game in a more structured way, which is helping him avoid some of the injuries that hampered him in 2008. I think he'll be the No. 2 receiver, but Kelly's not giving in.
How will Campbell fare in the final season of his contract?
Well, he couldn't have handled this situation with more grace. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent April looking for Campbell's replacement, but the quarterback kept showing up at the facility and trying to lead his teammates. The most important step he has taken is that he is getting through his reads a lot quicker. He'll take a peek at a receiver and then quickly move on. Last year, that wasn't happening all the time. He did a good job protecting the ball in the first half of the season, but now he needs to trust his instincts and take more shots downfield.
Could the lack of depth along the offensive line derail this season?
Absolutely. The Redskins haven't done a good job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Right tackle Stephon Heyer is ready to take the next step at right tackle, but right now they have Mike Williams backing him up. Williams has been out of the game for three years and I still don't think he is anywhere close to being a starter. Derrick Dockery is certainly an upgrade at guard and left tackle Chris Samuels has recovered nicely from being banged up last season. But the season will hinge on the starters staying healthy. Jeremy Bridges gives you at least one backup with some experience, but things get dicey after that.
Carlos Rogers and Campbell played together at Auburn. They're both in make-or-break seasons. The Skins went out and spent big free agency money on DeAngelo Hall because he makes plays on the ball. Rogers has the size and athleticism to be a solid starter, but he hasn't always played with confidence. And I don't like hearing how inexperienced wide receiver Marko Mitchell keeps burning him in practice. This is the season Rogers needs to prove the Redskins made the right move taking him in the first round in 2005.
Newcomer to watch
I'm anxious to see how Orakpo takes to the SAM linebacker spot. He was a starter from Day 1. But what makes him an exceptional player is the fact that he chased down a bunch of Big 12 quarterbacks. Every time Orakpo has to drop back in coverage on first or second down is time he should be spending chasing the quarterback. Even Haynesworth told me he was surprised Orakpo wasn't lining up at defensive end all the time. But perhaps Orakpo will become a great linebacker. I just know that he could have a minimum of 10 sacks playing next to Haynesworth this season.
Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake in the draft and simply cut your losses. The Redskins should do that with second-year cornerback Justin Tryon from Arizona State. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't have the size or the elite speed to cover wide receivers at this level. He made the Ravens' receivers look like world beaters last week. And that's not a talented group of wide receivers. ... Santana Moss is the heart and soul of the offense, but not many people know that. He's a relatively quiet guy who commands a lot of respect. Some veterans wouldn't want to groom the players who will eventually replace them. But Moss has jumped in and been a great mentor for Thomas and Kelly. ... Chris Cooley is about to have a huge season. He may be a little goofy off the field, but his speed and improved route running make him the perfect target for Campbell. Cooley could break through as an All-Pro this season. And yes, I know Anthony Gonzalez is playing for the Falcons and Jason Witten plays for the Cowboys. ... Trent Shelton is one of those wide receivers who shows up to a training camp and makes it impossible to cut him. He's not a speedster at all, but he can help you on special teams and he has pretty good size and body control. He always worked over the Texas A&M defense while at Baylor and he's taken that confidence into this camp. ... I like Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson as the safeties for the Giants, but for my money, LaRon Landry and Chris Horton could emerge as the best pair in the NFC. Horton loves playing downhill and he made some game-changing plays in 2008. Landry has the potential to replace Ed Reed as the best safety in the game someday. Now's a good time for him to start on that project. ... Colt Brennan likes to talk big, but he didn't back it up against the Ravens. He needs to bounce back with a nice performance this weekend to have any shot at overtaking Todd Collins as backup QB. ... Tight end Fred Davis is showing a lot more maturity in this camp and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact this season.