The Washington Redskins didn't ditch their defensive boss, even after a rough year and a coaching change. But they did tweak the lineup and it's possible that nearly half of the players who start this season will be new to the lineup, though only two would have been added in the offseason (Jason Hatcher, Ryan Clark). Washington's biggest change is that it plans to alter the pass rush, which is one reason the Redskins hired outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, a pass-rush specialist. The Redskins also added linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will also be a big help.
Here's a look at the Redskins' starting defense and special teams at the end of the offseason:
Left end: Chris Baker
Nose tackle: Barry Cofield
Right end: Jason Hatcher
Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan
Inside linebacker: Perry Riley
Inside linebacker: Keenan Robinson
Outside linebacker: Brian Orakpo
Cornerback: DeAngelo Hall
Cornerback: David Amerson
Safety: Brandon Meriweather
Safety: Ryan Clark
Change from 2013: Clark, Robinson and Hatcher are newcomers. Amerson was the third corner last year and takes over for Josh Wilson. Baker started three games last year because of injuries to others, but enters with the job now because of his performance.
Note: There is more uncertainty with this group than on offense. Because of Hatcher’s knee, the Redskins could limit his participation early in camp; they used Jarvis Jenkins at this spot during the spring. And what about Stephen Bowen? He, too, has a knee issue and after not taking part in practices during the spring it’s hard to imagine him being ready for a big role early in camp. Also, while Robinson looked good this spring, he’s never started an NFL game and has to show he can handle the run game as well as the responsibilities of the position. He’ll need to hold off veterans Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan for the job. The secondary is pretty well set. They love Clark’s leadership and communication and, yes, he has to show he can still play. He’s firmly ahead entering camp. Meriweather is ahead as well, as backup Phillip Thomas must still show a lot. The coaches liked his progress last summer before he got hurt, but the bottom line is he’s inexperienced and coming off a tough Lisfranc injury.
Spring standout: Probably Robinson. His ability to play on the move was evident, but considering that was his strength before the two torn pectoral muscles, that's not a surprise. Training camp, and preseason games, will reveal a lot more, but he had a good offseason.
Average age at start of camp: 28.18
Combined Pro Bowls: 11 (Orakpo, 3; Hall, 3; Meriweather, 2; Hatcher, Kerrigan and Clark, 1)
Starters 30 or older: 5 (Clark, Meriweather, Hall, Hatcher, Cofield).
Kicker: Kai Forbath
Punter: Robert Malone
Long snapper: Nick Sundberg
Returner: Andre Roberts
Change from 2013: Malone and Roberts are new.
Note: Malone had some booming punts during the spring, but he was known for his inconsistency in previous stops. Too many punts with bad hangtime leading to long returns. He must fix that. But his competition, Blake Clingan, has no career punts. Forbath has a slight edge because of experience, but Zach Hocker has a legitimate chance to win the job. You do not base the competition on how they looked in the spring – no coach ever would -- but Hocker is off to a good start. So that battle will be interesting. You don’t draft a kicker unless you like his chances of winning the job. Unless a kicker looks terrible in practice, then the games matter most. The Redskins do have another long snapper on the roster in Kyle Nelson, who took over for an injured Sundberg last year. But the latter has been consistent since joining the Redskins. And Roberts is the best one to handle both return duties. DeSean Jackson should not be used as anything other than a pinch-hitter on punt returns; he’s far more valuable from scrimmage, so don’t wear him down. I’ll be curious to see how Richard Crawford looks returning punts this summer, but he’ll be in a real fight for a roster spot. If they can’t keep six corners then he’ll be in big trouble. The Redskins want Roberts to get as many touches as possible and, with Jackson and Pierre Garcon ahead of him at receiver, having him return punts and kicks is a good way for this to happen.