There aren't many topics left to address, so I turned this week into a one-question mailbag -- taking a look at a position for the Washington Redskins that most needs to prove itself after last year.
John Keim: That’s a good question and there are several positions to which I think this applies. The running backs have a lot to prove because they struggled too often last year, and now one of them, Matt Jones, is the No. 1 guy. He has quite a bit to prove. But half the backs who likely will make the roster probably weren’t on the team last year. There’s the offensive line when it comes to run blocking and there’s also the secondary. However, with the latter, two of the four starters will be new so it’s hard to say they have something to prove based on what happened here last year. Corner Josh Norman must prove he’s worth the money and safety David Bruton must show he’s a worthy starter. But they were elsewhere in 2015.
So, for me, it’s the defensive line. And that’s not to say they won’t get it done, but it’s a group that returns the bulk of its players -- and the front office didn’t add substantially to it this offseason. They did make some changes, drafting Matt Ioannidis in the fifth round, switching Trent Murphy from linebacker to end and signing free agent Kendall Reyes. Murphy has to show he can make the move, but it’s tough to feel fully comfortable after just one offseason; he’ll have to read offenses differently than he has in the past. Reyes has struggled the last couple years, so he has something to prove, too.
But the projected starting three are from last year: end Chris Baker, nose tackle Kedric Golston and end Stephen Paea (or Ricky Jean Francois). However, Reyes might end up starting. It’s not as if the line was the cause of all defensive evils last year, and improvements elsewhere will help them. And some players did what the Redskins hoped: Baker was very good and Jean Francois played well as a reserve. Golston is exactly what he’s been for a while: a tough, hard-nosed player who excels in short-yardage situations. As of now he’ll start at nose, but there’s some pressure because the Redskins opted not to draft someone high or sign anyone else to play this spot. They figured they only use their base 3-4 defense for 10-15 snaps a game. But that doesn’t mean it can be dismissed, either.
A key for Golston and the other linemen will be how they perform in the nickel. That was an issue last year. It’s not as if the Redskins’ defensive line is bad, or will be. But they didn’t make a substantial signing, so it’ll be up to some of the holdovers to provide more punch (Paea). Stopping the run doesn’t just fall on them, but it does start there and if they play well, the rest of the defense will fall into place. There's job incentive, too: Baker is a free agent after this season; Reyes is on a one-year deal, as is Golston.