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Redskins' defense improved in most areas, but line holds the key

Chris Baker keeps improving, but there are questions about the defensive line. AP Photo/Nick Wass

The Washington Redskins' offense isn’t a whole lot different than it was at this time a year ago, save for the starting backfield where Darrel Young and Alfred Morris opened last season. The defense, though, has changed quite a bit -- as should be expected by a group that ranked 25th or worse in six categories.

Young was cut by Chicago earlier this summer and remains unsigned. Morris will be a backup in Dallas behind Ezekiel Elliott, though the ex-Redskin had a solid summer by all accounts. Derek Carrier started at tight end because of injuries to others (Jordan Reed still played the majority of snaps).

Meanwhile, here are the defensive changes:

Line

Out: Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher. Paea was cut while Knighton wasn’t re-signed (they tried at the end, but it wasn’t a strong effort and New England signed him; he was cut last week). Hatcher, meanwhile, retired after the Redskins cut him.

In: Chris Baker, Kedric Golston and Ziggy Hood/Kendall Reyes. Baker is the best of the bunch and bumped Paea from the lineup early last season. Hood should get the start – he was better in camp and, if he stays healthy, should be solid. Golston is a wise veteran.

Better or worse: Different. It’s too early to say if this group is better or the same with different names. Hatcher, when healthy, was good. At this time last year, there was optimism about the front. But Baker continues to improve so that helps, and Hood really was a pleasant surprise. This group holds the key to the defense. They have to be better shedding blocks and helping make plays in the run game.

Linebacker

Out: Keenan Robinson, Perry Riley, Trent Murphy. Obviously Murphy is still around, but he opened last season as a starter and now is the primary backup. Robinson eventually got hurt, lost his starting job and was allowed to sign with the Giants where he’s a backup. Riley was cut last week and remains unsigned.

In: Will Compton, Mason Foster, Preston Smith. Compton is better than Robinson while Foster matched Riley’s play, making him expendable not to mention a lot cheaper. Smith is a far better pass rusher than Murphy and looked excellent in games this summer.

Better or worse: Better. Compton is a terrific communicator and parlays recognition into results (for the record: Robinson ran a 4.79 in the 40-yard dash at the combine; Compton ran it in 4.62 seconds at his pro day. Point is, there wasn’t some dropoff in speed). Smith is better than Murphy – he recorded eight sacks as a rookie but more importantly just looks like an improved overall player this summer.

Cornerback

Out: Chris Culliver, DeAngelo Hall, Justin Rogers/Bashaud Breeland (slot). Hall moved to safety while Culliver dealt with knee issues, eventually tore his ACL and was released in the offseason. Rogers eventually was placed on injured reserve with plantar fasciitis and cut a short time later. He remains unsigned. In truth, though, this spot belonged to Breeland, but he sat out the opener because of a one-game suspension.

In: Breeland, Josh Norman, Dashaun Phillips/Kendall Fuller (slot). Norman was signed as a free agent while Phillips simply worked hard to develop after going undrafted in 2015. Fuller was a third-round pick. Both he and Phillips have looked good since camp opened. Breeland has improved each season, and it’s not hard to see him making the Pro Bowl this season.

Better or worse: Better. Culliver never looked solid because of his knee issues; Hall was coming off injuries and had yet to regain his full explosiveness. Breeland is better than he was a year ago, too.

Safety

Out: Dashon Goldson, Duke Ihenacho. Goldson was released in the offseason and recently signed with Atlanta. Ihenacho remains and has worked as a backup safety all summer. Injuries have derailed him each of the past two seasons, limiting him to 12 snaps the past two years combined. Other safeties on the roster: Jeron Johnson, Kyshoen Jarrett and Trenton Robinson.

In: Hall, David Bruton. The Redskins also moved corners Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett from corner to safety like Hall. But Hall had half of last season to learn the position. They simplified Hall’s role in 2015, but it’s evident in practices this summer that they’re going to expand his responsibilities quite a bit. Bruton is coming off his best season in Denver, though he got hurt late in the regular season. Having converted corners will lead to some tough transitions at times but also provides more speed deep.

Better or worse: It should be better. Bruton has more left than Goldson did. A lot depends on Hall’s progress and ability to be durable. He can be a nice player there because of his speed and smarts. But a lot, too, depends on getting the angles down on various plays. Ihenacho provides good depth and plays with energy, as does Everett.