Thursday, July 30, 2009

Position Overview: Defensive Line

Confidence Level: 8 out of 10
Don’t let anyone tell you Albert Haynesworth was a waste of money. He just may be the single most dominant defensive player in football. If you try to block him one-on-one, your play is guaranteed to get blown up in the backfield. If you double team him, you have a fighting chance to slow him down, but he might well beat you anyway. The only reliable way to take him out of the play is to put three blockers on him, in which case the rest of the defense is running free. He is not overhyped. And although ends get more press attention, tackle is the one position at which a dominant player can improve all three levels of the defense.
Beyond Haynesworth, I expect to get outstanding play from our entire tackle rotation. However, I’m a bit mystified over how that rotation seems to be playing out. When we signed Haynesworth, I just assumed Kedric Golston would be starting next to him. Watching him last year, I think Golston is the most underrated player on the team. He has the strength to hold the line against multiple blockers, and when left one-on-one can penetrate to make plays himself. And he managed all this while he was pretty much working alone out there. I think Golston and Haynesworth would be thoroughly unstoppable in the middle. However, from everything I’ve heard Cornelius Griffin is considered the other starter. Based on what I saw last year, Griffin is still good for utterly embarrassing an offensive lineman once or twice a game. But, presumably due to his advanced age, he seems to spend the rest of the day getting blown off the line of scrimmage. It seems to me that he would be ideal rotating in in a backup role, playing fresh and taking advantage of his still considerable strength without exposing his declining endurance. Nonetheless, Greg Blache rotates his linemen so heavily that it may not be a significant difference.
There’s two more guys to consider when it comes to the tackle rotation:

The first is Anthony Montgomery. He had a reputation as an underachiever his first couple of years, and frankly I didn’t see significant improvement in ’08. Among people who follow the team closely he is still considered to have potential, but I just haven’t seen it. It’s certainly possible I’ve underestimated him, but given that he is in his contract year this is his last chance to make an impression (Golston is also in his contract year, so only one of them, at most, will be staying with the team. Care to guess who I’m rooting for?).
Finally, Lorenzo Alexander has been moved into Demetric Evans’ role from last year, meaning he will be getting time at both end and tackle. I consider Alexander to be one of the team’s unsung heroes along with Golston. He has a pretty nice spin move, and can make plays in the backfield when isolated on one blocker (by the way, we just signed a guy who will prevent him from facing more than one blocker). He’ll only be playing tackle in pass rush situations, which should play to his strengths, and will fill in at end when Orakpo is playing Sam. I have a feeling that by the end of this season both Kedric Golston and Lorenzo Alexander will finally be known by people outside of the DC metropolitan area.
When it comes to the ends, I’m still going to talk about the tackles. Haynesworth might single handedly put Andre Carter in the Pro Bowl. For years he has seemed like a disappointment, but frankly he was the most threatening (relatively) of our pass-rush options and therefore drew the most attention. He has at least moderate skills, and should generate effective pressure now that the tackles will be the focus of every protection scheme.
The other side is complicated. We are inevitably going to see a rotation consisting of rookie Brian Orakpo, octogenarian Philip Daniels, and a little dash of Lorenzo Alexander (I assume he will be spelling Carter as well). As for Phillip Daniels, he has always challenged Golston as work-out king, so even at his age I suspect he will be able to hold the point of attack against the run, and have marginal pass rush skills that should lead to some pressure given the attention devoted to the tackles (have I mentioned the tackles?). Orakpo is a rookie, and will be spending a lot of time at OLB, so I’m not going to let myself have overly high expectations. A little pass-rush would be nice, but as Greg Blache perceptively points out, you’re better off falling in love with a stripper than a rookie. Still, his talents seem formidable so I’m envisiong at leat adequate contributions and, um… Haynesworth might make adequate plenty good enough. I know I’m getting repetitive, but Haynesworth really is the story here.
I'm pretty sure Carter, Daniels, Orakpo, and Alexander will get the bulk of the playing time, and I am pretty optimistic about that group, but of course Jeremy Jarmon is guaranteed a roster spot. Both Zorn and Cerrato have repeatedly stressed his need to build upper body strength and that they consider him to be getting a jump on his development for next year, so this is looking more and more like a redshirt year (in the 80s Gibbs would have found a way to get this guy on IR by now).
There's a few more guys competing to add depth who have a legitimate shot to make the team:
- Old friend Renaldo Wynn, who we cut two years ago and is not that physically imposing anymore (actually, he never was). There's a clear youth movement on the line, so I'm betting he's the guy to get squeezed out to make a roster spot for Jarmon.
- Alex Buzbee, the Georgetown product who blew out his knee in the afternoon of the first day of camp last year. Terrible timing, since with Daniels going down that morning Buzbee was about to get himself a whole lot of playing time.
- Rob Jackson, last year's seventh round pick. I think that Jackson and Buzbee are competing for the final DE spot.
One final note: If Lorenzo Alexander gets a lot playing time, as I’m rooting for and looks likely, will he no longer be the extra lineman in the offensive goal line formation? Not the biggest deal in a football sense, but I’m curious.

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