After adding four draft picks to the front seven, it seems unlikely that it will be addressed further in free agency. This group has been intriguing since the front seven’s struggles were such a major part of the Redskins defensive problems last year, and yet very late in the season (too late to do any good) some of the bench depth gave indications that they could play much more effectively than the starters we’d been seeing much of the year. So with that in mind let’s take a look at how the new arrivals may be integrated in with the holdovers and talk a little depth chart.
I am rather doubtful that Jarvis Jenkins will start immediately; for a couple of different reasons. First of all, I was very, very happy with Vonnie’s play at the end of 2010, when he finally got the bulk of the playing time at RDE. So the prospect of him holding that starting job for a year doesn’t bother me. And given that Jenkins will be learning a new position (or two if he splits time between end and tackle) and there are questions about his upper body strength, it’s logical to think it will take him awhile to earn significant playing time. But Vonnie is 35, and at a position that it’s nice to rotate anyway. If I had to guess, I would figure that Vonnie would get the overwhelming majority of the snaps to start the year but gradually a time share would develop in which Jenkins stuffs the run and Vonnie comes in for passing downs.
And for further security in the event of a slow-developing Jenkins, we know that the coaches love Jeremy Jarmon, despite the fact that he has gotten very little playing time yet in the 3-4 due to injuries. I would expect to see Jarmon on the field a lot, probably at both end positions. As you know if you read regularly I am a pretty big Adam Carriker fan and think is solid performance last year was generally underappreciated, but while he often controls or beats his man he usually lacks the speed and athleticism to chase down a quarterback in the backfield. The Redskins may start giving Jarmon more snaps at times when they want a more aggressive defense. And 2011 may well be a competition year between Jarmon and Jenkins to see who succeeds Vonnie as the starter in 2012.
So if we’re looking at a rotation of Holliday, Carriker, Jarmon, and Jenkins, what does that mean for Philip Daniels? Unless Jenkins is a complete flop as a rookie, then Daniels at this point in his career is probably the fifth best end on the team (in this system at least – he really should be in a 4-3). It helps him that he can still contribute on special teams, but in general if you’re going to keep a guy for special teams and extreme depth you don’t want him to be a 38 year old. The Redskins may well want some experience on the bench since both Jenkins and Jarmon are pretty raw, but I think Daniels’ 2011 roster status is far from guaranteed.
At nose tackle, we have to assume Anthony Bryant is the starter, even though we only got to see him play at the tail end of the season. The real wildcard here is Ma’ake Kemoeatu. His performance last year was irredeemably terrible, but of course he was recovering from a torn Achilles in ’09 and had a hurt shoulder for most of 2010. If he’s anywhere near as bad as he looked, then it seems an easy matter for 7th round pick Chris Neild to make the team and step into the backup role. If Jenkins does in fact spend meaningful time at tackle, then things get even more crowded. It would appear that Ma’ake and Nield could be competing for one roster spot, with the outcome decided by the degree of Ma’ake’s improvement following a return to health.
Obviously Orakpo has a solid hold on the ROLB job, but I think LOLB is completely up in the air. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any one of Lorenzo Alexander, Rob Jackson, or Ryan Kerrigan get the LOLB start in Week 1. Kerrigan will almost certainly be the starter by the end of the year, especially given all we’ve heard about his work ethic and professionalism and what-not, but it still will take him some time to adjust from playing in a three point stance to standing and playing in space. And even if he learns quickly it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett go with a veteran at first and leave it to Kerrigan to push the guy out of the job, just because that seems like the sort of thing Shanahan and Haslett would do.
Lorenzo Alexander is a particular mystery. He could be the primary starter at LOLB, or he could be the fifth OLB on the depth chart, or anywhere in between. He did struggle in many aspects of the position last year, but of course being Lorenzo Alexander he performed far better than anyone would have the right to expect given how different it was from anything he had been asked to do before. And who knows, with a year of experience under his belt maybe he’ll improve significantly.
But what if he doesn’t? He will definitely be on the team – there’s a reason the coaches gave him a three year contract while they were busy cutting or tendering many of his teammates in the last offseason. And he will obviously continue to be a special teams ace, because that’s his thing. His history of versatility creates options, but now that there seems to be pretty good depth at end he probably isn’t needed there.
If they need to find something for Alexander to do, the coaches may consider inside linebacker. Rocky McIntosh just isn’t right for this defense, and as a free agent he is very unlikely to be back. Perry Riley was drafted to take an ILB job next to London Fletcher, but if he’s not ready we have a problem and even if he is depth will be needed. I happen to have a lot of confidence on H.B. Blades, who has always played well when called upon (especially against the run). But unless 2010 free agency rules are imposed, he will be an unrestricted free agent. I want him back, but if that doesn’t happen Alexander may be a solid fallback option.