The Redskins defense could be really good next year. Or it could be lousy. Or it could end up anywhere in between.
After a dismal 2010 spent watching Kedric Golston and Ma'ake Kemoeatu get manhandled by blockers, the defensive line has seen a major infusion of talent - Stephen Bowen at end, Barry Cofield at nose tackle, and rookie Jarvis Jenkins showing promise in training camp. This is in addition to Adam Carriker, who acquitted himself well as a starter last year despite getting no help at all from his compatriots.
A high first round draft pick, Ryan Kerrigan, got dropped into the left OLB spot, a position of moderate need.
Free safety, where Kareem Moore was a liability last year, has been upgraded with O.J Atogwe. And the loss of Carlos Rogers at corner has been offset by the acquisition of a good young Josh Wilson, with Kevin Barnes and Philip Buchanon around to provide quality depth.
Purely in terms of talent, the Redskins defense should be in good shape. So what's the problem?
The problem, frankly, is that the defense was stocked with talent when this coaching regime first took over, and the results were disastrous. The roster was full of 4-3 talent and Haslett proved unable or unwilling to make depth chart changes based on performance. The line got bowled over, the linebackers (including Brian Orakpo) had their weaknesses highlighted by the poor scheme fit, and slow-developing blitzes were constantly called despite the fact that the players had repeatedly demonstrated that they could not execute them effectively.
So facing the problem of a bunch of 4-3 players trying to implement the wrong defense, the Redskins added... a bunch of 4-3 players.
Barry Cofield and Jarvis Jenkins will both be converting to 3-4 roles. Horatio Blades, the one potential partner to London Fletcher who showed he knew how to play the run in this defense, is buried on the depth chart behind holdover Rocky McIntosh, who proved he didn't. Ryan Kerrigan is a rookie 4-3 end learning LOLB despite missing out on offseason activities. Even Stephen Bowen, who played in a 3-4 in Dallas, actually played in Wade Phillips' purely one-gap Wade Phillips 3-4, which is a unique defense and fundamentally different from other 3-4s.. Bowen may be able to play good old fashioned two-gap defense, but he sure didn't do it at his last job. He will be learning as well.
And the secondary is going to sink or swim based on the performance of all that out-of-place front seven talent. It is always true in football that the pass rush makes the secondary look much better or worse than it really is. Jim Haslett's defense takes that to an extreme. No matter what happens, the oft-called soft zones will yield tons of completions. With a consistent pass rush, the ball skills of Hall, Wilson, and Atogwe, in conjunction with the in-the-box destruction wreaked by LaRon Landry, just might create enough turnovers that we don't worry about all those passing yards. If the pass rush struggles, Haslett is setting up his DBs to get torched yet again.
So on paper, the Redskins defense is looking good. And maybe it's unfair to judge Jim Haslett off of just one year, and he will show he can use his talent to maximum effect. But until I see this defense get the job done in regular season games, the jury is out.