2008 Training Camp Breakdown: Defensive Line
After losing starting left defensive ends Phillip Daniels and reserve end Alex Buzbee to season ending injuries on the first day of training camp, the Redskins were hurrying to find a suitable replacement. They accomplished that and then some with the acquisition of one of the game’s best in defensive end Jason Taylor. The potential future Hall-of-Famer, who spent the last 11 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, will shift to left defensive end and the prospects of forming a powerful duo with right defensive end Andre Carter are very promising. The Redskins, for the first time in several years, have a proven, formidable pass rusher who can take the pressure off of the linebackers and the secondary.
Prior to Taylor’s acquisition, the main focus of the defensive line was prior to this spring’s NFL Draft. The consensus among fans and media was that drafting a defensive end in the early rounds was a priority. The Redskins, however, chose to target the best available, rather than go by team needs. The Redskins had the chance to select University of Miami defensive end Calais Campbell, who many had felt the team would target as a potential first or second round selection, but had already picked up a wide receiver and a talented reserve tight end in the second round. The team opted to wait until the seventh round and undrafted free agency to pick up rookie defensive linemen. They later acquired three-year defensive end Erasmus James from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a conditional 2009 7th round draft pick.
Taylor put up 11 sacks in 2007 while playing for an abominable 1-15 Dolphins team. That stat alone says something. The 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 2007 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year has a career total of 117 sacks. He is on the record as saying his main focus is winning, not money or fame. Whether the winning will come along with the stats he has put up since 1997 remains to be seen but the Washington faithful, fans and players alike, are pleased with even having him on the roster so far.
Daniels spent this offseason displaying his strength through power lifting competitions. It wasn’t a waste of time for him despite being excused from the Redskins off-season strength and conditioning program. With a 633-pound squat and 600-pound dead lift, Daniels won his weight class in both types of lifts. Daniels, 35, was trying to prove he still has the power and skill to be the Redskins starting left defensive end. He didn’t provide the most consistent pass rush but is solid against the run, provides great veteran leadership, and can play defensive tackle in an instant. He plans to work hard on a healthy comeback next season.
Buzbee showed enough promise last preseason to make the practice squad and was elevated to the active roster prior to Week 16. This training camp was critical for Buzbee to make an impact and prove himself in his second year. It was crucial for him to show he can be good enough to make the active roster and not just the practice squad. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the chance to prove that now but it’s a safe bet that he’ll be kept around for next year’s training camp given his potential.
Carter returns after having his best season as a Redskin, leading the team with 10.5 sacks. He also recorded 65 tackles, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one safety. In 2007, Carter displayed his speed and power to go along with his size. His status as starting right defensive end is secure, given Taylor’s switch to left end. His stamina and endurance are not in question but if his reserves perform well, he should have more time to rest and re-energize on the bench, likely making for a more productive season.
James was the Vikings first-round selection in 2005 but has been riddled with injuries the past two seasons. With the recommendation of new defensive line coach, John Palermo, who coached James at the University of Wisconsin, the Redskins pounced on the opportunity to acquire James, who was on the outs with Minnesota. There were a lot of expectations from him in Minnesota but the team felt he was expendable given the plethora of talent on their defensive line with the likes of Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and newcomer Jared Allen. James had a good rookie season with 34 tackles and four sacks while starting nine games. He gives the Redskins flexibility behind starters Andre Carter and Jason Taylor. Currently, he is nursing his knee after having ACL surgery in December. He is patiently working his way back onto the field.
Newcomer Chris Wilson’s 2007 campaign was very similar to Chris Clemons’ 2004 performance with the Redskins. They were both young, overachieving speed rushers who seemed to find a way into the backfield or to the quarterback when given their limited opportunities. Wilson, who joined the Redskins after playing for the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League, was a nice change of pace while Carter and Daniels rested on the bench. He came up big at the end of the 2007 season, logging two sacks in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys, sacking both Tony Romo and Brad Johnson. He also sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the Wild Card round of the Playoffs. Now with one full NFL season under his belt, having played in every game last year, 2008 is looking to be a good year for Wilson.
Demetric Evans is not notorious for lighting it up in practice but it seems as if every time he is put in during a game, he makes a play, whether it comes in the form of a sack, forced fumble, or a crucial tackle. He is arguably the best reserve defensive lineman on the team and should be a factor while filling in for the starters. He finished last season with 31 tackles, one sack, and one fumble recovery while playing both end and tackle.
Also competing for roster spots are 7th Round pick Rob Jackson and Washington D.C. native Kevin Huntley. Their jobs were made easier with the recent departure of Dorian Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State who was released to make room for the signing of second rounder Malcolm Kelly.
Jackson played two seasons at Kansas State and started 23 of 25 games. He tallied 61 tackles, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and three defended passes with the Wildcats.
Huntley has NFL experience, recording 2.5 sacks and 10 tackles in only six games with the Raiders in 2006. He also recorded three tackles in five games for the Atlanta Falcons last season.
Veteran Cornelius Griffin has yet to match his standout 2004 season but has been solid at stopping the run. He has been a positive mentor for his younger protégés Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston, who, if they continue their stellar play, appear to be the Redskins defensive tackles of the future. They would make for a productive tandem when Griffin’s time with the team is up.
Golston beat out Montgomery and had a surprisingly strong rookie season in 2006, starting 12 games, recording 59 tackles, half a sack, and one fumble recovery. Their roles seemed to reverse in 2007 as Montgomery became the regular starter alongside Griffin. He had a career year, mirroring Golston’s rookie campaign by starting 15 games, recording 47 tackles, a half-sack, and one fumble recovery.
One player who made a name for himself last season was Lorenzo Alexander, whose original position is defensive tackle but made an impression because of his versatility. Alexander showed off his versatility on offense as well, substituting at guard, tight end, and fullback on some occasions as well as lining up on special teams. His most memorable play came in the preseason against the Tennessee Titans in which he made a tackle minus his helmet resulting in a bloody nose.
J.T. Mapu, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Tennessee, was signed by the Redskins after a spring tryout. He was released twice since then but was once again called upon following Buzbee’s injury. In four years at Tennessee, the Hawaii native totaled 65 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. From 2004-2005, he was out of college football participating in a two-year Mormon church mission.
Also returning are Ryan Boschetti, who re-signed with the team this offseason, and Matthias Askew.
Boschetti’s playing time has decreased significantly the last three years and is ineligible for the practice squad. This may be his last shot to make the team unless he is going to be inactive on gameday like he has for the majority of the past two seasons.
Askew appears to be the biggest long shot of this group. A 2004 4th round choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, Askew spent training camp with the Redskins in 2007. He failed to make the roster but was re-signed in March.
What to Watch For At Camp:
- How will Jason Taylor’s play affect the rest of the line and the defense as a whole?
- How will Erasmus James perform in his second stint under the guidance of John Palermo?
- Will Chris Wilson continue to impress enough to make the roster?
This article was released on 2008-07-24.
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