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Focus On 'D' Is Youth, Speed

This week's release of defensive end Bruce Smith was not met with a great deal of surprise. The future Hall of Famer had said last December he would "most likely" retire at season's end--meaning that even he did not see himself in the team's long-term plans.

The release of linebacker Jessie Armstead, however, seemed to generate a bit more surprise. Armstead led the Redskins with 6.5 sacks last season and also recorded 99 tackles.

On Wednesday, Gibbs acknowledged that Armstead's release was a difficult decision.

"I think those things are always so hard, because we didn't get a chance to work with him," Gibbs said. "I think he's going to wind up playing next year and will probably do well somewhere. We didn't know that much about him, but I think we have a lot of respect for him.

"Our evaluation was that we probably needed to go in a different direction."

When considering the releases of Smith and Armstead, both Pro Bowlers when in their prime, it's instructive to review the comments of Gregg Williams, assistant head coach for the defense, during his introductory media session earlier in February.

Williams, who tutored under the likes of George Allen, Jack Pardee and Buddy Ryan, sees a Redskins defense that finished 25th in the NFL last year and appears to need to become both younger and faster. He suggested his ideal defense would have a combination of both youth and speed.

Think of some of the best defenses in NFL history and speed at defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety is often a cornerstone.

"Our goal is to take our young players and make them faster," Williams said. "We want to try to have the fastest football team that we can. That's an area we're trying to evaluate: our overall team speed."

The defense already has youth in players like LaVar Arrington, Jeremiah Trotter, Fred Smoot, Rashad Bauman and others. Some backups who may get a closer look during off-season mini-camps include linebackers Lemar Marshall, Antonio Pierce and Clifton Smith.

So what direction will the Redskins go in when trying to acquire defensive players in free agency and the NFL Draft?

Gibbs wouldn't divulge specifics, but he emphasized that a plan is in place. More will almost certainly be revealed next week, since the free agency signing period officially begins on March 3.

"We have everything laid out," he said. "We pretty much know what we're going to do. We know exactly what the numbers are of the people we want to sign, we pretty much have picked out the people we want to try and obtain."

While the defense could be reworked this offseason, one of the building blocks of the defense remains Arrington. The three-time Pro Bowler signed a contract extension in December and is one of the team's leaders.

How will Arrington's unique skills be used on defense? That's a question that has had different answers by different defensive coordinators over the years. (For his part, Arrington would prefer to just stay in one system for several seasons; he has had a different defensive coordinator each year he's been in the league.)

Said Gibbs: "Right now we're still going through the process of what he'll play. What you'd like to do is, anytime you can get LaVar on a running back who's in pass protection, you're going to win. If you can get him isolated on a tackle, you're going to win. So I think there'll be a lot of creative things you're going to try and do with him to put him in the best situation. He's obviously one guy who could play all over for you."

So with youth and speed a description of the type of player that Gibbs and Williams want, which free agents fit that profile? Jevon Kearse, Williams' former defensive star in Tennessee? Grant Wistrom, the Rams' defensive end? Antoine Winfield, a cornerback who starred for Williams in Buffalo?

So many decisions. And it all starts (officially) next week.

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