One of the keys to the 3-4 defense is the ability of the nose tackle to be a disruptive force at the point of attack. Whether it's stuffing the opposition's rushing attack or tying up blockers so the linebackers can pressure the quarterback, it's a physically demanding job.
Going into the 2011 NFL Draft, nose tackle was thought to be an area of need. The team waited until the seventh round, though, with the selection of Chris Neild out of West Virginia.
Despite selecting Neild, who at No. 253 overall was the second-to-last pick in the draft, the position is still an area of need going forward.
At 6-2, 319 pounds, Neild is a little undersized for a protypical 3-4 nose-tackle, but he should fit the Redskins system once he gains experience.
He comes to Washington with a reputation of gritty play, leadership and making up for his athletic deficiencies with intensity.
"He plays right over that center, he competes every down," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "I love the way he competes. I love how important football is to him. You can tell he has a mindset when he plays, that he enjoys football."
Despite his low draft pedigree, Shanahan made it clear that he expects Neild to contribute this year.
"He's a great competitor," Shanahan said. "I'll be surprised if he doesn't come in here and do everything he possibly can to make this football team. You can tell just talking to him that he's excited, he wants to come in here right away and do what he can do to make this football team."
Neild joins a group of Redskins nose tackles that includes Anthony Bryant, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Albert Haynesworth and Joe Joseph.
Bryant emerged as a starter late last season and produced a strong effort in the final five games.
Nicknamed "Bear" by some of his teammates, Bryant compiled numbers typical of a 3-4 nose tackle: 18 total tackles and two quarterback hurries.
"I thought he read plays well," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Bryant's efforts. "He held his gap, pushed the pocket. He didn't give ground on a lot of things."
Kemoeatu joined the Redskins prior to the 2010 season to help solidify the nose tackle position, but he struggled with a shoulder injury most of the season. He finished the year on injured reserve. In 14 games, he compiled 40 tackles, but was unable to be a dominating force in the middle of the line.
Joseph signed with the Redskins late in the season last year and appeared in only one game, his first NFL appearance. He is expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp.
Haynesworth is still on the roster, but is unlikely to return this year after a disappointing 2010 season.
Second-round draft pick Jarvis Jenkins, slated to compete at defensive end, also possesses the size and strength to fill in at nose tackle if the need arises. During his time at Clemson, he played both positions.
Nose tackle remains a question mark as the team lacks a clear-cut starter. The team could target a 3-4 tackle in free agency to at least provide competition at the position.