After enhancing the defensive line with three signings in free agency, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden says the coaching staff has "a good dilemma" waiting for them this fall.*
When determining how he was going to upgrade his defensive front, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden wanted to create a more active and tenacious unit.
A year ago, the team finished 20th in yards allowed per game (357) and yielded 107.6 yards per game on the ground. They got to the quarterback for a total of 36 sacks, but more than a third of those belonged to Ryan Kerrigan (13.5).
The Redskins announced on Feb. 27, 2015, that they have signed free agent defensive end Ricky Jean Francois.
To create more havoc, Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan enlisted the services of defensive linemen Ricky Jean Francois, Stephen Paea and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton by way of free agency. Collectively, they're a group that should help to solidify the Redskins' defensive front.
"I think the type of guys you see, you see Paea and Ricky Jean Francois, they can get up the field and rush," Gruden said last week at the NFL Annual Meetings in Arizona. "They're active, and we're trying to get off the line of scrimmage more so a little bit than play at the line of scrimmage."
With Jean Francois and Paea, Gruden hopes to generate more pressure on the quarterback. Combined, they recorded nine sacks last year for the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears respectively.
When he joined the Redskins in early March, Paea said that he plans to be "living in the backfield" on Sundays, disrupting whatever the opposing offense is trying to do.
"It would not only affect the running game, passing game, any offense run," he said, "[But] if you have a penetrating defensive tackle getting into the backfield on pass and run, that would do damage to the offense."
With both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys placing in the top-10 in rush yards per game last season, it became apparent to Gruden that beefing up the line to stop the run was going to be important to find success in the division.
And while Dallas may no longer possess last year's leading rusher, the division still does, as Demarco Murray simply traded his blue and white colors for green and black, signing with Philadelphia in free agency.
"You play against the Cowboys twice a year and they have one of the best running attacks there is – if not the best running attack – in football," he said. "They're going to pound it at you, so you have to be able to stop them a little bit."
That's where the player affectionately known as "Pot Roast" comes into the mix.
A known run-stuffing specialist, the Redskins hope that Knighton will be the force in the middle that the seven year veteran has become known for.
Drafted in the third-round (72nd overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009, Knighton has started 81 of 93 career regular season games, compiling 201 tackles (131 solo), 12.5 sacks, 11 passes defensed and forcing two fumbles.
At 6-3, 331-pounds and with that kind of play-making ability, Gruden calls him a "rare" find that they couldn't pass up on.
"They don't come along very often and if you can find a guy like that who can clog the middle, it's a great thing to have," he said. "Having a big body like Terrance and an active body like Terrance is excellent to have in there."
By strengthening the interior, Gruden hopes to make life easier for the rest of the front seven and allow them to make more plays.
"It frees up the linebackers, obviously, to make plays – Keenan [Robinson] and Perry [Riley Jr.] – and makes people bounce things outside right to [Ryan] Kerrigan," Gruden said, "Which is what we want. It helps out a lot."
With the additions of Knighton, Paea and Jean Francois, Gruden believes that the versatility and depth they've created along the defensive front will play to their advantage this fall.
"It's great to have depth where you can take him out and here comes Paea, here comes Baker, here comes Ricky Jean [Francois]," he said. "To have great depth rotational defensive linemen and keep them with the day of the no huddle and different phases of football.
"To have different type of defensive linemen will be a benefit to us."
When studying the unit as a whole, Gruden is excited about the future of the defensive line. Along with their three acquisitions, Washington still has Jason Hatcher, Frank Kearse and Chris Baker, among others, back to compete for playing time this fall.
"Let's get them in here, teach them the defense, let them get in shape," he said. "Let them come in and compete and in the OTAs we'll figure out where they go. I know they all can play. It will be a good dilemma for us to figure out who plays what down and where."