Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio spoke to the local media via Zoom on Thursday, discussing top draft pick Chase Young, an "interesting mix" of linebackers and changes to the Redskins' defensive approach. Here are five takeaways from the videoconference:
1. Del Rio believes the "sky is the limit" for Chase Young.
Del Rio made headlines following the 2020 NFL Draft when he said Chase Young, the Redskins' No. 2 overall pick, had the best the most complete toolbox he's seen from a prospect coming out of college.
His praise of Young continued during Thursday's session, when he said the "sky is the limit" for the rookie edge rusher.
"For me, I just can't wait to get going with him, but he's doing all that he can right now as a member of our defensive line, a member of our Washington Redskins team," Del Rio said. "We obviously have big designs, we think he's a really good player, and we're looking forward to getting him involved."
While Del Rio has not seen Young in person yet due to the novel coronavirus, he's seen enough film of him to conclude he'll be a "real good player" with the Redskins.
His presence alone will free up the other former first-rounders along the defensive front, Del Rio said, while raising the level of play for the entire unit.
"It's not about just rush; it's about rush and coverage and them going hand-in-hand," Del Rio said. "You're going to need coverage to hold up so that when our defensive line does win, they can get there. You can have the best rush in the world, but if you don't have some coverage and make the quarterback hold it, it's not going to be positive for you. They go hand-in-hand, but I do believe [Young] can be impactful for us."
2. Del Rio understands the challenge of balancing the talent along the defensive line.
The Redskins face a luxurious issue; there are four starting spots along the defensive line, yet the team has five former first-rounders, four of whom were selected in the past four drafts. And that's not even including reigning sack leader Matt Ioannidis, who signed a multi-year extension last offseason.
"You're getting right to the part that is not so comfortable," Del Rio admitted to reporters. "You're fired up for having all of these guys, but then they can't all go on the field at the same time. So that is part of it, like being able to deal with that aspect of it, having guys understand, 'Hey, you're not going to play all the time' or, 'You're not the starter.'"
Del Rio, who related the situation to a star-studded basketball team with not enough balls, said competition will ultimately decide the rotation and that all of the players know that. This will ensure the best possible product when the Redskins take the field.
"We have good players in our front, guys that were well thought of coming out of the draft and they were taken high," Del Rio said. "We should expect them to be really good players for us and be a really solid foundation for us to build around, and that's how we're going to approach it."
3. The Redskins have an "interesting mix" of linebackers.
The Redskins made plenty of moves this offseason to address their linebacker corps.
They brought in reserve Kevin Pierre-Louis and veteran Pro Bowler Thomas Davis Sr. and re-signed Jon Bostic -- the team's starting middle linebacker in 2019. Then they selected Khaleke Hudson in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
These additions have provided the Redskins with plenty of options as they transition to a 4-3 scheme under Del Rio.
"What we have is an interesting mix," Del Rio said. "I am excited to get them on the field and let them compete."
Del Rio went on to highlight the experience of Davis and the speed and prowess of Cole Holcomb, who made more than 100 tackles as a rookie. He also made sure to mention Pierre-Louis as an under-the-radar signing and someone who has shown, albeit with limited chances, that he can be more than a dominant special teamer.
Del Rio did not specify where Ryan Anderson will play -- he served as a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2019 -- but he agreed with head coach Ron Rivera that Anderson is a versatile player who the Redskins want to get more opportunities.
"We have a group that is going to be very competitive fighting for playing time and fighting for roles," Del Rio said. "They are going to be a key part of us when we talk about tying rushing coverage, the ability to fit the run, the linebackers are essential to that. We are going to count on them playing well for us."
4. More so than switching defenses, Del Rio emphasizes changes to the overall approach.
A lot has been said about the Redskins transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, but Del Rio clarified that the change in alignment is not as important as the philosophical differences.
The Redskins will be in a 4-3 base defense, which Del Rio said is only implemented about a third of the time in today's NFL. For the rest of the snaps, the unit will be in sub packages based on the offensive personnel.
But regardless of circumstance, Del Rio said his defense will impose an "aggressive approach to playing the run on the way to the quarterback." He thinks his players are going to really like it.
"Where [defensive linemen] have been doing a lot of two-gapping and a lot of playing both sides of a blocker, we're going to ask our guys to be more penetrating and disruptive," Del Rio said. "Our linebackers and secondary will understand how to fit off of that, so they're going to have a lot more freedom in terms of being able to generate the beginning of a pass rush while we're playing the run."
5. Competition, competition and more competition.
If there were a list of words to summarize the Redskins' offseason, competition would be high on the list.
Rivera and vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith both used it when describing the team's free agency approach, and Rivera further emphasized it around draft time and during virtual offseason workouts. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Scott Turner said it six times during his videoconference.
Del Rio, who has been in the NFL for more than 30 decades, understands the importance of competition, too, and he believes it will be crucial as the coaching staff aims to build a consistent winner in Washington.
"I know in my time as a head coach there were several times where we had a young player come into camp who was not highly thought of who all of a sudden everyday just competed his tail off and ended up making the team and created a role for himself," Del Rio said.
"So, to me when you've seen enough examples of that you understand that what it comes down to is competition, and ultimately we're going to put a squad together and go compete on Sundays. It is all about competition and that is really what the league is all about. You have to perform -- it is a performance-based business -- you have to perform and those who perform the best play the most."