With the signing of linebacker Marcus Washington last Friday, the Redskins and assistant head coach of the defense Gregg Williams continued to revamp a defense that finished 25th in the NFL last season.
The presence of Washington, a strong-side linebacker the last four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, is expected to allow Williams plenty of flexibility in shifting three-time Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington to the weak-side. In that spot, Arrington could serve as even more of a pass-rushing threat.
"We want to try to have a defense that is linebacker friendly so that they never have to come off the field," Williams said. "I've been real blessed to coach defenses that have three-down linebackers. In this league, that doesn't happen very much. But it makes you a faster defense.
"The fact that both Marcus and LaVar have rush ability--it does affect the protection problems that offenses have when they have to figure out who's coming, when they're coming and where they're coming from. I like that our linebackers have rush ability, but also have the ability that I don't have to worry about them in coverage and space, too."
Last year in Buffalo, where Williams was head coach, his unit finished second overall in the NFL and ninth in sacks with 38. That defense had a trio of linebackers in Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Jeff Posey, each of whom recorded 90-plus tackles. They also combined for 9.5 sacks.
Posey was the strong-side linebacker and had 5.5 sacks, while Spikes was the weak-side linebacker with a team-high 182 tackles and two sacks.
With the Redskins, Williams believes he has enough weapons on defense to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive end Phillip Daniels and cornerback Shawn Springs round out the other changes on defense so far--more additions could be on the horizon.
"I'm known as a pressure and attacking coach--so we'll do that," he said. "But you're always a better defense when you commit to coverage and not have to rush 6-8 guys at a time. But we will. We'll do what it takes to try to impact the timing of the quarterback, because we do believe that's a source of the passing game's problems."
Regarding Washington, Williams said: "Marcus played a lot of situational linebacker where the Colts did put him down as a rush end at times, but they moved him around a bunch, too. The fact that he's had a good history in Tony Dungy's defensive scheme--the Tampa Cover 2, which is Tony's Cover 2, we have that scheme in what we do also, plus the fact that he has fire zone experience as a stand-up linebacker--that's important.
"Really, the schemes in the NFL aren't that different from team to team. The terminology is different and sometimes there's a technique that's different. Marcus has played in every aspect of the game that we need to see him play."
Williams' defense in Buffalo, while linebacker friendly, also had a stalwart defensive line with the likes of Aaron Schobel (11.5 sacks) and Ryan Denney (3.5 sacks) at end and a pair of mammoth, run-stuffing defensive tackles in Sam Adams and Pat Williams.
The Redskins' defensive line has been upgraded this offseason with the additions of Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels joining holdovers Renaldo Wynn, Regan Upshaw and Jermaine Haley. The team may continue to address the line in free agency and the draft.
Williams said the capability of Wynn, Daniels and even Griffin to play both the end and tackle positions is a key development.
"I'm always looking for flexibility in personnel," he said. "Phillip can play left or right defensive end and can move inside and be real solid as a defensive tackle, especially at the three-technique. Cornelius can play--if we had to have him do so--at defensive end on run downs and defensive tackle on pass downs. Now he's going to play defensive tackle all the time, but his athleticism will allow us some flexibility."
Brandon Noble, the Redskins' defensive tackle who suffered a serious knee injury in the preseason last year, could also be in the mix, Williams suggested. Since the injury, Noble has been a daily presence in the trainer's room at Redskins Park, working hard to rehab his knee.
"I'm anxious to watch Brandon play," Williams said. "I really am. I like him coming out and we'll see how he has recovered from all of his injuries. He's a tough guy. The fact that he's been a run-stopper in his history--that's important because we have to do a better job against the run and put offenses in second-and-long and third-and-long situations."
In the secondary, the addition of tested veteran cornerback Springs will offset the loss of Champ Bailey. Springs joins holdover Fred Smoot at the corner spots, along with Ifeanyi Ohalete and Matt Bowen currently manning the safety positions. It's possible there could be more additions to the defensive backfield as the Redskins' offseason progresses.
"I think we have a solid nucleus [of cornerbacks] to start with, but that is a point on any defense that has to be strong," he said. "Our corners have to be real strong in order to hold up and get pressure in the defenses I like to play. They're on an island a lot and that's just part of this game."
Williams declined to designate a No. 1 corner and a No. 2 corner, simply because his defense includes packages that require four--sometimes five--cornerbacks on the field at the same time.
Instead, Williams expects to match up cornerbacks based on each week's game plan.
"Right now, we'll take a look at every game and match up guys sometimes, but it'll be on the game plan side of things," he explained. "Sometimes a corner matches up against an opponent better one week than he does the next week. Quicker guys, big, tall guys--all of that will go into the factoring of how we're going to play it.
"We'll start off right now being left and right, then as we approach game plans, if we need to isolate one guy on a receiver, we'll do that."
Asked about Sean Taylor, the University of Miami (Fla.) safety who is expected to be among the top picks in April's NFL Draft, Williams replied: "I've seen all of those guys. I've been blessed with good safeties in this league, too."