After a brief hiatus (and well into free agency), we’re back with the next installment of our series analyzing the Washington Redskins roster. From here on out, free agent signings will be incorporated into our analysis. The Skins have already made key additions to their receiving corps and defensive backfield, but one unit that the Redskins have so far left unaddressed (and for good reason) is the defensive line:
Adam Carriker, defensive end — Ok, so maybe the team “addressed” the d-line somewhat by re-signing Carriker to a four-year, $20 million contract. A solid veteran and locker room presence, Carriker is stout against the run and, though he gets some grief for not being a flashy pass rusher, actually got the job done last year with 5.5 sacks. By retaining Carriker, the Skins ensure they’ll have a very good and deep rotation along the defensive front in 2012.
Stephen Bowen, defensive end — The Redskins made several solid moves in free agency last year, including signing Bowen away from the Dallas Cowboys to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. Bowen was the definition of solid in his first season with the Skins, impressive given that his son Skyler died 10 days after he was born June 28 four months premature alongside twin brother Stephen III. The professionalism and dedication Bowen displayed while dealing with the unimaginable pain of losing a child spurred his teammates to vote him the recipient of the team’s Ed Block Courage Award in December.
Barry Cofield, nose tackle — At an official (and certainly inaccurate) listing of 6-feet-4-inches tall and 306 pounds, Cofield does not fit the normal profile of a 3-4 nose tackle (short and fat), but what he might lose in leverage he makes up with brute strength and a violent mean streak. Along with Bowen, Cofield represented an excellent value signing in free agency last offseason, bolstering faith in Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen as shrewd, prudent decision makers. Expect Cofield to only be better in his second season anchoring the Skins 3-4 defense.
Kedric Golston, defensive end — An unrestricted free agent, Golston was dealt some serious bad luck in November when he suffered a torn MCL and partially torn ACL with seven games left in the 2011 season. Having established himself as a versatile reserve that can play as a 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle, the injury likely cost Golston a shot at a decent payday this offseason. He’ll probably be willing to accept a one-year deal at the veteran minimum to recoup some of the value he lost following the injury, and if the Skins are smart they’ll ante up. If they let Golston walk, they’ll need to replace him with a veteran unfamiliar with the defensive scheme or draft a defensive linemen with a pick that could be used towards more pressing needs.
Jarvis Jenkins, defensive end — Perhaps no player on the Redskins left a larger impression during training camp with coaches and local media than Jenkins, so much so that some were wondering whether the former Clemson Tiger would end up seizing Carriker’s starting spot. A good athlete at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds, Jenkins displayed the explosion needed to disrupt running plays in the backfield and get to the quarterback. At minimum, Jenkins figured to be a key piece of the Skins defensive line rotation and nickel package. That’s why the worst moment of the team’s preseason came in the third week when Jenkins suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Baltimore Ravens. Now fully-healed, Jenkins should be ready to pick up where he left off, hopefully having spent his rehab getting stronger and into better shape.
Chris Neild, nose tackle — Another excellent 2011 draft choice with an even better beard, Neild spent the entire 2011 season as Cofield’s backup and burst onto the scene Week One versus the New York Giants, recording three tackles and 1.5 sacks. His contributions were more muted the rest of the way (seven tackles and a half-sack), but Neild nonetheless proved himself a steady backup nose tackle and well worth the second-to-last pick in the 2011 draft.
Kentwan Balmer, defensive end — The former first round pick started 11 games for Seattle in 2010 but was cut in August and again by Carolina in the preseason. He went unsigned until the Redskins picked him up in Week 10 but ended up playing in only three games, recording zero tackles. Still only 25, the issue with Balmer has never been his talent but his attitude and work ethic. San Francisco drafted him out of North Carolina in 2008, but Balmer did not get along with then-Coach Mike Singletary and demanded a trade in his second season. Seattle got him for a six round draft pick but cut him a year later. The Skins obviously saw enough potential in Balmer to give him a shot, but to make the 2012 roster he’ll have to attend offseason workouts, report to camp in shape and prove he deserves a spot.
Darrion Scott, defensive end — Inactive for the first eight games of the season, the Redskins waived Scott in Week 10 before signing Balmer but brought back the former Buckeye a week later. Scott suited up for the final seven games, recording four tackles. At 30, Scott isn’t a candidate for the practice squad and could be a training camp casualty if coaches see more potential in any late round draft picks or undrafted rookie free agents.
Doug Worthington, defensive end — Worthington did not see the field in 2012, spending most of the season on the practice squad before being added to the 53-man roster for the final two games. The team signed the Ohio State product in August but waived him a month later before re-signing him to the practice squad. Drafted in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, Worthington was released early that season and later signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad. The Buccaneers released him last August, two days before the Skins picked him up. Still only 24, Worthington could again be a contender for the practice squad in 2012.
Chris Baker, nose tackle — A third-year player out of Hampton, Baker spent 2009 with the Denver Broncos and 2010 with the Miami Dolphins, appearing in a single game each season, before he was signed to the Redskins practice squad in 2011. A hefty player at 6-foot-2 and 329 pounds, Baker was promoted to the active roster for Week 14 but suffered a quad injury the next day in practice. He did not play against the New England Patriots and two days later was placed on injured reserve. Baker will have to hope to make the practice squad again, as he isn’t going to beat out Neild for the backup spot and coaches are unlikely to carry three nose tackles come Week One.
Overall — Last year the Redskins began the season with seemingly no questions at tight end or safety. Of course, those positions quickly joined the roster’s other question marks following injuries to tight end Chris Cooley and safeties LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe (not to mention a four-game drug-related suspension for tight end Fred Davis later in the season). As the Skins prepare for the 2012 season, they can only hope for better luck along the defensive line, currently the one position where they can say there are few concerns. If they decide to not re-sign Golston, a new backup will need to be found. But with steady starters and young, intriguing backups in Jenkins and Neild, the line is Washington’s most solid defensive unit.
Potential solutions — If the Redskins decide to not re-sign Golston, they will need to find a new backup via free agency or the draft. Like Golston, former Jacksonville Jaguar Matt Roth and San Diego Charger Luis Castillo both have injury concerns and could be had for cheap. In the draft, Tennessee’s Malik Jackson and Notre Dame’s Ethan Johnson could be solid late round selections. But again, Washington’s draft choices would be better spent on positions of greater need. There are intangible benefits to retaining a homegrown product and solid locker room presence like Golston. He may not be the most talented player, but he’s someone good to have around young players like Jenkins and Neild. That alone, not to mention solid production as a backup, is worth a minimum salary contract.
My take: On the defensive side of the ball, the Skins front office should re-sign Golston and devote its time to upgrading the secondary (already underway with signings of safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Cedric Griffin) and re-signing linebacker London Fletcher.