Jun 16, 2015; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher (97) celebrates with Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois (99) during a tackling drill as part of day one of Redskins Minicamp at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Redskins General Manager, Scot McCloughan, moved quickly in free agency to improve the Redskins defensive line for the 2015 season. Adding Ricky Jean Francois, Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton while letting go of Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen is a major upgrade to the weakest unit on the team in 2014.
Knighton is a massive force at nose tackle to anchor new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s 3-4 attacking defense. Barry is expected to provide a fresh alternative to former defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s read and react, predominantly zone-based defense.
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Knighton in the middle will give Barry the freedom to attack the gaps between opposing offensive linemen with more recklessness with Knighton taking on two or three blockers on every play. Knighton’s presence alone will discourage many teams from running inside on the Redskins defense.
Paea will be the defensive end to the left of Knighton. Paea emerged as an inside force in 2014 for the Chicago Bears. He totaled six sacks and two batted balls at defensive tackle for the Bears for the season. The six sacks equaled Paea’s career total for his three previous years in the NFL.
Paea is not as strong versus the run but playing next to Knighton should help tremendously in that area. Jean Francois will rotate in at both defensive end spots and may even see some time at nose tackle. He spent the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts but began his career with McCloughan when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.
Jean Francois also enjoyed his best season in 2014. He had three sacks and batted down four passes and defended the run well. The 2015 season will be Jean Francois’s seventh in the NFL.
Hatcher was almost unblockable early in the 2014 season
Jason Hatcher was the Redskins prize free agent signing of 2014. After a career year in 2013 with the Dallas Cowboys with eleven sacks and three batted balls, Hatcher was almost unblockable early in the 2014 season for the Redskins. He had 2.5 sacks in week two versus Jacksonville.
Hatcher only had three more sacks over the rest of the 2014 season as he struggled with a knee injury. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in July 2014 and struggled with that knee early in the season before eventually missing the final three games.
Hatcher will see limited snaps in 2015 to save him for pass rush situations. He will move inside to defensive tackle along with Paea when the Redskins go to a four man line in their nickle defense. Keeping Hatcher fresh and healthy will help the Redskins greatly improve the pass rush push they get from their defensive line.
Chris Baker will spend time spelling both Hatcher and Knighton. Baker played mostly nose tackle in 2014 after Cofield was injured in week one versus the Texans. Baker started three games at defensive end in 2013 and thrived in that role.
Baker has improved each year he has been with the Redskins and could thrive playing next to his best friend and best man at his wedding, Knighton. Frank Kearse will also see time at defensive end in his second season with the Redskins. Kearse had three sacks in 2014 while playing in 15 games.
Kedric Golston has played nine seasons with the Redskins. He was used at nose tackle as well as defensive end in 2014. Golston will probably not play a tenth season with Washington as McCloughan will be looking to have more youth along the defensive line.
The rest of the training camp roster will be competing for either one spot or for spots on the practice squad. Either veteran nose tackle Jerrell Powe or Travian Robertson may be kept to help keep Knighton fresh but neither is a real candidate for the practice squad. 2015 UDFA DE Corey Crawford and 2014 UDFA NT Robert Thomas will have to excel to make the roster but both may be on the practice squad.