"Jason Taylor was going to play [strong-side] linebacker, we were still going to have to fill the left end spot."
- Vinny Cerrato
Lost in the news and opinion blitz of the past few days was this quick quote from Redskins Executive VP of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato. It appeared in an unrelated piece discussing the free agent acquisition of OG Derrick Dockery and re-signing of CB DeAngelo Hall. I read it, stopped, then went back and read it again to be sure I’d read it right.
Over the past week, everyone with an opinion about the Washington Redskins signing of free agent big fish DT Albert Haynesworth had Jason Taylor lining up off Big Albert’s shoulder, taking advantage of one-on-one blocking caused by AH’s presence inside. Maybe the team would have stood Taylor up once in a while, but he was going to be an end. He was going to come off the edge all year and either take down QB’s himself or drive them up into the pocket into AH’s waiting arms.
Except that he wasn’t. Apparently, the Redskins were planning to turn him into a strong-side linebacker. A 34-year-old, 6'6", 240 lb. speed-rushing right defensive end was going to be the strong side linebacker.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m surprised this particular nugget hasn't scared up a whole lot more attention. Maybe I'm just over-reacting to this one bit of news. But I have to tell you, this one sent a bit of a chill up my spine.
Is it possible, I find myself wondering, that getting word of this move is part of what allegedly had Taylor “fed up” with the Redskins? I’m firmly in the camp that supports having cut him loose under the reported circumstances, but I have to admit, in his shoes I probably wouldn’t have found that prospect all that thrilling. Forget about the quarterback, JT. Just handle the tight end and stuff the run.
And what did defensive coordinator Greg Blache think of the move? Was it his idea? Word is Blache didn’t want Taylor here in the first place, not even as an end, a role he had played throughout a potential Hall of Fame career.
And setting aside why they were considering the move ... is SAM linebacker even a sensible fit for a long, lanky, 12-year veteran with a game built around using speed and finesse to evade 320 pound tackles on his way to the quarterback?
Then, of course, there’s the bigger picture. As in, what does it say about the Redskins that they even have to consider converting a 34-year-old defensive end to SAM? That position has been held down for five years by FA acquisition Marcus Washington, who played it very well until an accumulation of injuries starting in 2007 finally robbed him of his explosion. Well, who did they have behind him, pushing for playing time and hopefully ready to take over?
Point being ... what this latest news has underscored, with startling clarity, is that everywhere on the starting depth chart a hole crops up, the 2009 Redskins are having to scramble.
Thought I'd grab some quick numbers to sharpen the focus a bit:
Linebacker. In their last ten drafts (‘99 –‘08) the Redskins selected a total of seven linebackers (by round: 1 first, 1 second, 2 fifths, 2 sixths, 1 seventh). Note that the only LB selected higher than Round 5 since LaVar Arrington was chosen with the second overall pick in Round 1 in 2000, was Rocky McIntosh in 2006.
[Players on the roster today in bold.]
2008 – n/a
2007 – Dallas Sartz (5); H.B. Blades (6)
2006 – Rocky McIntosh (2); Kevin Simon (7)
2005 – Robert McCune (5); Jared NewBerry (6)
2004 – n/a
2003 – n/a
2002 – n/a
2001 – n/a
2000 - LaVar Arrington (1)
1999 – n/a
Marcus was a fine FA acquistion. He gave the team five good years, was a rock on the field (when healthy), a team leader and solid in the locker room. Problem is, the team developed nothing behind him. Rocky McIntosh is a pure WILL, and will use 2009 to show whether or not he can hold down a starting job at all. And the low-round draft picks the Redskins have used at linebacker over the past ten years haven’t borne fruit at all.
Sartz didn’t make it out of his first training camp. Blades is a nice complementary player who may still develop into a legitimate starter, but at 5'10" it's a stretch to picture him at SAM. I'd love to be proved wrong on that, but I won't be holding my breath.
So it’s not just the failure to invest draft picks in the position, it’s the failure of the few low-round picks that were used to measure up.
Defensive End. Over the last ten years, the Redskins have drafted three defensive ends (all seventh-rounders).
2008 – Rob Jackson (7)
2007 – n/a
2006 – n/a
2005 – n/a
2004 – n/a
2003 – n/a
2002 – Greg Scott (7)
2001 – n/a
2000 – Delbert Cowsette (7)
1999 – n/a
I’m not breaking any new ground here—the level of attention the Redskins have paid their lines in the draft, and paid to the draft in general, has been discussed ad nauseam.
But as the Redskins scramble once again to fill basic starting positions, and are apparently resorting to moves such as sending Jason Taylor to SAM backer—at best a one-year stopgap—and without even one legitimate home-grown young candidate ready to step in to any either of two building-block positions, it’s tough for even the most optimistic among us not to arch an eyebrow.
We'll leave the other side of the ball for another discussion. Not sure it's needed in this one.
Landing Albert Haynesworth in FA was a great move—particularly when the money involved turned out to be less than half of what many of the lemmings who “report” this stuff for a living continue to trumpet it to be. It’s not about that. You have a chance to land one of the best players in football at a position you've been scratching to fill for years, you do it.
It’s about relying so much on FA that a team with serious playoff aspirations ends up like they did last against Baltimore last December, and more to the question at hand, now finds itself in another offseason scrambling to plug fundamental holes with questionable position-shifts or from the outside, given there's nothing homegrown in the pipeline.
I’m not a “never” guy ... that the plug-and-play strategy hasn’t worked doesn’t mean it can’t. Until I see this team operate a season or two with a legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback at the helm—something I haven’t seen for more than a few games at a time since Mark Rypien retired 17 years ago—I won’t close the book on the notion that one can build and sustain a successful NFL program that way.
Plug a healthy Tom Brady into the lineup, say, and let’s see what happens. History makes a compelling case that everyone and everything associated with the burgundy and gold would suddenly start to look a lot stronger, seem a lot smarter and a smell a lot better.
But until that day comes, we’re left with such as the events of the past few days, brought into focus by news that the plan, apparently, was to move one aging non-draftee (and very expensive) veteran, Jason Taylor, into a position, SAM linebacker, where it is almost impossible to picture him thriving, because the team found the need to replace another aging non-draftee, Marcus Washington, who left his best football on the field two years ago, which in turn left another hole at LDE needing to be filled ... and discovering there was no one on the roster remotely ready to claim the job.
It’s a good thing the brain trust out at the Park knows what it's doing, becuase otherwise I might start to worry.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but few NFL teams have ever needed a franchise quarterback to emerge more than these Washington Redskins. And I wager no one is rooting harder for that to happen right about now than Vincent Cerrato.