The Redskins defense was greatly improved in 2011 from their awful year in 2010. While the improvement was noticeable and in some cases dramatic this past season, it is hardly complete. The Redskins despite finishing in the top 15 in yards and first downs allowed, were below average against the run, and finished 21st in points allowed. The Redskins defense was also incapable of producing turnovers at a high level, which further complicated things. Given a tougher schedule this year , the Redskins will need their defense to step up their game this year and become a complete unit. Like last year the Redskins linebackers are unquestionably the strength of the defense, while the secondary is the weakest point. The defensive line lays somewhere inbetween, and while improvement from Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, the key to the line and whether or not it becomes an undeniable strength of Redskins could very well be 2011 2nd round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who missed all of last season with an injury.
Jenkins gets a mixed outlook from Redskins fans depending on who you talk to. Optimists will point to his 2nd round status and strong training camp reports to justify him as an impact defensive lineman. Pessimists will point to the idea that he was overdrafted (according to some), didn’t make any major plays in his limited preseason action, and of course is returning from a serious injury. Now neither side is really wrong, as Jenkins possesses both big time potential and serious concerns, and the reality is he’ll probably come in somewhere in between. Jenkins due to being raw and returning from injury, should by no means be expected to play the 600+ plays of a typical starter. Nor should he be expected to play at a high level as much as a more established lineman. On the other hand though Jenkins has the upside to become the Redskins most talented defensive lineman. And if he plays closer to that level it could have a tremendous impact on both the Redskins run and pass defenses.
Jenkins has a very quick first step off the ball, which gives him a serious advantage over even bigger, stronger or faster (overall speed not off the snap) linemen, as he can get into a lineman’s body before he is set. This causes a natural leverage advantage, as well as initial penetration. That penetration at the very least will limit a quarterback’s ability to step up into the pocket on passing plays, and on running plays it can force a back to make his first move/change direction in the backfield. That is exactly the type of disruption the Redskins need on their defense, and can result in additional sacks, pressures and tackles for a loss, by Jenkins or his teammates. It’s that kind of disruptor that the Redskins really lacked last year, and it is a level that seems unlikely for a guy like Bowen or Cofield to attain.
The most successful 3-4 defenses usually have at least that one guy along the defensive line, who is constantly creating havoc in the offense’s backfield. The Redskins lack that guy who can be top 10 or 15 at their position along the defensive line, which led to some of their struggles last year. If Jenkins can be that guy (even in a more limited role given the fewer snaps) it will make everyone better. A healthy and effective Jenkins will also allow the Redskins to use Adam Carriker in more of a run stopping role, which historically is his strongest aspect of his game. Jenkins’ presence also means that Bowen and Cofield likely won’t have to be among the league leaders in snaps at their respective positions. Which should keep them more fresh and effective. While it seems like hyperbole, saying Jenkins is key to the Redskins defensive success might not be as far fetched as some think. The only real question is will his play be at a high enough level to make the Redskins better.