With the latest setback for Adam Carriker and the likelihood that he will need to start the season on the PUP list, the Redskins need to look for ways to boost their defensive line depth. Free agent defensive tackle (defensive end in a 3-4) should be their top target and someone the Redskins are working to bring in as we speak (write).
While many point to a strong starting unit of DE’s Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins and NT Barry Cofield, the reality is that the defensive line is a very rotational position (particularly if you don’t have elite players). Ideally you want you ends to max out between 60-70% of the snaps (likely one 65-70% and the other 55-60%) and your nose tackle to be in the 60-65% snap range. Bowen was at 77% in 2011 and 73% in 2012, and Cofield was at 75% in 2011 and 67% last season. The other defensive end position wasn’t as high (again in large part due to the lack of a quality fulltime guy) but was at between 55-60%. Now some of these snaps don’t necessarily go to other defensive linemen, as the position will get subbed out in nickel packages. But you can probably count on your back-up defensive linemen to account for 500+ snaps and to cut back the starters snaps further, you would ideally like to see them get 600-625 snaps.
Right now the Redskins are relying on a back-up group of three to four guys from Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Ron Brace and Phillip Merling. Though a couple of those guys (Brace and Merling) were former 2nd round prospects, by in large you don’t have a lot of positive playing experience. Golston has been a back-up lineman with the Skins since 2006, but when his snaps have increased due to injury he’s been exposed. To fill in for a couple snaps a game is one thing for Golston, but he’s outmatched as a starter. Baker did a solid job in the middle as the back-up NT last year, but may not be able to increase his snaps that much this year. Neild had the back-up NT role in 2011, but again didn’t show much promise. Promise and potential was something that Brace and Merling were supposed to have, but neither have really shown much at the NFL level.
If the Redskins defensive line was to remain healthy from here on out they might be okay, and can cobble together enough back-up snaps from this group (primarily Golston and Baker). The issue with that approach though is the fact that they aren’t likely to remain healthy collectively. Last year the team lost Chris Neild and Adam Carriker to season ending injuries, the year prior it was Jenkins and Golston. It is very likely to be an issue again. Even if it isn’t season ending injuries, there could very well be injuries that knock players out of multiple games, and the Redskins just don’t have the depth to handle that.
This is where Justin Bannan comes in. Bannan has been in the league since 2002, and has been a consistent starter/top back-up since 2005. Bannan in many ways is what the Redskins have hoped that Carriker would be a stout run defender who consistently occupies blockers and makes a number of tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Bannan like Carriker has never been much of a pass rush threat, but he’s been highly productive in his role. He eats up blockers, but can still shed them and make a number of plays (in fact he averages more tackles and tackles for a loss per run defense snaps than Carriker). Bannan has experience playing both in odd and even man fronts, and has been a part of 3-4 defenses with both the Ravens and Broncos (in 2010).
Bannan should offer a quality boost to a rushing defense that ranked 17th in yards per attempt allowed and 12th in TD’s allowed (and that number is soft, since they had the fewest rushing attempts against them last year). He’s a veteran who can start if need be due to injury, but will at the very least offer quality back-up snaps. Bannan also has playoff experience with both the Ravens and Broncos (2012), and can be another strong veteran voice on this defense. Given that he is 34, his contract demands should be very reasonable and the Redskins can easily move money around to sign him. It is far too much of a risk to rely on the current back-ups and not bring in a quality veteran. With the Redskins looking to build upon their success from last year, it is a risk they simply can’t afford to take.