ASHBURN—After high hopes turned into an injury-plagued season in 2017, Washington Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is excited about the weapons he has at his disposal headed into 2018.
Tomsula is now working with back-to-back first-round draft selections in Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, in addition to veteran players Ziggy Hood, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier and Stacy McGee. The Redskins also have Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle, who they picked up in the fifth round of the draft.
During minicamp workouts, Payne drew rave reviews from Tomsula, who said he had his eye on the Alabama star for some time.
“I’ve been watching the guy for two years—a guy who I was really excited about trying to get,” Tomsula said. “He’s athletic, he’s smart—I like his DNA; I like who he is as a guy.
“The difference between confidence and arrogance is ignorance. I’ve gotta have real confident guys, but you can’t cross over and be an arrogant guy, because then you’re just ignorant. He’s got that confidence. Doesn’t say a lot—he just loves football.”
The coach is also excited about moving Hood back to his natural position of defensive end, after using him to fill in at nose tackle last year because of injuries.
Progress will be measured against one of the team’s more embarrassing stats—last year, the Redskins were the worst in the league against the run, allowing 134 yards per game to opponents.
“I think getting the guys healthy ... I think we’ve got a great chance for that front seven to be very, very good,” coach Jay Gruden said.
Tomsula said even though many of his players missed time with injuries, he’s still able to accomplish more in his second year with them.
He said he wants his players to understand the workings of the entire defense, not just their assignment on a given play.
“A total concept of team defense,” he said. “Last year, the first year together, it’s your little world. Now, let’s expand that world and understand where people fit around us.”
Tomsula in particular singled out linebacker Mason Foster as a player who makes the line better with his play at linebacker.
Gruden agreed, and noted that with the beef the Redskins are now carrying on the defensive line, it’s easier to have lighter, speedier linebackers that can roam from sideline to sideline.
That, of course, assumes the line does its job. On paper, it’s a dramatically improved unit, but as last year’s injuries showed, there are no sure things.
Manusky said injuries won’t fly as an excuse this year.
“The bottom line is, we need to do it with the people we do have,” he said.
“The group is doing well. I couldn’t be happier with the way they’re working.”