Even in the NFL’s so-called pass-first modern era, stopping the run remains the battle cry of every defensive coordinator. But it’s not something Washington Redskins DC Joe Barry saw his players do very often last season.
The Burgundy and Gold won the NFC East and made the playoffs despite a very soft run defense. One so soft it surrendered 122.6 yards, per game, 4.8 yards an attempt, 10 rushing touchdowns and 55 big rushing plays, according to SportingCharts.com.
Fortunately, for Barry, there’s a quick fix. In just two easy steps Washington can fix a woeful run defense. Just two moves, one in free agency, one during the draft.
Barry should hope head coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan pluck veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis off the league’s scrapheap, before selecting Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson with the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Neither player will be an easy get, but both have the attributes any stingy run defense needs.
In Laurinaitis, the Redskins would get a savvy on-field signal-caller with the instincts and smarts to diagnose running plays and blocking schemes pre-snap. Once the ball is in motion, Laurinaitis is a classic thumper who wastes little time tracking down ball-carriers and delivering a wallop:
The 6’2″, 248-pounder is the brains and the brawn at the heart of a defense. He’s also an active player who has never failed to eclipse 105 tackles in a season.
Such a consistent level of production made his release from the now-Los Angeles Rams, something of a surprise. It was certainly a shock for the player, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Thomas also noted how Laurinaitis was a model citizen during his time in the Twin Cities:
Understandably, competition is already brewing for a true professional on and away from the gridiron. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport has identified one particularly keen suitor:
But Washington should act fast to beat interested parties to the punch.
McCloughan doesn’t generally go in for the whole free agency thing, especially when players are reaching the apparently dreaded, big three-zero. But he should reconsider and place Laurinaitis in the middle of a defense that has lacked intelligence and physicality in the middle since London Fletcher hung up his cleats.
Yet, signing Laurinaitis won’t be enough to end Washington’s generosity on the ground. The next step would be be protecting the new Mike ‘backer with a house-sized minder.
Fortunately, this year’s draft offers the perfect candidate.
A’Shawn Robinson is a dream fit for a three-man defensive front that needs a refresh this offseason. NFL.com’s Media analyst Bucky Brooks agrees, tabbing Robinson to the Redskins at 21.
Brooks correctly identifies the defending Eastern division champs’ “need to get younger and more athletic along the defensive front.”
Robinson fits the bill as a proverbial “immovable object” on the inside. The former Alabama star is a double-team magnet who exists to help linebackers pad their stats.
He excels in areas that are unfashionable, yet essential to stopping the run, as Lance Zierlein of the league’s official site noted: “As opposed to teammate Jarran Reed who already plays with polish, Robinson is a projection-oriented two-gapper who can step in right away and help plug holes in a leaky run defense.”
Zierlein compares Robinson to ex-Jacksonville Jaguars man-mountain John Henderson. He did the dirty work that let linemen Marcus Stroud and Paul Spicer, along with linebackers Mike Peterson and Daryl Smith, make the splash plays.
Robinson can be the same kind of gap-controller in Washington. That’s assuming the Redskins find him still on the board when they make their selection.
Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times isn’t so sure a tackle as imposing as Robinson will last until pick 21. But he does detail how the Redskins met with Robinson and teammate Jarran Reed, a tackle more reminiscent of New England Patriots great Richard Seymour, at the combine.
If he’s available, Robinson is perfect for a role as a 5-technique end in a 3-4 system. Washington needs an upgrade over veteran Jason Hatcher, who would be better used as an interior pass-rusher in nickel situations.
Putting Robinson on a base front with mammoth nose guard Terrance Knighton and rotund raider Chris Baker would give Washington the size they need to dominate the trenches and let linebackers like Laurinaitis run free to the ball.
Both players can add up to one of the NFL’s most miserly run defenses in 2016.