Scouting the Defensive Line

Insiders will take a look at each position, analyzing the Redskins' strengths and weaknesses. Today we look at the defensive line. Key players: DT Dan Wilkinson, DT Brandon Noble, DE Renaldo Wynn, DE Bruce Smith, DE Regan Upshaw, DT Jermaine Haley.

Key players: DT Dan Wilkinson, DT Brandon Noble, DE Renaldo Wynn, DE Bruce Smith, DE Regan Upshaw, DT Jermaine Haley.

Others to watch: DE Ladairis Jackson, DT Delbert Cowsette.

Darkhorse: DT Bernard Jackson. We know he was a favorite of ex-director of football operations Joe Mendes. In a few weeks maybe we'll see why.

Big question: Can they rush the passer? The early answer would be no. The tackles aren't playmakers and neither is left end Wynn. Smith did finish strong last year (six sacks last five games) and the Redskins need him to play at that level. Otherwise, there won't be much rush from the line. Upshaw is coming off knee problems which might still restrict him this season. When healthy, he's considered an OK pass rusher. Jackson, too, is coming off knee surgery and the Redskins say he's progressed well. He showed flashes last season--coming out of nowhere to make the team--and is versatile; if healthy he'll help. I loved how they lined him up at end and also as a linebacker. Only one other player on the roster could do such a thing: LB LaVar Arrington. He'll line up occasionally at end again, but not as much as last year.

The Redskins need Smith to rush well, allowing them to move Upshaw to LE in certain situations (they tinkered with Smith there during minicamp, too). That would be a big help.

Against the run: They should be solid. Wilkinson and Noble should be fine up the middle and Wynn is all right at end. But Smith is past his effectiveness as a run-stopper and Upshaw must remain healthy. Haley is known as a run-stopper, but few teams let such players leave so easily. But he'll be in the rotation.

Key addition: Noble. I liked him in Dallas--a lot. Noble understands his role and works very, very hard. He would have been perfect next to Daryl Gardener, someone who could free up a playmaker to make plays. But, instead, he's essentially replacing Gardener and that's a problem. He won't command the attention Gardener did, which freed up Smith a year ago. Still, Noble will be solid--he'll do the necessary grunt work. Noble will usually line up over the center, hoping to occupy him and a guard by slicing through the gap.

Key loss: Gardener. Can't blame the Redskins for not shelling out big bucks to keep him. Had they done that and he blew out his back, they would have looked silly. Then again, if he stays healthy this year he could land in the Pro Bowl. Gardener was easily the defensive MVP last year and will be sorely missed. He added a dimension the Redskins had not had in a long, long time.

Now or never: Cowsette. At times I've wanted to see more of him. Cowsette has shown excellent quickness getting to the backfield and has occasionally looked like someone who could help (as a reserve). Other times he disappears. He's played three seasons. If he doesn't show more during camp, he could be gone.

Need to show something: DE Greg Scott. He was inactive last season after making the jump from Hampton University. He's athletic, which is why he was drafted. Now he must show instincts.

Final analysis: There's more depth than a year ago, but the loss of Gardener can not be understated. This should be a hard-working unit, led by Noble and Wynn in that regard. But if Smith can't rush the passer anymore, then the defense will suffer.

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