Early 53-man roster projections: Defense

The early look at the opening week roster shifts to the defense and special teams.

All the practices are done. Nothing remains until training camp starts July 30 in Richmond. With so much time in between, let the final roster speculation begin. Starting with the offensive positions, here's an early projection for the Week 1 53-man roster.

Defensive line (7): Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, Jason Hatcher, Ricky-Jean Francois, Chris Baker, Kedric Golston, Frank Kearse

Perhaps the secondary improved most since last season simply because the unit sunk so low, but no group received more impact than the DL. Adding Paea on the left end worked, but combined with "Pot Roast" at nose tackle makes this unit potentially game-changing. Good defensive line play improves the other areas far more than the reverse. Francois provides depth in case Hatcher can't stay healthy. Golston and Kearse might ultimately battle for one spot.

Linebackers (9): Ryan Kerrigan, Keenan Robinson, Perry Riley, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith, Will Compton, Adam Hayward, Martell Spaight, Jackson Jeffcoat

No more Brian Orakpo, no more London Fletcher. In both cases, that's arguably a good thing. Orakpo couldn't stay healthy and hadn't played like a former first rounder for a bit. Fletcher's next stop might be Canton, but he wasn't stopping nearly as many opposing players at the end of his career. Orakpo's exit creates a battle for his vacated OLB spot between back-to-back second-round picks Murphy and Smith. Inside linebacker depth is exactly robust.

Defensive backs (8): Bashaud Breeland, Chris Culliver, Dashon Goldson, Jeron Johnson, DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Duke Ihenacho, Kyshoen Jarrett

Three of the four starting slots might be occupied by newbies -- and that's totally fine. Culliver provides the defense with a strong cover corner and attitude. Johnson appeared to have the inside track for one of the safety spots, but Ihenacho primarily worked with the first unit during mini-camp. Hall's recovery from an Achilles injury (and setback) could dictate whether the Redskins keep nine defensive backs. Coach Jay Gruden singled out Jarrett's work on special teams during mini-camp. Philip Thomas and Tevin Mitchell are in the mix for spots even though they're the odd-men out here.

Special Teams (3): Kai Forbath, Tress Way, Nick Sundberg

Nothing to see here. The most interesting special teams scenario involves the return game. Andre Roberts is the leader for now.


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