The Washington Redskins only made subtle offseason moves along the defensive line. Various factors were involved. One seemingly involves betting on a major acquisition from last offseason finally paying off.
Defensive lineman Stephen Paea was among general manager's Scot McCloughan major signings before the 2015 season. The agreed upon four-year, $21 million contract came with productive starter expectations. Between a slow start and a season-ending injury, those hopes were dashed -- but not erased.
"My expectations are high because I think he’s a phenomenal player," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said of Paea earlier this month.
One hulking reason for continued optimism involves pure brute strength. Paea, 28, broke the record for most bench press reps of 225 pounds at the NFL combine with 49.
The reason his first season in Washington ended early was a grade two toe sprain.
As for why Paea's play didn't live up to the hope, Barry offered a transitioning reason.
"I think anytime that a player changes teams, changes systems as a veteran, there is going to be a little bit of a learning curve both in scheme and terminology," Barry explained. "Then to add into it that he got banged up, hurt his foot."
While getting adjusted to the new defensive scheme, Paea didn't consistently make an impact at the line of scrimmage. His brain got in the way o the 300-pounder using his natural strength and aggression.
"I think Stephen sometimes – with a lot of players – tend to overanalyze things," Barry reasoned. "And Stephen is at his best when he just gets off the ball and goes and I think he’s getting back to that." In short Barry concluded, "Stop thinking."
Whether Washington thought about cutting ties with the former Oregon State product for salary cap savings or not, the player Barry knows from those college days is still here.
"I’ve seen Stephen perform at a high level before," Barry reflected. "I thought he was a great player coming out of college and I do – I have high expectations for all of our players and Stephen is included. So I think he has got to get back to getting off the ball and causing havoc in the backfield and that is when he is at his best."
With the Redskins using more four-lineman looks, Paea should line up often at tackle along with Chris Baker, Kendall Reyes, Ricky Jean-Francois and rookie Matt Ioannidis. The overall plan involved the Redskins targeting a versatile group with players capable of lining up in different spots as opposed to last season's look with the massive Terrance Knighton at nose tackle.
If the Redskins are right, their lack of major spending along the defensive line this offseason won't look unwise. That's because they believe in the 2015 investment of Stephen Paea.
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