Monday's breaking news that Junior Galette will miss his second straight season with another torn Achilles douses this week's all-smiles return of football with some cold, harsh realities.
Teams can plan for plenty, but injuries hurt said plans with the kind of blindside knock the Washington Redskins hoped from Galette as they open training camp Thursday in Richmond. Even with a 53-man regular roster and a practice squad and even more bodies for camp, sincere depth isn't an option for all positions at all times. As it turns out, depth at outside linebacker was among the positions where one injury brings cold sweats.
Some will say will want to act like Kevin Bacon in Animal House by saying don't panic, all is well. That's not true.
Oh, there's no reason to "panic" with a crazy move like bringing in troubled ex-Cowboy Greg Hardy or deal a future Day 1 pick for help. Washington won the NFC East last season without Galette. Preston Smith was just a pup for most of the season and now appears poised to continue the sack-happy finish to his rookie season. Ryan Kerrigan remains the best OLB option whether Galette played or not. The idea of those three together arguably made the OLB unit Washington's strongest.
That notion is dead and now we've got trouble with the Redskins headed to River City for the training camp this week.
* Trent Murphy started last season opposite Kerrigan, but the rising third-year defender spent the offseason eating an ungodly amount of food so he could bulk up for a switch to defensive end. No OLB help there.
* Simply in terms of the depth chart, that leaves Houston Bates next in line behind Kerrigan and Galette. The gap in terms of expectations and proven ability between those first three and Bates is Grand Canyon-esque. That's not to say that Bates isn't promising or could be a surprise. It's too say he's not done the job, but also that he isn't that type of sack monster.
Bates also isn't a lock over Lynden Trail, Willie Jefferson or Shiro Davis. If you're unfamiliar with those names, that's fine. This also isn't an attempt at a joke. It's simply a matter of pointing out that right now Washington's options behind Smith and Kerrigan sound more like an Abbott and Costello "Who's on first" routine. Just as the Redskins likely add a veteran running back, it seems prudent they add another OLB with experience at some point.
* The idea of having Galette, Kerrigan and Smith poised to do harm on opposing quarterbacks, whether off the edge or with their hand in the dirt, provided defensive coordinator Joe Barry tremendous options. Combined with the Josh Norman cornerback upgrade, the back-7 was going to define the 2016 defense. That's because general manager Scot McCloughan went with a quantity over quality approach with the defensive line. That group, poised to hold their ground rather than dominate the trenches, would allow the linebackers and defensive backs to let their playmaker freak fly.
That plan remains the same when Kerrigan and Smith are on the field. They won't be on the field for every snap of every game. When they sit, whether for a play or needed rest or tweaked ankle or worse, there is no clear backup plan when it comes to applying pressure. At that point, the defensive line must provide more, but that's not what this group is all about.
Yes, Chris Baker had a breakout 2015 season with six sacks. That production is already baked into the cake plus he could have fewer sacks this season if he's kicked inside more at tackle. The return of Stephen Paea could help, but he had just 1.5 sacks last season before an injury ended his year. Ricky Jean Francois? Kedric Golston? Kendall Reyes? Helpful, yes. Game-changers, highly unlikely.
* Having Norman and Bashaud Breeland at corner should lead to some cover sacks, but that's a rare plan for consistent success. Should the overall pass rush drop, their impact could take a hit seeing as it's not easy blanketing Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant for long.
Perfect world: Team X receives major pass rush from line, thus allowing back-7 to blanket receiving options. The Redskins' plan involved working outside in because they had dynamic edge rushers and corners. Now one of the pass rushers is gone. Don't panic, but be concerned.
Happy Training Camp.
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