- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There’s no way to injury-proof an NFL team. Not even these days, with 53 players on the active roster and another eight wannabes on the practice squad. You just put a club together as best you can and hope you get lucky, hope the torn ACLs and ruptured Achilles don’t happen at the positions you’re thinnest.

The Redskins have been tempting the fates with their defensive line for some time now, ignoring it year after year in the draft. After all, the Nearly Perfect Patriots routinely use high picks on D-linemen; the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles - that is, the rest of the NFC East - also pay a lot of attention to that area. The Snydermen, on the other hand, have been content to cobble together defensive fronts out of retreads, late-round draft choices and the occasional pricey free agent (e.g. Cornelius Griffin, Andre Carter).

So when Phillip Daniels, their 35-year-old strong-side end, blew out his knee on the first day of training camp, the team, naturally, had no Plan B. There was nobody in the pipeline ready to step in, the way there is in the best organizations. I mean, come on, Daniels is a solid player - not to mention a clubhouse leader - but he’s no Charles Mann. His loss shouldn’t send Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato scurrying to eBay in search of a replacement.

But that’s how it is with the Redskins. A year ago, you may recall, Derrick Dockery left in free agency, and the team was stuck for a left guard - hardly the most irreplaceable of positions. When the Todd Wade Experiment didn’t work out, Danny and Vinny had to scramble to make a deal for 34-year-old Pete Kendall.

Too much of the Redskins’ strategizing, it seems, involves wishful thinking rather than worst-case planning. If they hadn’t traded away so many of their draft picks, you figure - or didn’t have so many starters making so much money - they would be deeper across the board and better able to withstand these injuries.

And here they are giving up another second-rounder - along with a sixth - for Taylor. That means that next year, for the fourth time in six drafts, the Redskins won’t have a No. 2 pick. But hey, who needs ‘em? They’re only some of your best bargains in this era of finite budgets.

That said, Taylor, at (almost) 34, is still a premier defender, just two years removed from being the NFL’s defensive player of the year. To which London Fletcher added, “And that was with a team that didn’t do very well at all. [The Dolphins finished 6-10.] It just shows you how respected he is.”

Jon Jansen, who has had to block Taylor - or tried to - on occasion, calls him “a special player,” the kind you “always have to account for. And that slows you up as an offense because once you determine where he’s lining up, you have to make sure you’ve got the right blocking called. If you don’t, your quarterback’s going to get hurt.”

Taylor is the kind of player the Redskins’ “D” has lacked in the Snyder era - a true Big Play Guy. Consider: In 11 his seasons, he has 117 sacks, 41 forced fumbles, 26 recovered fumbles (three off the NFL record), seven interceptions, eight touchdowns and two safeties - 201 big plays in 172 games. That’s a dozen more than anybody else in the league had at the end of 2007.

In other words, once a game, Taylor will do something to change the momentum. Imagine, then, his potential impact on a Washington defense that has been so turnover-challenged in recent years. This is a unit, let’s not forget, that, two years ago, had just 12 takeaways, the fewest - in a full season - in NFL history.

Given the desperate straits the Redskins were in - a predicament of their own making - the availability of Taylor, who wasn’t thrilled about being in a rebuilding situation in Miami, was a gift from the heavens. Let’s face it, a move like this could put the team back in the playoffs.

If.

There are always ifs, even with players as great as Taylor. For one thing, he has talked of a Hollywood career after football - thus the offseason spent hoofing it up on “Dancing with the Stars.” Which raises the question: Is his enthusiasm for the game still there?

In June, he said he intended to play only one more season. Now, after getting some love from Snyder and Cerrato, he says he’s “on board” and willing “to play out my contract,” which has two years left. That would certainly make the price the Redskins paid more palatable. But there are no guarantees he won’t be one-and-done - just like Deion Sanders was. If the season turns sour, who knows?

Then there’s the idea of changing positions at such a late age. Taylor has made his reputation as a pass-rushing right end, but that’s Andre Carter’s spot. Is Jason, all of 255 pounds, up to playing on the more physically demanding left side?

Well, he said, “I started moving around a bit [between the right and left sides] when Nick Saban became the [Dolphins] coach and had some success with it. It’ll be different, though. It’s going to take some work.”

Don’t rule out the possibility of Carter sucking it up and sliding over to Daniels’ position, thus allowing Taylor to be Taylor. Actually, Andre played left end in his first two NFL seasons - he was in San Francisco then - and in his second year had a career-best 12.5 sacks.

It’ll be interesting to watch the coaching staff sort it all out. When you lose a player with one set of skills (in Daniels’ case, his run-stopping ability) and replace him with a player with another set of skills (in Taylor’s case, his pass-rush prowess), you can “make a strength a weakness and a weakness a strength,” defensive line coach John Palermo said.

Still, having Taylor and Carter on the field at the same time, busting a gut to get to the quarterback, is a tantalizing prospect. The Redskins just have to play the run well enough so they can put themselves in those obvious passing situations. Otherwise, what a waste of two fine pass rushers.

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