- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Greg Blache is nothing if not realistic.

As much as he would like to tout his front line as one of the top units in the NFL, the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator knows he can’t in good conscience.

Blache, who doubles as the Redskins’ defensive line coach, knows numbers don’t lie. And last year’s numbers don’t paint a pretty picture:

• Washington ranked 24th in the league against the run, surrendering 138.6 yards a game.

• The team had the sixth-fewest sacks in the NFL with 27, only 12.5 of them by linemen.

• Redskins linemen had a piddling six tackles-for-loss over the entire season.

So when Blache responds to inquiries about the state of this year’s line by saying he’s got “some 300-pounders with pulses,” there’s some truth behind the joke.

“You’ve got to understand, this was one of our Achilles’ heels last season, so it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Blache, who joined Joe Gibbs’ coaching staff after five seasons as defensive coordinator in Chicago. “It’s not going to be an overnight project. It’s going to be something that we need to work on over a period of time. We want them to do well in a hurry, but it’s a project in the making.”

Blache truly believes his current crop has the potential to develop into a solid unit. He’s pleased with the two main offseason acquisitions: former Giants tackle Cornelius Griffin and right end Phillip Daniels, who followed Blache from the Bears.

He also likes the steady presence of a pair of returning veterans, Renaldo Wynn and Regan Upshaw. And he’s elated by the speedy recovery of nose tackle Brandon Noble, who is nearly back to full speed after missing all of last season with a gruesome knee injury.

Individually, the names won’t resonate with most fans. But the Redskins believe the group could come together to make a name for itself.

“There are some pieces there that give us a chance,” Blache said. “It’s not like we’re trying to make soup without a bone. At least we have a bone in the pot. So we’ve got a chance.”

In many ways, Noble is the key. The 6-foot-2, 304-pound nose tackle is hardly a big-time playmaker. But Noble’s greatest value to a defensive line is his ability to stand his ground, take on two opposing offensive linemen and free up his linemates to make plays.

The Redskins sorely missed his presence last year and were forced to rely on an ever-changing rotation of journeyman tackles like Lional Dalton, Bernard Holsey, Jermaine Haley and Martin Chase.

Noble is not yet his pre-injury self, but teammates believe he’s not far off.

“He’s looking so strong,” Upshaw said. “I told him two days ago I never thought I’d be playing with him again. You blow your whole knee out? I didn’t think he was going to come back from that. But he’s strong. He’s a real intellectual player, he’s real tough and he’s overcome all these obstacles.”

The biggest benefactor from a healthy Noble figures to be Griffin, whom the Redskins signed in the spring to a seven-year, $30.8million contract, hoping he can regain his playmaker form from two years ago with the Giants.

“Cornelius Griffin, that signing there really added some stoutness and some quickness to the inside part of our defense,” said Gregg Williams, Washington’s assistant head coach for defense.

The Redskins also heavily pursued Daniels during the offseason, signing the 31-year-old to a five-year, $12.4million deal and penciling him in as their starting right end. The veteran of eight NFL seasons is far from a household name. But one of Blache’s first objectives after joining Gibbs’ coaching staff was to bring his former Chicago Bears player to Washington.

“He’s more than just a solid starter. He’s a real pro,” Blache said. “He’s a plus in the huddle. He’s a plus in the locker room. He’s just a real solid person who brings a lot to the table. I feel real good about adding Phillip to the mix.”

Daniels takes over the right end spot shared last season by the aging Bruce Smith and the often over-aggressive Upshaw. That makes Wynn, a seven-year veteran who started every game the last two years, the only returning starter.

A starting foursome of Wynn, Noble, Griffin and Daniels isn’t likely to bring comparisons to the Purple People Eaters or the Steel Curtain, but the Redskins believe it will be good enough to get the job done.

“I’ve been on some good defensive lines,” Daniels said. “I’ve been with Cortez Kennedy and Sam Adams in Seattle. I’ve been with Ted Washington and Keith Traylor in Chicago. I don’t see a difference between this line and those lines. With where we are at this point in the system, I think we’re just as good.”

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