- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It was a good but not great year for Washington’s defense.

While the Redskins slipped from third to ninth in the NFL, primarily because of a drop from second to 13th against the run, the defense’s play keyed the six-game winning streak at the end of the season that included Washington’s playoff victory over Tampa Bay.

In that winning streak, right end Phillip Daniels, sidelined for most of 2004 with injuries, developed into a pass-rushing force. And weak side linebacker LaVar Arrington, following a lost season in 2004, became a key playmaker in January after a tumultuous year that left him virtually inactive in early October.

Strong side linebacker Marcus Washington and safeties Sean Taylor and Ryan Clark proved their fine Redskins debuts in 2004 were no flukes, though Washington somehow wasn’t picked to return to the Pro Bowl. In fact, no one on the Redskins’ defense was given that honor.

Lemar Marshall fulfilled the coaches’ faith that he could replace departed free agent Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker, while rookie Carlos Rogers showed he might be able to make the Redskins forget about former cornerback Fred Smoot as soon as next season. However, safety Matt Bowen, a starter until hurting a knee in Week 5 of 2004, never regained his spot.

Defensive boss Gregg Williams spurned feelers about head coaching vacancies, electing to remain in Washington as coach Joe Gibbs’ heir apparent.

Still, the Redskins need to do some things this offseason to maintain and improve upon their now-expected defensive excellence.

1. Safeties first — Although Pierson Prioleau is a capable replacement, the Redskins should re-sign Clark, the only free agent among the defensive starters. Clark is a heady player and sure tackler who helps keep the volatile Taylor in position and under control. Williams and Co. also need to keep their fingers crossed that Taylor won’t have to do any jail time if he’s found guilty on a felony assault charge at his March 20 trial in Miami.

2. Resolve Arrington’s situation — The three-time Pro Bowl pick has said he wants to remain with the Redskins despite his differences with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey and the collapse of his relationship with franchise owner Dan Snyder.

If the NFL and the Players Association fail to meet the March 3 deadline for extending the collective bargaining agreement, it will cost as much to cut Arrington as to keep him. It then would be up to Williams and Lindsey to decide whether they can live with Arrington’s errors as long as he continues to make big plays. Warrick Holdman, who started when Arrington didn’t in 2005, was just a fill-in, and speedy Chris Clemons remains a project who has yet to show he can handle full-time duty. So if Arrington is cut, a replacement will have to be signed.

3. Find a third corner — Walt Harris, who started most of 2005 in Smoot’s old spot, is a great guy, but his coverage skills have atrophied and he will be 32 in August. The Redskins must sign or draft a corner they can rely on to be No. 3 or start if Rogers or No. 1 corner Shawn Springs, 31 in March, is sidelined. Fourth corner Ade Jimoh, a restricted free agent, had his best year in 2005 but is more of a special teams player.

4. Re-sign Demetric Evans or replace him with a similar player — Evans has been a huge surprise since being signed off Dallas’ scrap heap in 2004. He started eight games in place of Daniels in 2004 and three for left tackle Cornelius Griffin and one for left end Renaldo Wynn in 2005. Evans, who was second on the line with three sacks this season, wants a chance to start and likely will leave for a decent offer in free agency. With Daniels turning 33 and Wynn turning 32, the Redskins need a more reliable backup than the raw Nic Clemons.

5. Keep on keeping on — Williams, Greg Blache (line), Lindsey (linebackers), DeWayne Walker (cornerbacks), Steve Jackson (safeties) and Kirk Olivadotti (assistant) work well together.

With the Redskins unable to add many players because they’re so tight against the salary cap, Snyder should spend some of his extra money on raises and contract extensions for Williams’ staff. Then that group should work to return the run defense to its 2004 level while trying to maintain the big-play capability that was instrumental in the six-game winning streak.

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