- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Improve an unproductive pass rush or a wretched rush defense?

Go with a physically gifted defensive tackle or a productive defensive end?

Keep the No. 6 pick or trade down to secure much-needed depth?

Those are just three of the questions the Washington Redskins have started to ponder this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.

It has been established the Redskins will go defense in the first round. After that, cue the crapshoot.

“We know there will be some really talented guys available, but game-plan wise I feel really comfortable saying that we’ll take the best player no matter what,” coach Joe Gibbs said.

If the Redskins do keep the sixth pick, the best players likely to still be on the board will be defensive linemen, including the highly regarded trio of Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson and Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch.

The Redskins have four defensive ends and only one starter-quality defensive tackle on their roster. But ends Andre Carter, Renaldo Wynn, Phillip Daniels and Demetric Evans combined for only 11 sacks. Wynn and Daniels could be released this week.

“I don’t feel a lot of pressure to have to do something there,” Gibbs said.

If the Redskins commit to addressing the defensive line, their next decision will be to draft either an end who can rush the passer or a space-taking defensive tackle to complement an aging Cornelius Griffin and help a defense that ranked 27th against the run.

“At No. 6, you’re trying to pick a player that, regardless of what position he plays, will make a real impact and is somebody that will be around and go to Pro Bowls for you,” Gibbs said.

Making the selection even more important is the Redskins’ lack of draft picks.

Thanks to trades that allowed them to acquire the underwhelming T.J. Duckett, Rocky McIntosh and Brandon Lloyd, the Redskins are without picks in rounds 2, 3 and 4, making it even more vital that they find an immediate starter with their first pick.

Had the Redskins held on to their picks, they would have four of the first 100 selections.

“Not having second-, third- or fourth- round picks really hurts because those picks are early in each round and that should have been three starters,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.

Kiper balks at the Redskins’ approach, even if it did work in 2005 when they made their first playoff appearance in six seasons.

“I don’t agree with free agency being a good way to build a team,” he said. “You can ascent your roster, but you can’t build your roster through free agency. They have de-emphasized the draft far too much. You can’t do that totally and be effective in this league. It’s a formula for disaster.”

If the Redskins opt for Branch, it’s conceivable he could start right away. In three seasons with Michigan, Branch — who stood at 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 324 pounds at the combine — didn’t produce impressive numbers (61 tackles and nine sacks). But teams are impressed by his athleticism and versatility — he played defensive end, nose tackle and defensive tackle in college.

“He’s a big, athletic man and explosive,” Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “He’s also strong enough at the nose position and still gives you the athleticism that you like. He’s a special inside player.”

The knock on Branch, despite his athleticism, has been his lack of production.

“He should be a dominating player and was not at times,” Kiper said. “He’s a work in progress.”

Branch doesn’t have a preference on which defensive line position he plays. But if he is picked by the Redskins, he will find a home in the trenches.

“I’m a great run stopper,” he said. “I have great explosiveness, and I really go to the point of attack. I feel I’m able to do pretty well on the pass rush or flushing the quarterback outside to the defensive ends.”

The Redskins have several options if they go with a defensive end. As many as five could go in the first round. Adams and Anderson have been tabbed by many as the top pass rushers.

Adams, a former eight-man high school football player, is 6-4 and 258 pounds and relies on his speed to get to the passer. Anderson, an early entry player, is bigger (6-5, 275) and was a prolific playmaker last season, recording 65 tackles (19 for lost yardage) and 13 sacks. Adams had 62 tackles (17 for lost yardage) and 12 sacks.

“Anderson will get the edge because he was more consistent,” Kiper said. “Adams had his huge games and highlight-film plays, but play in and play out Anderson was better and was more consistent game-to-game. But it’s just a slight edge.”

Said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock: “Some people think Anderson is a top five or top 10 pick. I see some inconsistencies in his game. His motor isn’t there all the time.”

Whomever the Redskins take with the sixth pick likely will be the first defensive player chosen.

“That’s the thing that keeps a player going, to be that first defensive player chosen,” Adams said. “That’s why I’ve put a lot of time into working out, to hopefully put myself in that position.”

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