- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In 13 seasons in the NFL, Phillip Daniels has seen and done more than most players ever will.

So the 36-year-old defensive end can answer with certainty when asked whether the Washington Redskins’ defensive line this season is the best on which he has played.

“It is. Already it is,” Daniels said as the Redskins prepared for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Veteran linemates Renaldo Wynn (starting his 13th season) and Cornelius Griffin (10th) were a little more circumspect - they said they would wait until the games count to make that call.

Still, the depth and overall talent level are clearly improved on a unit that was solid last season.

Consider: The Redskins ranked eighth against the run and fourth overall in 2008, allowing the sixth-fewest points in the league.

In the offseason, the club added All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth and supplemental draft pick Jeremy Jarmon. The Redskins also welcomed back run-stopper Daniels from a year on injured reserve and the versatile Wynn from two seasons with other teams.

The linemen also have a true understanding of the defense they play: With the exception of Haynesworth and Jarmon, they’ve all played in the system at least a year. Daniels, Griffin, Wynn, end Andre Carter and reserve tackles Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery have played at least three seasons for defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

“If somebody needs a blow, we’ve got [veteran] people who can step right in,” said Wynn, who started on the line that helped the Jacksonville Jaguars reach the 1999 AFC title game.

Other strong lines have depended more on rookies than the Redskins will this season.

As a rookie, Griffin, served as the top backup for likely Hall of Famer Michael Strahan on the 2000 NFC champion New York Giants. In 1993, Blache coached a Green Bay Packers line that featured rookie Gilbert Brown starting alongside the legendary Reggie White. And the 1989 Redskins, the last to feature dynamic ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, had a rookie starter in Tracy Rocker.

Jarmon doesn’t figure to play much this season, though rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo should see plenty of action with his hand down in passing situations.

This Redskins line likely will have a collective 57 years of NFL experience, 43 as starters. The unit isn’t, however, as star-studded as some past lines or as hyped as the less-experienced Giants - whose line is on the cover of the current Sporting News.

That’s the case in large part because the linemen don’t often get to the quarterback.

The Redskins’ line averaged just 21 sacks in four of Blache’s five seasons as line coach or coordinator. Seven of its 19 sacks last season came from the now departed Demetric Evans and Jason Taylor. Daniels and Wynn are no longer serious pass rushers. Haynesworth, who figures to be Washington’s first Pro Bowl lineman since Mann in 1991, had a career-high 8 1/2 sacks for Tennessee last year.

“I don’t care who you are, how great you are rushing the passer, there’s going to be a down or two where there’s not going to be the pressure that you want and [quarterbacks] are going to have time,” said Blache, never a big believer in sacks as a indicator of a defense’s effectiveness.

Although he treasures the year he spent with White, Blache remains skeptical of the importance of stars. He isn’t convinced that Haynesworth will solve all of his headaches.

“If you’re cooking, I don’t care what it is, but if you add another ingredient into that pot, the dish often changes,” Blache said. “You can’t just assume that I can throw this in because it’s lobster and the dish is going to be as good as it was.”

Indeed, the Redskins’ first-string defense surrendered 27 points during its nine series this preseason. Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots quarterbacks completed 18 of 35 passes for 247 yards with only one sack.

“They’ve done all right, but you rarely play them all together for a long period of time, so you find out more and more as you get into the first part of the season,” Blache said, noting that the Patriots, in particular, often threw quickly. “On the surface, there’s a lot of things that are encouraging.”

This Redskins line, which also will include swingman Lorenzo Alexander, might not have a Hall of Famer like White or Strahan, but it can be special.

“This is by far the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Blache said. “The big thing will be how we mesh and how we compete throughout the season. You worry about your chemistry. Guys have to understand their roles. Guys have to execute their roles…. I’ve found a lot of times that lesser talented teams perform better and at a higher level because they recognize that we all got to [work together] to be successful.”

That was the case in 2004, Blache’s first year, when the Redskins ranked third overall and second against the run even with overachievers like Ron Warner and Ryan Boschetti on the field.

“Talent don’t guarantee you anything,” Griffin said. “You have to go out and work every day. If we work as hard as we did then, the sky’s the limit.”

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