- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

At the start of the NFL new year, the Redskins were needier along the defensive line than anywhere else. Thus, some big names were thrown around, would-be heroes that the team could sign and improve with, drastically and immediately.

“Obviously we talked about Calais Campbell and didn’t get that one done,” coach Jay Gruden said last week from the NFL’s annual meetings.

Yes, Campbell, the former Arizona Cardinal player who garnered heavy speculation as a Redskins free agency target, ultimately signed for four years and $60 million ($30 million guaranteed) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Instead, the Redskins wound up adding two defensive tackles: Terrell McClain, from Dallas, for four years and $21 million, with $10.5 million guaranteed, and Stacy McGee, from the Raiders, for five years, $25 million, with $9 million guaranteed.

“We also knew that we had to try to package a couple guys together and those were the top two guys we were trying to get if we didn’t land the big fish,” Gruden said. “Which, once we knew we couldn’t do that we moved along quickly.

“Would you rather have one or would you rather have two good ones? And I think we feel good about the two good ones we got.”

In McClain, Gruden feels he’s getting a player just hitting his stride in the NFL. McClain will be 29 by the time the season begins but, in his sixth season last year, had by far the most production of his career (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles).

“You know the thing about McClain is he’s, he didn’t do a whole lot his first couple years but he just came on like gangbusters,” Gruden said.

“I like the fact that guys continue to stay with it and work and you see their work pay off. Their development, sometimes their development doesn’t happen until age 27, 28, 29 and it just hits and it clicks and he is a force to be reckoned with as far as his ability to track down plays and hustle.”

While McClain may have come on strong athletically, Gruden also likes that he’s had time to simmer and develop as a locker room guy.

“I think he was a leader amongst that defensive line room. I know that if you come from Dallas and you play for Rod Marinelli you’re going to have what it takes to be a defensive lineman,” Gruden said. “You’re going to play hard, you’re going to do things the right way and then it will be an easy transition because we have a defensive line coach here who’s going to expect the same things in a big way. He’ll fit right in.”

Gruden said he sees similar potential in McGee, but the 27-year-old only played in nine games last season. McGee has been a career backup and is considered best against the run but iffy as a pass rusher, though that depiction contrasts with how he was used in his best game last season, against San Diego, which Gruden referenced repeatedly.

“Well, [Stacy] McGee is a guy that can play different spots and you watch him in San Diego get a sack and a half and was really disruptive in the passing game, but he’s a big, physical guy and he’s an interesting player. I think he hasn’t tapped on his potential yet,” Gruden said.

The Raiders played both three- and four-man defensive fronts but, against the Chargers, McGee did his damage lined up as an end in 4-3 packages. On a play that led to a strip-sack of quarterback Philip Rivers, McGee lined up as a seven-technique and beat his tackle on an inside counter move after the tight end released away from him. He finished the game with four tackles, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles — impressive for anyone, and especially for a player who tallied 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles over the course of the entire year.

In an interview with ESPN 980 earlier this month, new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said that he views McClain and McGee as “bookends” when the team is in its base 3-4. This, of course, begs the question of who the Redskins will use as a nose tackle, especially with Baker gone.

“Right now, we might be in a situation where we’re looking for a nose in the draft,” Manusky said.

The problem is the lack of elite prospects suited to play the nose; there aren’t many in this year’s crop. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, however, promised Gruden that he could mold a draft pick or current player on the roster for the spot.

“Coach [Jim] Tomsula has assured me that he will find a nose guard, [and] he’ll make a nose guard. If you look at his track record, [and] you look at the nose guards [that] he’s had, none of them have been priority first-round draft choices,” Gruden said. “He’s made nose guards. He coaches that position extremely well, and I have faith that he’ll do that.”

The major question, of course, is if McClain, McGee, and whatever nose-tackle-to-be-named-later the Redskins come up with will exceed what the Redskins were able to do in 2016, when they employed Chris Baker and Ricky Jean-Francois.

Improvements elsewhere on defense should help the defensive line, but the unit was poor last season and, if this year’s group puts on a repeat performance, calls for a big-name savior will come again this time next offseason.

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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