- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, the Washington Redskins took two consecutive Alabama defensive players in the draft: Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson.

Now, Allen and Anderson want a third teammate to join them.

Enter Da’Ron Payne, a 6-foot-2, 311-pound defensive lineman who spent three years at Alabama. He is regarded among the best interior defensive players in the draft, which would fill a huge need for the Redskins.

The Redskins pick 13th overall in the first round.

“I talked John and Ryan and they said they’ve been trying to push for it,” Payne said.

Payne said he will meet with the Redskins at the Scouting Combine. There, he said he hopes to show them “what I have to offer.”

At Alabama, Payne offered a lot. He was a force along the defensive line. Coach Nick Saban’s program routinely molds top talent, and Payne is the latest ready for the NFL. He thrilled in the 2018 Sugar Bowl against Clemson, when he caught a touchdown pass as a fullback shortly after recording an interception. 

But Payne said his performance in this year’s National Championship against Georgia was the best of his career. He recorded a sack and an interception in Alabama’s win, being named defensive MVP.

For the national title game, Payne said he tried to make his name known every single play.

“It might have been the bright lights, it might have just been my time,” Payne said. “You just never know. It might have just been God’s plan.”

The Redskins, meanwhile, have tried to build a foundation on defense, incorporating young players. Allen, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, made a significant difference — albeit in a limited fashion.

Allen played in just five games, missing the last 11 with a season-ending foot injury that required surgery. He could have possibly played before the season was over, but with the Redskins out of playoff position, the team proceeded with caution.

Anderson, on the other hand, spent most of the year buried on the depth chart behind pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Junior Galette.

Washington’s defense, though, made nice strides in 2017, but there is still a lot to improve.

The main problem was the run defense. Washington gave up a league-worst 134.1 yards per game rushing, and their troubles started up front.

“We need to be able to stop the run,” Redskins senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams said. “That’s not a secret. And to sit here and say we don’t, or to say we’re happy with what we have, I don’t think that would be fare. We need to upgrade the interior on that side of the ball.”

For a nose tackle, Payne isn’t as large compared to other lineman who typically play the position. Still, he insisted he “held his own” in the trenches. Payne fit in perfectly with Saban’s emphasis of stopping the run — so much so that he said wants to prove to teams he can be a pass-rusher, too.

He’s also a very, very strong human being. Payne recalled he once did three reps of a 500-pound bench press. His goal for the 225-pound bench press on Sunday is to record 30 reps.

“I can put up some weight, a little bit,” Payne said.

If it were up to Allen and Anderson, that would be welcome in Ashburn.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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