ASHBURN — Jonathan Allen and his fellow Redskins defensive linemen have a credo. Don’t get comfortable. It signifies an approach to football that applies in the weight room, on the practice field and anywhere the unit can take a step forward.
It’s about refusing to accept anything less than 100%.
“You should never feel comfortable,” Allen said. “We try to make everything and everybody uncomfortable in this building.”
When Reuben Foster went down earlier this week with a torn ACL, the Redskins lost a player they felt would have made a significant contribution in 2019.
But even without Foster, who was put on injured reserve Wednesday, the Redskins’ defense features an abundance of young talent — a squad that seems poised to take a major step forward next season.
Allen said for the defense to actually improve, they have to establish consistency. And for that to happen, the 24-year-old believes in making players feel uncomfortable “to help promote growth.”
So how do Allen and his teammates go about making that happen?
“Talk [trash],” Allen said, “and compete.”
Of the Redskins’ 11 projected starters on defense for next season, seven are 25 years old or younger. An eighth — cornerback Quinton Dunbar — is 26. The Redskins have built a solid foundation, using three of their last four first-round picks on defensive talent. In free agency, the Redskins also shelled out $84 million ($31 million guaranteed) to sign All-Pro safety Landon Collins.
Last season, the Redskins showed signs of promise of being an elite defense — before falling apart in the second half. Washington went from one of the league’s most-bruising defenses in the first half to finishing the year 17th in yards allowed (353 per game) and 20th in defensive efficiency.
During the collapse, players griped about roles and play-calling — most notably when safety D.J. Swearinger called out defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after a loss in December. The carping cost Swearinger his job.
This offseason was devoted as much to fixing the defense as it was to addressing the quarterback position.
In Collins, the Redskins feel they are getting a versatile talent who can set the tone on the field and off. A follow-my-example type player, Collins said in March the biggest thing he was going to add to the Redskins was his leadership.
Washington traded back into the draft’s first round to take edge-rusher Montez Sweat. The Redskins ranked seventh in sacks last season, but they needed help at the position after starter Preston Smith left in free agency. In his two years at Mississippi State, Sweat recorded 22 ½ sacks.
At rookie minicamp, coach Jay Gruden raved about Sweat’s speed — saying the 6-foot-4 edge rusher was faster than “anybody we probably have right now.”
Sweat set a record at the combine among defensive lineman, running a 4.41 40-yard dash.
“He eats up ground when he runs,” Gruden said. “It’s like three strides and he’s all the way across the field and it’s crazy.”
Of course, for all the optimism, there are still question marks. It isn’t immediately clear if the Redskins can replace Foster’s potential impact at linebacker. Mason Foster doesn’t have nearly the upside of Foster, but the veteran figures to slot back in as a starter. Washington also announced Wednesday it signed veteran linebacker Jon Bostic, who started 14 games in 2017 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team also needs to sort out who will start at safety opposite Collins. Montae Nicholson, who had his assault charges dropped last week, is the most logical option, though the team needs to see if he can rebound from an uneven 2018
Sweat said he sees the team’s potential on defense. “We’re going to be as great as we want to be. I feel like we … could do some great things here.”
“When we are we are consistent and do our job, we can play with the best of them,” Allen said. “That is the tough part of the NFL, is doing it week in and week out. As long as we can do that, we will be fine.”