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Redskins 90-Man Roster Breakdown: Defense

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Next week, the Washington Redskins will begin the first of four weeks of OTAs at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.

While no live contact is permitted during this time frame, 7-on-7, 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

In preparation of seeing the team in a practice setting for the first time this year, here's a quick look at where the defense stands on the current 90-man roster (note that some players may not participate depending on where they are in their rehab programs after injuries).

Defensive Line (9)

Jonathan Bonner, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Bee, Matt Ioannidis, Austin Maloata, Daron Payne, Tim Settle, JoJo Wicker, Caleb Brantley

Arguably the strongest unit on the team will continue to get better with another year of experience playing together. Along with the addition of first-round draft pick Montez Sweat on the outside, the group could potentially turn Washington’s front line into one of the most dangerous in the league.

The whole group is young and on its first contract, except for Ioannidis, who the team prudently locked up with an extension this offseason.

“It means a lot, and Matt deserves it,” Allen said. “He works hard so he deserves a contract. For us, our mentality is never going to change regardless of contract situation. We want to dominate every opponent we play. Regardless of contract, Matt was going to play the same way.

“We look at it as every year you have to reset and re-start. We haven’t done anything as a defensive line this year, so just going in there with that mentality and getting ready to kick some ass.”

Everyone in this group is healthy, too, which means they should all be on the field throughout the next month working with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

Linebacker (15)

Ryan Anderson, Andrew Ankrah, B.J. Blunt, Jordan Brailford, Marquis Flowers, Mason Foster, Reuben Foster, DeMarquis Gates, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Cole Holcomb, Ryan Kerrigan, Cassanova McKinzy, Marcus Smith, Montez Sweat

Let’s start with the outside linebackers. The Redskins lost Preston Smith to free agency, leaving a starting job vacancy opposite Ryan Kerrigan.

Before the draft, Ryan Anderson was in line to take it, but the team’s decision to trade back into the first round to acquire Montez Sweat, one of the best edge defenders in the 2019 class, means there will be some good competition between the two of them.

That should be a fun battle to watch all camp, although it’s reasonable to suggest that they could split up a good portion of reps during the season depending on the down and situation. Head coach Jay Gruden has mentioned on multiple occasions his excitement to see Cassanova McKinzy, recovering from an injury he sustained in November, compete in training camp, too.

“We’re going to have competition at every position and let them go,” Gruden said. “But when you have guys on the edge nowadays on the bubble screens, jet sweeps and all that stuff that can run and get after the quarterback, it’s critical. We’re going to have to sub some guys in I think. To ask somebody to play 70-80 plays a game on defense over a 16-game season is tough. You want to have fresh bodies in there when you throw [Ryan] Anderson in there for a little while and he gets winded and you throw in a guy that’s 6-foot 6 that runs a 4.4 40 you throw him in there. You’ve got [Ryan] Kerrigan, you got Cassanova [McKinzy] in there for third downs so we feel good about the rotations that we might have.”

At inside linebacker, the competition should be just as intriguing. Mason Foster returns as the veteran of group, but will be challenged by a variety of younger players – including Alabama alums Shaun Dion Hamilton (who came into his own late in the season) and Reuben Foster, whom the team picked up on waivers in November and is now off the Commissioner’s exempt list.

The Redskins also drafted Cole Holcomb and Jordan Brailford, who will likely get plenty of opportunities over the next few weeks on defense and special teams.

Defensive Back (15)

Adonis Alexander, Troy Apke, Landon Collins, Quinton Dunbar, Deshazor Everett, Danny Johnson, JoJo McIntosh, Fabian Moreau, Montae Nicholson, Josh Norman, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Stroman, Deion Harris, Jimmy Moreland, Jeremy Reaves

The big addition to this unit came in March, when the Redskins signed Landon Collins to a reported multi-year deal, helping to fill a major hole that was left when D.J. Swearinger Sr. was released by the team in December.

Redskins safety Montae Nicholson, with an off-field incident behind him, will return to the fold at safety, competing alongside Deshazor Everett, last year’s fourth-round draft pick Troy Apke and undrafted free agent JoJo McIntosh.

At cornerback, Josh Norman will be joined by some new faces, including veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and rookies Jimmy Moreland and Deion Harris. A lot of the decisions made in August will also depend on the health of Quinton Dunbar, who battled nerve issues in his leg in the fall, forcing him to miss the last month of the 2019 season.

He may take it easy in OTAs, though he does feel back to normal, he told Redskins.com, and hopes to be out on the field at full speed soon.

Director of College Scouting Kyle Smith is particularly excited about Moreland, who will get plenty of opportunities to defend the team’s group of young wide receiver.

“He had 18 career interceptions, he’s an outstanding athlete, quick-twitch guy, small-school guy who went to the East-West Shrine game, All-Star game and showed out there, it wasn’t too big for him,” Smith said. “Small-school guys that’s what you want to see, you want to see how they perform against the big dogs, and he fits right in and he ain’t backing down from anybody and then he gets invited to the senior bowl and same thing. He shows up there, he’s making plays so he’s got inside-out flex versatility we call it, nickel and outside corner. A little bit under-sized but the guy makes up for it in his competitiveness, his twitch and the guy’s obvious ball skills.”

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