August 17, 2019

OPINION: Haslett has to prove he’s capable in last chance

With the announcement by Washington Redskins new head coach Jay Gruden of the return and possible contract extension of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, those third-and-longs and fourth-and-shorts next NFL season may be more subject to hopes and prayers than the accustomed chant of “Defense!” heard from the upper deck of FedEx Field on Sundays.  

Jim Haslett, who has been the defensive coordinator since 2010, should by now be very accustomed to being a hot topic on Washington sports talk radio and at the office water cooler.  

Most fans were shocked when they heard the news that the Redskins were retaining Haslett, feeling there should have been a change in leadership on the defensive side of the ball. But if you step back and assess the situation, it’s understandable why they are going to keep him at least at the present time.  

It might not be the right idea, but you can see the team’s logic in it. 

With a new head coach coming in, whose background is obviously on the offensive side of the ball (and with the majority of a new staff), some consistency at one phase of the game might be the smart approach. You just can’t fix every problem at once. For example, most companies and managers in business world recognize that it’s better to be really good at one thing rather than being mediocre in everything.

Haslett has to prove this season that he’s capable of leading a competent defense.

Haslett has a long resume of coaching defenses in the NFL, so experience isn’t the issue here. The problem is his track record – of his past 12 defenses, none have ranked higher than 14th in points allowed, and that was the only time his defense ranked higher than 21st. Finishing in the lower third of the league in points allowed generally isn’t a way a guy accumulates 12 seasons as a defensive coordinator, but here we are. 

The issue during Haslett’s Redskins tenure is one of talent. Because of the salary cap penalties levied by the league, the Skins the past two seasons have concentrated on making the offense better at the expense of the defense and special teams.   

Let’s take a look at the talent Haslett has had at his disposal during his Redskins tenure. One can easily argue that the salary cap penalty and restrictions have more than merely handicapped the team the past two years – they’ve has nearly crippled it.  

There have been some promising additions on the offensive side of the ball recently, notably Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon, with little added to the defense during the reign of Mike Shanahan. Where are the Griffin and Morris-type additions to the defense?  

Even with their 3-13 record this year, the Redskins defense ranked in the middle of the league I yardage allowed – 18th overall. They were, however, 30th in points allowed. Why the disparity? 

The Redskins’ special teams were horrendous this past season. They gave up several touchdowns and yielded short field opportunities for the opposing team too many times. They were dead last in all aspects of that phase of the game, and it’s an aspect of this team that has been hit particularly hard by the salary cap penalties. 

If the Skins couldn’t address adding playmakers to the starting defense, how on Earth could they address depth signings as quality backups and special teamers?  

This offseason, many of last season’s starters on defense will become free agents.  With Haslett’s retention and the salary cap penalties being lifted, it will be interesting to watch who gets new contracts and where the team will look to improve from the outside. 

The past few seasons, the Skins and their apologists have claimed over and over that they haven’t had the right pieces and talent needed to run the 3-4 defense. They should have some flexibility to in that regard this offseason.  

With the retirement of 4-time pro bowler London Fletcher, who will step up and become the true leader of this group? His heir apparent, Perry Riley, Jr., is a free agent. So is the entire starting defensive backfield, though not many will miss those guys. And so is top sacker Brian Orakpo. 

Haslett has to decide who will replace Fletcher’s production in addition to leadership. Fletcher led the league in tackling on multiple occasions. He’ll be missed on the field as much as in the locker room.  

They need depth along the defensive line. Barry Cofield has been rock solid in the nose tackle role, but the rushing defense was porous in 2013, a huge step back from the previous season when they limited teams to 95.8 ypg, fifth in the NFL.  

The team addressed the secondary some in last year’s draft, bringing in CB David Amerson and S Baccari Rambo. Both had growing pains this season, but look to be pieces to build upon, especially Amerson. 

It will be interesting to see if they draft to build depth here. This group for the past two seasons have made so many mediocre quarterbacks look good – let alone what the actual good one do to it. The Redskins should go after a true shut-down corner this year – either via free agency or trade. They should look for someone who has been a solid citizen and that can set an example and mentor the young defensive backs they drafted last year.  

If they retain CB DeAngelo Hall, they need to stress with the veteran ballhawk that he needs to be more of a leader and eliminate the unnecessary unsportsmanlike penalties he accumulates as much as – if not more than – his interceptions. 

The team also retained defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, another of the former Tampa Bay staff that Bruce Allen has imported to D.C. They brought back inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and brought in outside linebackers coach Brian Baker from Cleveland to work specifically within the 3-4 system. 

This year’s defense will have Jim Haslett’s entire fingerprints all over it. We will have no other person to point our finger at. They have some holes to fill but they have the money to spend. With so many defensive players testing the free market this year it will be interesting to see how it all takes shape by training camp.  

Maybe with all the needed changes that are going to happen to the team this year, coach Gruden, Bruce Allen and the ownership decided to stay with at least one part of what they knew, for better or worse.  

Changing everything at once is a dicey proposition. Obviously the special teams’ poor performance cannot continue. They have a new coordinator there as well, with Ben Kotwica coming over from the Jets. Adding personnel on the defensive side of the ball can’t help but make the personnel for the special teams that much better. 

Maybe Haslett hasn’t had all the materials necessary at his disposal to be successful. If that is the case, maybe he deserves shot with a roster stocked with difference-makers on defense.  

But he needs to take ownership and accountability, with no more excuses this time around. We shouldn’t expect a championship defense this coming season. But it is reasonable to expect a consistent and competitive one though.

It should prove interesting how Haslett, Bruce Allen and the talent evaluators approach the restocking of defensive personnel during the offseason. We gave Mike Shanahan four years. Why not see what Haslett can bring and accomplish in his fourth with appropriate personnel and no limitations.
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Staff intern Wayne Hess contributed to this report.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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