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Redskins yield dividends from OL investment, but DL still suffers

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins offensive and defensive lines have been put together much differently. One is headed in a positive direction; the other is part of a group-wide struggle. Naturally, it's the topic for this week's mailbag.

John Keim: The defense is a popular topic, one that was addressed two weeks ago in the mailbag and throughout the week with two different articles, including this one. I’m not someone who will be calling for a guy’s job after four games. I also don’t think it’s one person’s fault why the defense has struggled. But as I wrote, the coordinator has to get heat because it’s his group -- and if they were doing well he’d get the praise. Denver has a ton of talent defensively; Wade Phillips gets a lot of credit.

But I also believe some of the problems go back to this question, which is why I chose to answer it.

The offensive line had been an issue for a while so, in the last three years, they’ve rebuilt this group. In 2014, they signed Shawn Lauvao and drafted Morgan Moses and Spencer Long. In 2015, they selected Arie Kouandjio and Brandon Scherff and Austin Reiter (now with Cleveland). They signed left tackle Trent Williams to a long-term extension. And they hired arguably the best line coach in the NFL in Bill Callahan. Nobody works his group harder than Callahan. Players buy in because they know his reputation and they’ve seen the results.

Still, the point is: They’ve invested on this side of the ball. It should benefit them for a while.

The opposite is true defensively. Again, I’m not talking scheme or coordinator or anything else. That’s for another day. But you do have to have the talent. And the Redskins haven’t put enough into the defensive front to make it work the way they need. I thought two years ago they needed more youth up front, but in the last two drafts they’ve selected just one defensive lineman (Matt Ioannidis) in the fifth round. Maybe he and undrafted rookie Anthony Lanier develop; if that’s the case, good for them and the Redskins.

But when it’s come to the line, they’ve tried to patch it together with veterans. They haven’t drafted a defensive lineman above the fifth round since taking Jarvis Jenkins in the second round in 2011. They did sign Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton and Ricky Jean Francois last season, but only the latter remains. This year, their free-agent signings included Ziggy Hood, a quiet deal signed in February because he wasn’t on a roster at season’s end. Not a big investment, but one who can help (just wish he was at end instead of nose).

I thought for sure they’d have drafted one or two linemen this past April. I was OK with receiver Josh Doctson in the first round -- I’m not going to play the revisionist game here -- if they felt he was the best player left and knowing the draft was deep along the front. I’ve had multiple GMs tell me that once you start picking strictly for need, you’ll end up getting fired soon. The point is, you never know when something becomes a need, so stockpile talent. After this season, receiver becomes a need (although we might have no clue about Doctson because of his Achilles).

They could have selected a lineman in the second round, but opted for linebacker Su'a Cravens. I like him. They could have selected one in the third round but took corner Kendall Fuller. Another in the best-available-player-theory category. Fuller could be a solid player for a while, or not. The 2016 draft could be one that provides bigger dividends next year and for years to come. Or it could be a massive disappointment. Obviously it’s too soon to know.

The point is, all these picks make sense. But none were defensive linemen in a draft that was deep with them. I absolutely know the intent entering the draft was to address the line. That’s why I was surprised and disappointed it didn’t happen. At some point that’ll change -- it has to and they’re aware of this. For now, it’s left them in a tough spot. Conversely, their offensive line is in excellent shape.