Redskins look in-house first to replace nose tackle Phil Taylor

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins had seen enough this summer to feel good about nose tackle Phil Taylor. They anticipated him becoming a key part of their defensive line rotation.

Those plans have now changed dramatically, leaving the Redskins to figure out what they’ll do in his absence. Taylor tore his left quad against Cincinnati on Sunday and will miss the season.

It’s tough to rely on a guy who had not played since 2014, but such was the state of the nose tackle position in Washington. Taylor, however, had legitimately played well this summer and had earned a roster spot.

One reason Washington’s defense has struggled in a 3-4 scheme is the lack of consistent production at nose tackle. The Redskins hope defensive line coach Jim Tomsula can do in Washington what he did in San Francisco: improve the nose tackle position. He didn’t always have a lot to work with in San Francisco, but the 49ers always defended the run well: In each of his eight seasons as line coach, they finished in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed -- and four times they were among the top five.

While there, Tomsula used four different players at nose tackle: Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams. Of this group, Franklin and Sopoaga were fifth- and fourth-round picks, respectively; Williams was undrafted. Dorsey was a first-round pick by Kansas City and was signed to be a backup with the 49ers. He became a starter when Williams got hurt.

The Redskins hope Tomsula’s background coupled with who remains on the roster will be enough to overcome the loss of Taylor.

“We feel good about the depth we have,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Time will reveal just how good they should feel. For now, here are their options at nose tackle:

Joey Mbu: He opened camp working with the starters, and the coaches liked what they saw from him throughout the offseason. Mbu has also been used at tackle in the nickel package to see if he could help at more than just nose. He's shown some quickness and can play with power. Had Taylor stayed healthy, Mbu likely would have been headed to the practice squad. He was an undrafted free agent in 2015 with Atlanta, appearing in two games that season. He spent most of last season on Washington's practice squad.

A.J. Francis: Like Mbu, he’s had his moments -- good and bad -- this summer, and it’s close between he and Mbu. Both players have worked at end as well. Francis has lived a nomadic NFL life, having spent time now with five organizations, though he’s appeared in just three games (one with Miami, two with Seattle).

Francis said he could add “physicality ... depth.”

“There’s a lot of really good players on our defensive line," Francis said, "and a lot of us are capable of contributing, not only a couple tackles here and there but sacks, pressure up the middle. I’m capable of doing that.”

Ziggy Hood: He played at nose tackle last season out of necessity after playing well in training camp at end. That might happen this season as well. Hood is a natural end at 305 pounds. It’s tough to hold up inside at that weight after taking on double-teams all season.

“It makes you versatile,” Hood said. “You show the coaches, you show the owners, you can do it and you’re willing to do everything to try and help this team knowing that your teammates see that and feed off that.”

Stacy McGee: The Redskins liked his versatility in Oakland and signed him this offseason in part because he could play nose tackle if necessary. McGee offers good size inside at 341 pounds, but quickness matters here, too. He has spent most of his time at end but can play nose tackle in a pinch. There’s a good chance he’ll end up starting at end.

Trade/cuts: The Redskins do have a surplus at a couple positions that might tempt another team. They were offering running back Matt Jones in the spring; he has no shot at making the roster barring injuries, so it makes sense that he remains available if another team wanted to trade for him. The Redskins also have multiple tight ends who can play, with perhaps one spot for Niles Paul and Derek Carrier. It would make sense if the Redskins talked to other teams about them. The Redskins could also wait to see who becomes available after Saturday’s roster cuts.