With Chris Neild out for the season, what does the depth chart on the defensive line look like?
Last year, Neild was something of a surprise inclusion on the final roster. As the 253rd pick in the 2011 draft he was one selection away from being Mr. Irrelevant. Most thought that veteran Anthony Bryant would stick as Barry Cofield’s backup at nose tackle and that Neild was set for a season on the practice squad.
But Bryant was cut and Neild found himself playing in the season opener against the Giants. He sacked Eli Manning once and shared another sack of the New York QB. Neild was not quite a pass rushing force the rest of the year, picking up just another half sack the rest of the way, but he did a competent job filling in for Cofield.
He played 162 snaps, about 15 percent of the defensive plays. Jim Haslett would like have given Cofield, who played 75 percent of the snaps, more of a breather (Haslett said last week that he’s like to see his starting nose tackle play about 55 percent of the snaps) but he apparently did not want to give Neild a larger role.
The team promoted Chris Baker from the practice squad in December, possibly looking to give Cofield more of a rest. But Baker immediately hurt himself in practice and ended up on injured reserve before he could play in a game.
Before training camp last year, the plan was to have second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins spell Cofield at nose tackle in some nickel situations. That went out the window when Jenkins tore his ACL during the preseason.
Assuming everyone else stays healthy, the Redskins should be able to proceed with a version of last year’s plan. Baker will spell Cofield on running downs while Jenkins will spend time rotating through all of the D-line positions including the nose in passing situations.
Neild might have given them some more flexibility and allowed Baker to play end if needed. But with Neild gone, Baker will need to focus primarily on the nose tackle position.
Neild’s injury isn’t that devastating at the moment. But, with 19 games left to play, the Redskins have lost part of their safety net. Further injuries could create depth issues and the chances are good that there will be some issues before the season is over.