Washington Redskins: Can Jim Tomsula help turn defense around?

May 24, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula (L) talks during drills as part of Redskins OTAs at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula (L) talks during drills as part of Redskins OTAs at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Redskins hired Jim Tomsula this offseason to help fix a struggling defensive line, but can he get the job done?

The Washington Redskins have struggled to stop the run in recent seasons. A big reason for Washington’s ineptitude in stopping the opposition’s running game was a defensive line severely bereft of talent.

Well, this offseason the Redskins went about changing the talent problem. The Redskins added Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee in free agency, while using their first-round pick on Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. Allen, by most accounts, was a top-five talent who fell to Washington due to concerns about his shoulders.

However, the Redskins biggest addition to their defense could be new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

The former San Francisco 49ers’ head coach, Tomsula was regarded as one of the better defensive line coaches in the league before his disastrous one-year stint as head coach of the Niners in 2015. Some of Tomsula’s best work was with former All-Pro Justin Smith. Before Smith came to San Francisco, he was a solid defensive lineman. Working under Tomsula, Smith transformed into a franchise player and five-time All-Pro.

For much of this offseason, the media would ask head coach Jay Gruden who was going to play nose tackle. Gruden didn’t hesitate with his answer, per John Keim of ESPN.

"Coach Tomsula has assured me that he will find a nose guard, and he’ll make a nose guard. If you look at his track record, you look at the nose guards he’s had, none of them have been priority first-round draft choices. He’s made nose guards. He coaches that position extremely well, and I have faith that he’ll do that."

That’s a strong indictment for what the folks in charge think of Tomsula as a coach. That’s a big reason why the Redskins didn’t overspend on players such as Dontari Poe or Johnathan Hankins. Instead, Washington signed former first-round pick Phil Taylor, injured for much of the past three seasons, off the scrap heap. Also in play, a couple of former undrafted free agents who’ve bounced around the league in Joey Mbu and A.J. Francis.

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McGee, Ziggy Hood and McClain could also see time inside in sub-packages. Thus far in the offseason, it’s Mbu whose seen the most time with the first unit. And Tomsula was complimentary of Taylor after a practice this spring, according to Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com:

"“Don’t you have tremendous respect for that guy?” Tomsula said. “What he has overcome and the ways he’s moving around right now is really awesome to watch, it really is. Phil’s doing really well.”"

If the Redskins get anything from Taylor, Francis or Mbu, then Tomsula has clearly done his job.

While much of the talk centers around Allen, the free-agent additions or who will play nose tackle, it’s Anthony Lanier that gets Tomsula excited. A 6-6, 260-pound undrafted rookie from Alabama A&M in 2016, Lanier surprisingly made the final 53-man roster and coaches raved about his potential and work ethic. Pairing him with a coach such as Tomsula could give the Redskins a potential gem at defensive end.

The Redskins could take a step back on offense in 2017, so the defense must be better. In a division with the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliot, Washington must stop the run first and foremost. If the run defense is better, the Redskins have a chance to compete for the NFC East. And a big reason for the optimism on defense is the presence of Tomsula.

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While Tomsula is known for some of the most entertaining press conferences in recent history, he’s actually a pretty good football coach. And he could be the key figure in Washington’s potential defensive turnaround in 2017.