Washington’s 26th overall pick in the 2019 Draft, defensive end Montez Sweat may benefit the most from the team’s change at head coach and defensive coordinator. Sweat is coming off a 7 sack rookie season that saw him step up his performance level the second half of the season. That could be contributed to a number of things. There is the rookie learning curve that he had to deal with having to learn the system on the fly and be able to execute plays at a fast pace. There is also the schematics where we saw Sweat numerous times early on in the season asked to do things outside of what his strength is, which is rushing the passer. We saw him in coverage situations often where he looked uncomfortable. A kid that young and that gifted with a particular skillset, you have to let him do what he does well. It’s counterproductive to try and make him something he’s not. When you try to force-feed a particular style, it takes away from a player’s ability to play fast and instinctively. Washington has a history of trying to make players something they are not instead of letting them do what got them to the NFL in the first place. Current head coach and defensive specialist Ron Rivera has a history of maximizing players’ production on the defensive side of the football and I believe will not make the same mistakes previous Washington coaches have.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio should be an instant influence on Sweat and his progress. The defense’s shift to a 4’3 alignment will allow Sweat to play a natural defensive end position and afford him the opportunity to play with his hand in the dirt. He will no longer be asked to play in space and to do things like cover tight ends and drop into the flat in obvious passing situations. Defensive end Chase Young should jolt an already formidable defensive and make it one of the best in the league. Having Young at the other bookend will take a lot of the focus off of Sweat and allow him plenty of opportunities to rush one on one instead of being faced with double-teams frequently. There should be plenty of meetings at the quarterback between the two.
It’s been a long time since Washington has had anything resembling a dominant pass rush or even a dominant pass rusher. Ryan Kerrigan had back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018 when he totaled 13 sacks in each. Those numbers definitely are nothing to shrug your shoulders at, but to say teams “feared” Kerrigan would be a complete overstatement. The team has drafted defensive linemen in the first round of the draft 4 years in a row (Allen, Payne, Sweat, Young). It’s now time for it to show up on the field. Fans have been clamoring for years about “they need to switch to the 4’3”. They did that. Fans have been pleading for a new defensive coordinator. They have one. Fans have been consistently wanting a dominant defensive presence coming out of the draft. They selected one. At this point, it’s about putting it all together and staying healthy.
Montez Sweat is probably more excited than any one of the defensive linemen. Going into his second season, he knows how to prepare. He understands the rigors of being an NFL player and how to approach getting better. He has had a full off season to get bigger, stronger, faster, and most importantly, SMARTER. There is a lot going in his favor entering this season. If he is able to remain healthy and execute everything Rivera and Del Rio implement defensively, expect to see Sweat making plays consistently throughout this upcoming NFL season. As you were…