Redskins Turn Defensive In Draft

Team Takes 3 Linebackers, Safety, End And Cornerback

April 22, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- Go ahead, Boomer Esiason, see if you can throw for 522 yards on this defense.

That's what the Washington Redskins seemed to be saying over the weekend at Redskin Park, taking six defensive players with eight selections in the NFL draft.

The Redskins' defense never recovered last season after Esiason ripped it apart in a 37-34 overtime victory by the Arizona Cardinals at RFK Stadium on Nov. 10. The 522 yards were the third-highest single-game total in NFL history and dropped the Redskins to 7-3 en route to a 9-7 finish.

Redskins general manager Charley Casserly is obviously out to make sure something like that doesn't happen again. He hoarded linebackers, taking three along with a defensive end, a strong safety and a cornerback.

The defensive end is the team's first-round pick, 6-foot-4, 277-pound Kenard Lang, who left the University of Miami after his junior season "because I felt I was ready to play in the NFL."

One of the three linebackers is second-round selection Greg Jones from Colorado.

Lang and Jones are considered strong candidates to start in their rookie seasons.

On Saturday, Casserly was already visualizing what it would be like to have Lang lined up at left end with Rich Owens on the right side in his third year with the team.

Washington's third-round choice was 6-2, 235-pound linebacker Derek Smith from Arizona State.

Casserly did take time out from his defensive posture to choose two offensive players on the final day of the draft.

The decision to select Texas A&M wide receiver Albert Connell in the fourth round and Stanford guard Brad Badger in the fifth almost seemed like a move to appease the team's offensive coaches.

One coach, wide receivers boss Terry Robiskie, told new defensive line coach Earl Leggett on Saturday night after the team had taken a defensive end and two linebackers in the first three rounds, "Heck, if you guys can't play now with all those players you're bringing in, you're in trouble."

Leggett could only smile.

The last time the Redskins had waited until the fourth round or later to choose an offensive player was 1985.

Casserly was so satisfied with his work in this year's draft that he decided to sit out the sixth and seventh rounds, trading the Redskins' two choices in those rounds to Atlanta for the Falcons' fifth-round selection.

That gave Washington a fourth fifth-round selection.

In addition to their regular pick in the fifth round, the Redskins had one fifth-rounder from New Orleans in a deal that sent quarterback Heath Shuler to the Saints, another fifth-round selection as compensation for the loss of quality unrestricted free agents in 1996 and the one just gained in the Atlanta trade.

Casserly used the New Orleans choice to grab strong safety Jamel Williams from Nebraska, the Atlanta trade pick to corral little-known cornerback Keith Thibodeaux out of Northwestern Louisiana and the compensatory selection to take Badger.

The Redskins' regular fifth-round choice was used to bring in outside linebacker Twan Russell from Miami.

Thibodeaux was one of those rare last-minute finds by Washington, with defensive backs coach Tom Hayes going to Northwestern Louisiana last Friday to give him a workout that sold the team on him.

"We were already a much better team than last year on Thursday before the draft," Washington coach Norv Turner said. "Now it depends on how quickly these guys from the draft develop as to how much better we'll be."

Lang and Jones were both at Redskin Park on Sunday.

"I'm not making any predictions," Lang said. "I can't sell my eggs before they hatch. I'm just going to come in, work hard and do whatever the coaches ask me."

Jones said: "I know the Redskins are dedicated to defense and that makes me feel good."

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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