The Washington Redskins need a nose tackle, but how and when they find one remains uncertain. They have players on the roster who could develop such as A.J. Francis or Matt Ioannidis, and there’s a reclamation project in Phil Taylor, who last played in 2014 because of knee injuries. Ziggy Hood played the position last season, but is far better suited to play end.
And, of course, there’s the draft. It’s not considered a deep draft for interior defensive linemen, but there are a handful who project inside: Florida’s Caleb Brantley, Iowa's Jaleel Johnson, Notre Dame's Jarron Jones, Washington’s Elijah Qualls, Clemson's Carlos Watkins, USC’s Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson, UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, Auburn's Montravius Adams and Colorado's Josh Tupou among them. Some have the size to play nose, but might be limited as two-down players. Others project more as a nose in some 4-3 fronts (Brantley) and others would be better as ends in a 3-4.
Considering how much nickel the Redskins play, someone who can only play nose in their base 3-4 defense would only be on the field for perhaps 10-15 snaps a game; that’s not worth a high pick. They need someone who can move well enough to defend the run out of nickel and, perhaps, provide a little push in the pass game.
There’s also not a lot of worry, thanks in part to line coach Jim Tomsula.
“Coach Tomsula has assured me that he will find a nose guard,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last month at the owners meetings, “[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.”
Indeed, Tomsula used four different players at nose tackle during his time in San Francisco: Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams. Of this group, Franklin and Sopoaga were fifth-round and fourth-round picks, respectively; Williams was undrafted. Dorsey was a first-round pick, but with Kansas City, and was signed to be a backup. He became a starter when Williams got hurt.
The overall point, though, is that when Tomsula coached the 49ers’ line, they did not invest heavily in a nose tackle. They received solid play from the position, however, and during all of his eight seasons as the line coach, the 49ers ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed. They ranked among the top five on four occasions.
Of course, the 49ers also had strong defenders surrounding the nose tackle – end Justin Smith and inside linebackers Patrick Willis among them -- to make sure they stopped the run and defended well overall. Without elite players elsewhere, the hole at nose tackle sticks out.
But the Redskins’ defense the last few years struggled vs. the run as much out of their nickel package -- when they don’t use a pure nose tackle -- as when they were in their base front. The Redskins' big search has been to find players who can have an impact on the pass game as much as anything. Or those who can play three downs. Using a high pick just to find a nose tackle? That seems unlikely, given Gruden's comment.
Still, it would help their defense quite a bit to plug this hole. Several defenders last season -- including some on the line -- mentioned a handful of times how the lack of a true nose hurt the defense. They needed someone to command double-teams. The quest remains to find that player.