If the Washington Redskins are to get back to the playoffs for the second time in three years and post a third consecutive winning campaign, it has to be a total team effort. In all honesty, Jay Gruden’s club has ridden the coattails of quarterback Kirk Cousins and the team’s offense these past two seasons. In 2015, the team won its final four games, finished 9-7 and captured the NFC East. This past year, a victory over the New York Giants on the final Sunday of the regular season would have put them in a position to reach the playoffs for a second straight season.

But a 19-10 home loss derailed those hopes. Some would point to Cousins and the club’s failures on offense for the 8-7-1 finish. But the Washington Defense has been the real issue over the last few seasons.

A slew of changes

Team president Bruce Allen was bound and determined to improve one of the worst defensive units in the league over the past two seasons. Under coordinator Joe Barry (who replaced Jim Haslett), the Washington Redskins finished 28th in the NFL in total defense in each of his two years in control. This offseason, Allen wasted little time addressing all positions with this group. The team also promoted linebacker coach Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator.

In Free Agency, the ‘Skins signed defensive linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain, inside linebacker Zach Brown (who will battle Will Compton and Mason Foster for playing time), outside linebacker Chris Carter and strong safety D.J.

Swearinger. Then came April’s draft and the club used its first three picks on this side of the ball. Washington took a pair of former University of Alabama teammates in the first two rounds, defensive end Jonathan Allen and outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, respectively. And once third-round cornerback Fabian Moreau (UCLA) is healthy, he could make an impact in a secondary that added Josh Norman in 2016 and will move Su’a Cravens from inside linebacker to safety this season.

What it all means

Don’t be surprised if the Washington Redskins make a big jump in the defensive rankings in 2017. The promotion of Manusky was complimented by the hiring of new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who has impressed early on. This is a team that has struggled to stop the run these past two years and the drafting of Allen and the signing of Brown should help immediately.

This is already a unit with a respectful pass-rush thanks to outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy. The latter will open the season on the NFL’s suspended list for the first four games. But the improvement may also not be immediate. It may take a few weeks for this defense to come into its own due to the numerous changes. However, Manusky’s defense will certainly bear watching as 2017 unfolds.