In a rush: Taylor acquisition helps 'Skins keep up in sack-happy East

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Last season, the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles combined for a whopping 136 sacks, an average of slightly more than 45 each. Super Bowl champion New York led the way, of course, with its vaunted pass rush, finishing with 53 sacks. Osi Umenyiora had 13, Justin Tuck contributed 10, and the now-retired Michael Strahan chipped in nine.

Dallas and its aggressive defensive front seven wasn't far behind, with 46 sacks as a team, including 14 for DeMarcus Ware and 12.5 for Greg Ellis. Philadelphia had 37 sacks, led by Trent Cole's breakthrough season of 12.5.

The Redskins? They finished last in the NFC East in terms of sacks, with 33. Defensive end Andre Carter led Washington with 10.5 sacks. So when end Phillip Daniels (2.5 sacks in '07) went down Sunday morning with a season-ending ACL injury, and reserve end Alex Buzbee followed that up by blowing out his Achilles tendon that afternoon, the dumbstruck Redskins didn't just need Taylor, they suddenly had to have the world's most famous dancing Dolphin since Flipper.

"We're probably in the toughest division, or one of the toughest divisions, in the NFL,'' said Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell, just one of many happy Washington players who looked on Monday morning as if they found Taylor's arrival too good to be true. "If you look at all the teams we play, they all have great defensive ends. One thing they all do is put pressure on quarterbacks. The Giants pass rush in the Super Bowl shows you how tremendous (it is) having a tough front seven like that and what it can add to your team.''

What Taylor, who'll be 34 in September, adds immediately to the Redskins is a pass-rusher who their opponents must account for in their blocking schemes. Taylor might have one foot already planted in Hollywood with an eye on his post-playing days career, but he's still capable of creating far more havoc from the edge than Washington has had in many years. Taylor had 11 sacks for last year's sad-sack Dolphins (1-15), and he hasn't totaled fewer than 8.5 sacks in any season this decade.

"We had high expectations this season anyway, but with this acquisition it energizes us even more in terms of our goals and what we're setting out to do this year,'' Redskins middle linebacker and leading tackler London Fletcher said. "We knew it was going to be tough to win our division with the Cowboys, the Giants and the Eagles to deal with.''

Washington being able to have Taylor in its lineup every week at least puts the Redskins into the conversation in terms of NFC East pass rushes. Opponents now won't be able to merely slide their blocking to Carter's right end slot, daring Washington's other defensive linemen to beat them in the pass rush. Some Redskins were even giddy enough Monday to maintain that Taylor's acquisition is the move that could simultaneously impact all three lines of Washington's defense, elevating it to among the league's elite units.

The thinking, which I don't find wholly unrealistic, is that Taylor's presence in the pass rush will make the coverage duties of the Redskins defensive backs easier and lead to more play-making chances for the linebackers. Voilá, unit-wide improvement.

"The defensive backs are happy, I know that,'' said Redskins executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, the man who hastily pulled the trigger on the Taylor deal. "They definitely like it.''

No one in Washington has more reason to be relieved than Carter, who won't attract nearly as much attention from opposing blockers with Taylor in burgundy and yellow.

"Having him on the other side is a great deal,'' Carter said. "I'm sure it will [elevate our defense]. It'll open up things and allow us to have a four-man rush. Having him on the other side, and then with our tackles, somebody's going to come free and have one-on-one opportunities.''

The Redskins were clearly fortunate that a Jason Taylor was sitting out there on the market, waiting to be had in just such a situation. The price was right, and so was their logic. To compete in today's NFC East, a pass rush is essential.

• Speaking of Carter and Taylor, there was a big mystery here Monday about who was going to get to wear No. 99, the number Carter owns in Washington and the one Taylor has made famous in Miami.

Carter even joked about the prospect of either selling the number to Taylor, or being instructed from on high as to what jersey he'll wear.

"We'll see what happens,'' Carter said. "If [owner] Dan Snyder comes to talk to me ... [Maybe Jason and I] will have a dance off. But he'll probably beat me. That salsa stuff and all that, I can't do that. I do play the piano. Maybe I'll play the piano and he can dance and may the best man win.''

A little later Monday, new Redskins head coach Jim Zorn broke a little news, telling me and another reporter: "We've already resolved it. Andre Carter will be [No.] 99. And there was no money exchanged.''

Apparently Taylor is going to have to earn his stripes as a Redskin, because not only is he going to be wearing a new number, he'll be switching to left end, leaving Carter on the right side, which he has played his entire seven-year NFL career.

• Zorn couldn't have been clearer on Monday: There will be no quarterback controversy this year in Washington, even if backup Todd Collins was boffo in relief of the injured Campbell last December, leading the Redskins to four consecutive victories and into the playoffs.

The Redskins made it a priority to re-sign Collins early in free agency, but they've repeatedly said there's nothing to talk about in terms of an open competition.

"No, no. If [Collins] plays lights out and we sputter with Jason [this preseason], my job is to get Jason up to speed by the time we start the season,'' Zorn said. "We don't need to [talk quarterback controversy]. I'm not going to create that. It should not be created.''

The Redskins aren't the first team to come to the conclusion that it potentially hurts a young quarterback's confidence to have to compete for his job, but rest assured the veterans in Washington's locker room know which guy gave them the best chance to win when he was on the field last season. Zorn knows he has to be aware of such sentiment, but he does not foresee a problem in this case.

"It's a medal for us that Todd has the character he has and doesn't create animosity in the locker room,'' Zorn said. "[He could say], 'Hey, guys I really should be starting. He's not that good,' and have them going, 'Yeah, yeah, you should be [starting].' But that would be an unbelievable evil. Even though deep down inside every quarterback feels like 'I can do this.' Todd does too.''

Zorn, a former NFL quarterback, has been both a starter and a backup in the league, and he said he understands both players' perspectives. But as a head coach, he wanted to send the clear, early message that Campbell, the team's 2005 first-round pick, is the Redskins' guy, and the 36-year-old Collins is their No. 2.

"We know Todd Collins can do it,'' Zorn said. "But when we watch video and where Jason is heading, I think everybody's fired up about that too. I didn't want a quarterback controversy, or say, 'Hey, everything's open. We don't know.' I don't want to play that manipulation game when I already know. Jason Campbell's got it.

"Is he ready? He's very ready in some ways, and he's not as ready as Todd would be in other ways. But that's the difference between a young quarterback and a veteran quarterback. Jason demonstrated that to me before he was injured, he had earned the starting position.''

When Campbell was lost for the season with a season-ending second-quarter knee injury at home against Chicago in Week 14, the Redskins were 5-6 and facing a must-win against the Bears. Collins rallied Washington to a 24-16 win, and then led the Redskins to road wins at the Giants and Vikings, before a regular-season finale victory at home against Dallas.

Despite Zorn's confidence, Campbell said Monday that he realizes there are no guarantees in the NFL when it comes to starting jobs.

"You already know in this position if you make one mistake, you're going to hear that,'' Campbell said. "I'm not going to worry about it, I'm going to just go out and play ball. Because I did a lot of positive things last year. We lost a lot of close games we could have won, and I had outstanding games. But you don't get the recognition of it, because the only thing that matters is if you win. It was my first full season [as a starter] and I thought it went very well.''

• There are those around the NFL who have expressed some reservations about Campbell's adaptability to Zorn's version of the West Coast offense, questioning how long it might take for him to play instinctively in such a ball-control short passing game, and whether or not his footwork will be fluid enough for an offense that rewards being able to read, react and move around.

Zorn harbors no such concerns with Campbell's transition to the West Coast, saying his fourth-year quarterback has made consistent strides since they began working together on almost a daily basis since March.

"I see two [components] right now with Jason's game that we're still working on, taking command of the line of scrimmage and then understanding the rhythm and the goal behind the play,'' Zorn said. "Those are things I'm trying to push for Jason. I can't answer [how soon it will become instinctive]. But he's on his way, and I'm relentless. I will not shut up. The quarterback has got to be able to move in the West Coast game, but Jason can move.''

• Campbell isn't the only quarterback in camp getting plenty of individual attention from Zorn. So too is sixth-round pick Colt Brennan, the former University of Hawaii star. I watched Brennan take some snaps in Monday morning's practice, and many of his throws come from an almost side-arm motion, almost as if he were skipping rocks on the water.

That worked for Slingin' Sammy Baugh in Washington, but I'm not sure it's going to work for Brennan, who threw for a bazillion yards in his career in Hawaii's pass-happy offense.

"That's a thing that's coming,'' said Zorn, when asked about Brennan's throwing motion. "But there are so many other little things. He's got to change a lot of little things in his feet, and the way he tries to chop his steps, the way he gets away from the center. I mean everything. He knows it. And we're having fun with it, in a serious manner.

"His job is to be pliable, moldable, and not rigid and stiff. He's not saying, 'Hey, I was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, man. I got my act together.' He's really doing that. He's soaking it all in. He wants to be good.''

• That was an epic first day of training camp for Zorn as a rookie head coach: two defensive ends lost to season-ending injuries, both in non-contact drills, and the trade for Taylor. Was he wondering what he has gotten himself into?

"No, it just didn't make any sense,'' he said. "It was just an amazing emotion for all of us. To have one guy go down in the morning and another guy in the afternoon, both non-contact, that was difficult.

"It went from really being excited and I'm talking to Mr. Snyder before the first practice and you're feeling, 'Here we go, pumping it up, we're going to go big,' and then all of a sudden we're depressed after practice. Then after the afternoon practice I was a little bit speechless.''

Dealing for Taylor obviously helped his mood, but Zorn had his trademark optimism back after Monday morning's workout.

"I told my guys today, 'Hey, look around. We made it and everybody's still here,' '' he said. "That's progress.''