It was clear heading into the offseason that the Redskins desperately needed to improve their run defense and add depth to their defensive line. Having decided against signing any free agents up front, adding a defensive lineman in the draft became a priority. With the 13th pick, they drafted Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne, who should be able to help not only as a run defender but as a pass rusher, too.
However, Payne’s primary role, at least initially, will be as the nose tackle in the base defense. He has versatility to play up and down the line, allowing the Redskins to use a variety of looks and still get strong run defense from him.
Here, Payne is in a traditional 3-4 nose tackle alignment, with his head up directly over the center. He comes off the ball strongly, keeping his pad level lower than the center and getting his hands inside. From there, Payne extends and locks out his arms, maximizing his length advantage over the center and keeping himself in full control of the block. Payne then gets his eyes on the running back, fellow Redskins draft pick Derrius Guice, and sheds the block as Guice cuts back, making the tackle.
The Redskins don’t always ask their nose tackle to line up directly over the center. Typically, they will play the nose tackle as a shade, angled on one of the shoulders of the center, where he only has to play one gap and can attack up the field more aggressively.
This time, Payne is shaded over the center’s left shoulder. Only responsible for one gap, Payne surges off the snap into the center, again getting his hands inside to control the block. He drives the center into the backfield and then peels off to make the tackle as the running back attempts to cut back.
Payne can also slide down the line and play solid run defense in sub-packages.
With Georgia using 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) inside the 5-yard line on this play, Alabama has to be prepared for either a run or a pass, so the Crimson Tide uses a nickel sub-package with four down linemen. Payne moves from shaded over the center to head up over the left guard. As the ball is snapped, the center attempts to reach across to Payne and cut him off from the run behind him. Payne reads the play well and gets his left arm under the shoulder of the center, allowing him to drive the center back and give him room to work back inside to the runner, making the stop to prevent the touchdown.
Clearly Payne’s run defense is a strong point in his game, but to prove worthy of the 13th draft selection, he can’t purely be a run defender. As a pass rusher, he needs to become far more consistent than he was in college, but he does have some upside and showed a few flashes of moves he can develop.
Back over the center here, Payne gets a quick read on the snap and takes advantage of the center lunging at him. He clubs the center’s hands away with his right arm while using a swim move with his left to skip past him. Payne closes quickly on the quarterback and delivers a hit.
This club and swim combination appears to be a favorite of Payne’s; he used it again in the same game.
This time, Payne is lined up over the right guard but uses that same combination to skip past him. The center is forced to help the guard, but Payne simply repeats the move to get past the center and generate pressure up the middle.
That appears to be the primary pass rush move for Payne, but he will need to develop another plan of attack should his first move fail. One option could be a spin move, which Payne used against Tennessee with good technique.
Here, Payne lines up as a three-technique defensive tackle in a four-man front, on the outside shoulder of the right guard. He takes two steps up the field to the guard’s outside shoulder, forcing the guard to commit outside before using the quick spin to get back inside. A key part of the spin move is using your hands and arms effectively. Payne’s right arm chops down before the spin to keep himself clean, while his left arm comes through after the spin to hit the guard in the back, allowing him to knock the guard away and propel himself forward. From there, he uses his strength to burst through the last-ditch block attempts of the guard and center and pressure the quarterback to scramble out of the pocket.
Payne’s run defense will get him on the field in the Redskins’ base front early in his pro career, but how he develops those flashes of pass rush ability into consistent pressure will determine how successful he is in the NFL. Fortunately, Payne is only 20, so he has time on his side and will learn under one of the most respected defensive line coaches in the NFL, Jim Tomsula. If Tomsula can help him develop a plan of attack when it comes to pass rushing, the Redskins could have an interior defensive line pair of Payne and Jonathan Allen that serves as the core of their defense for some time to come.
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