No apostrophe, no hype, no problem for Redskins' Daron Payne

Daron Payne made life tough on fellow first-rounder Sam Darnold and the Jets on Aug. 16. Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire

ASHBURN, Va. -- He’s not here to give snappy quotes or provide witty comments. Someone other than Washington Redskins rookie nose tackle Daron Payne can provide that entertainment. That is a good thing, because that’s not what Payne wants to do anyway.

Look at his first preseason action two weeks ago against the New York Jets. He took on double teams without losing ground; he won a one-on-one battle for a sack; he strung out runs, allowing linebackers to make plays.

“It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to worry about,” teammate and defensive end Ziggy Hood said.

Payne is quiet enough that he didn’t want to speak up at Alabama when an apostrophe was inserted into his first name, turning him into Da’Ron. He was listed that way from his freshman season through this past year.

“Just overnight one day it ended up with an apostrophe,” he said. “I never said nothing for a minute and then I finally said something. ... I didn’t think too much about it. My agent called me and was like, ‘Do you want it or not?’ And I said no.”

A lot of hype surrounded second-round running back Derrius Guice, but lost amid the talk of his potential was the fact that Payne was the first-round pick. Payne wasn’t hyped by the public, but he was inside the building.

The Redskins believe that a starting line of Payne, Jonathan Allen -- their 2017 first-round pick and a teammate of Payne at Alabama -- and Matt Ioannidis will lead a defensive turnaround.

But it starts in the middle with Payne.

And he understands his role.

“To be a dominating defensive lineman,” Payne said.

The Redskins like their young linemen, including fifth-round pick Tim Settle, because of their talent and their approach. Coaches have often praised how the linemen work, performing like seasoned veterans. Hood said they take criticism well, something not all young players do.

The Redskins need this group to be strong in order to stop the run in the NFC East, where they’ll face running backs Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) and Saquon Barkley (Giants) as well as a strong line in the Eagles. If the Redskins can’t handle the run, it’ll be another long season -- defensively and overall.

“One hundred percent the team that can stop the run and the team that can run the ball effectively in this division will most likely win the division,” Allen said.

The Redskins ranked last in rushing yards allowed and 29th in yards per carry last season. They were also last in yards per carry allowed out of their nickel defense, allowing 6.47 yards when they had five defensive backs on the field.

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said Payne and Allen remind him of Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, who anchored Carolina’s defense when he played with the Panthers.

“Young, sprout and just ready to go,” Norman said. “When they played, it was a difference. They moved men. They’d get to a quarterback and he was able to throw it blind sometimes and get it out of their hands faster than they wanted to. That’s when DBs make plays on the ball. Those two guys remind me of them. They’re shorter impact tanks. I look at that and I love it.

“It’s going to bring some fire, some energy and excitement. You got those two bulls up there; we’ve got three of them now.”

The past two preseason games provide snapshots of his ability, especially the game against the Jets. He was locked one-on-one with the right guard, slapping him aside en route to a sack. He was singled up for a simple reason: Allen was being doubled.

Earlier in that series, Payne drove the center back on a quick pass. On a later series, Payne couldn’t be moved off the line of scrimmage, helping clog a 1-yard run. A few plays later, he occupied two blockers on a stunt. Not every play ended successfully for the Redskins’ defense, but Payne provided what they needed.

“They’re both strong humans and they’re hard to move and they’re tenacious in their efforts,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Payne and Allen. “When you have talent and you have strength and you’re also tenacious, it’s a heck of a combination."

But it’s hard to separate Payne from the others.

“Playing behind them is incredible,” linebacker Mason Foster said, “the way they’re closing gaps off. The windows are closing quick. Running backs have no choice but to cut it in or run at us. ... There’s no need to run up and waste yourself. You let those guys go play and you get ready to play off them. They’re physical freaks and they’ll make something happen.”

In nickel, the linebackers are responsible for two gaps. Foster said that because of the power up front, they can shrink that to covering a gap-and-a-half.

“For the most part we play off them and let those guys hunt and we’ll clean up on the back end,” Foster said.

The Redskins’ front hasn’t accomplished anything yet, a fact Allen points out consistently. But the reason for optimism started after Allen was drafted last season and was given a boost with Payne.

“I don’t be having too much to say,” Payne said. “It really ain’t too hard for me. I’m going to do my job. That’s just who I am.”