In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Redskins Training Camp Schedule >>
The Redskins held their first official practice of training camp 2014 on Thursday in and around the showers during a morning session that extended a bit further than originally scheduled.
Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen's plan to have the main practice in the morning instead of in the afternoon as Mike Shanahan did the last two years (only one year in Richmond) paid off huge dividends on day one. The afternoon practice was forced indoors to the Richmond Convention Center, because of heavy rains, thunder and potential lightning.
The word on the morning practice was that the offense was rusty for the most part and sloppy. When you have rain and wet footballs, that can happen. I still like the fact that Gruden pushed through it. You have to have some mental toughness and be able to overcome adverse conditions.
I'm doing a radio show during practice, so I will tip my cap to ESPN.com and ESPN 980's John Keim for a birds eye view of the practice field with his report.
I was able to talk to a number of players afterwards.
Stephen Bowen opened training camp on the PUP list as expected. He had microfracture knee surgery last December and wasn't fully ready to go. "It's looking good, feeling good," Bowen told me. " I think the next couple of weeks, I should be out there."
Quite simply, the Redskins approach of caution is finally the right one. All too often (Malcolm Kelly, Kory Lichtensteiger, Robert Griffin III) the coaching staff or medical staff in conjunction with players wanting to be on the field, rushed players that were not ready.
"They're trying to take their time with me," Bowen told ESPN 980. "We still got time. If it was do-or-die, I'd probably be out there."
Over the off-season, Bowen told me that he felt the Redskins defensive line could be the best in the NFL. He wasn't as bold on Thursday, but he's still confident. "I feel like we have so much talent on our defensive line. We could be as good as we want to be."
That's more like it. Prove it first, then we can talk. Still, I think the Redskins do have a good defensive line. Chris Baker, Barry Cofield and Jason Hatcher (PUP) are your starters barring any significant injury problems moving forward. Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston are your likely reserve defensive ends. The question becomes the backup nose tackle spot (Baker/Chris Neild) or a wild card in Golston. Baker and Golston would kill two birds with one stone. Neild would not.
Also what do you if Bowen is healthy? Hard to imagine the Redskins carrying more than seven linemen as a maximum, and hopefully they can get away with six. Baker, Cofield, Hatcher, Golston, Jenkins and Bowen seem about right to me. That would mean Neild, Clifton Geathers and Doug Worthington are on the outside looking in.
Trent Williams is coming off another Pro Bowl season and is already beginning his fifth year. He's the one and only Redskins player that you simply can not replace in any reasonable mind. Tom Compton or moving Tyler Polumbus over is not exactly a comforting thought.
Williams has two years left on his original deal, a six-year contract that paid him an enormous sum because he was drafted before the current CBA. Should the Redskins approach him about re-working his contract to lower his cap values for 2014 and more importantly 2015?
Apparently, they have not really begun those discussions according to Williams. He isn't worried at all. Or thinking about it very often."Umm not much. Of course, I would love to stay here and finish my career here, but I'll let the agents earn their money..That's what they get paid for....I'll kind of let them take care of that.."
Williams counts 10.9 million against the cap this year and 12.2 million on the 2015 ledger.
If the Redskins have started those future plans, Williams has been left in the dark. "I have no idea. .If they have, I haven't been informed"
The Redskins don't have to do anything right now or they really don't have to do anything for two more years. The problem is if Williams has two more Pro Bowl years, they could be up a river without any help. Williams at that point would be 28 going on 29 with six years under him and possible four Pro Bowl appearances. That will be a killer package.
Not to mention, Robert Griffin III has the right to get a new contract after 2014 or the Redskins could lock him up with a fifth year option through the 2016 season. If you pay Williams after the 2015 season, because you wanted to see where he is at - you could be looking at a very messy salary cap situation with Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams all looking out enormous deals within a year of each other.
You can do it anyway you want, but I think it's important to work manageable extensions when you still have the ability and some leverage .
Andre Roberts told me he feels he will still be a huge part of this offense, even with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon surrounding him. Think about this. Who's going to be able to pay a lot of attention to Roberts out of the slot or even on the outside, when the Redskins can mix so many different formations. Roberts should have a field day if he's consistent and catches the ball consistently. Bottom line, he should be better than Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson when Hank gets healthy.
Ryan Grant will get some opportunities, but the player that thrives in the red zone and on third down will get extra opportunities. I believe that will largely be Jordan Reed, but this is a perfect opportunity for Roberts to score a lot of touchdowns on a team that is desperate to improve their red zone efficiency. If he can do that, he will have no issue getting more touches.
DeAngelo Hall had a terrific chat with the media, which John wrote about in detail. I will have some thoughts on my question for Hall and how Jay Gruden asked him to be a leader shortly.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Washington Redskins Training Camp Schedule >>
The Redskins officially kicked off training camp 2014 at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond on Wednesday.
No practice was held on a steamy one hundred degree (at 4:30 PM) afternoon, but the entire roster was on the field for conditioning tests that were closed to the media.
ESPN 980 was first to report on Wednesday morning that DE Stephen Bowen and DE Jason Hatcher were to begin training camp on the preseason physically unable to perform list (PUP). Joining Bowen and Hatcher are WR Leonard Hankerson and OL Maurice Hurt.
A couple of things that we can take away from these developments.
1. Somewhat surprisingly, CB and potential punt returner Richard Crawford Jr. has been cleared to return following his ACL and MCL knee injury from last August. Crawford told ESPN 980 and John Keim in May that he was ready to go, but he was being held out of off-season activities as a precaution. That always concerns me, and Crawford has looked uncomfortable when I've seen him walk but the Redskins feel he is ready to go.
2. Crawford's return at the start of camp is crucial because he was by far and away the most improved cornerback during last year's off-season and early in training camp. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins deploy him and if he will be used outside or inside or a combination of both. If he can play both, and he has regained his speed - the Redskins will almost be forced to keep him. He can obviously help as a punt returner, but with DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Tracy Porter, and Bashaud Breeland in the fold already - there may only be one spot to win amongst Chase Minnifield and EJ Biggers.
3. Tracy Porter will be the starting slot cornerback despite missing the entire off-season. I'm anxious to see how he plays, with David Amerson now the full time starter at the RCB position. Porter may not be a significant upgrade from Josh Wilson, but he is better in my eyes and he won't be asked to play as much as Wilson was. Hopefully for Porter, he can track the ball better than Wilson did. That was a huge problem.
4. Stephen Bowen said all the right things, but there was no legitimate reason to rush him back from micro-fracture surgery last December. I know he wants to play, but as long as Jason Hatcher is ready to go (knee) - I see no huge reason to rush Bowen back and would even strongly consider putting him on the regular season PUP list.
5. Jay Gruden said Hatcher would be ready to go ahead of the others, and that was expected as well. I am not terribly concerned by Hatcher's situation because he does not have as much mileage as a typical 32-year old defensive lineman would have. He probably won't play until the Baltimore preseason game (if at all) but the Redskins are wise to take their time to limit the chances of swelling.
6. Maurice Hurt was already on the outside looking in. Now he's in the chateau bow-wow. I don't have any good explanations for it, other than it is really hard to stay in tip-top shape and watch what you eat all the time. Hurt showed up out-of-shape and the new head coach sent a message of accountability. He called him out in the media, something Mike Shanahan rarely did.
7. This sends a message to the entire team, right from the start what is expected. Here's the deal - if you are Trent Williams, you can get away with it. If you are Maurice Hurt - you have pretty much driven the final nail in your burgundy and gold coffin.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Our Redskins summer series continues with another look at a critical element on the defense. We focused on the defense and my belief and expectation that they can obtain 50 sacks this year if all goes as expected.
Of course, that is a high expectation and I should know better, but it makes sense.
If you missed our first entry on the Redskins offense and a huge focus on special teams , just click on the link and you can get extended breakdowns.
If the pass rush is as good as the Redskins believe it will be and I of course think it can be, it should stand to reason that the secondary and overall pass defense should be a lot better than it has been in 2012 and 2013.
When I wrote the profile on the 50 sacks, my friend John Keim of ESPN.com and ESPN 980 had some fun with my premise, but also pointed out a key fact and trend.
Yards per pass attempt. The Redskins need to improve dramatically in this area. There is no doubt about that.
As John points out, last year's Super Bowl Champion Seahawks only had 44 sacks, but were first in yards per pass attempt (YPPA) at 5.82.
Washington was terrible in this area. They were 31st last year, allowing 8.04 YPPA (514 attempts, 4,134 yards). When you take their net passing yards figure (3,896), the number goes down to 7.57 YPPA. The Redskins had 36 sacks in 2013.
In the division championship year of 2012, the Redskins were at 7.42 YPPA (636 attempts, 4,720 gross yards) with an adjusted net figure of 7.09 YPPA (4,511 net passing yards allowed). The Redskins had 31 sacks in 2012.
In 2011, the Redskins had their best defense overall, but not their best YPPA mark under Jim Haslett and Mike Shanahan (3,804 gross yards, 509 attempts) at 7.47. Their adjusted net figure (3,553 net passing yards allowed) would be 6.98 YPPA. The Redskins had 41 sacks during this year, their highest total in recent years.
Last year, the Carolina Panthers had 60 sacks and they allowed 6.84 YPPA (3,853 gross yards, 563 attempts). The Arizona Cardinals had 47 sacks and they were better than Carolina with a 6.50 YPPA (4,065 gross yards, 625 attempts).
As John points out, "since 2009, the Redskins’ best finish in this area came in ’09 when they were 18th at 6.96.
A couple of things come to mind with that. The more passing attempts against you, can either hurt or help you but generally your average comes down with the larger sample size. Also, while Arizona's YPPA was better than Carolina's - the Panthers allowed less gross passing yards AND had 13 more sacks.
The point is that while a lower YPPA certainly helps you, it is not the primary or only factor in determining a team's success. It is one of the factors. It also depends on who you play.
For instance, Arizona played San Francisco and Seattle twice each in the division. Two of the best teams in football, but to be fair, they do not exactly have loaded passing attacks. Both have a run first mentality. Arizona also played high powered passing attacks like Detroit, New Orleans, and Indianapolis
Carolina played Drew Brees and the Saints twice, along with Matt Ryan and the Falcons who were banged up but love to sling the ball around. Carolina played Seattle as well in the first week of the season and lost in Arizona in early October. They also played New England and the Giants. The schedules in terms of tough passing attacks to defend were about even, with possibly a slight difficulty edge to Arizona.
The Redskins went against three pretty good passing teams in their own division plus took on Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Denver and San Diego. As I said many times last year, the schedule was relentless in the first half in terms of premier passing quarterbacks like Rodgers, Stafford, Cutler, Manning and Rivers.
Let's look at some trends a little more closely, as we go "Inside the Numbers."
The Redskins defense which was considered "historically bad" by some, finished the season ranked 18th (NFL) in yards per game at 354.1, a spot that was tenth in the NFC. Not good but not as terrible as the picture was painted to be. The unit allowed 243.5 passing yards per game which ranked 20th in the NFL and tenth in the NFC, but were last in the NFL in passing yards per play at 7.58, a different metric than YPPA.
Jim Haslett's guys had a 7.00% sacks per pass attempt ratio, which ranked 13th in the NFL and 7th in the NFC. One key area where the unit was really good (on a pass heavy down) was 3rd Down percentage. The Redskins finished at 34.02% to finish fourth in the NFL and 2nd in the NFC in this hugely critical area.
Washington's defense went from worst in the NFL in yards per game allowed in Week five to 18th by the time the season ended. After an initial rise, the defense dipped back to 30th in the league in Week nine only to jump 12 spots in eight games.
On third down the Redskins went from a season worst 22nd in the NFL after two weeks on a steady climb to fourth overall.
Their red zone percentage was 28th in the NFL and 15th in the NFC and the number that everybody looks at (points per game) never was better than 24th overall, and finished 30th in the NFL and tied for 14th in the NFC. Of course, those that don't understand how the sport works blamed this woeful statistic all on the defense which could not be further from the truth.
Some other accomplishments for the Redskins defense, courtesy of Redskins PR were:
- Finished second in the NFL in least third down conversions allowed (66)
- Finished tied for third in the NFL in rushes stuffed (50)
- Finished tied for fourth in the NFL in most stuffed yards (124)
- Finished fifth in the NFC and sixth in the NFL in rushes stuffed efficiency (11.3%)
- Finished tied for second in the NFC and tied for third in the NFL in interception return touchdowns (4)
The Redskins scored five defensive touchdowns last year, the highest total since 1994. They had four interception returns for touchdowns (DeAngelo Hall - Detroit & Denver, David Amerson - Oakland, Brian Orakpo -Chicago). Hall had the lone fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener.
So a defense that was so brutal, so awful, such an abomination (as many pundits labeled it) did something no Redskins defense had done in nearly 20 years.
Looking further, the Redskins defense yielded on average 309.3 net yards per game in the second half (final eight games) of their season. The total net yards allowed was 2,475 yards over eight games.
Of that total, 1,639 net yards were via the pass or an average of 204.8 net passing yards allowed per game. This was on a total 225 attempts, which meant the adjusted YPPA was 7.28. The unadjusted figures are 1,742 yards over 225 attempts for a YPPA of 7.74.
The first half Redskins adjusted YPPA was 2,257 yards with 289 passing attempts, for a YPPA of 7.81. The first half unadjusted figure was 8.27.
It wasn't a monstrous decrease, but it was a 0.53 drop in YPPA from the first eight games to the final eight. When that is measured at a total of 514 passes, that number becomes more magnified.
The bottom line is that the first half of the season saw the Redskins defense allow 618 more net passing yards than they did in the second half in the same amount of games, or an average of 77.25 more per game allowed in the first half as opposed to the second half.
An interesting number to note is that the Redskins defense only had 15 sacks in the second half of the season, compared to 21 in the first half. Of course, seven of those came against a brutal Oakland offensive line so the numbers were probably more equal if we are factoring in opponents.
In the first half of the Redskins season, they faced the # 1 (Aaron Rodgers), # 2 (Philip Rivers), # 3-Tie (Tony Romo), # 5 (Peyton Manning) and # 9-Tie (Jay Cutler) quarterbacks that are the active yards per pass attempt leaders.
In essence, sacks are not directly tied to YPPA, and that was completely understood when I did the column. I was trying to say that the Redskins had bolstered their pass rush enough that I felt that specific number was absolutely in reach.
There are a lot of factors that go into a good secondary and therefore good pass statistics. Tackling might be the most important, but scheme and pass rush pressure are major factors.
Pro Football Focus judged the Redskins to have missed 143 tackles on the season, with DeAngelo Hall leading the way with 18 missed tackles per the website. Tampa had 146 to lead the NFL according to PFF. The Rams had 145, the Vikings were at 143, the Bears were scored at 137, the Raiders were at 135 and the Cowboys were at 130. On the low side, the Colts were at 95. The Patriots were at 84, while the Saints finished at a league best 77 missed tackles according to PFF numbers.
Seattle had 78. Obviously, very close to the top of the league and when you combine their league best YPPA at 5.82 - you start to see a trend.
This chart which measures the adjusted YPPA as far as I can tell, has St. Louis at 29, Oakland at 30, Dallas at 27, Chicago at 26, Tampa at 20 and Minnesota at 23. This seems to be the most glaring connection that leads to a higher YPPA. Missed tackles. The higher the amount of missed tackles is clearly going to mean a higher YPPA.
So it would seem easy to say - just tackle better - and that would solve all of the issues right? Well....
Here's where I am at and how the Redskins can get better. Sacks are just one metric, pass rush pressure is much more important in a lot of ways. Tackling is clearly an area that the Redskins have to improve but I believe that they will be better than their judged total of last year.
There's no doubt that increasing the sack total should help, but not if the Redskins can't clean up the damage on 2nd or 3rd down depending on when sacks occur.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that if the Redskins can have better sustained pass rush pressure, that will make things harder on opposing quarterbacks and offensive units. They have to get rid of the ball quicker, coverages do not break down as much and more mistakes are generally made as harassment is increased.
Here's another thing that will help. The Redskins defense will have a much more aggressive mentality this year. Under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins wanted to stop the run and make opponents one dimensional. Now, they are going for broke.
From their defensive line philosophy to their pass rush philosophy and I believe that extends to how the secondary will improve their own unit and the defense overall.
The Seahawks have redefined how to play fast, physical and aggressive defense. Mike Shanahan normally preferred to play a more conservative type of coverages. The Redskins defensive staff wanted to do more. At the bye week in 2012, the Redskins were (3-6) and sinking quick. The defense decided to put their own stamp on things and became much more aggressive. Remember? One of the key philosophy changes was playing more man coverage and blitzing from the secondary. The inside linebackers were free to attack the line of scrimmage. It worked. That's Jim Haslett's mentality. He is far from conservative in his thought process, unless he's forced to be.
Clearly, Washington is nowhere near that level but a constant complaint that I've heard from Redskins fans over the course of the last five years is why the defense often employs corners lined up a considerable yardage off of the receiver.
Far be it from me to know all of the nuances of schemed defense, but there are many reasons for it. Clearly, it is a much more cautious approach and the thought would be to give your corners room to operate and see routes develop.
The Seahawks play a mix of coverages, like anybody does, but almost always - their corners are lined up on the line of scrimmage and ready to jam and contest the receivers route.
I believe the Redskins will employ this philosophy as much if not more than they ever this year. I believe their skill set at corner matches this and I can't imagine that DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson or Bashaud Breeland do not want to be mano a mano and in a receivers grill. I don't see that being EJ Biggers' strength but Chase Minnifield has that mentality and feisty mindset.
Thankfully for the Redskins, Josh Wilson is no longer around. That's addition by subtraction and I would have to imagine that Tracy Porter could not possibly be anymore of a liability. Wilson allowed 372 yards-after-the-catch, 5th worst in the NFL. Porter wasn't much better, but Wilson allowed more receptions and more yards than Porter did, even though Porter was thrown at more times.
Porter played 1,016 snaps with Oakland last year (RCB, Slot CB) and Pro Football Focus gave him a cumulative minus 11.6 grade. He really fell off in the late part of the season, and that could be a combination of many factors.
Porter, according to PFF (ProFootballFocus.com) statistics was thrown at 94 times with 62 completions against his coverage. He was judged to have allowed 707 yards into his coverage and 363 yards-after-the-catch (YAC). So quarterbacks throwing against Porter's coverage were (62 -94, 66 %, 4 TD, 2 INT).
David Amerson's rookie season was judged better than I thought by PFF, as quarterbacks were (45-77, 58.4, 684 yards, TD, 2 INT) with 246 YAC. DeAngelo Hall (60-94, 63.8 %, 726, 4 TD, 4 INT) with 301 YAC. Amerson gave up more big plays than Hall did, but there is reason for optimism.
This is your starting three. Others will contribute like Breeland and possibly Minnifield, and both of those guys fit the mold. As does Richard Crawford. Who knows what Crawford will be like (if anything at all) this year, but I would love to see what he could be late in the year. He was very much improved before tearing up his knee before the regular season last year.
Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark will struggle at times in coverage, but Meriweather was much better in the second half of the season last year as he finally was healthy and was able to just focus on football instead of the tackling issues. Clark was better in the second half than he was in the first according to PFF, but still, he can't possibly be expected to hold up for a thousand high impact snaps. I would NOT rule out Tanard Jackson in any way, despite everything you hear.
Here's the bottom line. The Redskins secondary and pass coverage will be a LOT better because of an emphasis on getting after the quarterback, better athletes and a more aggressive style. That I can realistically feel confident in. I have to believe they will be better tacklers, but I can't say I am really confident there.
YPPA is a by-product of a few things. If the Redskins are better in several areas than they were last year, the number will be much more reasonable. It also helps that they will be playing quite a few quarterbacks with inconsistent careers like Ryan Fitzpatrick (Houston), Eli Manning (Giants), Jake Locker (Titans) and other teams that have huge questions at the position.
The only truly elite quarterback they face all year is Andrew Luck. That's it. Sorry, Russell Wilson doesn't count yet because his success is largely because of a punishing running game and elite defense.
Something the Redskins hope to give their quarterback this year.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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(Nick Wass, Associated Press)
This isn't going to be hard to figure out because there is almost no way that you could be any worse than the Redskins were last year on special teams. In part three of our summer series How Can the Redskins Get Better,? we tackle this monster issue.
If you missed the first two installments, this is a perfect way to catch up. A look at a key for the defense is here and a huge one for the offense is here.
Let's call it what it is. Mike Shanahan made some mistakes during his tenure. He lobbed bombs in the direction of Robert Griffin III and it backfired towards the end of a miserable season.
He made four mistakes that had a greater impact on the 2013 Redskins. These mistakes also had an effect on the division winning squad and who knows what will happen this year.
1. Cutting Graham Gano.
2. Making Danny Smith feel like he had a much better option in Pittsburgh.
3. Hiring Keith Burns.
4. Not finding a way to keep Lorenzo Alexander.
There were other mistakes made along the way. However those four impact decisions all backfired on the Redskins.
It was widely speculated or at least the thought was that Shanahan did not put an emphasis on the unit. That's fair, and the results or nonchalance proves that in at least the only way I can quantify.
Before we get to how Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden have improved and attacked the unit, let's look back to some of the cause and effect of the above mentioned issues.
Shanahan was never really in love with Gano, a young but very talented and inconsistent placekicker who as you hopefully remember, I defended strongly. Gano's performance warranted competition, it did not justify giving up on a player that you had invested in.
Gano has since gone to Carolina and had a breakout year in 2013 and I expect him to be in the top-tier of kickers for the next several years. So do the Panthers, who rewarded him with a new multi-year contract.
Two issues bothered me with Shanahan and Gano. Shanahan didn't like some behind the scenes things about Gano and he set Gano up for the ultimate look bad moment. After Gano beat out Neil Rackers in 2012, Rackers was released and Billy Cundiff was snatched up a couple of days after he was released by Cleveland, which led to Gano nervously celebrating one day and being shipped out of town 15 hours later. It wasn't the right way to do business and it backfired on Shanahan, when Cundiff missed three field goals in one game (a last second win that he actually made the GWFG in) and a short attempt the next week.
Cundiff was released after just five regular season games, and the Redskins brought in Kai Forbath. A young, untested kicker with less leg strength but more accuracy than Gano. It's worked out for the most part for the Redskins in the field goal department, but it is absolutely fair to be concerned about his kickoffs. That's a big issue moving forward.
We'll get more into that as we look at the plan and how things might shake out this August. Danny Smith survived several head coaches and was extremely popular with players for his ruthless dedication to the little things that make a big difference.
Fans couldn't stand Smith, because they were looking for somebody to blame but this is the same fan base that hammered Kyle Shanahan in 2011 when he had nothing to work with and thought he was a genius in 2012, only to go back to despising him in 2013.
The fans were wrong then, and losing Smith to the Steelers was an enormous blow. Players did not buy into Keith Burns, and that led to the debacle of last year. Quite honestly, I didn't have a problem with the Redskins hiring Burns at first.
He came from being a successful assistant special teams coach for a very good group in Denver. He served that role for many years, and was a special teams ace for Shanahan on two Super Bowl Champion teams.
Who knew it could backfire in the way it did, but I don't get paid enough to recognize these issues before they arise. Shanahan didn't embrace Smith, and then when he left - the old "who you know, not what you know" mentality was in full effect.
I don't blame Burns for even half of the problems last year. He was over-matched, but the players quit on him and Shanahan gave him no real chance to succeed. That's the truth.
Which leads us to letting go of Lorenzo Alexander. Yes, he missed most of his first year in Arizona while suffering a foot fracture. Nobody knows if that would have happened with the Redskins, but losing the "One Man Gang" was a blow to the overall talent level, leadership and mentality that is needed for a good special teams unit.
The Redskins didn't value Alexander enough, and that was an absolute shame. Don't know how many times I have to say it, but companies that have this mentality will always suffer in short and long-term.
I bring up all of these issues because while the football world and fanbase focuses on Robert Griffin III says and what DeSean Jackson might bring - I believe that the Redskins are poised for a significant turn-around on a unit that is often dismissed but is responsible for two or three games per year, for every team.
When Jay Gruden took over, and Bruce Allen became the official head of the Redskins, the team knew they had to improve many areas across the board on special teams.
It started with hiring Ben Kotwica. Kotwica's contract with the Jets had expired and the Redskins pounced on him.
Kotwica's coaching style has been documented in many ways. He is a tough, stern military man but after getting to spend some time away from Redskins Park with him - I found him to be incredibly caring and thoughtful.
That should translate well to players that you need to have run the wall for you.
Washington also infused the unit by adding Akeem Jordan, Adam Hayward, Darryl Sharpton, Andre Roberts, and rookies Trent Murphy, Ryan Grant and Bashaud Breeland to the potential core. Sav Rocca was released, and two new punters were brought in to compete. Kai Forbath is not safe either, as the Redskins drafted Zach Hocker in the seventh round.
That's the big picture, but to get truly better, we need to go back to one of my staples "Inside the Numbers"
Let's start with this. Last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the Redskins graded out as a cumulative minus 46.5 for the entire year. The next WORST team was a minus 22.6 (Buffalo).
Many in the media strongly disagree with many aspects of PFF's ranking systems, but there is no dispute as to how bad the ship was sinking all year.
To further illustrate the point, in 2012 under Danny Smith, the Redskins graded out a plus 14.1 and no team had a negative grade in the league according to the website.
The Denver Broncos have led the NFL in this area in two-out-of-the-last three years and were 2nd in the other year. That's the team that Keith Burns was the assistant special teams coach of until the end of 2012, so it wasn't all on Burns. Clearly, talent and commitment was an enormous issue.
Adam Hayward figures to be most of what the Redskins lost in Alexander. Overall, PFF had him at a plus 0.5 rating for 2013, and he graded out better on punt coverage. Overall, PFF had Hayward with eight solo special teams tackles including one in each of Tampa's last six games in 2013. More importantly, he missed only one tackle.
Hayward was not given a positive overall special teams grade by PFF since the 2009 season, so who truly knows but he has to be considered an upgrade from the disaster of last year.
Akeem Jordan graded out a plus 6.5 overall last year by PFF, and was credited with four solo tackles and no missed tackles for the Chiefs. The James Madison product had NINE solo special teams tackles in just five games in 2012 for the Philadelphia Eagles, as he graded out a plus 4.0 overall. 2011 was another good year for Jordan on teams, as he had a plus 3.0 overall and 11 solo tackles in nine games. Clearly a very good track record exists and if Jordan can improve in pass defense when he's on the field, that would make his signing a steal. Jordan has had two excellent pass breakups in the limited practices the media has been able to see.
Darryl Sharpton is another addition to the core, even though he had a negative overall grade according to PFF in 2013 on specials. Going back for a four year look, Sharpton has never been given a positive grade on special teams by PFF. Once again, every grade given is subjective and there is no pure science behind the process.
If Perry Riley continues his outstanding spring and Keenan Robinson stays healthy, Sharpton's biggest impact will have to come on specials, so it is imperative that the Redskins get the most out of him in that area.
Either way you look at it, that's three core additions to a unit that was desperately in need of an infusion of talent. There's no chance that the unit won't be significantly improved.
As for the additions of rookies Murphy, Grant and Breeland - who knows what they will bring but here's what I know. Two rookies last year, Brandon Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo did not seem to take a significant interest in being a big part of the unit and Washington got virtually nothing out of them. That won't happen this year. One thing you know you will at least get is much better effort and commitment.
I didn't include Lache Seastrunk as part of that group, because honestly I am not sure that he even makes the 53-man roster to Houston. I have no doubt the Redskins would like to keep him and develop him, but I believe they favor Chris Thompson's upside over Seastrunk if it comes down to one versus the other.
That being said, Thompson has to stay healthy which is a huge question.
If Seastrunk or Thompson is a part of the return mix, they would both add a desperate jolt of speed and my guess is that one of them will be the punt returner to start the year. Richard Crawford could work his way back into the mix, but he has to return from ACL surgery a year ago first before that's even a debate.
Thompson had seven punt returns for 36 yards last year, with a long return of 11 yards and one fair catch.
He averaged a meager 5.1 per return. If you take away the long return, he averaged just over four yards per opportunity. Not good enough.
As a kick returner, Thompson was (8-160) for an even 20.0 per return average. The problem is this: The Redskins didn't have anybody with higher than a 20.9 average on kickoffs and if you are five yards deep in your end zone, that's only an average return to the 15 yard line.
It's hard to ask the offense to constantly dig out of such porous real estate.
Enter Andre Roberts into the equation. He could easily hold down both spots if asked to do so, but I would not ask him to do that. Especially because he will have a role as a wide receiver.
Roberts has said he could do both return jobs, but that if he had to pick one or the other, it would be kickoff return. I am all about trying to maximize and make comfortable, so this is not even a big issue in my mind.
Going back to his rookie season (2010) in Arizona, Roberts had 14 kick returns for 326 yards and a 23.3 per average. He also had 35 punt returns, with eight fair catches and 263 return yards for an average of 7.5.
His role was virtually reduced to nothing over the next three years, so that is the largest sample size that can be judged numerically.
Roberts needs to have one of these spots at minimum. Assuming he does, there's almost no doubt in my mind that he represents an upgrade from last year's combination of Niles Paul, Josh Morgan, Nick Williams and don't forget about the sneaky Adam Gettis (1-5).
Here's a bottom line reality. Redskins opponents averaged 22.3 per kickoff return last year, while Washington was an even 20.0 (last in NFL) and the punt return gap was hard to fathom. Opponents averaged 16.8 per return (worst in NFL) with three touchdowns, while the Redskins were at 6.4 per return. That's a unfathomable 10.4 yard per return differential.
As this chart from FootballOutsiders.com shows, the Redskins average starting field position (line of scrimmage) per drive was the 25.35 yard line which was the worst in the NFL. Interestingly enough, the Jets were 2nd worst at 25.59 which is where Kotwica came from.
The Redskins defense also was put in a position to start defending from the league's worst average starting field position (31.72) and obviously a huge part of that is special teams returns allowed. The Jets were 26th in the NFL in that area.
Another key part of where a defense starts defending from begins with the origin of the kick. The Redskins had the worst net punting average in the league at 33.8, as you would probably predict because of all of the returns. The league net average was 39.4.
However, Sav Rocca was certainly a part of the problem and the Redskins recognized that leading to his release. Rocca's gross average on 84 punts last years was 42.0 (29th in NFL), and he only had 26 punts downed inside-the-20.
I believe that Robert Malone will win the Redskins punting job, as he has shown a consistently good leg in practices and because he does have a Jets connection with Kotwica.
The final element to a good special teams unit is what most would consider the most important piece of the puzzle. The placekicker. Kai Forbath is the incumbent, but Hocker will certainly make Richmond and the preseason interesting. Sure, Forbath is pretty reliable in terms of field goal accuracy and that is very important, but while he is accurate - his leg strength leaves more than enough to be desired.
Forbath had a league worst net kickoff average at 39.38, with the league average at 42.75 and the league leader Greg Zuerlein of St. Louis at 45.29, while also having the 2nd fewest touchbacks at 14. Keeping in mind, Forbath had the least amount of kickoffs in the league (57), which magnifies that number quite a bit in my eyes.
His touchback percentage is 24.6 %, compared to the league average percentage of 48.8 %. Just for further comparison, Gano's mark in Carolina was 78.8 %.
Forbath has been very good in terms of field goal accuracy, despite being inconsistent and hurt early in 2013. He was 18-22 in 2013, while missing three of his field goal attempts from 40 plus yards.
I hate to always be considered negative, but something about this bothers me and I really wonder if Forbath could knock down a game winning 48 yard field goal in the frigid cold of Chicago or Green Bay in the playoffs if asked to do so.
It would be a risk for the Redskins to go with a rookie placekicker in Hocker over Forbath, but let's be honest - Forbath was a rookie and untested when the Redskins signed him in 2012 and that worked out just fine.
Hocker wasn't selected in the seventh round because the Redskins don't have high hopes that he can not only push, but very possibly beat out Forbath.
Per NFL.com, "in 2013, hit on 13 of 15 FGs with a career long of 54 and all 28 PATs, and kicked off 50 times for a 63.2-yard average with 34 touchbacks." Hocker struggled accuracy wise in field goals in 2012, so it was important that he had a big senior year.
Here's what jumps out to me. 50 kickoffs and 34 touchbacks in 2013. 58 times with 39 touchbacks in 2012. In 2011, Hocker kicked off 93 times for a 67.8-yard average with 40 touchbacks. That's a total of 201 kickoffs over the last three years, and 113 touchbacks or 56.1 % of his opportunities. Hocker's last two years were under the new rules the NCAA adopted for 2012 with the starting line at the 35. Hocker's percentage the last two years is 67.5 % or (73-108).
I think Hocker with a continued strong showing in camp and preseason games will win the job over Forbath, which would make a lot of fans/media scratch their head - but I believe the argument is much easier to make after we went "Inside the Numbers."
The bottom line is this - the Redskins special teams unit will be significantly better this year just because there is no way they can be anywhere near as bad. If they a middle of the pack unit, they might win one or two games because of that. If they can finish in the top 25 % of the league (8th or higher) that's good for two or three wins that largely come from the unit making a huge play or plays.
I'm going to say they are a middle of the road unit, with some frustrating moments but a significantly better group than the disaster of last year.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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(AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
We are back from vacation, but the Redskins are still on their extended summer break. Training camp is coming soon now that the calender has officially turned to July.
Last month, we examined one significant way the Redskins could get better besides talent acquisition and "better" coaching, even though I believe that is an overrated part of the blame/credit game.
If the Redskins improve on first down as we detailed, the offense will be much more lethal. It will not only improve the offense, but the defense as well. Less need to bail out or be reliant, would be a nice change.
That being said, the Redskins defense needs to take a major jump and they have decided that rushing the quarterback is the number one avenue to that success.
So how can the Redskins get better? They need 50 sacks to be the defense that can truly make an impact and alter games.
Did he say FIFTY?? Yes. In 2013, they had 36. In 2012, they had 31. In 2011 (arguably the defensive unit's best year under Jim Haslett) they had 41. In 2010 (Haslett's first year) they had a meager 29 as the conversion was made from a "43" to a "34" front.
Going back to the pre Mike Shanahan/Bruce Allen era, The Redskins had 40 sacks in 2009, a pathetic 24 sacks in 2008 and 33 in 2007, the last year that a Redskins defense exceeded what the Redskins offense yielded in sacks.
For those that don't remember, in 2006 (under Gregg Williams) the Redskins only racked up 19 sacks during a 5-11 campaign, but somehow only managed to yield 18. In 2005, it was only 32 sacks and in 2004 (first year under Joe Gibbs/Gregg Williams) it was 40 sacks.
You see, you can go back a decade for the Redskins and come nowhere close to that magical number. You can go back to just last year and see the Carolina Panthers at a whopping 60 sacks, followed by Buffalo at 57 and St. Louis at 53. New Orleans and New England just barely missed the mark.
Only San Diego, Tampa, Dallas, New York (NFC), Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago and Jacksonville had less than the Redskins in this key statistical category.
Clearly, sacks does not guarantee team success (Buffalo/St.Louis) nor does it preclude you from making the playoffs (San Diego) but nobody else below the Redskins made the NFL's postseason dance.
I don't know about you, but I'll take my chances at fifty sacks plus and hope that balances a much improved offense as opposed to the other way.
So how do the Redskins get to this ridiculous (for them) number? Well that's easier said than done, but I have some legitimate reasons for hope.
1. Brian Orakpo in another contract year (presumably).
2. A healthy Ryan Kerrigan
3. Jason Hatcher and Chris Baker added as full-time starters to the defensive line.
4. Trent Murphy and Brandon Jenkins developing into rotational depth.
5. Brian Baker and Kirk Olivadotti
Orakpo and the Redskins have until July 15th to work out a long-term deal that is satisfactory to both sides. My belief is that won't happen, but who knows. Orakpo has handled himself with absolute class during the process and turned a possible drama into a footnote.
I've always believed that Orakpo has the potential to deliver a big year, and EVERYTHING is in his favor right now.
Redskins fans have been disappointed in Orakpo, and I understand all of the arguments but here's something to keep in mind. Ryan Kerrigan and Orakpo (at full strength) have only been on the field together for essentially one full season of games, because of Orakpo missing most of 2012 and Kerrigan being hampered by his knee last year.
That sounds like excuses and maybe it is, but in order for players to fully perform, health and a tag-team partner to feed off of is a needed reality. Robert Quinn is great, but would he be as good if he didn't have Chris Long? Greg Hardy is a terrific pass rusher, but how much does Charles Johnson help him? You get my point.
As of right now, and I realize we have a long way to go, both Orakpo and Kerrigan are healthy. They won't have to completely carry the load either. We'll get into that as we go along.
One area that will absolutely be a reality for certain is that Orakpo and Kerrigan will both get to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback more. In 2013, Orakpo was credited by ProFootballFocus.com as only rushing the quarterback 363 times out of 465 passing snaps for a 78.1 % ratio. Kerrigan had 544 passing snaps and rushed the quarterback and rushed the quarterback 426 times for a 78.3 % ratio.
So even though Kerrigan played more snaps than Orakpo in pass rushing situations according to PFF, the rush percentage was almost identical. I would have thought these numbers would have been closer in terms of snaps, but remember the Redskins were trying to get Orakpo back up to speed during the first part of the season, and then Rob Jackson took his share of snaps after the first quarter of the season was completed.
Kerrigan really didn't have anybody (Jenkins) that could take away snaps on his side.
Whatever the numbers were - I would almost be willing to guarantee that when 2014 is done - Orakpo and Kerrigan will be at or above 85 %. Jim Haslett and the defensive staff are going to attack. That is clear.
Orakpo was credited with 11 sacks by ProFootballFocus.com, while Kerrigan was credited with nine sacks.
For comparison, Tamba Hali rushed the passer 87.3 % of the time (500 out of 573) but only had 12 sacks. A very good year, and nobody would even question his impact - he had one more sack in 137 more opportunities than Orakpo did.
We could play the name game all day, but Robert Mathis of the Colts had a career best 18 sacks last year, while rushing the quarterback 92.1 % of the time (455 out of 494).
PFF has a "signature stat" (part of a premium package) that measures "PRP." The statistic is designed to measure how many sacks, hits and hurries a pass rush rusher has relative to the amount of opportunities he is given.
You know how was slightly ahead of Mathis last year? Orakpo. 11.3 to 11.2, which gives you some idea of the big picture.
They also no longer have to be as reliant on their outside linebackers holding up the edge against the run, because the thought would be if they disrupt enough plays in the backfield - somebody will be able to clean up or that teams will be in more long down-and-distance passing situations.
Not to mention, if Keenan Robinson can stay healthy, he is a enormous upgrade from a talent perspective over London Fletcher. Sorry, that's the truth. Perry Riley appeared to be a different player in coverage during OTA's and mini-camp. We'll see if that continues, but if the Redskins can trust Robinson and Riley more in coverage and of course with run fits, that will allow the two outside guys to be more attack oriented.
Here's the bottom line. It's more than reasonable to think that Orakpo gets 15 sacks this year. That would be an educated opinion of mine, if he plays in 16 games. I believe Kerrigan can get to 12. If both hit their marks, that's a total of 27.
Jason Hatcher, assuming that he is the player he has been for the Dallas Cowboys the last three years will be a huge addition to the defensive line.
Yes, he's already undergone knee surgery and will have to be eased in during training camp. I don't expect him to play before the third preseason game, if he even does that. The first time you see him in a Redskins uniform might be in Houston.
The thought that Hatcher was a one year breakout star for the Cowboys is quite misleading. He was a player that was steadily developing and lurking in the shadows of higher profile rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
I will admit that i didn't know much about Hatcher until early 2011, but after getting a tip on him from a source, you could see him start to emerge. One of the big reasons why the Redskins went after him was because of what Hatcher has done in NFC East play and what he has done against Washington.
Hatcher had a breakout season in terms of sacks last year, after the Cowboys made the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3. To which everyone said, "that's the reason he had all of his sacks." Those people couldn't be more wrong, but let's take a look at some of the reality.
The Redskins were in a four-man front 62% of the time last year according to team sources. Essentially, they played two down linemen with two standing in nickel situations. It's a nickel defense league, and that trend will continue to become more of the story.
Assuming that Hatcher is healthy, he'll be paired in all likelihood with either Chris Baker or Barry Cofield in most "nickel" four man fronts. The Redskins have other packages of course that will vary these looks, but that will be the primary package.
One concern would be that if Hatcher and Baker are the two primary down linemen, they could run out of gas often. To counter, Jim Haslett can play Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston on first down more, with Stephen Bowen in the mix when healthy or he can kick Kerrigan inside with Trent Murphy standing up outside.
Hatcher likely won't have 11 sacks like he did in 2013. If he does, obviously that would be a steal. Say he gets seven sacks, that would put the Redskins in my projections at 34 overall.
Last year, Hatcher played on 459 passing snaps for the Cowboys and in those situations was getting up the field on 98.5% of the time (452 out of 459). He had seven hits, and 33 hurries for a "PRP" of 9.1, which placed him in 5th amongst 4-3 defensive tackles. Hatcher was a tenth of a percentage point behind Geno Atkins and Jurrell Casey, while trailing Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.
As for Baker, he will start at the left defensive end position barring something unforeseen. Baker has been blowing up run plays by knifing thru the right side of the offensive line with ease during some practices I've been able to see.
With all of the attention of Orakpo, Kerrigan, Hatcher and perhaps other 'exotic' packages that Jim Haslett can create - Baker should be able to get to five sacks on the year. He has very good athletic ability, he's quick off the snap and by playing on the left side of the line, he will draw more favorable match-ups than he would on the right side.
The Redskins have very high hopes for Baker and they are more than reasonable. Every indication is that he only gets better with more opportunities. See that's the thing that good companies and teams do. They reward their own, who have demonstrated an ability to get better and improve. Baker is a perfect example of that.
So if my projections are correct about the above mentioned four individuals - I have the Redskins at 39 sacks already.
So where do those other 11 sacks come from? I have to believe that a combination of Barry Cofield, and a contribution from another defensive lineman or two gets Washington in the 42-43 range.
How about Trent Murphy and Brandon Jenkins? Murphy should be able to get two or three sacks in his rookie year. He'll be on the field in many nickel situations. I believe he's strong enough to kick down inside and jack unsuspecting offensive linemen off their stance.
Jenkins is interesting because he still has a long way to go, but as a pure pass rusher, he could be very dangerous.
At the end of the Redskins June workouts - ESPN.com & ESPN 980's John Keim and I walked with Brian Baker for a while and I asked him directly about Jenkins' potential.
John wrote up an excellent post on Baker's comments that shows where Jenkins is at in the minds of Baker, and as a extension, Jim Haslett.
"Jenks is a young man that as much as I get on him, I get on him because I love him and want him to be a great player," Baker told us in June. "I want him to be really good. Sometimes you have to pull it out of a guy. We're starting to get on the same page as to how that can happen so those episodes have become fewer and fewer."
I think the battle for the fourth outside linebacker position in August will be one of the most interesting on the entire roster. Do the Redskins go with the veteran Rob Jackson who offers better pass coverage and a better grasp of the defense or do they go with the young buck who might have the higher upside and could have the best array of pass rushing moves on the unit?
If Jenkins is the choice (I believe he will be) that could bolster the Redskins into the 46-47 range in terms of sacks, based on my projections.
To get to the magical number of 50 - the Redskins are going to need contributions from others like Perry Riley who had three sacks last year and corners/safeties off the edge. The Jim Haslett that I know loves to pressure from the secondary and the defense was at their best when they were able to generate extra heat from different spots.
Clearly, Haslett is front-and-center and he knows that it is time for his unit to deliver. I know that many have taken umbrage with the notion that Mike Shanahan held Haslett and the defense back.
It is clear that some of that happened. How much? Nobody knows for sure. It wasn't just in games, it was personnel decisions and philosophy. It was also coaches.
With no disrespect to Bob Slowik or his son, it was quietly known in the building that players were not getting better in many areas under Slowik, a longtime friend of Shanahan's. Slowik was let go along with Shanahan and make no mistake, Bruce Allen knew this was an issue.
The Redskins hired two coaches (Brian Baker and Kirk Olivadotti) that are by all accounts upgrades and the people that Haslett wanted. Kirk Olivadotti returns to the organization to coach the inside linebackers. He was here before Haslett, worked with Haslett for one year (2010) and then left for a position at Georgia.
He now is responsible for the continued development of Riley and Keenan Robinson. I've been able to see tangible improvement in Riley during limited media access. Robinson is a thoroughbred who has size and can run. He seems to be more that competent in coverage and should get better in all phases. Here's what I know. If he can stay healthy, and that is a huge if, he will be a significant upgrade.
Baker has already had a very positive impact from working directly with the Redskins edge rushers on a variety of techniques that we have wrote about and mentioned on radio. It truly is a pleasure to see him coach. Will it automatically lead to better results? Of course not, but I can't help but believe that the Redskins linebacking corps will be significantly better.
I am predicting a total of five sacks combined between Robinson and Riley, to go along with my predicted total of 27 between Kerrigan and Orakpo. If that works out, the Redskins are at 32 just from the four projected starters. Last year, they had 23.5 sacks from the starting four linebackers.
Is my prediction unreasonable? Maybe. I don't think so. Either individually or collectively. I would honestly be let down if this unit combined does not get to 50. It's a major emphasis, and nobody is asking for them to be the 1984 Chicago Bears (72) or even last years Carolina Panthers (60), it is more than reasonable to expect 50.
In case you are curious, the last time a Redskins defense achieved that mark? 1991. A (14-2) season with a even 50 quarterback takedowns. I don't think I need to remind you what that team did as the calender turned to 1992. Perhaps a little Redskins deja vu?
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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Washington Redskins helmets sit on the field during an NFL football minicamp in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
The Redskins wrapped up a two-day mini-camp (we think) on Wednesday at Redskins Park. As of right now, the team is scheduled to practice on Thursday at 11:45, but we'll see.
If you missed Tuesday's report, here you go. As many details as I can think of is all yours. In addition to my opinions and observations here. please also check out John Keim of ESPN.com and ESPN 980
**One of the things I love about the new coaching staff is their approach. This isn't to say that Mike Shanahan's staff wasn't good, but they were much more stoic and maybe a little bit more hands off than today's athlete needs.
Jay Gruden has been seen shadowing DeSean Jackson's routes to throwing passes as he did on Tuesday, and today he was chasing (as a pass rusher) Kirk Cousins as he tried to throw a screen to Roy Helu. Little things tend to make a difference down the line.
Energy and a ability to relate to players in any way seems to be this staff's specialty.
I wrote last week about the different drills and techniques that this staff has used so far to improve performance in some key areas, so I asked Gruden about it today.
“I think early on in any type of OTA session, you have specific position related drills and then as you grow and you see your players’ needs and what they need to work on from a focal standpoint, you can change a drill up accordingly to who needs what," Gruden said.
"I think all our guys (coaches) are pretty aware of what we need work on. We have very experienced coaches who know the game and know their position guys, and those things can adjust as the season goes on.”
One other example of the completely different approach was other position coaches helping Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica and his assistant Brad Banta out during their specific periods.
“Well, there’s different aspects to special teams – blocking, tackling, there’s flyers. There’s all sorts of individual types of drills that you can do that are special teams related. Why not have [Defensive Backs Coach] Raheem Morris help with some of the flyers and [Wide Receivers Coach] Ike Hilliard with some of the flyers and getting off the jam and [Outside Linebackers Coach] Brian Baker helping with the tackling drills and all that," Gruden told reporters.
"We’re able to break up and Ben does an outstanding job of utilizing everybody and getting the most out of his 10-15 minute allotments. You see guys running around, all types of different areas, working tackling drills, cover drills, punting, kicking, protection, all that. You get all that taken care of and in order to do that, assistant coaches have to be part of it.”
Brian Baker will be an outstanding addition to the Redskins. I talked to him for 12 minutes today and could have talked for an hour with him. You will hear a lot about him. Baker has a "pass-rush box" or a "rush grid" painted on to the back practice field, "so that these guys can have a picture mentally and obviously literally of what the proper rush angle is. Where do they need to enter to rush the quarterback....It's a grid to illustrate the rush lanes."
***Chris Neild was working with the starting unit at nose tackle today. Not sure if this was earned or just an opportunity to see what he can do with Barry Cofield still out. Either way, it was at least a good sign.
**Tanard Jackson is still working with the third unit, but don't expect that to be forever. The Redskins want to make him earn it and ease him in slowly. When you haven't played football in a long time, you don't line up with other top-flight talent right away.
**A lot of passes got knocked down or tipped on Wednesday, which is something the Redskins did really well in 2011 that has been missing. I saw Jarvis Jenkins with one. Another led to a Phillip Thomas interception. Rob Jackson had one and I may have missed one. I suppose it could be blamed on the offense or the line, but clearly the defense has had the better of the play the last two days.
***David Amerson continues to show really well. He blanketed DeSean Jackson on one play, a third-and-two situation, that led to a would-be sack by Brian Orakpo.
**DeAngelo Hall did a tremendous job in coverage on one play in the red zone on Tuesday against Jackson, but the play he made for an interception was even better on Wednesday. Jackson was running a sideline out and Hall jumped it. He stepped in front of Jackson on a pass from Robert Griffin III and picked it off.
Hall then threw the football high in the air (gotta be careful) and the entire defense raced over and was very loudly celebrating with Hall. There were plenty of times the last two days, when the wide receivers simply had no separation at all.
***Perry Riley had a leaping pass breakup in space by tipping the ball and forcing an incomplete. The throw was not a short pass and it took an incredibly athletic play by Riley to make it. That's the second time I have seen him do that over the last few weeks, along with an interception in a zone defense. If Riley continues this kind of improvement, and Keenan Robinson stays healthy...the Redskins will have finally fixed a major weakness.
**Over the last few days, I saw Robert Griffin III take off through a hole in the protection and at least simulate making a play that he is capable of when fully healthy. It is a very encouraging sign. Clearly, he's not running at top speed during these drills, but he can if he has to do so.
One somewhat small but could be major concern I have for Griffin in the times that we've been able to watch is his ball placement. No passer is going to be perfect, but quite honestly a lot of the throws that I have seen have been off-target, either high or behind. It's possible that these situations are on the receivers or just a by-product of good coverage, but it has been a trend.
One specific example on Wednesday showed Griffin stepping up to his right and throwing on the backside of Andre Roberts hip. I noted "bad ball placement" at the time in my notes.
Griffin did have a perfect deep in-cut route to Pierre Garcon for roughly a 20-yard gain. It was vintage throw and catch. On one play, Griffin had to windmill pump his throwing motion, because his one (read/progression) was quickly covered. Griffin was able to dial up a pretty nice pass to Roberts.
One play that caused some debate amongst the media was a overthrow by Griffin to Aldrick Robinson. Robinson finally got some separation on a defensive back, which has been a problem for him so far, and the ball was absolutely overthrown. However, it did not look to me like Robinson was running as hard as he could or as fast. I would be curious for an honest coach assessment of the play. There's no doubt that Griffin would be assigned the blame by most, but I thought Robinson could have done a lot more. He needs to stand out, not just be OK, to make the roster.
***Young linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough continues to shine in the limited time that media has been allowed to see practice. Kimbrough had an interception on Tuesday and a beautiful high leaping snare on a pass in the red zone from Colt McCoy again on Wednesday. By my count, that's three interceptions for Kimbrough over three practice sessions that I have been able to see.
On a special teams two-man cover drill, Kimbrough performed his pursuit correctly, leading to Brad Banta (assistant special teams coach) yelling "that a boy, Kimbrough."
**Ryan Grant jumped out to me a few times. Late in practice, he ran a slant vs. tight coverage from fellow rookie Bashaud Breeland and snatched a pass that was thrown a little bit low by Kirk Cousins. He ran his route in very smooth fashion, which he normally does. Cousins hit Grant earlier on a quick wide receiver 'smoke' pass. Early in the practice, Grant caught another ball that was low and on his hip. Kid has some good hands. It was a pass from Griffin, in which the Redskins deployed Jordan Reed, Santana Moss and Grant in a bunch spray formation.
The guy is a one hundred percent lock barring something freaky.
During special teams drills, players were running down the numbered lines and exploding into a blocking pad or would be ball carrier. Kotwica was not initially happy with the first few guys that ran for a lack of pop, but when Grant did the drill - BAM! Kotwica said "there you go, I heard something."
**Chris Baker easily blew up another run knifing behind the line of scrimmage with ease for what would have been a several yard loss. It was the 2nd day in a row he did the same exact type of play. Ryan Clark yelled out "he's so nasty...You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him."
***Lache Seastrunk has a long way to go overall, but he had a hell of a blitz pick-up in team drills leading to a high five from Griffin III and Darrel Young who were watching the play develop.
**One final note, the last couple of practices - it appears that rookie corner Bashaud Breeland has been a lot less active with his hands and that could be a good thing. It's all about good hand placement in bump coverage, and Breeland looks like he has improved.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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