- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s hard to imagine Redskins coach Mike Shanahan ignoring a recommendation from Dr. James Andrews to sit Robert Griffin III until after the Week 5 bye, as a report from Philadelphia TV and radio reporter Howard Eskin suggested. Eskin tweeted Saturday that sources told him Shanahan would play Griffin in Week 1 despite Andrews’ recommendation. A high-ranking team official had told ESPN earlier in the week that they’re still not sure if Griffin will play in the opener. So their minds are not yet made up about his return. Multiple Redskins sources, including a high-ranking team official, denied that Andrews had recommended Griffin sit out the first four games and return after the Week 5 bye.
Of course, the Redskins have reason to debunk that report. But part of it doesn’t mesh with how this situation has unfolded. Shanahan has been cautious throughout Griffin’s recovery, making sure he’s not doing too much and that he’s sticking by his plan -- hence Griffin’s frustration. Shanahan was burned last year by placing too much trust in Griffin when it comes to his injuries. And if Shanahan went against the doctor’s orders on this one and something happened to Griffin’s knee, he’d be out of a job. One factor to note in all this: The coaches have a lot of confidence in second-year quarterback Kirk Cousins. If Griffin is not ready they won't be shy about turning to Cousins. It decreases the need to rush Griffin, too.
The best rookie in camp was corner David Amerson. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering he was a second-round pick, but he had flaws in his game last year that made him, in some minds, a questionable choice. I know Bacarri Rambo is the one rookie projected to start and he’s done a nice job being in the right spot most of the time. But Amerson is the one who looks like he could be really good, if he continues to play with more discipline than he showed at NC State last year.
Here’s what ESPN NFL Insider Louis Riddick, who played six years in the NFL and served as a scout and then executive for both Washington and Philadelphia, said of Amerson after watching him in the preseason opener: “David Amerson jumped out at me. I struggled with David as far as college evaluations were concerned, as many did. In 2012 he looked like a very undisciplined, gambling, take-chances player that wasn’t playing to the integrity of the defense. A guy who I didn’t think showed the testing numbers that he had, as far as 40-time, vertical ability and short-area closing quickness, in 2012. That stuff showed up against Tennessee. I saw a very aggressive kid.” Amerson did not look nearly as physical at NC State as he was in the preseason opener. If he continues to play this way and keeps progressing, as he has throughout camp, it will be hard to eventually keep him out of the starting lineup.
It’s hard to say who really jumped out on offense because some players won’t get much of a chance to in the preseason games (Alfred Morris, for example, because running backs are tested far more in games). But what was noticeable was how much Cousins is throwing with confidence. There are throws Cousins won’t hesitate on that others would be afraid to make -- seam routes into tight windows, for example. This can get him into trouble at times, too, with interceptions. But he’s definitely made progress.
I was disappointed that receiver Leonard Hankerson did not show more progress in camp as far as consistently catching the ball. Seemed like there were too many drops by him, often because he’s turning his head too soon to get upfield. The starting receivers are rather firm with Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Santana Moss is a quality slot receiver. After that? Inconsistency.
Here’s what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said about corner Chase Minnifield on Thursday: “Chase Minnifield really has come on. He’s played well. I feel good about Chase, obviously for missing two years of football with two ACLs. You can tell his dad played football and he’s been around it his whole life. He’s just kind of a natural football player. I kind of like him because the guy missed two years and came back and he’s going to get better and better every day.” If you’re wondering about Minnifield’s chances of making the team, read that quote again. He has the feistiness coaches like and plays with no fear. With starters DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson unsigned for next season, it’s good to have young options. The big question remains: Will they keep six corners and, perhaps, five safeties? They might need to keep five safeties just because of Brandon Meriweather’s health. But 11 defensive backs is a lot. They could get away with that, however, for the first four weeks with two defensive players -- end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson -- suspended. That gives the Redskins flexibility early, and four more weeks to sort out the roster. Their versatility at corner helps: in various looks players such as DeAngelo Hall can play a safety role. Sometimes it's as the strong safety in a cover-3 look, for example. It gives them more speed on the field.
And another one from Haslett, this time on veteran linebacker Darryl Tapp, making the transition from defensive end: “Darryl is getting better every day for a guy that’s played with his hand down in the dirt his whole life? All of the sudden he’s standing up now, he’s dropping, he’s covering, he’s rushing, he’s doing a number of different things -- It’s kind of amazing that he can pick things up this fast. He is a force in the run game. I feel sorry for tight ends when they practice against him because he just beats the heck out of tight ends -- he’s awesome that way. And he’s getting better in coverage. Loves the game, studies, doesn’t like making mistakes, great to be around. I mean, I love the guy. If he makes a mistake, he gives you that look like he’s going to kill you [laughs]. I love being around the guy I think the guy’s going to be a heck of a player -- already has been, but will be in this system.”
So, yeah, Tapp appears to be in good shape, too (though it will be interesting to see what they do when Rob Jackson returns from his four-game suspension). Tapp will rush from a four-point stance on occasion and, like rookie Brandon Jenkins, I’d expect him to focus more on rushing. Tapp does play with strength vs. tight ends, though I did see rookie Jordan Reed drive him back on one block in practice. Perhaps that says more about Reed’s development as a blocker. Tapp did steamroll pulling guard Josh LeRibeus on one play this week, running him over en route to the ball. LeRibeus, though, had one of the more disappointing camps.
It’ll be interesting to see what Chip Kelly will do in Philadelphia. Story after story from Philly suggests that quarterback Michael Vick is looking more like he did in 2010 -- when he played at a high level -- just from a comfort level in the pocket. Of course, nobody has yet game planned for the Eagles’ offense so let’s please keep things in check just a little bit. Kelly’s system simplifies life for the quarterback, but what will happen when not facing a vanilla defense and the choices for the quarterback aren’t as simple? That’s when you’ll learn whether the offense and the quarterback truly are operating at a high level. And what has landed Vick in trouble in the past are blitzes and holding onto the ball too long thanks to creative coverage schemes.
That said, Kelly is not afraid to be creative with alignments, having already shown four tight end sets in the preseason and from various formations. It’ll force defenses into interesting dilemmas with how they cover that look -- and because of the speed at which they want to play, a defense could be stuck with that same grouping for a couple plays.
The more I see of Jordan Reed the more I like. He simply makes catches many other tight ends can’t because of his athleticism. With Reed, Fred Davis and Niles Paul, the Redskins have three tight ends with versatility and speed. The Eagles won’t be the only ones who can create mismatches with more than two tight ends on the field.
I know the Redskins under Mike Shanahan have always kept at least six receivers on the 53-man roster, but can they afford to do so again? It’s hard to make a case that they have six receivers who warrant a spot -- Dez Briscoe has been inconsistent here; Donte Stallworth banged up. Three years ago the Redskins kept six wideouts, but one was return specialist Brandon Banks. The past two years they kept eight and seven, respectively. A lot will depend on what they must do at other positions. But with multiple receiving threats at tight end, increasing the versatility of the offense, it lessens the need to keep more at receiver. I’m still not sold they’ll only keep five, but there are reasons it could -- and perhaps should -- happen.
By the way, how far have them come at upgrading this position? One of their starting wideouts in 2010 was a cashing-the-paycheck Joey Galloway. They also had Devin Thomas, Roydell Williams, Anthony Armstrong and Santana Moss. Only Moss remains. And, since the 2010 season, those other four wideouts have combined for 13 catches.