Friday, August 30, 2013
Observation deck: Redskins-Buccaneers
By John Keim
Highlights from the Washington Redskins' 30-12 preseason finale win at Tampa Bay. They ended the preseason 4-0:
1. Robert Griffin III tweeted that he had been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews, but then coach Mike Shanahan said the doc had a couple concerns. And that Shanahan would meet with Griffin over the weekend to discuss the situation. OK, I do not think this is just a ploy by Shanahan to keep the Eagles guessing, especially because the decision could come early in the week -- and if you’re Philly, you’re prepping for Griffin regardless. Much easier to adjust to a non-read-option attack than vice versa if Kirk Cousins has to play. Shanahan, though, is huge on gaining any little advantage. Still, it’s legit for Shanahan to want to see another week of practice, if that is the case. Just know that if this is the case, there will be more probing into the coach-player dynamic. Maybe Shanahan just wanted to remind everyone who controlled the decision.
2. But if it’s Andrews who has the concerns, then no one can blame Shanahan if he wants to take a little more time to evaluate -- or if he ultimately chooses to sit Griffin for the opener. There is, wrongly, a belief that Shanahan and the Redskins have rushed Griffin back. The kid hasn’t played in a game yet and, despite being cleared for practice at the start of camp, did not take any 11-on-11 reps until three weeks in. So, no, they have not rushed him back. When you see Griffin, you see someone who if not 100 percent is very close. If he were limping or missing practices and then it was announced he would play in the opener, then, OK, he’s being rushed. Now? Even if he plays I don’t think he would have been rushed. There’s one person who was rushing here; because of it he’s put himself on the verge of meeting his goal to play in the opener.
3. What are the concerns? Could be as simple as: Learn how to take care of yourself on the field. The coaches have preached this to Griffin for a while and, despite perception, he did learn last year. After his concussion he ran out of bounds at a much higher percentage than before. But when it’s a key situation he will try to grab every yard possible, turning upfield instead of running out of bounds. Have said this several times, but Griffin needs to learn how to keep the defenses guessing when scrambling by keeping the ball alive -- pump-faking as he approaches the line, or even beyond. Cousins did this a couple times against Pittsburgh. But Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did it as well, even getting linebacker London Fletcher to jump in the air after Roethlisberger had crossed the line of scrimmage. It’s just another way for Griffin to protect himself.
4. Chris Thompson’s speed and playmaking ability will earn him a roster spot. Shanahan praised him earlier in the week, excused his fumbles and called them correctable and said he’d keep getting better. Read between the lines. Then Thompson returns a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Whether or not he ends up as the main returner immediately is irrelevant; he still needs refining in this role. But it just shows what he’s capable of doing. Thompson was extra patient on the return, a trait he showed last week too. He’s good at pausing, forcing the coverage to commit and then spotting the opening. What I like about his running style: the ability to cut sharply and the fact that he’s always leaning forward when cutting up through the hole. For a little guy, he never gets knocked back.
5. Thompson also picked up a defensive linemen coming on a third-down stunt. Really liked how he attacked the block. The coaches like when you’re willing to handle this task, and Thompson did not back down at all. Made a good block, too. He deserves a roster spot; he understands how to run with the ball in this system. Thompson did misjudge a punt, not getting a good read on the ball and falling slightly forward as he caught it. He can work on catching punts in practice, as he has been doing.
6. The question is, did Evan Royster do enough to warrant a roster spot. I did not think entering the game that he would earn a job. And I think it comes down to him and Keiland Williams. For a while I thought the Redskins would keep only four backs because neither one of the rookies had shown anything in camp. Thompson was in and out of the lineup. But the past week or so changed my mind, and it looks like five backs could earn spots. It would be deserved, too, if you’re keeping the best 53. While Royster ran well, I still wonder how he fits. I know if something happened to Alfred Morris, Royster would be a good alternative. But if nothing happens? Then what does Royster do? Williams is a better special-teamer and that could still make the difference. I will say, Royster’s touchdown run was all him. Josh LeRibeus pulled but didn’t move anyone, and two defenders popped Royster, who bounced outside to his right and cut up for the score. By the way, on his 31-yard run I liked the subtle block by tight end Fred Davis. Royster started left and cut back to the right, the same side Davis was on. He was engaged with the backside linebacker, a block he didn’t always sustain last year. This time he did and it proved to be a pivotal one as Royster cut back.
7. Quarterback Pat White made some more plays which, considering his layoff from the NFL, isn’t too bad. But he still hasn’t shown that he can be a consistent or solid passer in the league. He did throw a nice out to Skye Dawson, a low zinger into tight coverage. He seems to be more comfortable when he’s outside the pocket. He threw an interception because he never saw the linebacker. Yeah, White stared at the receiver, but on a slant sometimes that’s what it takes on a quick route. He just failed to see the defender. On that same series he missed badly over the middle and should have been intercepted then, too. Yes, White’s touchdown run was nice, but the one thing everyone knew about him before he came to the NFL was that he could run. Can he pass out of the zone read? He didn’t do it this preseason. Can he throw any touch passes? Didn’t do that either. Or drop it in over the top of a linebacker down the middle – and in front of the safety? Nope. In other words, he has a long ways to go, as he should. I would not keep him.
8. Brandon Meriweather showed enough to make you think he’ll be fine for the season opener. Shanahan seemed pleased afterward with what he saw. Meriweather did not make a huge impact, but that wasn’t surprising given the layoff. He just needed to be active around the ball and prove he can still run well. He was generally around the ball and stuck his nose in the action when appropriate. The Redskins could use what he adds. I remember a corner blitz from the numbers against Philadelphia last season that I’m guessing they don’t run if not for Meriweather. Why? Because he had the speed to rotate and cover a speed guy like DeSean Jackson. That’s why it’s important to see how well he was running against the Bucs Thursday night. Meriweather needs to stay healthy.
9. Once again, safety Bacarri Rambo tackled well, especially in the open field. Before I get to that, I like how active Rambo is, whether it’s deep or playing near the line of scrimmage. I liked that he makes quick reads and breaks when playing the curl/flat drop zone. Last week he broke up a pass to C.J. Spiller, and this time Rambo tackled the tight end. Give Rambo credit for getting there before they can do anything with the ball. On one open-field tackle Rambo approached, broke down and then attacked and made the play. It’s too bad he didn’t really see any legitimate quarterbacks the past two games so he could get tested downfield. But he licked the one problem he had early on. Those missed tackles could turn out to be the biggest plays he made this season – just because of what he learned and how it helped him improve.
10. OK, this is the last observation so we’ll combine a few into one with a little rapid fire. I thought Chris Baker played a terrific game, showing a lot of strength (as did Phillip Merling). Liked what Bryan Kehl did; active and avoided some blocks to make plays. Brandon Jenkins is a raw pass-rusher. Got inside the tackle on one rush, coming out of a three-point stance. Did see him get wide on one other time but often quiet. Was not impressed with tackle Tom Compton early in the game; knocked over on the first play; allowed pressure on the third play and later in the game he whiffed on one pass set, expecting the defender to either bull rush or engage. Instead he went around the edge. Right tackle Tony Pashos was fine, though he allowed a pressure. Leonard Hankerson dropped another ball. He’s an improved route runner, but those hands. … And will Dez Briscoe’s catch and run help him enough to get a spot as the No. 6 receiver? Briscoe’s hands were inconsistent during training camp so that matters, too. It’ll probably come down to keeping a sixth receiver or an 11th defensive back or a ninth offensive lineman. Good play by David Amerson; right spot, right time on the overthrow. Jose Gumbs had a couple good pops, though I wonder on his downfield hit if it could have been better. He hit the receiver with his right shoulder, but he could have taken the guys head off with a big hit (afraid of drawing a fine perhaps?).