NFC East: alfred morris

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.

Running backs (4)

The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.

Receivers (6)

I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.

Tight ends (3)

Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.

Offensive line (10)

In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.

Defensive line (6)


This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.

Linebackers (9)

As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.

Cornerbacks (5)
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.

Safeties (4)

I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
Two years ago the Washington Redskins had one of the most potent running games in the NFL, a mix of conventional and new school with the zone read option. It worked. They led the NFL in rushing yards, were second in yards per carry and gained more first downs than any team courtesy of the run.

Morris
It wasn’t just the zone read. While the Redskins averaged 6.18 yards per carry with that tactic, they still averaged 4.94 yards on their 401 traditional runs. That average alone was topped by only three other teams. The zone read helped, but so, too, did Alfred Morris being an excellent fit in the outside zone running scheme.

As he improved his tracks on runs, the Redskins’ run game flourished even more. Morris’ ability to plant and cut and make the first defender miss meant the run game would work even minus the zone read aspect.

Last season, the Redskins ranked third in the NFL in yards per rush (4.78). They averaged 5.33 yards on zone read carries and 4.65 on traditional runs; the latter number would have left them tied for third.

Here’s the point: The run game has worked the past two years, with or without the zone read option. That’s a big reason why offensive coordinator Sean McVay said shortly after getting his new position that “the run game will be very similar.”

Lauvao
The offseason moves suggest that’s the case. The Redskins added a bigger player at left guard in Shawn Lauvao, but he moves well -- after the Redskins signed him, multiple Browns sources said he’d be a good fit in the outside zone game. Lauvao might not be a great guard, but he’s bigger than Kory Lichtensteiger, now at center, by a good 20 pounds. Lichtensteiger moves better than former center Will Montgomery but is not as strong.

Meanwhile, the two linemen they drafted, guard Spencer Long and tackle Morgan Moses, both can move. The problem for Moses is that in college he was inconsistent getting to linebackers in the run game. It’s yet another area he must improve before he’s truly ready to start. Long, nearly 10 pounds heavier than starting right guard Chris Chester, spent a lot of time pulling at Nebraska but he also plays with strength. The Redskins definitely left yards on the field in the run game last season, sometimes because the backside blockers failed to get their men and other times because Morris needed to make a stronger cut down the field.

On paper, bigger should also equal more ability to play smash mouth when needed, adding more versatility to the ground game. But I’m not sold that Lauvao, for example, is as strong in that sort of situation. That’s not what he showed in Cleveland (whether at the line or when reaching linebackers).

lastname
Bernard
Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not have the run game in Cincinnati that he’ll have in Washington. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a bubble player for the Bengals this season; he carried the ball a combined 498 times the past two seasons. Gruden opted for a mix, with Giovani Bernard receiving 170 carries in 2013, in part because he had no one such as Morris.

Meanwhile, the Redskins actually led the NFL in rushing versus seven-man fronts (275 times for an NFL-best 1,332 yards).

Perhaps Gruden’s influence will result in more carries against five- and six-man fronts. The Bengals had 51 more such plays than Washington a year ago, a function of formation and likely also game situations. Then again, two years ago the Redskins had more runs against those fronts than Cincinnati.

But with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed, Gruden has more weapons in the pass game as well. Which, of course, could lead to more spread formations -- and runs against even more favorable fronts.

Helu
Meanwhile, Roy Helu can catch the ball and perhaps he’ll run better out of a shotgun spread formation than in the outside zone. But I can’t imagine him in a Giovani Bernard role; the Bengals’ back had 226 touches from scrimmage last season. Though Helu averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he’s not a move-the-chains runner (eight carries against an eight-man front resulted in a total of 14 yards). Even against seven-man fronts Helu averaged 4.06 yards, which is fine but is much less than Morris (4.96, with an NFL-best 937 rushing yards against that type of front).

The point? Helu will be able to handle the third-down duties again, but there’s little reason to take a whole lot away from Morris. And rookie Lache Seastrunk has a lot to prove -- as a third-down back in particular -- before being ready for anything other than pinch-hitting duty as a runner. But he’s a potentially good fit in the spread. Chris Thompson is, too, but size and durability remain two big issues for him.

Do not assume the Redskins will see fewer eight-man boxes compared to last season. In 2013, Morris only ran 44 times against an eight-man box, which was six fewer times than he did so as a rookie. So it’s not a given he’ll pile up more yards because of fewer eight-man boxes. But given the success of the past two years and that Gruden wants to keep it mostly the same, there’s also no reason to think Morris or the Redskins’ run game will suddenly drop off. That is, unless Gruden falls too much in love with the weapons at receiver.
The Washington Redskins' passing game struggled last season and not just because the starting quarterback was coming off knee surgery. The protection failed; the receivers didn’t get open; the coaches could not add as much to the offense as desired.

But with a new staff, a quarterback more like himself and with a full offseason and better receivers, the Redskins’ passing attack should improve. Of course, there have been many times in the past that an aspect of the Redskins should have improved and did not. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has maintained all along that nothing has yet been accomplished. He is absolutely right.

One veteran offensive player said what helps is that Jay Gruden’s passing game is similar to what Washington ran under Kyle Shanahan. It also helps that the coaches say the run game will be the same. Still, it’s a new offense that Griffin and the others must learn.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiLook for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to be more effective throwing deep with improved receivers led by offseason addition DeSean Jackson.
I know that Gruden’s favored alignment on first-and-10 was two tight ends and two receivers last season in Cincinnati. I don’t know how often he will use what alignment, but the Redskins did invest in the passing game -- DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts to pair with Pierre Garcon, all of whom can win downfield -- and you don’t do so without the intent to maximize that talent.

The Redskins have devoted 15.57 percent of their cap space to receiver -- that’s 36.05 percent more than the average NFL team.

Also, the feeling, for now at least, is that the Redskins will rely less on play-action passes than they did in the past. The Redskins averaged an NFL-best 11.85 yards per pass attempt from play-action in 2012; they averaged 6.97 yards per attempt last season, 26th in the NFL. By comparison, Cincinnati ranked 12th last season at 8.22 yards per pass attempt from play-action (all statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information).

However, the Bengals definitely ran it less: they ranked 19th in the NFL with only 47.6 yards per game out of play-action looks. The Redskins, meanwhile, were ninth at 70.3 yards per game.

The sense is that the Redskins won’t need to use it as much because of an improved receiving corps, one that is much more capable of winning one-on-one battles at the line (unlike last season). Therefore, in theory, it should result in quicker opportunities for Griffin. That will allow the Redskins to use less complicated reads until Griffin and the receivers grow in the offense. Without the benefit of a regular offseason a year ago, the Redskins could not expand the offense under Griffin the way they would have liked. When they tried to, it did not work for a variety of reasons.

Griffin has had a good offseason and, the veteran said, has done a good job of picking up the offense. But the fact remains that this is his first legitimate NFL offseason and he’s learning a second offense. Don’t complicate matters (even if every NFL offense is complex). This should allow him to be more decisive and play to his strengths, which should include throwing the deep ball.

A lot of this depends on how well the protection holds up. If it doesn't, then play-action can be used more often.

Gruden inherited different talent offensively than he had in Cincinnati. The Bengals did not have a workhorse runner as good as Alfred Morris. They did not have the depth among the receiving talent Washington now appears to have (including tight end Jordan Reed). Of course, the Bengals did have other weapons: receiver A.J. Green, one of the game’s best; running back Giovani Bernard, good at running from the spread and catching passes out of the backfield.

Griffin is a different threat than Andy Dalton. Griffin, obviously, is more mobile but he also has a stronger arm and should be more dangerous throwing downfield. But keep in mind that Cincinnati led the NFL with 83 pass attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 yards or more (the Redskins had 60 such attempts) but were 16th in completion percentage (37.3 percent) and 13th in yards per attempt (12.83). Again, if Griffin is sharper, then it would help here: The Redskins ranked second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt on these plays in 2012 (though they were 31st in number of passes attempted). Last season, the Redskins ranked 26th in completion percentage (28.3) and 25th in yards per attempt (9.92). With Jackson, a healthy Reed and an improved Griffin, I would expect both numbers to improve by a decent amount.

Also, what we have learned thus far about Gruden is that he will adjust. Well, actually, all we know is that he says he will adapt. That is why he is leaving the same run game in place, knowing it has been effective. Though some aspects of his offense have to remain the same -- you need core beliefs -- he can’t, and shouldn’t, ask Griffin to be Dalton.

The Redskins need Griffin to be Griffin again. They have the receivers to help him get there; they definitely need the line to help as well. Otherwise, a lot of what the Redskins hope to do -- and want to do -- will have to change.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

June, 28, 2014
Jun 28
10:00
AM ET
The second round of mail focused on Alfred Morris' role, Jay Gruden's AFL days, Tanard Jackson's future and more. Enjoy.

John Keim: Well, he's better than BenJarvus Green-Ellis so I would expect Alfred Morris to get a lot more carries. Plus I'm not sold that the Redskins have their Giovani Bernard type to take away that many carries from Morris. Roy Helu will get some and perhaps Lache Seastrunk, especially in the spread. But I would expect Morris to still be a factor. But how much of one? Honestly don't know yet. I know the Redskins will keep the same run game, but I also know Jay Gruden's reputation is that he likes to throw the ball (it was also Kyle Shanahan's, too, until he landed Morris and Robert Griffin III). Morris "only" had 276 carries last season compared to 335 as a rookie (losing so often last year didn't help). I could see his totals being closer to last year than his rookie year, just because of the added weapons in the pass game. Green-Ellis, by the way, carried 278 times two years ago but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Morris averaged 4.6 yards last year and 4.8 as a rookie. Big difference.

Keim: If I had to guess right now I'd say yes, but there's so much more that needs to be seen -- and not just with Jackson. There's no way to fully know where his game is at based off the spring. Heck, he admitted he wasn't able to stay in the best shape during his suspension because he also had to work. Understandable. But now you have someone who needs to get back into NFL shape and then prove he can still play after missing two years. Maybe he'll get there; too early to know. Then it also depends on how others are doing as well. Has Bacarri Rambo improved at all? How does Akeem Davis look? Davis could sneak his way onto the roster. Jackson was a talented player once upon a time. He just needs to prove he still is one this summer. If so, he'll be fine.

Keim: Not a whole lot. Maybe others do, especially if they're trying to paint a certain picture, but I don't. Then again, had he been a losing coach there ... Steve Spurrier had a winning pedigree in college, as did many others who tried to make that leap. It does help that Gruden has been in charge, but it's such a different game and level. I'm sure certain aspects translate, but I'm not about to go overboard with that experience. What helps is that he's been immersed in the pro culture since he was a kid because of his father and brother. What also helps is that he's been exposed to good coaches throughout his career, from Howard Schnellenberger to his brother Jon to Marvin Lewis.

Keim: I really like what they've done on special teams this offseason and it's sort of gotten lost at times with all the other storylines. But they bolstered the unit by adding linebackers who can help here -- not just the veterans in Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, but also drafting Trent Murphy. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland will help, too. The Redskins kept too many players last year who were low on their position totem pole, yet provided poor help on special teams. Those days must be over if they want to build anything right. Not sure yet about the kicker Zach Hocker and if he's an improvement. Still concerned about punter. As for the secondary, they improved the leadership by adding Ryan Clark and they need David Amerson to play well. The biggest way they can help this group is by applying more pressure with their front seven. If that happens, then the secondary will benefit.

Keim: Easier to just link to the story I wrote on that earlier this week. It's how the starting lineup looks entering training camp. The only position I can see changing is right guard. Otherwise, things are pretty well set.

Keim: Well, the one thing I liked that Gruden did with Dalton is played to his strength as a passer, which is why he incorporated Giovani Bernard into the game plan. Dalton was not a strong-armed passer so he gave him a good option underneath. Obviously Griffin has a stronger arm so he can do different things. But the point is that it seems like he'll focus more on what his quarterbacks can do and then build his offense. At least I think that's the case. Until we see him with a different quarterback we really won't know how much he'll adapt. Gruden also had a strong relationship with Dalton, which if he builds the same with Griffin will help. But one knock against him in Cincinnati is that perhaps he got too close. So it's the opposite of what happened in Washington. 

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
12:30
PM ET
Not a lot going on, so it's a good time to catch up on some salary-cap numbers and scenarios. All numbers are from ESPN Stats & Information:

Cap space available: The Redskins have $2,551,306 left against the salary cap. Only three teams have less room against the cap (Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego). The Giants have $6.9 million available, but both Dallas ($10.2 million) and Philadelphia ($20.2 million) are in strong shape. Don’t forget, teams can carry cap space into next season. Also, as of now only the top 51 players count against the cap in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins would save $5.5 million against the cap if they cut Stephen Bowen after this season.
Cap savings: If the Redskins really wanted to save a few extra dollars, they could always look at right guard Chris Chester. If they cut him, it would save $2.7 million against the cap. But, again, someone has to beat him out. If they felt that confident about someone else they likely would have made a move by now. But they do have some young options here between rookie Spencer Long and third-year players Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. However, while Long obviously has never played, the other two have limited experience. Tyler Polumbus' release would save $1.5 million, but that means that either rookie Morgan Moses or third-year Tom Compton is ready to start. It’s hard to imagine Moses being at that point and Compton was not there at the end of last season.

Another place that will be interesting is the defensive line. The Redskins kept six at this spot each of the past three seasons. If they only keep that many this year, it means a veteran could be in trouble. They clearly aren’t going to cut Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher or Chris Baker. Also, as long as Stephen Bowen is healthy he’ll stick around.

Yes, the Redskins could have re-worked his deal (which counts $7.02 million against the cap) but they have wisely been reluctant to spread money into the future for players who may only be around another year or so. That’s the case with Bowen. He has one year left on his contract and is coming off microfracture surgery. I don’t care how optimistic you are about him, can you trust he’ll be around and playing at a solid level in two years? No. The way they’ve done things in the past they could ask him to take a pay cut, but they typically did that before this point. Just so you know: Bowen would save $5.5 million against the cap if cut after this season.

So if Bowen sticks, that gives the Redskins four. If they keep six again, that means they’d have room for two among Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston and Clifton Geathers. Here’s the savings for each player: Geathers ($600,000), Golston ($1,005,000), Jenkins ($1,027,184). Nose tackle Chris Neild also would be in trouble. His savings would be $645,000.

Highest paid: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000) followed by Trent Williams ($10,980,393). By the way, both players will count more against the cap than all the players at five other positions: safeties ($5.1 million), tight ends ($4 million), running backs $5.6 million), quarterback ($7.1 million) and cornerback ($8.6 million).

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.
ESPN's fantasy sports writer Eric Karabell is taking a look at every NFL team for the Insiders page , checking out the storylines fantasy league players need to follow this summer.

Among this thoughts on the Redskins:

Garcon
Garcon
“Pierre Garcon should still be the first Redskins wide receiver off the board.”

My take: Garcon, not DeSean Jackson, will be the primary receiving target this season. No one has said that to me because until we get closer to the season – and probably into the season – no one really knows how things will unfold. But Garcon is a sturdier player, capable of running a greater variety of routes. Jackson caught 82 passes last season, but his previous high was 62. He can be dangerous to defend even when grabbing around 60 passes. In fact, it wouldn't stun me at all to see Jackson as the third leading receiver in terms of total catches behind Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Durability plays into this as well (though Jackson has missed fewer games than Garcon in his career; both have played six seasons).

Morris
“Running back Alfred Morris will simply be underrated.”

My take: From the time coach Jay Gruden was hired, the word has been clear: They will continue to use the same run game as under former coach Mike Shanahan. That's among the reasons they kept offensive line coach Chris Foerster. While they have added size along the offensive line, the players they added all can block in the outside zone -- where Morris excels. So he'll continue to put up good numbers. I do wonder how many carries he'll get after receiving 611 combined his first two seasons. Remember, one knock on Gruden in Cincinnati: He abandoned the run too often. He also didn't have the depth at receiver he now has in Washington.

The Redskins will spread the field and I can see them throwing more, or at least wanting to. Or they'll spread the field and run the draw; will Morris be the guy they want in that situation? Or someone with a little more burst (or a threat in the pass game) such as Roy Helu or even rookie Lache Seastrunk, who was perfect for this sort of setup at Baylor. The Redskins would like Morris to catch 20-25 passes; he's working on his route running this offseason. He's still their best running back, but if they want to diversify I can see others chipping away a little at his work. Or because they want to throw more.

Griffin
“It all should come down to [Robert Griffin III]. A standout summer could, in theory, push him into the draft day quarterback class where Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton reside, in the 4-to-7 range. A poor one and he's out of the top 10. That seems unlikely.”

My take: If Griffin shows improvement this summer -- and his old burst -- then he will be dangerous, just as he was in 2012. That season, he definitely missed plays in the pass game but he made quite a few and he should be further ahead now thanks to a good offseason. Just know that Griffin's mobility looks good this spring. Add to it the extra talent around him with Jackson, Andre Roberts and a healthy Reed and Griffin will have plenty of reasons to post good numbers. It's not a stretch. But keep in mind that Griffin is learning a new passing attack. He also still has to show he can be a consistent pocket passer. But if he can extend plays better, he should hurt defenses with this receiving corps.

Will defenses blitz him as much if they see him hurting them with his legs again? Teams blitzed him on 33.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2013 compared to 21.1 percent as a rookie, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Do you want to blitz as much knowing a short pass could quickly turn into a long gain? Griffin has to improve his downfield accuracy. He went from completing 55.7 percent of his throws on routes 15 yards or more downfield as a rookie to 40.7 last season. One note: I remember one talk with a general manager before the 2012 draft who was worried about Griffin's accuracy on intermediate routes. Still, that's a big drop-off. Griffin's mechanics were off after missing a full offseason, leading to errant throws. Was that the only reason for the fall? Regardless, I'd expect that number to improve. How much? We'll find out this season.
All three can help the Washington Redskins, forming a group that could be one of the NFL's most dangerous. All three also want the ball. The trick for the Redskins and quarterback Robert Griffin III is making sure that happens -- and keeping them happy.

Garcon
Garcon
Jackson
Roberts
It's a good thing for any team to have receivers such as Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. Throw in tight end Jordan Reed and that's four legitimate targets. But that's also four players who want action. Garcon set a franchise record a year ago; Jackson established career bests and Roberts signed here thinking he'd be the No. 2 receiver.

All of that means Griffin must act like an NBA point guard, distributing the ball and keeping guys happy. It's not easy. But there's a way to make it work; it involves something the Redskins did a lot when he was a rookie and very little a year ago.

"As long as you win everyone's happy," Griffin said last month. "That's what it comes down to. Everyone understands that not everyone will catch 100 balls. That's the way it goes unless we throw a ton, which is possible. And [Alfred Morris is] a great running back. And not everyone will catch as many touchdowns as they like."

Griffin then emphasized his main point, tapping the table and slowing his delivery.

"But if we win, everyone will be happy," he said.

For now, the spring workouts give the Redskins a chance to see how it might fit during the season. They can dream of the possibilities with Garcon, Jackson and Roberts -- with Reed possibly being one of the leading pass-catchers on the team.

"I'm eager to see how we mesh together," Griffin said. "That's exciting for a quarterback. We can work matchups. We will have definite mismatches and then it will be good to distribute the ball around."

What excites Griffin, and the Redskins, is the variety of routes that can be run by these four targets in particular. Roberts can play both the slot or outside; Jackson can run routes out of the backfield, wide or in tight. Garcon excels on bubble screens because of his ability to break tackles and on intermediate routes.

Both Garcon and Jackson are threats on underneath crossing routes.

"All those guys can run," Griffin said. "None of them are limited to routes. It's not a limited route tree, which is exciting for a quarterback and exciting for an offensive coordinator calling plays. Now you know I can put these guys in any position and they can all run the routes."
The first two seasons resulted in big rushing yards and much acclaim. Not to mention a desire for more. Alfred Morris wants it; the Redskins say he can do it. More catches. More yards downfield. More production overall. Former running backs coach Bobby Turner would tell Morris that he was leaving yards on the field. Current running backs coach Randy Jordan delivered the same message.

“You can always find room for improvement,” Morris said by phone. “It’s good to have different coaches who can critique you more because they have an outside perspective.”

Morris has rushed for a combined 2,888 yards in his first two seasons. But he’s caught only 20 passes and both Turner last year and Jordan this offseason have told him he could gain more yards downfield, turning good runs into much longer ones.

First, the passing game. At the owners meetings, coach Jay Gruden said Morris could develop into a 20- to 25-catch running back. Clearly the Redskins would want someone else to handle the third-down role, whether it's Roy Helu this season or Lache Seastrunk in the future.

But with the weapons Washington has at receiver, Morris could be a forgotten man by defenses on early downs. Therefore, it would be wise for him to improve in this area. It’s not just about his hands, though. He said he needs to do a better job running routes against man coverage.

“My focus is building confidence in the quarterbacks as well as the coaches to let them know I can catch,” he said. “I know I can catch the ball.”

Gruden said, "Obviously we want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren't the most natural, but it's something you can work on."

For Morris, it’s about winning more often on his routes. He said he talks to the receivers and even Helu about running routes.

“I can get better,” Morris said. “Sometimes you get that linebacker that’s real grabby and how to get away from them and set them up is something I never had much experience doing. [Helu’s] one-on-one routes where he wins, sometimes I’m like, ‘How did you do that?’ I always pick brains so I can better myself.”

As for more yards downfield, Morris did lead the NFL with 10 runs of 20 yards or more. He also had five carries that resulted in 30-plus yards, but only one that went at least 40. Morris was sixth in the NFL in yards per rush on those 20-plus runs (29.80), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Morris improved his agility last offseason; this offseason he’s trying to work on a mindset.

“Usually it’s a safety and me or a corner and it’s just making a guy miss to get an extra 2 or 3 or 20 yards,” Morris said. “It’s just being a smarter ballplayer. Sometimes I get caught indecisive in between moves or which direction [to go].”
Taking a look at the ways the Washington Redskins could go not only in the second round Friday, but beyond -- and why.

Right tackle

The case for: Tyler Polumbus is not the long-term answer and, in fact, his contract is up after this season. Though he improved last season, it's clear the organization would like an upgrade. They could find a future starter -- whether Day 1 or not remains to be seen -- at 34. Or they could find a guy who might take a year or so after the second round.

The case against: Tough to make a case against drafting a right tackle, especially because there are some good ones available at that spot. That, combined with a need for the position -- even if Polumbus starts they need his eventual replacement.

Names to watch: Cyrus Kouandjio. The main reason he's available is because of questions surrounding his knees. But he was also inconsistent in pass protection (much better against the run), another reason he fell. Some teams have definitely been scared off because of his knees -- he has a degenerative issue with his knees, according to ESPN's Stephanie Bell. But he's also had no problems since his 2011 ACL surgery and, in fact, never missed a practice, had pain or swelling. So there's a risk-reward here and some positive signs mixed with concerns. And the Redskins' relationship with Dr. James Andrews, whose office performed the surgery on Kouandjio, is important and helpful here. If he can't play tackle, Nevada's Joel Bitonio, could move easily to guard. They also showed interest in Jack Mewhort, Morgan Moses and Antonio Richardson. I would not draft Mewhort or Richardson at 34; Moses' ability suggests he should go the highest of these three. We'll see.

Receiver

The case for: The Redskins need depth with Leonard Hankerson still uncertain following ACL surgery. Aldrick Robinson is entering the last year of his contract, too. Both have shown flashes but for one reason or another (yes, injuries a part) haven't put it together. Also, if the receiver they pick can return punts and kicks, that's even better.

The case against: They have three starting receivers -- and all are under contract for the next three seasons. Whoever they get, barring injuries, would end up being a No. 3 at best.

Names to watch: Marqise Lee is still available. But this is a deep draft at receiver so finding one after the second round is a distinct possibility. They also expressed interest in receiver Cody Latimer before the draft. He's an interesting player, faster than realized given how he was used at Indiana and because of injuries.

Tight end

The case for: Washington can use another pass catcher opposite Jordan Reed. Logan Paulsen is a blocker and an occasional pass threat, but they could use more given Reed's durability issues. Niles Paul remains on the roster, but is a free agent after this season.

The case against: Tough to make a strong case against adding another one at some point. At 34? Seems a big stretch considering Reed would still be the primary target if healthy. But in the third or fourth round? Sure.

Name to watch: Jace Amaro. More of a guy who would line up wide, but has definite receiving skills.

Running back

The case for: They clearly would like another pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Alfred Morris is set as the full-time ballcarrier, but Roy Helu is not set as the third-down back.

The case against: The second round is too high for this position given the needs elsewhere. But if they pick up another third? Then this spot becomes one worth watching (though the fourth round is fine here as well).

Names to watch: De'Anthony Thomas, Dri Archer, Charles Sims, George Atkinson III.

Guard

The case for: Though the Redskins signed Shawn Lauvao, they still have questions inside. Chris Chester, who struggled last year, returns. The Redskins could opt to draft another player here and plug them in immediately. Chester would then be in jeopardy of losing his job (releasing him would save the Redskins $2.7 million against the salary cap.

The case against: They did invest inside during free agency and still need a right tackle. For them to take a guard in the second round, it would have to be someone who was head and shoulders above.

Names to watch: Xavier Su'a-Filo. The UCLA guard is No. 1 on Mel Kiper's list at this position. Some tackles, such as Bitonio, might eventually end up at guard. Cyril Richardson has the size to play tackle, but his game might translate more to guard. He's a third-round guy.
The company they keep suggests they have done it right. Washington is right there with the best teams in the NFL when it comes to holding on to its draft picks. Look at the top six teams when it comes to keeping their own draft picks. You have perennial playoff contenders, Super Bowl participants and league heavyweights.

And then the Redskins.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaDan Snyder and the Redskins' coaching staff need to focus more on developing the team's draft picks in the future.
It's strange company, indeed. But there they are, right behind Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New England. For the most part, it's a who's who of organizations that have done it right.

And then there are the Redskins.

"I don't think we can say we've done well because of our record," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said.

The numbers spell it out. Washington ranks seventh in the NFL with 28 former draft picks on its roster. In the free-agency era, that has to register as a surprise given the Redskins' reputation. Of course, the salary-cap penalties of the past two offseasons forced them to do business another way.

It's sort of like the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry tells a rental car clerk, "See, you know how to take the reservation. You just don't know how to hold the reservation, and that's really the most important part of the reservation."

If the Redskins want to sustain success, they will do more than just draft and retain players; they will improve at developing them.

It's not as if they haven't had success stories. In 2012, they rode two rookies to the playoffs: quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick. Griffin extended plays and ran well, so the Redskins incorporated that into their offense. Morris could plant and cut, so that's what they asked him to do. They've had other success stories, just not enough of them.

Too often the Redskins have relied on outside help to fill holes. This past offseason they needed offensive line help, so they signed a starting guard and added a veteran backup. Two years ago they drafted three linemen, yet none of them project to be in the starting lineup. One of those three, guard Josh LeRibeus, was a third-round pick who was inactive in every game last season.

Washington's director of player personnel Scott Campbell said Tuesday that to find players worth developing, you see how much they love football. If a guy struggles with weight issues, that's a concern. LeRibeus had those issues in college and again after his rookie season. He is young, so perhaps he still develops, but he'll do so with constant pressure behind him.

"If you can't develop and want to build through the draft, then you're just sitting there with guys that can't play and they're young," one former Redskins coach said. "It becomes a double-edged sword and you're headed nowhere fast. Then you have to roll the dice in free agency and find a veteran player you hope can bail you out of that situation."

As Allen pointed out Tuesday, the Redskins have won titles multiple ways: from his father's ability to trade draft picks in the 1970s to finding bargain Plan B free agents in the 1980s. But owner Dan Snyder's era has produced seven double-digit loss seasons in the last 11.

The Redskins have drafted 34 players in the past four years: 14 on defense, 20 on offense. Of that group, eight project to be starters in 2014. Another player, tight end Logan Paulsen, went from undrafted in 2011 to starting tight end last year. Fullback Darrel Young switched positions and now is a starter.

The defense really needs to develop its own (the offense is much younger). Washington's D is in transition, with three starters in the secondary 30 or older and four top linemen in that same category. That means, if they want to build success, and then sustain it, they must hope that some of these players develop: Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas at safety and linebacker Keenan Robinson, as a long-term replacement for the retired London Fletcher. They need more youth along the front or for Jarvis Jenkins to blossom in his third playing season.

Two offseason moves could help: the hiring of inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and signing safety Ryan Clark. Olivadotti had a terrific reputation for working with young players in his first go-round with Washington, helping Brian Orakpo as a rookie. If Robinson is healthy -- after tearing a different pectoral muscle in each of his first two seasons -- then he has a shot because of Olivadotti.

As for Clark, maybe at 34 he has nothing left. Pittsburgh didn't think so. But he can still add value in Washington, desperate to solve a longtime hole at safety. Clark, who almost always has been a part of a good secondary, starting in college, can provide more help in getting players from one point in their career to another. He's not afraid to call out players -- star players too -- and let them know what's not acceptable. He'll also guide them just as much. Clark will be as much a coach on the field as anyone.

The Redskins don't have a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, so a lot of their selections this weekend won't provide immediate help. But if the Redskins develop their own, they will build a foundation that they've too often lacked.
Last week I broke down the Redskins' salary cap by position and how it compared to the rest of the NFL. This is one more extension of that so you can see how the Redskins' top cap hit compares to the five biggest cap hits at each position. For the most part, the Redskins have more bargains offensively in part because they've found younger contributors through the draft or they landed players such as DeSean Jackson after they'd been cut, thereby lowering their price. The Redskins have only one player who will count among the top five at their position in 2014 -- left tackle Trent Williams.

Quarterback

NFL's top five cap hits

Eli Manning, New York Giants, $20,400,000

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, $18,895,000

Jay Cutler, Chicago, $18,500,000

Drew Brees, New Orleans, $18,400,000

Sam Bradford, St. Louis, $17,610,000

Redskins top cap hit

Griffin
Robert Griffin III $5,759,754 (19th overall)

Summing it up: St. Louis is paying the price for a since-changed system when it comes to rookie contracts -- and the Redskins clearly have benefited. There’s little chance anyone would think Bradford is worth as much as his 2014 cap number. Manning has regressed the past two seasons, for whatever reason, and needed ankle surgery this offseason. Roethlisberger is excellent and Brees remains a top-five quarterback. But Cutler is an example of a guy who is being paid because of the position he plays. He's been a good quarterback, but it's tough to say he's been great. He's definitely not a top-five guy. The Redskins have Griffin at a lower cost the next two seasons and then, if he plays as they hope, his number will skyrocket.

Receiver

NFL's top five cap hits

Mike Wallace, Miami, $17,250,000

Andre Johnson, Houston, $15,644,583

Percy Harvin, Seattle, $13,400,000

Calvin Johnson, Detroit, $13,058,000

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay, $12,432,000

Redskins top cap hit

Garcon
Garcon
Pierre Garcon $9,700,000 (seventh overall)

Summing it up: The top two at this position certainly didn't outperform Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 catches. Garcon only caught five touchdown passes, but that matches what Wallace and Andre Johnson did as well. Harvin played just 19 snaps all season. Calvin Johnson caught 84 passes, but 12 went for touchdowns and he averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Jackson caught 78 passes, seven for scores, and averaged 15.7 yards per catch. The Redskins received good value from their top earner at this spot. They have even more invested here now after adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The former will be a major bargain compared to the rest of this group if he puts up numbers similar to last year (82 catches, nine touchdowns, 1,332 yards. But keep in mind in his first five years Jackson averaged 54.8 catches, 4.6 touchdowns and 957 yards per season).

Running back

NFL's top five cap hits

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, $14,400,000

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, $9,700,000

Ray Rice, Baltimore, $8,750,000

Arian Foster, Houston, $8,300,000

Matt Forte, Chicago, $7,900,000

Redskins top cap hit

Helu
Roy Helu $1,548,563 (38th overall)

Summing it up: Peterson and McCoy are two of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL and are difference-makers. But what's also clear is why teams don't like to shell out huge money for running backs. Washington’s Alfred Morris, who is 93rd on the list of running backs when it comes to 2014 cap figures ($600,775), was as productive running the ball as Peterson. Morris ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per rush. Rice ran for 660 yards in 15 games, averaging 3.1 yards on 214 carries. Foster only played in eight games. Forte is an excellent all-around back and was productive. But the Redskins are fortunate they won’t have to shell out more money here for two more years.

Offensive line

NFL's top five cap hits

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland, $12,300,000

LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets, $11,698,666

LT Russell Okung, Seattle, $11,240,000

G Jahri Evans, New Orleans, $11,000,000

LT Trent Williams, Washington, $10,980,393

Redskins top cap hit

Britt
Williams
Williams

Summing it up: Williams is one of the games best tackles so for him to be in this group makes sense. He could be more consistent and avoid the clunker game, but overall Williams has proven himself and earned two Pro Bowl trips. I'd have a hard time paying a guard as much as Evans, but at least he's an elite player with five consecutive All-Pro nods (in addition to five straight Pro Bowl berths). Okung, drafted one spot after Williams in 2010, has missed 19 games in his career and made one Pro Bowl team. Williams has played in every game the past two seasons. Because of his athleticism, the Redskins can use him differently than other teams use their tackles.

Tight end

NFL's top five cap hits

Jason Witten, Dallas, $8,412,000

Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville, $8,250,000

Greg Olsen, Carolina, $7,800,000

Antonio Gates, San Diego, $7,362,500

Vernon Davis, San Francisco, $7,342,916

Redskins top cap hit

Paulsen
Logan Paulsen $2,236,666 (21st overall)

Summing it up: Yet another position where the Redskins have a bargain for a few more seasons. This isn’t about how Paulsen stacks up, but really about Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, this will be the company he keeps statistically. I love watching Davis because of the matchup headaches he causes based on his athleticism. It’s the same with Reed. Marcedes Lewis has had a nice eight-year career and is an excellent blocker, but No. 2 on this list? He has 25 career touchdown catches, but 10 came in one season. The others are proven pass threats. Of course, this list will change once Jimmy Graham's situation is settled with New Orleans.
With so many toys at Jay Gruden's disposal in Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson, how does Alfred Morris fit in offense?

Morris
In his three years as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden had two 1,000-yard rushers in Cedric Benson (1,067 in 2011) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,094 in 2012). The Bengals ran for 1,788 yards, 1,745 yards and 1,755 yards in Gruden’s three years as coordinator.

But he also had A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu at receiver. In the playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers, he got pass-happy.

“Jay sees the offense through the eyes of the quarterback, and having played the position, he has a great deal of respect for the position,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at the NFL owners meetings in this Washington Post story. “He’ll say these guys are the luckiest guys because he would’ve given his right arm – left arm, I guess – to have the opportunity to be an NFL quarterback. So, he really is conscientious of that. He really has things unfold through the eyes of the quarterback."

Because he sees things as a quarterback, will he rely more on the passing game? It has been an argument used against Jason Garrett for his years as the playcaller with the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Payton was a quarterback and he leans more to the pass with the New Orleans Saints.

It’s only natural.

But Morris offers Gruden a better running back than what he had in Cincinnati. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. He followed that up with 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.

Was it a function of Mike Shanahan’s scheme and the coach’s ability to find running backs anywhere and everywhere?

The NFL is a passing league these days, but Gruden can’t get away from Morris and become too pass-happy if the Redskins want to be successful.

The red flags around DeSean Jackson can't be ignored, because by all accounts they're real. And I'm not talking about any affiliations, either. Rather, it's his approach that's more troubling, because that could have a negative impact on the Washington Redskins.

But ... if Jackson is fine ... the Redskins' offense will be explosive. They can pair him with veteran receivers Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and second-year tight end Jordan Reed. They have a sturdy young running back in Alfred Morris, who has rushed for 2,888 yards in his first two seasons. They also have quarterback Robert Griffin III, who already was excited about next season. Now he must be ecstatic.

The common denominator among their receivers: speed. It's probably the fastest group the Redskins have had in a long time. And Griffin's ability to throw the deep ball sits well with Jackson's penchant for catching them in the past. It's what Jackson does best, and it's why he scares a defense so much.

Griffin might not have a laser arm like Michael Vick -- few do -- but it's a very good arm and it's certainly one that should connect with Jackson down the field. There's also Griffin's ability to extend plays with a group as fast as this one. That too should lead to headaches for opposing defensive coordinators in the week leading up to facing this offense.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDeSean Jackson caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013.
Having Garcon on the other side means teams can't just always focus on one or the other. No doubt defenses will try to force Jackson into underneath routes and try to be physical with him. If they want to play a Cover 2, the Redskins will take seven-man fronts all day with Morris.

As for the wisdom of signing Jackson, my initial take after his release by the Philadelphia Eagles was simple: No, don't do it. They have a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden trying to establish a new culture and are coming off a disastrous ending to 2013 filled with negative stories. The organization has not fared well after such signings in the past. Would it have the infrastructure to maximize a talent such as Jackson, who comes with questions?

Those I've spoken with who have more reservations about Jackson have been front-office types; those who strongly endorse him are coaches. One coach from another team said certain players are worth taking a risk on, and Jackson is one of them.

I do know his talent is such that teams will look the other way because he can do things few others can on the field. His acceleration on deep passes is unmatched. Google "Redskins, LaRon Landry, 88-yard touchdown, 2010" as proof. Jackson causes defenses to worry about him on every play, something that will lead to better opportunities for Garcon & Co.

It's not like Jackson is the perfect player. Durability always will be a concern for a guy who is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. Of course, he's now entering his seventh season and coming off his most prolific year. But those red flags, again, must be considered. Some of the Redskins' leaders who have met or talked with Jackson say he's not as bad as advertised, that he's driven by his late father and plays with emotion. They'll need to make sure that's harnessed for the good. Safety Ryan Clark's arrival definitely helps the leadership aspect.

The Redskins have taken a risk on players in the past who have not worked out, notably defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Running back Clinton Portis had question marks when he arrived -- he wanted his contract re-done -- but was coming off consecutive 1,500-plus yards seasons. He worked out well. Haynesworth did not.

If you don't have a lot of players with Jackson's issues in the locker room -- and I'm talking about guys whose work ethic has been questioned, nothing about purported affiliations -- then you can withstand it, if the leadership is strong. Will Jackson be too high-maintenance? There's no way to know.

For at least the short term, the guess is that Jackson will be fine. Yes, he'll want to prove the Eagles were wrong -- very wrong. If he is indeed maturing, then Jackson will want to show that he's nothing like recent reports. All of that will benefit the Redskins next season. All of that will benefit Jackson, too. The Redskins need this to work after a horrific season; Jackson needs this to work after bad publicity this offseason. This is not a marriage I saw occurring. But it definitely is one of more than just convenience.
Alfred Morris’ hands haven’t matched his legs when it comes to production. His involvement in the Redskins’ passing game has been minimal. And while Redskins coach Jay Gruden would like to see that change, don’t expect Morris to turn into anything more than an occasional threat.

Morris
But that would be more than what Morris was during his first two seasons when he caught a combined 20 passes. He showed good hands at the Pro Bowl, catching four passes for 69 yards. However, his hands were inconsistent in the regular season.

“It’s something that, obviously, you want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren’t the most natural but it’s something you can work on,” Gruden said. “You don’t have to run go-[routes]. If you can catch a standard checkdown or screen pass, he could catch 20 to 25 balls a year. It just adds to his resume of being one of the top backs in the league. Yeah, we’ll work on him quite a bit as far as catching the ball.”

But that doesn’t mean he’ll suddenly turn into Giovani Bernard, Gruden’s pass-catching back in Cincinnati. The question then becomes: will any of the Redskins' backs? Gruden mentioned Roy Helu and Chris Thompson as possibilities. Thompson's rookie season ended with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which followed knee and back injuries at Florida State.

“We have some guys in-house we feel like can do it, but obviously you like to have some versatility and the ability to have another guy who could be a specialty-type third-down guy,” Gruden said. “But with Roy and Chris, we have those guys who could possibly take that role. But we’ll keep looking.”

Gruden called Thompson “one of the most exciting backs” while at Florida State. But he also wondered about his durability.

“He’s a guy who has to stay healthy and do his best to get on the field so we can see what he can do,” Gruden said. “Interesting guy. He’s very, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but it’s hard to get the ball in his hands when he’s not out there.”
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some highlights from Jay Gruden’s hour-long press gathering at the owners meetings:

1. He’s OK if linebacker Brian Orakpo plays out the season on the franchise tag. Sounds like he and the organization wants to see if his production increases, thanks to the promise of being turned loose more and also having an outside linebackers coach.

2. They will move Shawn Lauvao to left guard and keep Chris Chester at right guard. Gruden did not address Josh LeRibeus, but it’s clear from this move that there’s not a whole lot of confidence in him.

3. He certainly understands the importance of maximizing Robert Griffin III. He’s glad that Griffin needs to be reined in when it comes to his desire to push himself.

4. Gruden said if Griffin isn’t comfortable with the read option, they won’t run it as much. He also said he won’t try to stop him from running out of the pocket. Clearly, though, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. But Gruden wants Griffin to feel comfortable on the field. That’s a big issue.

5. He loves Jordan Reed.

6. Yes, they looked for some bigger linemen, but they want big guys who can move. As has been stated many times, they plan to use the same run-game schemes.

7. He’d like Alfred Morris to be a guy who could catch 20 to 25 passes a season. But he said Morris isn’t a natural pass-catcher; has work to do.

8. Gruden is a breath of fresh air. Though there are some things he can’t say, he was as honest as possible without crossing a line.

9. He’s not concerned about Griffin’s knee; wasn’t too deep on him playing without the brace and what it might mean. Why? Because he said the braces are so light these days.

10. He liked watching Chris Thompson at Florida State and seems anxious to work with him. But his durability is a major issue.

11. He said no teams have called about quarterback Kirk Cousins, but added that he wants “two great quarterbacks” because of Griffin’s style of play.

12. Gruden acknowledged he likes to have a lot of plays; apparently he was able to streamline that desire better during his time in Cincinnati. Does not want to overload Griffin, but says the third-year QB can handle a lot.

13. He mentioned the young safeties, but, again, I don’t get a sense that either Bacarri Rambo or Phillip Thomas will be the answer this season. Rambo’s play did not suggest he should be; Thomas’ foot and recovery from the Lisfranc injury makes him a question mark for now.

14. Gruden mentioned Andre Roberts’ versatility as a receiver. I don’t get the sense that the return position is solved by his arrival, however.

15. They're anxious to see Kory Lichtensteiger at center. As for Tyler Polumbus at right tackle, Gruden was a bit complimentary but I don't get the sense they're done looking for another possibility. Or, as they say, "more depth."

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