NFC East: Anthony Armstrong

IRVING, Texas -- Week 4 of Five Wonders will focus on the makeup of the Cowboys’ 53-man roster, and I’m holding off on Alex Tanney for a post later, so he will not be in the following paragraphs.

The first set of cuts comes Aug. 27 when they have to pare down from 87 to 75 players. The final cut to 53 comes Aug. 31.

Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett live in studio for 30 minutes of Cowboys reaction, analysis and real talk.

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  • As Jason Garrett has said two or 200 times, injury provides opportunity. The season-ending back surgery for Alex Albright, who will go under the knife on Wednesday, opens up a roster spot for a linebacker. I wonder if the Cowboys can still go with seven linebackers for the opening week. Undrafted rookie Brandon Magee finally showed up and made some plays last week at Arizona. He can also play some weakside linebacker. Caleb McSurdy played some at strongside linebacker and has inside linebacker experience. Taylor Reed also has position flexibility. But here’s one name that hasn’t been talked about much: Cameron Lawrence. He got some work on the early special-teams units against the Cardinals. When you’re down to the final spots at linebacker, special teams can be the great separator.
  • Garrett won’t offer up opinions on players unless he is asked specifically about a guy, so I took notice when he brought up “92,” Landon Cohen, when asked about some surprises on the defensive line. I wonder if Cohen, a training-camp pickup like George Selvie, can play his way onto the roster. The first thing Rod Marinelli wants for his defensive linemen is to get off the ball. Cohen can do that, and in fact he did it too fast with a couple of offside penalties in the first two preseason games. He has the look of the traditional one-technique in this scheme: short and squat, but he also has some quickness. Garrett went on to say Cohen has “some snap” to his game.” It's another name to keep an eye on. 
  • I wonder if the foot injury suffered by Lance Dunbar took the sixth wide receiver off the table. Dunbar is looking at a 3-4 week rehab, which puts him in doubt for the Sept. 8 season opener against the New York Giants. It was not a good injury for Anthony Armstrong, who I’ve had as the No. 6 guy on my roster projections. He has done nothing to get cut. He has showed up on offense. He has done a nice job on special teams. He has speed to burn. I just wonder if he is caught in a numbers game because now the Cowboys almost assuredly have to keep four running backs for at least the opening week. Could Armstrong jump Cole Beasley, who has been slowed by a foot injury of his own? I don’t see it right now, but Armstrong will be a tough call.
  • I wondered last week about the possibility of an undrafted rookie not making the roster this summer, and I threw a dark horse in there with Jeff Heath. He has taken some first-team special-teams snaps and was a second-teamer on defense last week because of injuries. He did not look out of place, but I wonder if he can beat out Matt Johnson. And, yes, I wonder if Johnson can not only get healthy but stay healthy as he battles a foot injury suffered in the Hall of Fame Game. He’s not going to play this week, so all of his eggs will be in the Houston game, provided he can get on the field. I wonder if the Cowboys would give up on a fourth-round pick from last year despite the apparent chronic injuries. After putting in all the time with Johnson last year, I’d be a little surprised if they would cut him loose now.
  • What to make of Demetress Bell? The Cowboys signed him even though he was in extremely poor condition at the start of camp. They were patient with him, and he finally got on the field last week in Oxnard, Calif., and played against Arizona. When he signed, I viewed it as a move to just help the backup quarterbacks get through some preseason games. But when the Cowboys stuck with him, I wondered if they looked at him as future development guy. It’s hard to find big guys who can move and have some experience. He was bad last year at Philadelphia, but he wasn’t bad in Buffalo.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Goal-line drills often are the closest thing to real football in training camp because of the intensity that is required.

There is no tapping of the offensive players by the defense in this drill.

The Cowboys’ No. 1 defense beat the No. 1 offense in their three plays Tuesday.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joins Galloway and Company live from Oxnard, Calif., to discuss the latest news from Cowboys training camp.

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Phillip Tanner was stopped short by DeMarcus Ware on a run to the strong side, and Ware got a little help from Jason Hatcher. On second down, the defense covered everybody on a Tony Romo pass, forcing the quarterback to scramble into linebacker Sean Lee. On the third, tight end Gavin Escobar was out of bounds on a sprint to the right by Romo.
  • While it was a good day for the No. 1 defense, the No. 2 defense gave up three straight touchdowns. RB Joseph Randle ran it in for the first two scores, and Kyle Orton hit Dante Rosario on a play-action pass across the back of the end zone.
  • The No. 1 offense rebounded in its situation work to close the practice. Needing a first down to kill the clock with a three-point lead, Romo connected with Miles Austin on a third-down rocket screen to end the game.
  • After missing two days with a quadriceps bruise, WR Cole Beasley returned to practice Tuesday and dropped two passes. He was so upset with himself that he spent extra time on the Jugs machine catching passes after practice.
  • Rosario had a solid practice. He lined up more at fullback and was able to make a handful of catches from Orton.
  • WR Anthony Armstrong broke off a route for a back-shoulder throw from Orton, reaching for the pass and getting his body between the ground and the ball for extra security. The play resulted in a first down.
  • At the start of the practice, the defensive coaches said they wanted turnovers. They didn’t get any interceptions, but they did get two fumbles. Safety Matt Johnson forced the ball loose on TE Andre Smith after a catch by the sideline, and safety J.J. Wilcox recovered. Later, safety Will Allen forced a fumble on Escobar.
  • Receiver Terrance Williams has earned praise for his play on offense, but he got more for his work as a gunner on the punt team. Williams split cornerbacks Devin Smith and Micah Pellerin with an inside jab and was able to help force a fair catch.
  • Cornerback Sterling Moore had back-to-back solid reps in one-on-one drills. On the first, he broke up a back-shoulder throw from Romo to Austin, jumping as Austin reached back for the ball. On the second, he came down with an Orton throw after snuffing out Beasley on an out route.
  • Kicker Dan Bailey had his first multiple-miss day of camp. Bailey went 3-of-6 with misses from 44 yards (right), 45 (left) and 47 (right). He closed his team work by drilling a 50-yarder.
Good Thursday morning to you all. Here are some links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins signed two quarterbacks Wednesday -- former West Virginia read-option quarterback Pat White, who's been out of football and suing the NFL for the past couple of years, and perennial backup Rex Grossman. With starting quarterback Robert Griffin III recovering from knee surgery, the Redskins need bodies at the position for the offseason program and likely training camp.

The Washington Post ponders what role White might play with the Redskins. I have to think the point here is that he can run read-option stuff in the preseason while Griffin gets healthy so that the other aspects of that part of the Redskins' offense don't get rusty while they wait for Griffin's return.

Dallas Cowboys

DeMarcus Ware says he has faith that Tony Romo is the quarterback who can take the Cowboys where they need to go, and he believes Romo deserves the contract extension he got last week. Say what you want about the Cowboys, but there hasn't been a whole lot of locker-room discord over the past couple of seasons.

You can expect the Cowboys to look for a running back in the latter rounds of the draft later this month. Also in that notebook, word that they re-signed wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, who was cut last week for cap room prior to the Romo extension.

New York Giants

The Giants apparently love them some former Eagles defensive tackles. A few weeks after signing Cullen Jenkins, they have added Mike Patterson, a former Eagles starter who underwent brain surgery last offseason.

Former Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon signed with Carolina, but the Giants are already at work on a plan to replace him. They're looking at former Patriots receiver (and emergency defensive back) Julian Edeleman. He could also help in the return game.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles had a lot of top draft prospects in for visits Wednesday, and while we don't like to read too much into the visits because every team gets 30 of them and most teams only have seven draft picks (the Eagles have nine), Reuben Frank thinks it's likely that one of the players the Eagles had in Wednesday will turn out to be their pick at No. 4 in the first round of the draft three weeks from tonight.

DeSean Jackson believes he can accomplish great things in the Eagles' offense with Chip Kelly as its new coach.
The NFL draft is exactly four weeks from today. You know what I think about that? I think I'll have some links.

Washington Redskins

Fred Davis is still trying to scare the Redskins into offering him money they don't have, and this time it's with the help of the New York Jets. He's visiting them this week. Again, if I'm the Redskins I dare Davis to trade Robert Griffin III for Mark Sanchez.

Alfred Morris thinks the volume of knowledge he amassed during his rookie season in Washington will help him avoid a sophomore slump in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys

Prior to this week, the only two teams in the NFL who hadn't signed a free agent from someone else's roster were the Cowboys and the Packers. But now it's just the Packers. Dallas cleared enough salary cap room by releasing Anthony Armstrong and restructuring Kyle Orton's contract that they were able to sign deals with linebacker Justin Durant and safety Will Allen. Durant looks like their new starter at strongside linebacker. Allen looks like veteran insurance in case they don't get what they want out of Barry Church or Matt Johnson. Michael Huff, the other safety who visited this week, might have been more of a threat to a starter's job, but he signed with Baltimore instead.

Todd Archer thinks the Cowboys still need to be thinking safety in next month's draft. I agree, since I don't think Church, Johnson or Allen -- let alone all of them -- are sure things. I just think they need to be thinking safety in the second or third rounds, after they've secured a new starting offensive lineman in the first.

New York Giants

Giants GM Jerry Reese went to LSU's pro day, which is interesting because the Giants have shown something of an affinity for LSU guys in recent drafts. Ohm has the rundown on who from that pro day could be of interest to the Giants in the draft.

The Giants announced this week that they would make some alternate-uniform tweaks and wear white pants (instead of gray) for some games this year. Just not when they wear the white jerseys. That'd be too "Clockwork Orange."

Philadelphia Eagles

Geoff Mosher is picking Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner with the No. 4 pick for the Eagles in his latest mock draft. Calls it a "no-brainer," actually. And I think Milliner will be tempting and would be a fine pick. But given the way that mock draft's first three picks unfolded, I have to believe they'd strongly consider Eric Fisher, and maybe even Geno Smith.

Former Oregon Duck (and current Eagle) Dennis Dixon helped recruit former Ravens teammate Cary Williams to Philadelphia by telling him good things about new Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Click here for the complete list of Washington Redskins roster moves.

Most significant move: The release of running back Tim Hightower was obviously a surprise, because he was the starting running back last season and the favorite to be so again if he'd been able to recover from ACL surgery. But he was not able to do so, and so the team made the decision to release him. That leaves Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris as the only running backs (not counting fullback Darrel Young) on the roster. Which one will start Week 1? Your guess is as good as mine. Will each of the three get a turn as the starter at some point this season? Almost certainly. Might the Redskins add another one? Yeah, there was talk early Friday that they were trying to trade wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to the Dolphins for Steve Slaton. Didn't happen, and Armstrong was cut, but it shows they're on the lookout. The Redskins' running back situation remains far from settled, but they do like the three guys they have, as long as Helu and Royster can stay healthy. And I don't think they'd hesitate to start Morris in a game right now.

Onward and upward: Armstrong has some experience and the kind of speed that will make other teams take notice. He was beaten out by Aldrick Robinson and Brandon Banks, and it's not as though the Redskins cut him because they didn't like him. They felt they had too many good options at wide receiver this season. ... Linebacker Bryan Kehl might have impressed some people with his performance in preseason games.

What's next: Well, the Redskins cut all the way to 52 players, which means they have one more spot to fill. Could be they find that veteran running back. Maybe they bring back tight end Chris Cooley at a lower salary if he deosn't find work elsewhere. Maybe they try to find a safety to replace the suspended Tanard Jackson. Not sure what their plan is for that spot, but it shouldn't be long before we find out.

Breakfast links: Busy day under way

August, 31, 2012
Yes, it's roster cut day -- the day on which teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by 9 p.m. ET. It's a day of cuts and trades and lots of activity, and we'll keep you posted on all of it as best we can here on the NFC East blog. Heck, it's already started with a trade in Dallas. See? Links:

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have acquired offensive lineman Ryan Cook from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Cook can play center, which is key. He's played tackle and guard as well (he started at left tackle for the Vikings in 2008), but center is the position at which the Cowboys consider themselves the thinnest. My guess is he's being brought in to be a backup, but you never know. If Bill Callahan saw something he really liked, it's not as though there aren't starting Cowboys linemen who could be replaced if they struggle early. Cook was slated to be a backup in Miami and is scheduled to make $1 million this year, so that's why they traded him.

Fifth-round wide receiver Danny Coale and linebacker Adrian Hamilton were among the Cowboys cuts. When the Cowboys picked Coale, some had hoped he'd work his way into that No. 3 wide receiver mix. But he got hurt, and the other guys played well, and it didn't work out for him.

New York Giants

The Giants think left tackle Will Beatty could be ready to start the season opener Wednesday against the Cowboys. I guess that would be good, but are we sure? Beatty wasn't exactly Jonathan Ogden over there last year to begin with, and he's barely practiced because of a back problem he's had since May. So even if he does play, it's hard to say how good the Giants should feel about his chances to perform the way they need him to and get through the whole game.

The NFL changed its injured reserve rule Thursday, which means teams can now designate one player as a short-term IR guy and bring him back after eight weeks if he's healthy. It seems likely that cornerback Terrell Thomas would be that guy for the Giants as they pare down their roster tonight.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said another 8-8 record would not be good enough for Andy Reid to return as coach in 2013. People are going to hold Lurie to that, though obviously his hope and that of Eagles fans is that they will not have to. Reid has finished better than 8-8 in nine of his 13 seasons as Eagles head coach.

Trent Edwards will learn today whether he's done enough in preseason to beat out Mike Kafka for the lone backup quarterback spot in question. If it's to be based on preseason performance, there's little question he has. But how much of a break do they give Kafka for the injury that kept him from participating in a competition no one even expected to happen?

Washington Redskins

Wide receiver is one of the places at which the Redskins have some tough decisions to make tonight. Guys like Anthony Armstrong, Dezmon Briscoe and Brandon Banks are very much on the bubble.

I do expect the Redskins to keep all four of the running backs who are candidates to start the Sept. 9 season opener in New Orleans because... well, they're all candidates to start the season opener in New Orleans. The Redskins like all four backs, and each comes with question marks, and right now the best plan is to keep all four for depth and see what shakes out.
The Washington Redskins play their final preseason game of 2012 at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While most, if not all, of the Redskins' starters are expected to sit out the game, here's a look at what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: The secondary. It was rough out there in the first two games, and then Tanard Jackson put on a show in the third and made you think maybe they have something at safety. I imagine we'll see some of DeJon Gomes at safety and some of Richard Crawford at cornerback, especially now that he's being given a great role in the wake of the Kevin Barnes trade. Tonight could offer a look at some of the depth at these key positions.

On the other side of the ball: The fight for the final wide receiver spots on the roster gets interesting with final cuts looming Friday. It could be a big night for guys like Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson, Dezmon Briscoe and Anthony Armstrong. Lots of people ask about Banks, and it's hard to see what he could do at this point to get on the roster. But I guess you never know.

If I think of it: The young offensive linemen remain interesting as the Redskins look for some long-term answers along the line. ... Lots of eyes will be on new kicker Billy Cundiff, just signed Tuesday to replace Graham Gano. Based on the reaction I saw, some people liked Gano and some hated him. Both groups should be interested to see how Cundiff fares.

AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Washington Redskins' wide receiver group is the odd group out in the NFC East. The other three teams have elite, first-round, Pro Bowl-caliber talent at the position. The Redskins consistently rank fourth when the division's wide receiver groups are compared against one other, and there's never an argument. But there has been improvement here, and the Redskins' receiver corps has a chance to be better than a lot of people think.

The issue most analysts had with the free-agent signing of Pierre Garcon was the cost. The Redskins are paying Garcon as though he's a No. 1 wide receiver when he has not really shown the ability to be that to this point in his career. But if you take cost out of the equation, Garcon looks like exactly what the Redskins needed -- a big, fast wideout who can catch the ball on a slant route, make a cut and take it all the way to the end zone. Mike Shanahan thinks Garcon will be able to run routes in his offense that none of the receivers the Redskins had last year could run, and that he gives the team the home run threat it's lacked. Plus, he doesn't turn 26 until August and he should be set up to grow and develop along with the team's new 22-year-old quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

Garcon is the headliner, but veteran Santana Moss is down 15 pounds and drawing rave reviews from coaches in the offseason. He knows the offense and, if he's truly responding to the threat the team's free-agent signings posed to his spot, he should be motivated and extremely productive. Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson are recovering from serious injuries but have shown flashes of big-time potential, and the Redskins are eager to see more of it. Add in back-of-the-roster speedsters like Aldrick Robinson, Anthony Armstrong and Brandon Banks, and there's something there with which Shanahan and Griffin just might be able to work. It may not be the most glamorous wide receiver group in the league -- or even in the division. But there's some potential there, and if Griffin is an instant star, at least one or two members of this group will be one along with him.
A good Thursday morning to you all. In honor of Wednesday's failed Vokle experiment, we're not going to try anything new at all today. Regular stuff. Blog posts. Thursday column. And of course, links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Casey Matthews' second year has to be better than his first, if only because he's not going to have to be the Eagles' starting middle linebacker by default and in spite of being unqualified for the job. Now, Matthews can learn, develop and work his way into NFL playing time the way he was always supposed to. He spoke with Les Bowen, who also took a very up-close photo.

Ashley Fox spoke with Michael Vick, who told her he knows this will be "a critical year" for himself and for coach Andy Reid.

Washington Redskins

Stephen Bowen is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, but he plans on being ready to join his Redskins defensive linemates in time for training camp.

Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong are well aware that the Redskins have added a lot of people at wide receiver, but that doesn't stop them from wanting (and working) to return to the larger roles they once occupied in the offense. Remains to be seen how the wide receiver situation shakes out, but either of those guys likely needs someone from the Pierre Garcon/Josh Morgan/Leonard Hankerson group to be injured or ineffective in order to get that opportunity.

Dallas Cowboys

So Jerry Jones answered a question about whether or not the Cowboys' Super Bowl window was closing in the vaguely affirmative, and because it's late May and it's the Cowboys this became a huge thing, and so people had to ask Tony Romo about it and he said not really and so you can expect a lot of people to be talking about this again today. Personally, I think it's all very silly, and that if the defense gets better the window will stay open and if it doesn't it will never open.

Bruce Carter and David Arkin were working with the starters at linebacker and guard, respectively, this week at OTAs. They're trying to get younger guys reps with the starters in the hope that it'll help their development. But while Carter is in a competition with free-agent signee Dan Connor at the inside linebacker spot opposite Sean Lee, it's likely that Connor and Mackenzy Bernadeau get those spots once the season starts.

New York Giants

The message for the Giants as they began their offseason workouts was that, as great as it was to win the Super Bowl in February and get their rings last week, it's time to move on and focus on 2012. As was the case when they reached the playoffs last year, the Giants are likely to benefit from the fact that their coaches and veteran players have been through this before.

Big disappointment for Giants cornerback Brian Witherspoon, who re-injured the ACL that cost him the 2011 season and, thus, would appear to be out for this season as well. Attrition injuries like this, in non-contact drills, are reminders of how fragile this all is for these players, and how close each one of them is to having it taken away.

Breakfast links: Just run, Brandon

November, 11, 2011
Friday links need no introduction.

New York Giants

Johnette Howard writes that Brandon Jacobs can't seem to help himself, and that it's past time for him to stop complaining about his role and the way the team has treated him and just run hard. With Ahmad Bradshaw out, Jacobs is getting the opportunity he says he's wanted, and the best thing he could do for his team and himself, Johnette says, is just stop talking and play.

It appears that Devin Thomas has been demoted from his spot as the Giants' primary kick returner and replaced by running back Da'Rel Scott. Part of the reason it's Scott and not D.J. Ware is that, with Bradshaw out another game, Ware will be needed in the run game more than in the return game.

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins has the tale of Laurent Robinson and his journey from the scrap heap to his now-prominent role in the Cowboys' passing game. Robinson could be catching a lot of passes with Miles Austin and his bum hamstring on the shelf again. After all, he already was.

The Cowboys will go back to Oxnard, Calif., next year for part of their training camp. Due to the lockout this season, they scrapped their California plans and held training camp in San Antonio, Texas. Doesn't sound as though San Antonio is out of the picture completely, though, and you might see a repeat of that old plan where they had camp in two or three different places. I don't think the players love that, but it is what it is.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jason Babin didn't like the way the Bears tried to block him on Monday night. He didn't realize it, he says, until he watched the tape of the game, but he says Bears tight end Kellen Davis delivered an illegal block and that it appeared to be a coached play. And while it's easy to say that sounds like whining because the Eagles lost, Babin's not really like that, and he delivered this opinion in a very matter-of-fact way, by all accounts. I doubt anything comes of it, but it might be worth watching.

Bleeding Green Nation says "Whatever" to the notion that DeSean Jackson is being held in check by defensive schemes designed to take away the Eagles' big-play potential. It points out the drops, which are a problem, and a big sign that something's just off with Jackson as he continues to hold out hope for that big new contract.

Washington Redskins

The nature of the Redskins' offense right now is flux, and to that end rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is on the rise while Anthony Armstrong's once-bright star is on the wane. Rich Campbell details the reasons why in a story that includes the quote, "I don't think I'm in no dadgum dog house," which is my early nominee for quote of the day.

The players on the Redskins' defense are being asked to do a lot while the offense struggles, but Rick Maese writes that they're embracing the challenge.
Yep, just another boring, predictable NFL Sunday. Tom Brady throws four interceptions and blows a three-touchdown lead. The Giants come back and beat the Eagles with big plays by Victor Cruz. The Lions, Bills, Packers and Redskins (pending Monday night's result) are the only undefeated teams in the league. Just like everybody predicted.

It continues to astound me that people go out, work hard and earn money only to turn around and bet it on NFL football games. It should be clear by now that the only thing you can count on are the links.

Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo says he's "good to go" against the Redskins on "Monday Night Football" on ESPN. Romo says he'll be dealing with the pain from his broken ribs for the next month, but that he'll be able to play Monday. Also good news for the Cowboys in there on Felix Jones and Dez Bryant, as it appears they'll play in the big division game against the Redskins as well.

The Cowboys' defense has been better in its first two games than many of us expected it to be right out of the gate under new coordinator Rob Ryan. In this story, I learned that they plan to pressure Rex Grossman Monday, that Ryan calls his outside pass rushers, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, "the lizards" and that Ryan likes to say "hell" a lot.

New York Giants

Steve Politi writes, it was hard to like Victor Cruz's chances against Nnamdi Asomugha on the touchdown that put the Giants in the lead Sunday against the Eagles. Cruz is the unlikely hero who took advantage of a big opportunity Sunday with Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon out, and he's a neat story. Ian O'Connor has more on Cruz here.

Mike Mazzeo writes that Michael Boley made the biggest play of the game for the Giants' defense. In a year that has seen the Giants lose key piece after key piece on defense to injury, Boley has been doing nothing but making big plays. You know that cliche where they say, "Somebody just has to step up?" Well, Boley is that cliche come to life. He's having a great season so far.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jimmy Kempski has a video breakdown that shows the Giants have now beaten the Eagles on the exact same play two years in a row -- the pass to Brandon Jacobs up the sideline. Nice work by Kempski, and as he points out, bad job by the Eagles' defensive coaches not making poor Casey Matthews aware of the fact that the Giants had that play in their bag of tricks.

Andy Reid was terse and grumpy in his postgame news conference, which struck me as a little unfair. I mean, we weren't the ones who missed the tackles on Cruz. Anyway, Bob Ford has some fun with Reid, and thinks the Eagles' head coach has to take some blame for what happened at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

Washington Redskins

Anthony Armstrong is hoping for a big encore to the big game he had for the Redskins last year in Dallas. We haven't heard much so far this year from Armstrong, who seems to be no better than the fourth option in the passing game behind Fred Davis, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, but Grossman completed passes to eight different guys last week, so you really never know.

Deron Snyder expresses a sentiment many people on both sides of Monday night's game are feeling: It's nice that a Cowboys-Redskins game feels like it means something again after what feels like a long time for this historically-bitter rivalry.

Folks, I'm flying Monday morning from Philadelphia to Dallas, so you won't see much of anything from me until maybe this afternoon when I'm settled into my press box seat at Cowboys Stadium. Meantime, scroll back and see what I had on the Giants-Eagles game from Sunday and the Redskins column I posted Sunday morning, if you haven't checked it out already. Check in with you from Big D.

Observation deck: Redskins-Ravens

August, 25, 2011
Observations from the Redskins' 34-31 preseason loss to the Ravens on "Monday Night Football":

Everyone loves a horse race, so it's no surprise so many people who are watching the Washington Redskins' apparent quarterback competition are treating it as one. Rex Grossman bounces a couple of throws, he's in trouble. John Beck hits a deep ball, he's in the lead. Grossman looks sharp in the 2-minute drill, he's not dead yet. Beck throws an interception, he's lost the job! Oh wait! Beck comes back and leads a 95-yard touchdown drive! The job is again his to lose!!!

[+] EnlargeWashington's John Beck
Rafael Suanes/US PRESSWIREJohn Beck rebounded from a second-half interception with a long touchdown drive.
It's just not as cut and dried as that. The key thing to remember about the preseason games is that we never really know what we're looking at. Some teams concoct game plans, some teams don't, and you have no idea, really, who is trying hard and who isn't. So the evaluations have to be about more than performance and results. And for Mike Shanahan and the rest of the Redskins' coaching staff, they are.

Shanahan and the Redskins know exactly what Grossman is. He doesn't have to show them anything. They believe, if they install Grossman as the starter, they know exactly what they'll get. And so far this preseason, nothing he's shown has done anything to sway them from that opinion.

They believe, however, that Beck has the ability to give them more. That he can make plays and move the chains with his feet. That he has a quicker release, and that he anticipates throws better. They think the upside is higher with Beck, and what they wanted to see from him when this preseason began is how he would handle the pressure of being the starter -- or at least the opportunity to finally be a starter in the NFL.

So while, yes, it matters that Beck made a bad throw that was intercepted on his first play of the second half, it almost certainly matters more that he rebounded to lead that long touchdown drive. You're not going to judge a guy on one throw, good or bad. But to watch Beck engineer that drive, make smart decisions quickly, let go of the ball with that kind of speed ... that's the kind of thing that, if the question is whether Beck can handle the pressure of the situation, the answer is affirmative. Shanahan is not likely to announce his decision for another week or so at least, but I believe Beck has been the favorite all along and has done nothing to lose that status.

Some other thoughts from what turned out to be an exhibition loss when Tyrod Taylor and the fired-up Ravens went in for a touchdown with 22 seconds left:

1. Ryan Kerrigan is an impact player. Sure, he's a rookie still learning to play standing up as a linebacker instead of in the three-point lineman stance he used in college, and he still needs to get used to the coverage schemes. But when they send Kerrigan after a quarterback, he can flat-out get there. He picked up his second sack in two preseason games, and it appears as though he and fellow outsider 'backer Brian Orakpo can be a fearsome combination. Overall, the Redskins' first-team defense looked very good, although it could suffer if the knee injury sustained by rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins in the first quarter is a long-term issue. Jenkins has been a star during training camp.

2. Terrence Austin is playing himself into a roster spot. For the second game in a row, Austin was a standout at the receiver position. He caught Beck's touchdown pass and had 71 yards on five catches. He's also served as the punt returner the past couple of weeks with Brandon Banks out (although he got only one chance in this one), and that could help him make the team. If he has a connection with Beck, and if Beck is the starter, it's going to be difficult to cut Austin.

3. Interesting night for DeAngelo Hall. He had the interception return for a touchdown, nicely anticipating the route and sitting on it while Joe Flacco fired it right to him, but he also gave up Lee Evans' touchdown for Baltimore. He had tight coverage on Evans and just didn't see the ball in time to make a play on Flacco's pinpoint throw. In general, the Redskins' secondary has been the weak spot of the defense in this preseason. In fairness, they have been playing without starting safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Josh Wilson -- as well as without inside linebacker London Fletcher, who is not a member of the secondary but is an on-field leader of the defense whose presence and knowledge are missed. It was encouraging to see O.J. Atogwe on the field for the first time this preseason, and Reed Doughty has played well at safety during the injuries to the starters. But once Landry is back there, things will feel much more whole.

4. Santana Moss will be a huge help to whichever guy is the quarterback. Moss is simply a great, professional route-runner. They could use a bigger red zone threat than they have, but Moss is going to be a safety net for Beck and/or Grossman all year as they work on moving the ball down the field. As for that red zone threat ... maybe Leonard Hankerson can develop into it. We got on his case last week for drops, so it should be noted that he made a very nice shoestring catch on the only ball that came his way on this night. And Anthony Armstrong looks like a potential deep threat, as Beck found him for 33 yards on his first throw of the game.

5. Tim Hightower. Not much else to say. He ripped off another big run, didn't fumble the ball and looks like he's moving up fantasy draft boards as the season approaches. Nine carries for 56 yards, no sign of injured Ryan Torain to challenge him and Roy Helu looks like a fun, speedy backup at this point. Hightower is a factor in the passing game as well, as a blocker and a receiver, and if he holds onto the ball, he's going to be an asset.

Once again, no way to know whether the good stuff we've seen from the Redskins will carry into the regular season, and no real reason to think it will. The preseason just doesn't have that kind of predictive value. But even though they lost the game, there were a lot of things about Thursday night to help make the Redskins feel good about themselves, and there is value in that as the season gets ready to start.

On the eve of the Washington Redskins' preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Jones of The Washington Post takes a look at some of the position battles being fought on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is taking the outwardly optimistic approach on these:
"I'm excited because I think we have a lot better competition," the 31-year-old Shanahan says. "Last year, we kind of knew who our guys were a little. We were trying to figure out our team and stuff. The depth wasn't there. We have better depth this year and there's going to be some competition there from the first quarter all the way to the fourth."

Fair enough. The pessimistic side of that coin would be that the competition results from the lack of quality on the roster, rather than a preponderance of depth. But Shanahan's job is to mold, not to mope, so let's take a look at what he's looking at as the preseason gets underway.

Quarterback: Looks as though Rex Grossman will get the start Friday night and John Beck's groin injury will keep him from being a factor in the first preseason game. Kellen Clemens should play some Friday, and surely he'd love to get himself into the competition. Remember, Clemens thought he was going to be the Jets' starter two straight offseasons before being supplanted first by Brett Favre and then by Mark Sanchez. Shanahan and his head-coach father have presented this as a competition between Beck and Grossman, and the sense I got while there was that they really wanted to see if Beck could handle it. But if Beck and his groin are going to linger, and if Grossman doesn't impress, how crazy is it to imagine Clemens getting into the discussion?

Running back: Another injury here, as Ryan Torain is out with a broken hand and Tim Hightower, who's the favorite to win the starter's job, will get the chance to show he can hold onto the ball with his two good ones. Mike Shanahan loves Hightower as a one-cut runner, as a pass-catcher, as a goal-line back and as a pass-blocker. The only hangup is the fumbles, which were a problem in Arizona and showed up early in camp this year. Expect to see rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster a lot, and if Hightower does fumble, there's certainly opportunity there for the youngsters while Torain sits out.

Wide receiver: Who will start opposite Santana Moss? Right now, they're listing Jabar Gaffney as the starter, but it's clear that Anthony Armstrong and Donte' Stallworth have a chance to grab the spot. Rookie Leonard Hankerson is a player they like a lot but consider a project. Fellow rookies Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson are likely to see action, too, and it sounds as if Paul has played well in recent practices. My guess is that Armstrong plays well this preseason and goes into the season as the No. 2 receiver. But that's just a guess, and if he doesn't pay well there are plenty of guys to take the spot from him

Tight end: The Chris Cooley injury would be a bigger worry if they didn't have Fred Davis backing him up, but they are better when they have both, and they won't have Cooley for this game. It'll be interesting to see how much the tight end is used as a pass-catcher in Washington's offense this year. Sure, the receiving corps could use the help, but the offensive line could use some blocking help as well. My guess is Cooley and Davis will do a lot of blocking.

Of course we'll be watching to see how the offensive line plays, because there are question marks there. But there aren't really position battles there. It looks as though the starting five is set and just needs time to jell together. How much time it takes -- and whether it happens at all this year or ever will -- is not a question that can be answered in one or even four preseason games. These other questions, though, will start to find their answers Friday night.

Camp Confidential: Redskins

August, 6, 2011
ASHBURN, Va. -- This will be Brian Orakpo's third year in the NFL, but the Washington Redskins linebacker finds himself in an unusual position. There are only 16 players in camp who have been with the Redskins longer than Orakpo has. Only five of those 16 are starters and only three play defense. This puts Orakpo, who turned 25 last week, in the position of having to help a lot of new guys learn the way things work around Redskins Park.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Evan VucciEntering just his third season in the league, Brian Orakpo is already one of the longest-tenured players on the Redskins' defense.
"It's very odd, man," Orakpo said. "I'm only going into my third year and already guys are looking at me as being a veteran on the team. So it's a different era, where we're at right now, but I'm excited for the opportunity."

Last year's plan didn't work. Donovan McNabb flopped as the quarterback. The 4-3 defensive personnel didn't fit into new coach Mike Shanahan's 3-4. And Shanahan decided, one year later, that the best thing would be to bring in new players: Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson, Chris Chester, Tim Hightower and a slew of rookie receivers. A couple of quarterbacks, John Beck and Rex Grossman, who were on the team last year now find themselves competing to be the starter at the most important position.

"The plan, at least the plan in free agency, was to get people who are solid football players but solid people as well, and who are young," Shanahan said. "The second year, you always have a good feel for what type of people fit into your scheme and what type of people you want to have on your football team. If the nucleus of your football team is guys with character who can play, you've got a good chance."

Most of the new additions are in their mid- to late-20s -- players who are already established in the league yet young enough that they can continue to grow as the team does over the next several years. They're men and players, Shanahan says, that he specifically targeted for that reason and for those he listed above. And the feeling around training camp is that this is a group of people looking to build something together.

"Of course, right now we're looking to win, but you want to build something with longevity," said safety O.J. Atogwe, a graybeard among the new additions at the ripe old age of 30. "We want to have something that's sustainable, and I believe that's what Coach Shanahan is doing, getting good character guys in here, younger guys. You're building the nucleus of a team that can be a contender for years and years to come."


1. Who's the quarterback? Shanahan surprised a lot of people by not taking a quarterback in the draft. He surprised a lot more people shortly thereafter, when he declared that he believed Beck, who was already on the team, could be the starter. He has since moved to include Grossman as a candidate for that spot, but neither has inspired much confidence outside of the Redskins' offices.

Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, insist that they loved Beck when he was coming out of college and was picked 40th in the 2007 draft. They believe he continues to show the same qualities they liked when they watched him then -- athleticism, mobility, quick release, natural leadership ability -- and that the only reason he hasn't had NFL success is because he hasn't had NFL opportunity. They insist they like Grossman, who operated their offense last year at least as well as, if not better than, McNabb did. The sense I got from hanging around the Redskins for a few days is that the coaches are more concerned about the pieces around the quarterback -- the line, the receivers, the backs -- than they are about the quarterback position itself. Speaking of which ...

[+] EnlargeSantana Moss
AP Photo/Evan VucciSantana Moss returns, but the receiver depth chart behind him is a bit muddled.
2. To whom will that quarterback throw? Santana Moss is back, and the team added veteran wideouts to the mix in Jabar Gaffney amd Donte' Stallworth. But in order to be successful, the Redskins' offense must get a jolt from one or more of the inexperienced receivers on the roster. Anthony Armstrong showed something late last year, and he'll be pushed by rookies Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, as well as by holdover Malcolm Kelly, a 2008 second-rounder. Running back Hightower can be a weapon in the passing game, and the best receivers on the roster outside of Moss may be tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. But because of concerns about the offensive line and whether it can come together in short order, those guys may end up doing a lot of blocking.

3. Do they have the defense down yet? Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last year that it would take two years for the 3-4 install to work because it takes that long for players to re-train their minds and bodies around it. Adding in players better suited to the 3-4 than the people they had here last year should help, but new players such as Cofield, Bowen and rookie Ryan Kerrigan are experiencing the defense for the first time. The Redskins have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball and could be good there in short order. But they're still in a learning process, and how good they are on defense this year will depend on the speed with which they learn it.


The story of last year's Redskins training camp was disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and his distaste for what he believed would be his assignment in the new 3-4 defense. Haynesworth's refusal to be open to the switch led to a drawn-out confrontation between him and Mike Shanahan, the conditioning-test mess and a feud that lasted all the way through the season. Trading Haynesworth to New England (and McNabb to Minnesota) was one of the first things the Redskins did when the lockout ended, and the main reason they did it was because they were determined not to let last year's problems infect this year's training camp. It hasn't. Without naming names, London Fletcher laughed when I told him Cofield, who played in a 4-3 in New York, had told me he was excited to make the switch to a 3-4 nose tackle.

"That's good, to hear that he's excited about it," Fletcher said, chuckling. "I want a nose that's excited about playing that position."


Fletcher, Beck and Lorenzo Alexander organized some of the most frequent and best-attended player workouts of any team during the lockout. Fletcher said the three of them divvied up administrative responsibilities such as calling guys to make sure they were coming and reaching out to local schools to see about the use of fields. Fletcher said there was one time he flew in the day before one of the workouts and went over on a whim to check out the high school field on which they were scheduled to practice only to find it unacceptable and have to make a last-minute change.

"We had some great turnout, got some great work in," Fletcher said. "Obviously it's not what we're getting here now, but it was important for us. What upsets me a little bit is when we have something that we did in our player-only camps, and we don't cover it correctly out here. I'll see somebody do something wrong and I want to yell out, 'Man, we worked on that!'"

Maybe, but the coaching staff appreciates that the players took the time to work out together while they weren't permitted to work out with coaches at the team facility. Kyle Shanahan said he notices it with those young wide receivers.

"We weren't able to work with them, so that was one of the positions I was worried the most with," he said. "And I could tell that Rex and John had gotten with these guys and given them some stuff, and I could tell these guys had put in their work before they got here, so we weren't just speaking Chinese to them."


  • Alexander is an extremely valuable guy to the Redskins' defense. He has lined up at all four linebacker spots, could start the season on the outside if first-round pick Kerrigan isn't ready and has been lining up inside next to Fletcher, as well. Even with the return of Rocky McIntosh, expect Alexander to find his way onto the field a lot.
  • Tim Hightower isn't here just for depth. I believe, after talking to Mike Shanahan, that Hightower is the clear front-runner for the starting running back job as long as his fumble problems don't follow him to Washington from Arizona.
  • Ryan Torain, at least before he hurt himself, seemed to be working on his role in pass protection, which was something he didn't do much of last year. He'll have to if he wants to keep up with Hightower, for whom that's a strength.
  • Second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins has been one of the eye-openers in camp and should fit nicely into the defensive line rotation. "He's learning so fast," offensive tackle Trent Williams told me, "it's almost scary."
  • Beck may look good to the coaches who loved his college tape, but if you were out there watching the first week of practice, you saw a lot of receivers reaching behind themselves to catch his passes and a lot of wobble on the deep downfield throws. He does look good when he scrambles and runs, but as a passer, he looks as if he needs more camp.
  • Trent Williams looks slimmed down from last year and has looked good in his win-some, lose-some battles with Orakpo in early drills.

Redskins Monday camp notes

August, 1, 2011
ASHBURN, Va. -- I like talking to Brian Orakpo because he's a friendly, insightful guy and because he's got this awesome deep voice that matches his physically intimidating presence. I am not alone.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireRyan Kerrigan, a college defensive end, will be switching to outside linebacker for the Redskins.
"I can certainly see where you're coming from," Redskins rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan told me after morning practice when I ran that observation past him. "He's got the traps that are almost up to his ears, and his voice certainly matches his physique. He's certainly an imposing guy and a good guy to have on our side."

Especially good for Kerrigan, the first-round pick who played 4-3 defensive end at Purdue but will stand up and play 3-4 outside linebacker in Washington. Orakpo made a similar transition last season when the Skins switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 (he'd been a 4-3 strongside linebacker in 2009 who rushed from a three-point stance on passing downs), but he told me Kerrigan's will be tougher.

"You just kind of practice your technique differently as far as the balls of your feet, staying low, different things that you pick up," Orakpo said. "The transition wasn't that difficult for me, but Kerrigan, he was strictly defensive end, so it's going to take a while to kind of get used to it."

Orakpo said the biggest difference for him was learning to generate explosiveness from just his feet and legs, as opposed to his hips and his hands. Kerrigan seems to feel the biggest difference is in perception and point of view.

"It's just seeing the field from a whole new perspective," Kerrigan said. "When you're a DE in a 4-3 scheme, you kind of have tunnel vision because you can kind of only see what's ahead of you when you’re in a three-point stance, but when you're in a two-point stance you're seeing the whole field and seeing everything from a whole different angle, and I think that's the biggest adjustment."

This twosome will be spending a lot of time together here, even though a bruised knee has been keeping Kerrigan out of practice for the past few days. He's planning to pick Orakpo's brain, and Orakpo doesn't mind. He's entering his third year in the league, but roster turnover here has thrust him into a surprising role.

"Very odd, man," he said. "I'm only going into my third year and already guys are looking at me as being the veteran on the team. So it's a different era, where we're at right now, but I'm excited for the opportunity."

*You wanted observations, I have a few: Trent Williams looks much less fat than I remember him looking when I was here last year, and Orakpo said he's noticed the difference in Williams' performance at the point of attack... John Beck was intercepted by DeAngelo Hall on consecutive pass attempts at one point during 11-on-11 drills, which wasn't exactly awesome. But he threw some nice deep balls, including one beauty that Anthony Armstrong dropped... Beck was the quarterback who ran the first-team offense... If there's a receiver about whom people are talking, it's Leonard Hankerson, though it's obviously quite early. He seems energetic and involved... Santana Moss loves him some Mike Shahanan. Said during the lockout and his very brief free agency that he "stayed away from anything that had to do with not being here. The coaching staff we brought in here last year, what they showed me gave me the confidence that, if we put the right pieces in the right places, we can do great things." But when asked about Beck, Moss shrugged, said he'd played with 10 different quarterbacks in 11 years and doesn't pay much attention to it. So there's that.

*Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network tweeted that recently released former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu and recently released former Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden will visit the Redskins this week. I wonder now if Hayden's visit will still happen, though, since Phillip Buchanon tweeted that he was coming back to the Redskins and that, along with the recently signed Josh Wilson, should provide the depth at the cornerback spot even with Carlos Rogers leaving. Tatupu could play inside linebacker next to London Fletcher, but Scouts Inc's Matt Williamson told me recently he didn't think Tatupu would fit in Washington since he's not the kind of big, physical "take-on" linebacker they need in that spot. So we'll see. Everybody's been asking for Tatupu news, so now you have some.

*Kicker news!! The Redskins have signed kicker Shayne Graham to compete with Graham Gano and to confuse everybody when Shanahan shouts "Graham!" in an effort to get one of them to pay attention.

"We'll have competition there as well as at all the positions," Shanahan said. "You look at Graham's percentages last year, and he knows he's going to have some competition and that if he doesn't perform, somebody's going to take his spot."

He was talking about Gano there, FYI.



Sunday, 1/25