NFC East: bacarri rambo
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.
#redskinsmailbag How do you feel special teams and the secondary has improved this off season?— Aeh Vee (@AehVee) June 22, 2014
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.
1. David Amerson looks bigger and, indeed, he said he's added about six or seven pounds of muscle. Amerson does appear to have more toned arms. That will help when he plays press coverage and in run support. I'll have more on Amerson later this summer, but know this: He's had a good spring. Saw him stick with Pierre Garcon in a couple one-on-one occasions. Also, more importantly, saw him use his eyes better and more consistently. It was an issue last year.
3. Saw this for the first time: a receiver doing a spin move at the line to get away from press coverage. Garcon tried that against Amerson, but it didn't work. Amerson stayed patient and, partly because he didn't try to jam Garcon, was not fooled by the move.
4. Garcon dunked a ball after a catch in the end zone. The Redskins had college officials at practice and one immediately threw a flag. Players can no longer dunk over the goal posts.
5. The offensive players were convinced Amerson should have been called for holding on a back-shoulder attempt to tight end Jordan Reed in the end zone. I was just finishing up an interview with Amerson after practice when Reed walked past with a smile and asked, "Did he tell you he held me?"
6. Rookie receiver Ryan Grant had a few nice grabs Tuesday, mostly on underneath routes against zone coverage. He's good at driving the defender off and then cutting. Did it a couple times Tuesday. I don't know when he'll be able to really help because he has to get stronger and, ultimately, prove he can beat press coverage.
7. One coach I will enjoy listening and paying attention to this summer: outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. Yes, I know, I've mentioned him a few times, but after watching him work with the players I'm even more convinced of his impact. Just a detailed coach. I'll have more on that later this week. But he is good and isn't afraid to chastise anyone. Heard him ping rookie Trent Murphy during a drill Tuesday morning.
8. Murphy was juked out by Reed on one route. He can ask other veteran linebackers how that feels because that's what happened last year. Once more, Reed was among the last off the field after working more on his game. Nothing has changed since last year in that regard.
9. Reed also had a nice block on Murphy, getting his hands into the rookie's chest and pushing him to the ground.
10. With linebacker Brian Orakpo out (sickness), this was a good chance for Murphy to work against veterans. He also went against left tackle Trent Williams a few times. Murphy's spin move worked well against Moses, but Williams was able to stop it on the one time I saw it tried. The coaches like what they've seen from Murphy overall, especially off the field in terms of work ethic.
11. Rookie running back Lache Seastrunk, who lost the ball on a handoff in practice, stayed afterward to work on handoffs with fullback Darrel Young playing the part of the quarterback.
12. Kedric Golston worked at nose tackle with the first defensive line. He's done that in previous workouts this spring with Barry Cofield sidelined. And if he shows it's a spot he can help at during the summer, then it'll be tough to cut him. Golston adds experience and toughness up front, two qualities that should be welcomed. Add a little versatility and it makes him even more valuable, and it also makes it tough for Chris Neild to make the roster.
13. The quarterbacks worked on slant passes during drills with receivers. The quarterbacks dropped back, looked down the middle and then turned toward the receiver running the slant. It's a little thing, but I point it out for this reason: Robert Griffin III's last interception in 2013 came on a slant route. He eyed the receiver the whole way, who then got a good break to make the pick. Sometimes you have to eye the receiver off the line because the pass is coming right away. But in this case it led to the pick.
14. Wasn't able to spend a lot of time watching rookie right tackle Morgan Moses, but did see him get beat by second-year Brandon Jenkins to the outside on one occasion. Moses was too upright and a bit slow with his feet.
15. Jenkins failed to use the proper technique on an inside run, staying too wide and creating a gap inside. The coaches, um, reminded him of the mistake.
16. Said it last week and will continue to point out how much more energy there is during these practices. Some of that could just be because change brings a new energy. But some of it is the style of coaches they now have on staff. Raheem Morris was always vocal under Mike Shanahan, so his ribbing of players and coaches is nothing new. But things were just more lively Tuesday, with trash talking and banter.
17. The field goal kickers attempted three kicks apiece (from 39, 44 and 50 yards) at the narrow goal posts (about half the width of regular ones). Rookie Zach Hocker made all three attempts -- the ball jumped off his foot on the 50-yarder. Kai Forbath missed two of three but on regular goal posts he would have made each attempt.
18. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a nice bullet to receiver Aldrick Robinson; the pass arrived just before safety Bacarri Rambo for a touchdown.
And then the Redskins.
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.
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."
Sixty Redskins received bonuses, with 10 topping $100,000 in extra pay, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The bonuses are given to players whose performance time tops their salary level. Tackle Tyler Polumbus topped the list with a $190,601 bonus. The bonuses will be paid on April 1, 2016. Quarterback Robert Griffin III received a $27,047 bonus.
Here are the top 10 Redskins who earned bonuses:
Tackle Tyler Polumbus $190,601
Cornerback David Amerson $173,375
Running back Alfred Morris $167,854
Safety Bacarri Rambo $162,807
Tight end Logan Paulsen $142,295
Receiver Aldrick Robinson $134,758
Linebacker Perry Riley $129,997
Running back Roy Helu $125,260
Tight end Jordan Reed $108,461
Tight end Niles Paul $103,475
Here's the full list of players and their bonuses.
On the roster: Brandon Meriweather, Jose Gumbs, Trent Robinson, Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas.
Added in free agency: None.
Left in free agency: The Redskins haven't lost any safeties in free agency.
Still unsigned: Reed Doughty. The Redskins backup strong safety, who is always pressed into a starting role, might return. But there's definite division over whether or not that should be the case. The real problem has never been Doughty, but the organization's inability to find a full-time starter ahead of him.
Still on the market: Thomas DeCoud, Chris Clemons, Mike Adams. Really, the list is not long and not impressive. Atlanta cut DeCoud after a poor season; he's best suited most likely near the line of scrimmage. With Meriweather back that's not necessarily what the Redskins need. Clemons has not drawn a lot of interest on the market. The Dolphins opted for Louis Delmas, who barely practiced last season. Adams wasn't anything special for the Broncos, but can play in the box, too. They signed T.J. Ward, but he's more of a strong safety whereas Adams is a free safety. The Redskins clearly did not view the other safeties as better than Meriweather. But they failed in their quest to land Mike Mitchell, who ended up with Pittsburgh. I don't know how close the money was, but it's clear they're not as aggressive as they once were and, as one agent said, general manager Bruce Allen likes to "slow play" this process.
What it means thus far: It's not that the Redskins didn't view safety as a problem, but perhaps not to the extent that others did. By that, I mean almost everyone else. It's also true you can't solve every issue in one offseason. But they signed Meriweather to a one-year deal and it's hard to imagine Clark getting anything other than a one- or two-year deal. So that means Washington will be back in this spot relatively soon. However, it also gives them another year to see if one of the young players can develop -- or to draft someone in the second or third round and groom him for 2015. Perhaps one from among the group of four young safeties can develop in another year or so. Thomas must overcome a tricky Lisfranc injury; not impossible, but tough and it's not as if he was on the cusp of starting before getting hurt. In talking to several who scouted Rambo at Georgia, the problems he showed last year were the same he showed in college that caused NFL teams pause. Not a good sign. I can't imagine, though, that something else won't be done at this position.
Clark was a free safety in Pittsburgh, but played both safety positions in Washington. The Redskins run the same scheme as Pittsburgh, so there wouldn’t be a big transition. Clark has missed only four games in the past six years.
Washington missed out on safety Mike Mitchell, who opted to sign with Pittsburgh -- to replace Clark. The Redskins were not strong bidders for Jairus Byrd, who signed with New Orleans. The question will be: What does Clark, at 35, have left? He obviously would be used to mentor and help groom the young safeties such as Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo and even Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs.
The Redskins could always opt to also re-sign safety Brandon Meriweather to a small deal as well. If they re-sign Reed Doughty, it would be as a backup and special teamer. His return is not a lock, though some in the building would like to see him return.
Here are four safeties to watch:
Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois): He’s only 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, which is why he’ll still be around in the second round. ESPN's Mel Kiper wrote of Ward that he “isn’t a big player but is a very good one and looks as if he can start early. Likely a second-rounder.” He intercepted seven passes this past season. Ward played well at the Senior Bowl so another good showing at the combine obviously will help him. Ward plays aggressively and showed good coverage skills; he runs through the ball carrier when he tackles. Ward had to cover man (though he did not face great competition in the Mid-American Conference) and lined up at both safety spots. “I think he fits today’s NFL which is coverage ability,” Kiper said, “and the fact he’s around the action so much and makes so many impact plays.”
Antone Exum (Virginia Tech): He’ll be one to watch for any team seeking a safety in the middle rounds. Exum played both corner and safety at Virginia Tech so there’s some doubt over what he’ll play in the NFL. He missed most of last season because of a torn ACL. But he has good size (6-foot-1, 224 pounds) and could be a presence as a safety. Kiper rates him as the sixth best safety.
Dion Bailey (USC): He played both strongside linebacker and safety in college, but at 6-foot and 200 pounds, his NFL future is at the latter (it’s also where he played this past season). Kiper considers him the fifth best safety in the draft. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in coverage drills at the combine. Another player who should be available in the middle rounds.
Ahmad Dixon (Baylor): Kiper rated him as the eighth best safety. Dixon is projected by most as a fourth-round pick at best. Often played in the box at Baylor and played physical in this area. Dixon got in trouble for some hits and will need to fix this area to avoid fines (and penalties) in the NFL. After playing mostly zone (a lot of quarters coverage) in college, he has to show he can cover man and also move from free to strong. The Redskins like their safeties to play both spots.
Shanahan’s status: As Monday began, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan remained employed. He looked exhausted or perhaps resigned to his fate Sunday night when he left FedEx Field nearly 90 minutes after an embarrassing 45-10 loss to the Chiefs. There have been too many recent stories detailing relationships -- Shanahan and Robert Griffin III; Shanahan and Griffin/Dan Snyder and Kyle Shanahan and Griffin -- and too many losses on the field to think this situation can be salvaged. Four years into the regime, the roster still needs a lot of work. The salary-cap penalty didn’t help, but free agency has been mixed for Redskins anyway, so to think it would have solved everything is incorrect. There are reasons to change regimes other than failed relationships. Aside from Griffin, the team leaders have publicly endorsed Shanahan’s return, and privately, players support him as well. But with a 24-37 record, they haven’t backed their support up with the sort of success the organization wanted.
Special-teams mishaps: Niles Paul was as upset as anyone after Sunday’s game because of the special teams’ performance. He blamed it in part on players’ mindsets, saying that some guys project themselves as future starters, so they don’t prepare right for special teams. The thing is, on punt and kickoff coverage, there aren’t a lot of young players who are even guaranteed of a roster spot next season, let alone a starting job. On kick return Sunday, there were four players who are in their first or second years -- Bacarri Rambo, Jose Gumbs, Josh Bellamy and Trenton Robinson. Rambo already is starting (he was knocked for his special-teams play earlier this season). On punt coverage, 10 of the 11 players have been in the NFL for at least three years. The exception: Robinson. No, it’s not about young guys who don’t get it. Rather, it’s about veterans who don’t do it well. This unit was put together poorly.
Milestone marker: In a bad season, two Redskins offensive players have been consistent producers -- receiver Pierre Garcon and running back Alfred Morris. Both surpassed the 1,000-yard mark Sunday; Morris has now rushed for 1,027 yards, while Garcon has a career-best 1,017 yards receiving. Morris’ overall yardage total won’t match his 2012 number of 1,613 yards, but that’s not his fault. Morris is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has run the ball only 37 times combined in the past three games, two of which were blowouts. He’s also averaged 3.7 yards or fewer in those games as teams focused hard on stopping the Redskins' run game. Still, Morris has had a strong year running the ball in an offense with so much inconsistency. Garcon has posted big numbers, though he doesn’t have many big plays and has caught just three touchdown passes among his 89 catches. His longest catch is 44 yards, a function of a passing game that is either inaccurate downfield or doesn't get enough time to throw certain passes. Garcon is averaging 11.4 yards per catch, his lowest figure in his five seasons as a full-time starter. But he’s done a good job being able to catch and run, especially on screens, and is the lone receiver who worries a defense.
Thus far, when it comes to the 2013 draft, the Redskins have found one player capable of being outstanding (Jordan Reed) and another who has contributed all season (David Amerson). After that, there are a lot of question marks (as there should be after less than a full season) and potential role players. If you can get two quality starters and a couple key contributors from a seven-player draft, then you’ve done rather well. This class has a ways to go.
Strong safety Phillip Thomas (fourth round): On injured reserve. Impossible to say what he might have done; we didn’t see enough, nor did he get a chance to really work on his game once the preseason started because of his injury. I know the coaches liked his progress this summer. It’s a start.
Running back Chris Thompson (fifth round): Also on injured reserve. Made no impact when healthy. In the preseason he looked fast, but that wasn’t the case in the regular season as he misjudged the speed of those trying to tackle him on returns. Because of his size and past injuries, durability always will be an issue. That will limit his role even if he does come through. He has the speed (and quick acceleration) you want, but needs plenty of work. Speed alone won’t cut it.
Linebacker Brandon Jenkins (fifth round): I don’t buy the idea that he would have been a first-round pick had he stayed healthy. He looked like a raw pass-rusher this summer, albeit one who was worth developing. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities, which is understandable given who’s ahead of him at linebacker. For now he looks like a role player who, because of his size and ability to run, needs to develop on special teams as well. But I’m intrigued to see how he develops. He showed flashes last summer, but a lot of guys do. Year 2 will tell a lot.
Safety Bacarri Rambo (sixth round): Opened as the starter, but more so because of who the Redskins didn’t have than for his own performance. He tackled poorly, wasn’t a good special teamer and deserved to be pulled. He had the reputation as a ballhawk in college, yet he doesn’t make plays (didn’t see it in practice or games). I love how he’s responded -- he’s tackled much better since his return. The next four games will help him. Regardless, safety will remain an offseason priority. They need a quality starter at this position. If Rambo can develop into a quality backup and special-teamer, then he’s a good sixth-round pick.
Running back Jawan Jamison (seventh round): Still on the practice squad. Wasn’t wowed by him this summer, though there were things to like (ability to make defenders miss with a little second-level wiggle).
It’s a play Rambo said taught him a lesson, one that he applied Sunday at Denver. Rambo recorded 12 tackles and, just as important, only missed one. A big reason for Rambo’s improved play was a simple lesson: read your keys and get to your gap. If the receiver comes to block him from the side, just take him on as you maintain your gap. And if the receiver cracks him, then it’s up to the corner to make the play.
By doing so, Rambo played more decisive than at any point this season, including the preseason. Had he played this way in the first two games, he likely would not have lost his starting job. Instead, he spent three games inactive until Reed Doughty's injury and Brandon Meriweather's suspension created an opening.
Rambo did not start, but entered when Jose Gumbs hurt his ankle.
"You can see he got his confidence back," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Rambo.
During his benching, Rambo said he didn’t watch more film. But he studied it better. He also paid more attention to tip sheets provided to him by secondary coach Raheem Morris, a basic scouting report.
The result: Rambo played with more urgency.
"I felt more prepared," he said. "I felt my keys led me to the ball. If I have a tight end, I watch the tight end. He blocks, and I come down and try to help in run support."
What this means for him going forward remains uncertain. But Rambo at least showed Sunday that he could help. It’s a start.
"It made me look at myself a lot different," Rambo said. "I hit adversity and I had to work my way back on the field and show the coaches I can be that guy ... I was ready. I believed in myself, I felt prepared and I went out there and tried to do the best I could do."
The Redskins could have opted for E.J. Biggers to start at free safety, in essence giving the Redskins four cornerbacks on the field. But that's not the best alternative either, though in passing situations his speed would help.
Rambo, a rookie sixth-round pick, started the first two games of the season, but was benched in part because of his tackling, then was inactive the past three games because of his inability to stand out on special teams. One thing he did well during training camp and when he started is not get beat deep. That will be an important factor Sunday.
Gumbs, a first-year player, has played nine career snaps, but has shown the ability to hit. However, this game will also be as much about discipline and making sure to play the right coverages.
The Redskins will start Jarvis Jenkins at left end, moving Kedric Golston into a reserve role. Jenkins played the past two weeks as a backup following his four-game drug suspension. His ability to collapse the pocket will be pivotal.
Meanwhile, tight end Fred Davis is a healthy inactive for a second consecutive game. The Redskins keep Niles Paul active for his special teams play. Their other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, guard Josh LeRibeus, running back Chris Thompson, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and nose tackle Chris Neild.
Rambo said he doesn’t understand why he’s not playing.
“No I don’t,” Rambo said. “I have no idea.”
It’s actually not that difficult: Rambo missed open-field tackles and the Redskins also wanted to go to another strategy, using veteran Reed Doughty as the strong safety and Brandon Meriweather as the free safety. Or they’d use Meriweather and three corners (sometimes with a fourth as the second safety). And because Rambo did not perform to expectations on special teams, the Redskins looked elsewhere there, too. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan made it clear at the time that he wanted to see how Rambo fared on special teams; coaches love when young players perform well on these units, giving them a sense that perhaps they’re ready for more.
This week, Rambo might get more but that’s still debatable. With Meriweather out and Doughty likely questionable with his concussion, the Redskins need help at safety. There’s a good chance that E.J. Biggers will play a big role here, especially against a pass-happy team such as Denver. It’s hard to imagine the Redskins would want Rambo in a single-high safety look against a veteran quarterback such as Peyton Manning.
“I’m just trying to get on special teams now,” Rambo said. “That’s the way I feel I can help the team. I’m just trying to do what it takes to get on special teams and the defense will come along.”
He said, despite not playing, he’s made strides.
“I’m learning the defensive scheme a lot better so making things a lot slower, learning how to fill in run gaps and just play coverages to defend certain routes,” he said.
The Redskins selected Rambo in the sixth round out of Georgia, where he started in the last 36 games in which he played. He also appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman. He had issues with marijuana in college, but he did not fall this far because of that: plenty of players get picked in the early rounds with the same problems. So it was going to be a difficult adjustment -- Rambo opened as a starter as much for what the Redskins lacked than for what he showed.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy not playing.
“It’s been very difficult, just adversity,” Rambo said. “I’m just waiting for my opportunity like Meriweather told me, ‘Just be patient and be humble.’ It’s been very disappointing, mostly disappointed in myself most of all because I didn’t perform well enough to keep my starting position so I’m just working hard and doing whatever it takes to get back on the field.
“I’ve never been that guy to … lose my position. It’s something new I have to adjust to.”
When asked if he knew what he had to work on to get back on the field, Rambo said, “I haven’t really spoke about it.” But he also said, when asked if it was tough that he didn’t know exactly what was up, “I just go talk to the coaches and find out and I just try to get better during practice.”
There is no guarantee he’ll play Sunday, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he’s seen improvements.
“He’s done a lot better, he understands it a little bit more,” Haslett said. “We’ll play it out this week and go with our gut feeling with who gives us the best chance.”
*The Redskins’ safety situation goes back to their inability to develop a player at that position or find a solution via free agency. They signed an aging O.J. Atogwe right before the lockout. Some executives and scouts I had spoken with said Atogwe was done -- and had been for a year. He turned out to be slow and ineffective. And done. They followed it up a year later by signing a two-time drug offender in Tanard Jackson who was then ... suspended indefinitely (and remains out) for drugs. They signed a player in Meriweather with a history of undisciplined play. Yes, at times he has helped them and when he’s going good the defense is better, but they’re in a bind now because of ... undisciplined play. They signed another aging vet in Madieu Williams, who was only supposed to be a backup but was forced into starting. And looked like an aging vet.
*The only steady player at safety has been veteran Reed Doughty, who was here before this regime. Doughty gets a terrible rap by the fans, but he’s the lone player they can count on -- no off-field worries; no undisciplined play, etc. He’s best as a backup, but he’s a quality one and the Redskins are fortunate he’s still around. He does his job and the coaches know exactly what they’ll give them; they can work with that.
*Yes, they allowed LaRon Landry to leave. Given his two-year run of Achilles' issues, that was a 50-50 call and Landry wasn't all that thrilled with the Redskins' training staff, so he was looking to get out. Even coaches here who liked him were quick to bring up his health long before he left. Landry played every game last season but has missed four because of a high-ankle sprain this year with the Indianapolis Colts.
*Drafting and developing has been a problem too. The Redskins haven’t selected a safety above the fourth round, but they’ve had misfortune (2012 seventh-rounder Jordan Bernstine with terrible ligament tears that ended his time here; 2013 fourth-rounder Phillip Thomas with a Lisfranc injury) and some who didn’t develop (2011 fifth-rounder DeJon Gomes). They also have rookie Bacarri Rambo, a sixth-round pick who went from starter the first two games to inactive the past three.
*Being inactive is a reflection on Rambo’s special-teams performance. But if you lose your starting job, one way to get it back is to become a force on special teams. Defensive coaches love guys like that; also says something about how you respond. If and when Rambo gets back on the field he'll have a lot to prove. He was not ready to start initially (sixth-round picks rarely are) and his inclusion in the lineup always was as much about what they didn't have as what he could do.
*My preseason prediction of who would start at safety? Meriweather and Doughty. Why? Because it’s very, very tough for a rookie low-round pick to become an instant starter with how much they had to adjust to from college and learn. Maybe Thomas and Rambo become the starters in future seasons, but it’s way too early to believe that definitely will happen.
*What could save them, or at least help them, is the versatility of their corners. That’s something they talked about after the draft, following their selection of corner David Amerson. For now, he’s not the versatile one. But they can use E.J. Biggers in a safety role and they have used Josh Wilson in a variety of roles as well as DeAngelo Hall (more so in the past). You need to be a smart player to handle such a role. If they’re saved Sunday, this versatility will be part of the reason. It allows them to do more with their coverages, which has helped a great deal in recent weeks, until the second half Sunday. It hasn’t always worked, but the real issue in the opener versus Philadelphia, when Biggers started at safety, was having to be in a nickel front all game.
*I really don’t know what they’ll do in Meriweather’s place Sunday, though I’d imagine Biggers will play a key role. Can they really trust Jose Gumbs (nine career defensive snaps) or Trenton Robinson (zero career defensive snaps)? Against Peyton Manning? Re-sign Jordan Pugh? The pass rush will need to be outstanding Sunday.
It’s quite another when they cost Meriweather games, particularly at a time when the Redskins are trying to build any sort of momentum and face arguably the NFL’s best quarterback Sunday and another top QB the following Sunday.
The NFL is considering a one- or two-game suspension for Meriweather, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
It leaves the Redskins in a major bind because Meriweather plays a position where they have no depth -- and they don’t know yet whether Reed Doughty will be able to start Sunday because of a concussion. There’s a reason the Redskins have used E.J. Biggers and Josh Wilson more at safety in recent weeks than any of the other backups. Bacarri Rambo? He hasn’t shown any reason to believe he’ll do a better job at safety than Biggers. He responded to being benched by not improving on special teams and eventually being inactive.
With Meriweather in the lineup, the Redskins have an exuberant player capable of making solid tackles, when he's not leading with his helmet. They can run blitzes like they did Sunday where David Amerson is sent from the numbers, knowing Meriweather can rotate over in time to defend even a speedy receiver. It’s a little wrinkle that helps the defense.
So he obviously has merit. But that obscures the larger point about Meriweather. Is he capable of change? Yes, it’s tough for a defensive back in the modern NFL to sometimes know how to hit a receiver. He’s not a big guy at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, so it’s not as if he can just form tackle everyone to the ground. It’s a romantic notion, but not always realistic.
Meriweather grew up watching a different game that safeties could play. You want to call him a headhunter? Go ahead. The NFL agrees with you, if the numerous fines and likely suspension mean anything.
“I think they’re trying to be safe, and I think the only way to be safe is to do what they’re doing,” Meriweather said. “But at the same time, this is tackle football. A job of a safety is to instill fear, and you can’t do that with pulling up.”
No, you can’t. But you also can’t take two or three steps and hit a receiver who already has dropped the ball, as he did on Brandon Marshall in the end zone. That’s not the effects of a new rule; that’s just undisciplined football. When a player has a history of that, it will continue to haunt him (just like it did with Mark Carrier back in the day).
Meriweather's lack of discipline hurt him in New England and Chicago. It’s hurting him here -- as well as the Redskins. Others may view Meriweather as a bad guy; we’ve seen him as a fun player to interview. Is he a bad guy? I don’t have that evidence from my dealings with him.
But this isn’t about whether he is a good or bad guy. It’s about how he plays. And he plays a reckless style that puts his team in a bind at times. Only now there’s a difference between it costing his team 15 yards and costing him games.
And this isn’t just about his hits on Sunday. It’s about a player with a repeated pattern of making the same mistake. You can dislike the new rules all you want -- and I’m not always a fan of them either -- but if they lower the speed limit on the roads I drive, I still have to obey the law.
The first penalty was evidence of the new NFL. But I also saw Bears corner Charles Tillman deliver a strong shoulder blow when Robert Griffin III ran out of bounds on one play. No, it wasn’t a bang-bang play as they are with receivers, but it was still a good, solid hit. So it can be done.
The Redskins can’t cut Meriweather because they have zero legitimate alternatives. The NFL will teach him a lesson, and the Redskins will cross their fingers and hope that he learns it. History suggests that’s a long shot.