NFC East: Bobby Turner

The first two seasons resulted in big rushing yards and much acclaim. Not to mention a desire for more. Alfred Morris wants it; the Redskins say he can do it. More catches. More yards downfield. More production overall. Former running backs coach Bobby Turner would tell Morris that he was leaving yards on the field. Current running backs coach Randy Jordan delivered the same message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Usually it’s a safety and me or a corner and it’s just making a guy miss to get an extra 2 or 3 or 20 yards,” Morris said. “It’s just being a smarter ballplayer. Sometimes I get caught indecisive in between moves or which direction [to go].”

Bobby Turner, Richard Hightower let go

January, 13, 2014
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The Washington Redskins told longtime running backs coach Bobby Turner on Monday that he would not be part of Jay Gruden's staff, a team source confirmed. They also informed special teams assistant coach Richard Hightower, whom many players wanted to succeed Danny Smith a year ago, and assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan that they would not be retained.

Turner was with Mike Shanahan for 14 seasons in Denver and all four in Washington. He excelled at turning no-names into productive backs in the one-cut stretch zone system. One former coach called him the MVP of the staff for his productivity. What this signals as far as Gruden's offensive system is concerned is uncertain. Gruden said last week that he likes to use all sorts of blocking schemes, some zone and some power. Turner helped turn Alfred Morris from a sixth-round pick into one of the NFL's most productive rushers the past two seasons. Turner has had six different backs rush for at least 1,000 yards.

Hightower spent four seasons in Washington as an assistant, the last two of which were spent helping the secondary and special teams.

The Washington Post reported that the Redskins will retain offensive assistant Aubrey Pleasants.

The team still has not officially named the new coordinators, though the speculation still centers on Sean McVay for offense and Jim Haslett for defense.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jay Gruden's familiarity with several coaches on the Washington Redskins' staff helped make the job attractive. But, while it's likely that his future coordinators already are in the building, he's still going to interview other coaches for those positions.

The leading candidates to be the coordinators are thought to be Sean McVay (offense) and Jim Haslett (defense). Both are holdovers from the previous regime -- and both have ties to Gruden, having coached with him in the United Football League. Gruden said later Thursday that he greatly respects both. Because Gruden said he will call plays, it would be a surprise if McVay, who turns 28 later this month, wasn't elevated from tight ends coach. Also, Gruden said he wants to stick with a 3-4 defense, which Haslett has coached for four seasons here and two others in Pittsburgh.

But he also wasn't ready to name his coordinators just yet.

“We'll go through the process,” Gruden said. “There are a lot of great coaches out there.”

The Redskins also retained secondary coach Raheem Morris, who worked with Gruden in Tampa Bay for four seasons. But Morris fired Gruden when he took over as head coach in 2009, though it would still be a surprise if he wasn't retained considering he's well-liked by general manager Bruce Allen. Washington also has holdovers in running-backs coach Bobby Turner, offensive-line coach Chris Foerster, defensive-line coach Jacob Burney and assistant special-teams coach Richard Hightower.

“I will interview a lot of coaches,” Gruden said. “I'll look at each coach that has been retained by Bruce [Allen] and interview everybody. I know a lot of coaches here that can coach. There are also good football people across the country looking to work and work for the Redskins. I've had 350 texts from great coaches looking to coach. I don't think finding a great coach and coaching staff will be difficult as it will be finding the right ones.”

It helps the Redskins that only two other teams have filled their coaching vacancies and four others remain.

“The good part about getting our coach now is, his phone is blowing up with people ready to coach who are available now,” Allen said.

Redskins rookie report: Chris Thompson

August, 22, 2013
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His game film provided highlights of electric runs and flashy plays. The Redskins want a little more of both in their offense so they selected Florida State running back Chris Thompson in the fifth round. But Thompson can only help if healthy. Can he do so in the NFL?

What he’s learning: How to run at an NFL level as well as how to pass protect. Thompson has the speed; just take a look at his college film. He had mixed reviews against the Steelers, with a good first run and then fumbling on his second. He could have helped himself on the fumble by pressing the hole just a little longer, but because he cut back early the safety was in good position to fill the hole and hit him hard. That can be corrected by staying patient (which running backs coach Bobby Turner preaches; it’s an absolute must in this offense). Like fellow rookie Jawan Jamison, he can duck behind his blockers at times to sort of get lost in the crowd, making it hard for defenders to see -- and use his short stature to his advantage. Thompson said he’s not struggling with the track he must take on runs, something Alfred Morris needed to work on early last year, because it’s similar to what he ran at Florida State. It’s more about the tempo.

“Too fast or the [the hole] is closing up or just missing reads here and there,” Thompson said of what he’s learning. “I go back and look at film and try to correct it every day.”

“He shows signs of what we’re expecting,” Turner said.

Thompson also is learning how to pass protect at an NFL level. Check the next topic for the physical demands of that role, but for now it’s about learning how to read blitzes. In college, Thompson was only responsible for half the field. Here, he’d be responsible for the entire field.

Finally, Thompson has to learn how to be a returner. He said he was going to get a chance to return kickoffs against Pittsburgh, but did not. He did return kicks at Florida State early in his career. He also has been fielding punts in practice, though he never did it in college (except in practice) and, based on how he was catching the ball, has a long ways to go.

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Steve Helber/AP PhotoChris Thompson's big-play ability is something that could help land him a spot on the Redskins' roster.
“The punters, their hang time is ridiculous at this level,” he said. “Kickoffs are a whoooole lot easier.”

What needs to be seen: Durability. Thompson missed much of training camp while recovering from knee surgery last fall. He then hurt his shoulder against Pittsburgh on his second carry. He’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 192 pounds, so his size always will draw concerns. But two years ago he broke his back and last year tore his ACL. Those can be considered freak injuries and not the nagging sort that derail some players. But even Thompson admitted he has to show he won’t be affected by his knee injury. The Redskins just ended a three-year run with pint-sized Brandon Banks, who struggled to maintain his explosiveness because of injury issues. I like Thompson's character a whole lot more, and if the Redskins truly were worried about his size they wouldn't have drafted him. But if you can't stay healthy, that' s an issue. The one benefit for Thompson is that he won’t be an every-down back in Washington; the Redskins need him to be a change-of-pace back. Still, if he plays on third downs he’ll have to prove he can handle blitz pickups. The physics of the job -- small running back meets bigger hard-charging linebacker -- can be difficult. In college, Thompson was not asked to handle much of the protection duties, especially as a senior. He did block a linebacker on one rush, hitting him low.

“I have confidence I can block anybody,” Thompson said. “I can do whatever a coach needs me to do. If he wants me to carry it 20, 30 times I can do it. Size doesn’t mean a thing. DeSean Jackson is like 160 pounds and he’s been doing great. It’s confidence. If you listen so much about people saying you’re too small and you just need to be a third-down back or catching balls out of the backfield, that’s what you’re gonna believe. I don’t believe that. I believe I can do anything.”

What stands out: His speed and quickness. That was true watching his games at Florida State in particular and at times during training camp workouts. The tough part is we only saw it in snippets because he missed all that time and was admittedly not quite yet himself. But that speed is evident, as is his ability to quickly cut. It was shown on his 8-yard run in the fourth quarter versus Pittsburgh. He ran an outside zone and was able to string the outside linebacker wider than desired. The impressive part? Thompson’s cut. He stuck his right foot in the ground and cut upfield. In about three steps Thompson executed his cut and got about 3 or 4 yards upfield. Some backs shuffle a little when they cut; he did not on this play. His size did not hurt him here either because the defense was flowing, no one was in the hole and nobody had a good angle on him so there was no clean shot. Instead, he could burrow into the opening and gain another 5 or 6 yards after contact.

“He has outstanding speed, cutting ability, ability to make the big plays and that’s what we’re looking for, to make the big plays,” Turner said.

Projection: Practice squad, assuming they keep only three running backs and a fullback. Thompson is a tough call because I know the coaches really like what he has to offer. Right now I’d take three other backs -- Morris, Roy Helu, Evan Royster -- ahead of him because I don’t see Thompson helping in any sort of big role at this point and his durability is a major issue. He’d be a Banks-type player if he makes the team, a threat in their triple-option game, etc. But Banks made the roster by making big plays; Thompson needs to do the same. However, if they keep four running backs (plus a fullback) then he has a shot because of his explosiveness. I also think Thompson’s status could change dramatically with one or two runs Saturday. But you can’t fumble after the first time you get popped -- and also hurt your shoulder (though he did return).
Highlights from Tuesday's Washington Redskins' practice:

  • Redskins coach Mike Shanahan missed practice to attend the funeral of a close friend. Assistant head coach/running backs coach Bobby Turner ran practice. Turner has been with Shanahan for 18 years and has excelled at grooming running backs who fit the stretch zone system. But Turner is a man of few words who doesn't enjoy talking to the media. He took no questions in his post-practice press conference, instead reading a 115-word statement.
  • [+] EnlargeWashington's Bobby Turner
    AP Photo/Steve HelberRunning backs coach Bobby Turner, left, ran Redskins' practice on Tuesday.
    The Redskins worked in shells instead of shoulder pads, which means there won’t be many observations because players don’t go at the same speed as when they have pads on. It’s particularly tough to gauge a lineman’s day in this situation. With the preseason opener two days away it’s not a surprise that they would go in shells.
  • There’s an excellent chance that the Redskins will open with three rookies in the secondary against the Titans, thanks in part to injuries. They are: corner David Amerson who will replace DeAngelo Hall, sitting out after hurting his ankle earlier in camp; safety Bacarri Rambo, the starter from the first day of camp; and safety Phillip Thomas, who would start if Brandon Meriweather does not. It’s unlikely Meriweather would play considering he only returned to full work Monday after a week off because of his right knee.
  • It’s also hard to imagine that another starting corner, Josh Wilson, started playing fulltime only recently because of offseason shoulder surgery. Wilson looked solid in 11-on-11 work.
  • Amerson made a leaping interception on a deep out thrown by Rex Grossman. Amerson also did a nice job in press coverage against Pierre Garcon. He did a good job with his left hand on a jam, mirrored Garcon’s movements and made a sharp break when he cut. The quarterback looked elsewhere. Amerson struggled early in camp with some holds -- he straddled the line between a good jam and a hold several days in a row -- but he looked good on this route.
  • Left tackle Trent Williams, wearing a hard cast with padding on his left wrist, isn’t sure if he’ll play Monday. He did take work with the starters during the 11-on-11 portion. But Williams’ hand is completely covered by the padding, leaving him with one hand to use against pass- rushers. Williams said he wants to play. “Yeah, it’s football,” he said.
  • It wasn’t a big play, but it’s one I liked nonetheless. Thomas came up against the run on a run by Chris Thompson, but he did so under control. Thompson initially appeared headed outside, but Thomas took that away with his angle. When Thompson cut back inside, Thomas easily reacted to the cut. He was patient and balanced. One of Thomas’ biggest adjustments is learning how to fit on the run; he did a nice job on this one. Secondary coach Raheem Morris helps by often asking questions of him on the field -- like what he was looking at in a particular coverage -- rather than just telling him what he needed to do.
  • The four players who returned kickoffs Tuesday: Niles Paul, Evan Royster, Nick Williams and Skye Dawson.
  • Four players sat out Tuesday: tight end Jordan Reed (bruised foot), fullback Eric Kettani (knee), guard Josh LeRibeus (hyperextended knee) and guard/tackle Maurice Hurt (knee).
  • New special teams coach Keith Burns is not as loud as his predecessor, Danny Smith. But when he has a point to make, it gets made. When working with his first kick coverage unit, Burns was displeased with how they handled their execution, yelling about how some used their hands. He shouted at them to “go again!” They did. This time, they did it better.

NFC East links: Considering Plaxico

April, 13, 2011
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Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys won't spend part of their training camp in California this year.

Cowboys center Andre Gurode weighs in on the Dez Bryant saga, what the offseason has been like and more in an interview with 105.3 The Fan.

New York Giants

The Sporting News debates how the Giants should use their first-round draft choice.

Clark Judge says the Giants need to consider acquiring Plaxico Burress.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney hasn't been fazed by not being able to train at the team's facility during the lockout.

Moving the Chains has a comprehensive list of the pre-draft visits and workouts involving the Eagles.

Washington Redskins

With a host of needs, Clark Judge offers five possibilities for the Redskins when it comes to their first-round draft pick.

Redskins.com has Part 1 of a three-part interview with Redskins assistant head coach/running backs Bobby Turner.

Portis still has gas in tank, says RBs coach

February, 19, 2010
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Now that you've had time to recover from the Tiger Woods public statement, let's discuss the future of Redskins running back Clinton Portis. Head coach Mike Shanahan hasn't said anything definitive regarding Portis' status for the 2010 season, but running backs coach Bobby Turner had some interesting things to say to Larry Michael of "Inside the Redskins" fame earlier this week.

Turner talked mostly about what made the Broncos so successful on the ground, but he also answered a question regarding whether Portis had anything left in the tank.

"Oh, he definitely has something left,” Turner said. “We were excited about Clinton when we drafted him. I’ve looked at a bunch of his games, pretty close to every one...and he definitely has something left."

Now that doesn't mean Portis is necessarily in the team's long-term plans, but it does indicate that Turner feels like Portis can still be a valuable contributor. Shanahan has a great deal of respect for Turner's opinion, so you can attach some importance to any of his quotes on Portis. But I think Shanahan will take a long look at Portis this offseason and see if he's truly committed to preparing himself for the 2010 season.

You'll recall that Shanahan talked during his opening news conference about the importance of veteran running backs doing everything in their power to take care of their bodies in the offseason. Portis has been widely criticized for marching to his own offseason drum in the past. That's not going to fly with the Shanahan administration.

And by the way, I asked Jason Campbell on Thursday if he and Portis were now on the same page. The running back took some shots at Campbell late in the '09 season and the quarterback fired back.

"We both said what we needed to say and now it's time time to move on," said Campbell. "I think we're fine."

I actually think Chester Taylor would be a good fit for the Redskins, but I don't think the club's head over heels for him. And here's a link to Larry Michael's interview with Turner via Matt Terl's blog.

Report: Shanahan hires RBs coach Turner

January, 13, 2010
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Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has hired longtime Broncos assistant Bobby Turner to be his associate head coach/running backs, according to the Denver Post. The Broncos initially blocked Turner's exit, according to the report, but relented when Shanahan added the title of "associate head coach."

Turner presided over one of the most successful running games in the league beginning in 1995. The Broncos pretty much introduced the phrase "system running back" with their ability to mine 1,000-yard seasons out of relatively obscure players such as Olandis Gary (fourth round), Mike Anderson (sixth round) and the great Terrell Davis (sixth round). Of course, it's worth pointing out that the Broncos haven't had an 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.

In Washington, Turner will be reunited with Clinton Portis, who surpassed 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Broncos. I'm sure both Shanahan and Turner will meet with Portis in the coming weeks to measure his desire to return from what was effectively a lost season for him in 2009. Shanahan has already alluded to the fact that a veteran back has to be willing to put in the work in the offseason, something that hasn't been one of Portis' strengths in the past.

We'll see if the presence of a former mentor can have any influence on Portis, a player who chose to criticize his teammates on the radio this past season rather than actually hang around and help them through some tough times.

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