NFC East: Bryan Kehl

Free-agent analysis: Adam Hayward

March, 11, 2014
A thumbnail look at newly-signed inside linebacker Adam Hayward:

What he got: Three years, $3 million with a $300,000 bonus.

Quick analysis: Hayward is considered a good leader and solid special teams player, both of which the Redskins needed. He spent seven seasons in Tampa Bay, starting 13 games. He’s 6-foot-1, 240 pounds and runs well. His best time in the 40-yard dash in 2007 (when he was coming out of Portland State) was 4.46 seconds. Having big players who can run is an absolute must on special teams; it’s also one of the reasons Lorenzo Alexander was so good in this area. He’s also considered a good locker room guy. Obviously the Redskins know him well, with Raheem Morris and Bruce Allen both having worked with him in Tampa Bay. You typically do better in free agency when you have a history with a player.

Impact: The Redskins needed to add inside linebackers, but considering Hayward is more of a special teams standout it’s hard to imagine their work here is done. They had been linked to Joe Mays as well; he’s another special teams standout. Tough to see how this bumps anyone off the roster considering they lacked depth. I do wonder what this means for Bryan Kehl, who was supposed to play a similar role. But Hayward, from what I gather, has been a better special teams player. If Keenan Robinson is healthy and Brandon Jenkins becomes better in this area, it would give the Redskins three big players on special teams who can run. They did not have that last season.

Redskins free-agent scorecard

February, 28, 2014
The free-agent period won’t begin until March 11, but the reality is that it’s already underway. At least when it comes to signing your own free agents, or looking at players cut from other teams. The Redskins have expressed interest in free-agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, but had yet to line up a visit with him as of late Thursday night, a team source said. The Browns released Jackson Wednesday (but the move was not submitted to the league until Thursday) and he already has visits lined up with Tennessee and Denver.

Other players will be released before March 11. Until more are free, the focus is on your own. Here’s a look at the Redskins' free agents, both those who are re-signed and still available.

They’re done:

CB DeAngelo Hall

Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They’d be wise to find another good young corner to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years as well, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker
Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- each of the three years and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.

Still waiting:

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are interested in bringing Brian Orakpo back, but he could test the market first.
LB Brian Orakpo
The Redskins want to re-sign him and Orakpo would like to come back. But he’s more than comfortable testing the market in order to get the sort of contract he wants. The Redskins could place the franchise tag on him (the deadline is Monday). That would leave him with a salary of approximately $11 million this year, but no long-term security if he gets injured. The Redskins could sign him to a back-loaded five-year contract that has a much lower cap figure for the first two years of the deal. But at some point he’ll count a great deal against the cap and not be cuttable, at least for a year. (For example, Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, in Year 3 of his deal, counts more against the cap if he’s released.)

LB Perry Riley
The Redskins don’t want to create another hole at inside linebacker with London Fletcher already retiring. But if Riley wants a big contract he’ll have to go elsewhere. They’d prefer to keep him; they know they can upgrade if necessary. A word of warning: It's not a deep group at inside linebacker so it could be tough to fill one spot let alone two.

S Brandon Meriweather
Haven’t heard a whole lot in regards to Meriweather. It’s hard to imagine they’d bring him back on anything other than a one-year deal, while hoping that Phillip Thomas eventually becomes the starter. The Redskins need to solve this position and Meriweather’s play did not warrant him being a strong solution.

CB Josh Wilson
He did a good job against the run while in the slot, which isn’t always easy. But his coverage skills aren’t what the Redskins need. Plus David Amerson, entering his second season, should be elevated to a starter. The Redskins will need more corners, however. But they also need more size at this position.

S Reed Doughty
Doughty is a capable backup who too often was pressed into a starting role. He’s a good special-teamer as well.

CB E.J. Biggers
He was their fourth corner and played some safety, though it’s doubtful he’d have played that spot for any team other than the safety-starved Redskins. But he adds depth and there’s a chance he’ll return.

LB Rob Jackson
The Redskins have yet to talk contract with Jackson. Obviously they have Orakpo to worry about and if he signs it’s tough to imagine Jackson returning as well. He’ll want to go somewhere he has a chance to start.

LB Darryl Tapp
Very strong against the run. Not bad to keep around at all.

LB Nick Barnett
He’s not a starting candidate and they need to find backups who are much better on special teams.

WR Josh Morgan
He failed to produce considering the contract he received. The Redskins need to upgrade.

WR Santana Moss
They can always use Leonard Hankerson in the slot, but he might not be healthy until the middle of August. They still think Moss can play. If they upgrade other receiver spots they don’t need to spend a lot for a dynamic slot receiver.

QB Rex Grossman
New coach Jay Gruden has typically kept two quarterbacks, which would leave no room for Grossman. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan will want him in Cleveland to help the other quarterbacks learn his offense.

TE Fred Davis
Davis has bigger issues to worry about.

C J.D. Walton
Signed late in the season. The former third-round pick was a starter in Denver until a bad ankle injury in 2012. The Broncos cut him in December. Washington could upgrade at center.

LB Bryan Kehl
A good special-teams player, but coming off a torn ACL in October.

WR Dez Briscoe
Spent the year on injured reserve; worked with current receivers coach Ike Hilliard two years ago. Has size, but you need more than just size. The Redskins have little depth at this position.

Bryan Kehl, Nick Sundberg done for 2013

October, 14, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins’ special teams has enough problems. Two more can be added to the list. They lost their top tackler, Bryan Kehl, and long snapper, Nick Sundberg, to season-ending knee injuries.

Both Kehl and Sundberg were hurt in Washington’s 31-16 loss at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

Kehl tore his left ACL while Sundberg tore the meniscus in his right knee. They’ll weaken an already weak crew under first-year coach Keith Burns. Sundberg is an excellent long snapper and gets the ball back quick. Kehl was one of the leaders on special teams, an area that has kept him in the NFL. The Redskins lack impact players on these units and therefore can’t afford any loss of a good player. The Redskins have not yet signed anyone to take the place of either player.

Corner David Amerson suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss and will be monitored throughout the week.

Redskins are anything but special

October, 14, 2013
Robert Griffin Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports"We're close on offense," Robert Griffin III said. "But close doesn't do it in this league."

ARLINGTON, Texas -- He targeted special teams, a good place to start after the Washington Redskins’ latest loss. Darrel Young, his voice going a mile a minute and full of fire, stopped with this unit, blaming them for the loss. He could have continued on to other aspects of the team. And nobody would have stopped him. When you’re 1-4 and you had designs on contending for a division title and perhaps the Super Bowl, there’s no simple reason you lost. Again. There’s no simple way to turn it around.

Play better? Of course.

The problem is there’s no one spot that’s consistently failing the Redskins. It’s all of them. The offense can’t generate points in the first half, constantly putting the team in a deficit. They’ve trailed at the half in each game. The defense struggled for the first three games, yet they did their job in Sunday’s 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And there is the special teams. The woeful special teams.

“Every phase they kicked our butts [on special teams],” Young said.

“That was the worst special-teams performance since I’ve been here,” Redskins special-teamer Niles Paul, in his third season, said. “We were outplayed in every phase of special teams. Just a meltdown.”

But this isn’t just about the special teams. It’s about a team that can’t find its way, one year after it ended as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. If Robert Griffin III hadn’t gotten hurt in that Seattle loss. It seems so long ago. And it seems like more than an offseason between then and now. It feels like a lifetime.

“It’s definitely an awkward feeling,” Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said of their start.

Chances are, their fans are feeling something other than awkward.

It’s also tough to see it getting back anytime soon to that pre-Seattle-injury point, when they felt with a healthy Griffin they could have gone on a long run. It’s not just the 1-4 record; it’s the way they've gotten to this spot. Just overall sloppy play. Before the game, one Redskins team official said they just needed to go out and play well. That way, even if they had lost, they could see something upon which they could build.

What do they build off of this game? The defensive performance was solid, limiting Dallas to one legitimate scoring drive (the first one of the game). But they could not stop the Cowboys in the red zone. Yes, it was a better showing than the defense had in the first three games. Heck, they held receiver Dez Bryant to 36 yards and harassed quarterback Tony Romo into a 72.9 passer rating. They held Dallas to 213 total yards. You look at those numbers and you think one thing: Washington won.

Instead, the Redskins lost by 15. Goodness.

An offense that seemingly took a step forward against Oakland before the bye week regressed Sunday night. They couldn’t stop a Dallas pass rush despite the Cowboys losing end DeMarcus Ware. They couldn’t convert in the red zone. They turned the ball over twice, once inside their own 5-yard line. One step forward; two back. Griffin looked more spry; it didn’t matter.

“We’re close on offense,” Griffin said. “But close doesn’t do it in this league.”

No, it does not. Sure, the Redskins show signs of life at moments. But they’re not playing winning football. Sometimes that’s a tough term to define, but not when you watch this team. Too many penalties. Too many missed tackles. Too many breakdowns.

“I feel every week we’re getting better,” running back Alfred Morris said. “I’ll stand by that. But at the same time it seems like we get better in one area and we take a step back in another area. You can’t do that and win games.”

[+] EnlargeDwayne Harris
AP Photo/James D. SmithAfter a penalty wiped out a good punt and forced them to kick again, the Redskins watched Dwayne Harris return the punt for a touchdown.
They’re not good enough to overcome 12 penalties for 104 yards, as they had Sunday night. If you’re good and you commit that many penalties you’re considered aggressive, and perhaps that undisciplined style is part of your charm. When you commit that many and you’re 1-4? They question your discipline and coaching and say you don’t do the little things well. It’s all true.

When you’re playing like the Redskins are now, you have an illegal-motion penalty on a fourth down, wiping out a punt that left Dallas at its own 16-yard line. So you kick again. And the returner, Dwayne Harris, takes it 86 yards for a touchdown -- and you lose one of your top special-teams players along the way in Bryan Kehl, who hurt his knee on the play.

“We found the enemy,” Young said. “It’s us. … It sucks. At the end of the day it’s unfortunate, but we have to move on from it.”

That’s all they can do. The question is, how do you fix this? The Redskins need to prove they can play well for an entire game. That, not the number of games, is the answer. If they don’t start doing that, they can play 20 games and still keep finding ways to lose. It's good for the Redskins that the defense is playing well; it'll have to play even better.

Not that they’re counting themselves out. They won’t do that, nor should they.

“I don’t feel like a team that can’t rebound,” Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I don’t feel like a team that is out of it. I definitely don’t feel like that. We’re going to go back to work. All the losses hurt. They should hurt.”

If they don’t turn it around soon, they’ll start to hurt even more. An entire season would then come crashing down.

Locker Room Buzz: Washington Redskins

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed in the locker room after the Washington Redskins' 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Reality check: For the fourth time this season the Redskins had a quiet locker room. But there was more of a shell-shocked look on the faces of the players. Nobody is more surprised by the 1-4 start than the Redskins’ players and coaches. “Lack of execution is costing us games,” running back Alfred Morris said. There’s still a long ways to go, and perhaps that’s why Reed Doughty spent several minutes "coaching" up Jerome Murphy in the locker room, going over scenarios and different plays. But they all know time is getting short.

Ouch: Cornerback David Amerson left the game in the second half with a concussion. Coach Mike Shanahan did not have an update after the game, but Amerson will be evaluated throughout the week. Special-teamer Bryan Kehl said he felt something pop in his knee on the Cowboys' second-quarter punt return for a touchdown. The killer on that play: Kehl had the angle on returner Dwayne Harris. "I would have made the tackle," Kehl said. He'll undergo an MRI. Long-snapper Nick Sundberg suffered a knee injury as well. Shanahan was not sure how serious it was, but Sundberg could not finish the game.

Dead zone: The Redskins had three trips inside the red zone, but settled for field goals of 20, 32 and 33 yards. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had four trips in the red zone and came away with three touchdowns. That’s a 12-point difference. “I think we had a solid game, but we need touchdowns instead of field goals,” Redskins center Will Montgomery said.

Redskins roster analysis: Defense

September, 1, 2013
Taking a look at the Redskins' roster after Saturday's cutdown to 53 (knowing it could change during the week). As on offense, I don't look at any of these groups as being worse than a year ago. The line is about the same, though they were pretty good last year and Barry Cofield continues to improve. The linebackers should be better and it's reasonable to expect the secondary to improve just because they'll play two young kids. But they have to prove what they can do in a regular-season game. Still, they're not worse. I'd be surprised if the defense doesn't improve. Is it a top-10 unit? I have my doubts. But they don't need to be, not with the offense and, besides, it's all about turnovers and points allowed. Those are the stats that will matter with this group.

Defensive line (6): Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Phillip Merling

[+] EnlargeBarry Cofield
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWill a strong summer for Washington's Barry Cofield lead to a big regular season?
Note: This was a relatively easy area to project because of the inexperience behind these six. Merling played well enough to earn a spot, too. Now he has four weeks until Jarvis Jenkins returns to prove he should maintain one.

They’ll get Jenkins back in four weeks; he worked on adding more explosion and a bigger first step to help his pass rush. But Jenkins did not show more as a pass-rusher than he did last season. He still never reached the QB in the preseason. Golston earned the start ahead of Baker in his place because of his consistency and penchant for doing his job.

Better or worse than 2012: Same. It’s hard to say they’re better only because they consider Jenkins a starter ahead of Golston and he’ll miss the first four games. I like Neild as a backup nose; but can Baker do what they need him to as the No. 3 end? He can play the nickel, but can he do the every-down duties -- occupying blockers, etc.? When Jenkins returns, it’s a solid group -- not because he’s a budding Pro Bowler, but because he can help. He improved against the run last year in terms of occupying blockers. Also, in some nickel situations he should help just by collapsing the pocket, though he didn't look much different rushing the passer this summer than in '12. Bowen isn’t better -- he was excellent last year -- but his numbers should be just because of Brian Orakpo’s presence. Cofield looked terrific this summer and is as important as anyone to this defense. A third year in this system for Cofield and Bowen will help, too.

Linebackers (8): Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl

Note: Again, another spot that was pretty easy to call as long as Barnett’s knee was sound. He at least provides veteran insurance inside. The coaches like Kehl, but the fact is he’s only started five games (appearing in 67, though mostly on special teams). Barnett has started 139 games. Fletcher looked fine this summer, but at 38 you need an experienced backup behind him. Whether or not he can help after this season, who knows? But his experience will help in a pinch if needed. Tapp and Jenkins are the latest to convert from ends to linebacker. Tapp was a pleasant surprise this summer; didn’t realize how strong he was at the point of attack. He had a couple big-time swats to get free for pressure. Jenkins is still a rather raw pass-rusher, but will help in certain looks. He’s rushed both standing up and with his hand on the ground.

Better or worse than 2012: Better. Orakpo’s return makes that so and Kerrigan’s increased versatility makes it even more true. Kerrigan was more effective as a rusher when being moved around last season; I like him inside for a change-up -- it’s harder for guards to handle his rip move because he can close the space they need to combat it in a hurry. Orakpo makes others around him better in ways obvious and subtle. Riley seems to improve a little bit each year.

Defensive backs (10): DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, David Amerson, E.J. Biggers, Jerome Murphy, Bacarri Rambo, Brandon Meriweather, Jose Gumbs, Reed Doughty, Jordan Pugh

Note: This yielded two surprises in Gumbs and Murphy, at least when you go back to the start of camp. It’s doubtful many projected them to win spots. Murphy was helped by Richard Crawford’s injury and then by his own physical play (and, mostly, special-teams work). Gumbs adapted to free safety and showed he’s a hitter. I really like that the coaches rarely had to get on Rambo for missed assignments. I’m sure they did in private, but on the practice field he rarely seemed to be out of position. His big flaw in the preseason -- open-field tackling -- improved in the final two games. With no live tackling in practice, he had to learn on the run (no pun intended). The lessons will continue, but Rambo is a good learner.

Better or worse than 2012: Same, but with an asterisk. They have durability issues with Meriweather -- but that’s nothing new considering he played half a game last season. Wilson is coming off shoulder surgery, but they seem to have improved the depth here and I like Amerson’s potential. So if something happened to Wilson and Amerson had to start midway through, then the Redskins would be fine and, eventually, better just because of the rookie's potential. An improved rush will help them as will the infusion of youth. But the latter can take time to mature so at some point this season you could rightfully say they’re better.

Redskins film review: Defense

August, 25, 2013
After watching the 30-7 win over Buffalo again, here are some thoughts on the Redskins' defense:
  • Saw this during the game, but wanted to see how often they ran the front with Brandon Jenkins, Ryan Kerrigan, Darryl Tapp and Brian Orakpo as their front four. Turns out they used that look three times with mixed success. Jenkins recorded a sack the first time, getting pushed to the ground but showing athleticism by reaching out to grab a panicked Kevin Kolb. Seriously, Kolb escaped as if he faced imminent danger; he did not. He put his head down and tried to run wide and Jenkins got him. I can’t believe anyone ever traded a player and a second-round pick for him. The second time they used that front was a third and 12 and David Amerson extended the drive with a facemask penalty. The front applied no pressure. They used it on a third-and-3, which is usually a passing down but against that front you could justify some sort of run. Did it work this time? Well, yes and no. The Bills kept in seven to block and there were four blockers against Kerrigan and Orakpo, both on the right side. Kolb ran for a first down after leaving the pocket. So the rush occupied blockers; the coverage prevented a pass but the Bills still managed a first down.
  • That look works because Kerrigan and Tapp are comfortable playing inside, both having converted from defensive end. Both are strong enough and play with good leverage. But this is obviously designed for pass rushes and provides the Redskins more creative looks -- without blitzing. Jenkins, though, was easily blocked by the right tackle.
  • How much did the fast pace hurt Washington? It really didn’t. The Redskins were quick with subs; on one play, Tapp ran from the sidelines to the huddle less than six seconds after the whistle blew. The fastest the Bills got off a snap after the whistle blew was 18.8 seconds. The Redskins weren’t fooled: Orakpo took two steps up then dropped into coverage and broke up a second-down pass. The next snap came 31.4 seconds later and the Redskins were able to switch from their base front to the fast nickel with Jenkins and Tapp entering. The Redskins’ first defense changed their front on eight different occasions and never looked lost. Tapp has been one of the more pleasant surprises this summer.
  • The one time where I thought the fast pace hurt was at the end of Buffalo’s scoring drive. They had to keep the same front in the game – a big nickel with Kerrigan, Kedric Golston, Stephen Bowen and Orakpo – for four consecutive plays. They got the next play off in 20.3, 26.1 and 20.6 seconds, respectively. The final one was a touchdown of course against a tiring front.
  • The Bills also ran a set of their own run-pass option plays in this sequence, showing a bubble screen to one side and a run option the other way. They opted for the run on C.J. Spiller’s 19-yard gain – the numbers dictated the outside would be blocked and it was. All Spiller had to do was beat David Amerson and he did. On Spiller’s touchdown, they called for a bubble right. But, knowing he had six blockers to take on six defenders in the box, Kolb handed it to Spiller for an easy score.
  • The Redskins used their base front seven times, with Chris Neild handling nose duties for injured Barry Cofield. Neild was fine. Helped make a play with good leverage, getting under the blocker’s pads and helping make a tackle. On four runs versus Washington’s base coverage, the Bills managed nine yards.
  • I like the subtleties of the pass rush because they make a huge difference. And here’s how players, and scheme, can free defenders up even in a four-man rush. When Bowen and Orakpo are on the same side if Bowen rushes inside the guard then the guard can chip him and slide back out to help the tackle if Orakpo shoots inside. That’s what happened on the game’s first play, though Orakpo still had a hand in Kolb’s face. But later Bowen started rushing at the outside shoulder of the guard. This guaranteed Orakpo one-on-one with the tackle and the center looking to help. It did not result in a sack, but it did lead to a quick dump-off over the middle. Just something to look for at times.
  • The Bills rarely threw anything downfield against the starters, except for two shots versus Josh Wilson – one of which he was beaten on and drew a pass interference penalty and the other he had played perfectly and was interfered with. Their longest completion against the starters was for 11 yards on third and 15. Every other pass against the starters was for six yards or less. That’s the result of having Jeff Tuel enter the game in the first quarter because of Kolb’s concussion. That, of course, makes it tough to measure just how good the defense was but the Bills played starters at every other spot into the third quarter.
  • It’s really hard to tell about coverage off a TV feed; actually, it’s almost impossible unless they give you a full-field shot. So it’s hard to say how the young guys played in most of their coverages. David Amerson clearly got beat off a double move in the second quarter; he was lulled by Tuel wanting to throw a quick out the other way, but corner E.J. Biggers’ coverage changed that plan. So Tuel went back to the other side at receiver T.J. Graham, who had raced past Amerson and drew a 42-yard pass interference penalty. The Bills had mostly been throwing short all game, but Amerson still needed better eye discipline on that one.
  • Amerson continued to show a willingness to tackle, but he did miss Spiller on a 19-yard run, allowing him to get wide. That’s a no-no for the corner. He also missed a tackle on a play in which Bryan Kehl forced a fumble. But earlier on that same drive Amerson had made two tackles. There’s still a lot of learning going on here; it’s good that Josh Wilson returned. It allows Amerson to grow without the pressures of having to start. Plus, it would be difficult to have two rookies starting in the secondary, at least initially. The secondary remains a work in progress; some good signs and some not so good.
  • Safety Bacarri Rambo had a better tackling game, as I wrote about in my observations. It wasn’t the same looks that he faced in the first two games in terms of a dangerous back in the open field. It could have been had he not made a good, quick read on Spiller and forced an incompletion with his hit. He was decisive and drove at his inside hip, a good angle. The good news for the Redskins is that Rambo didn’t miss any tackles. He just needs to be reliable back there. I don’t know whether this means his tackling issues are resolved -- I’m guessing there are more lessons to be learned – but it was a good game for him to gain confidence. In coverage, the one play that stood out was the near interception. I did not see Rambo after the game to ask him this but I wonder if he didn’t quite trust his eyes on this play. He saw Tuel looking at Stevie Johnson and hesitated. When he broke he was just a little late. But he showed his playmaker mentality by going for the ball.
  • Linebacker Brandon Jenkins’ pass rushes were mixed. He had a sack, though it wasn’t as if he beat the tackle on the play. He’s clearly still trying to figure out what works best for him at this level; even saw him throw in a hesitation move similar to one you’d see in basketball, with an exaggerated step. It failed. But he did have a couple good rushes, including one in which he lowered his right shoulder into the tackle, then controlled him to the inside for a pressure. Two plays later he learned a lesson on awareness. As he tried to get wide of the tackle, Spiller knocked him to the ground with a block. But I really liked some of what I saw of Jenkins on special teams. He was the first one down on a kick return, shooting through an opening and nearly making a great play, though he was nudged a little off his path at the end. On the next kickoff, he blew up the blocker and the returner, Marquise Goodwin ended up tripping over him. This is where I really like Jenkins early in the season.
  • Said it last week, but will say it again: I really like linebacker Will Compton, a rookie undrafted free agent. He’s worth keeping on the practice squad; decisive reads and showed quickness to the hole, beating the blockers. He and Bryan Kehl did a good job with the second unit. So, too, did Rob Jackson against starting offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. Jackson had two nice pass rushes and set the edge well; he did lose backside contain on one Spiller run in which he reversed field. And Darryl Tapp continues to play well. He’s just a strong dude, especially in the lower half. When tight end Lee Smith would try to engage him, Tapp did a great job keeping his lower half bent enough to slightly explode into Smith’s pads and not lose any ground.
  • Corner Chase Minnifield continues to improve and play physical. Even before Richard Crawford’s injury it was real tough to see Minnifield being cut. Because of his aggressive hands, Minnifield plays receiver’s blocks with good leverage. He came up aggressively on a pass to the fullback (though he was the one knocked down on his hit). And Minnifield played the “robber” play well, coming off the outside receiver to the inside one but dropping a poorly-thrown ball.

What we learned: Redskins defense

August, 9, 2013
After rewatching the Redskins' 22-21 win over Tennessee, a few opinions were solidified, some shifted a little and a few discoveries were made:

1. Bacarri Rambo was put in a terrible spot by his front seven on Chris Johnson’s 58-yard touchdown run and, considering it was his first game, he had no chance. There was too much open field, though had he made the play it would have said a lot about Rambo. The fact that he did not just lumps him in with many other safeties. But the Titans' other touchdown run, by Shonn Greene, was a result, in part, of a poor angle by Rambo coming from deep middle. Rambo started too much inside, was a little too slow and any chance he had at making a touchdown-saving tackle was lost. Poor angles have doomed many a safety, and it’s a big reason why I was surprised Rambo opened as the starter from the first camp.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson and Bacarri Rambo
AP Photo/Wade PayneRedskins safety Bacarri Rambo (right) couldn't keep Chris Johnson out of the end zone Thursday, but it was another Titans touchdown that showed Rambo taking a bad angle for a tackle.
2. Keep in mind the Redskins do not do any live hitting or any sort of drills that simulate what Rambo witnessed last night – certainly nothing at that level of speed. A key will be how he develops in this area throughout the preseason. In the end, these plays could be beneficial to the Redskins. Same with the 15-yard late-hit penalty he received at the end of the second touchdown run. He has to play with more discipline. If the Redskins have to start multiple rookies, there will be many lessons learned.

3. Phillip Thomas did a good job on the first play of the game, ducking under the tight end to race across the line and help on a tackle. But he got sucked too far inside on Johnson’s long touchdown run, helping to create the huge opening. Technically Johnson broke a tackle at the line, a shoestring attempt by Brian Orakpo. But in reality nobody had a shot at him because Thomas covered inside, then was blocked; Stephen Bowen and Chris Neild were blocked inside and Orakpo came upfield too far.

4. It wasn’t just the rookies who struggled with angles. Even linebacker Perry Riley took a poor one on a pass completion, leading to a 13-yard gain when Riley went too wide to the inside, allowing Greene to get wide.

5. The difference with Orakpo on the field? On the Ryan Kerrigan sack, the guard blocked Bowen, then allowed the center to take over while he slid to his left in case Orakpo cut inside vs. the tackle. This left Bowen in a one-on-one situation with the center. When the outside rushers Orakpo and Brandon Jenkins pinched the pocket, Titans quarterback Jake Locker could not step up because Bowen had collapsed the middle. Too often last year Bowen received double teams and could not be as effective.

6. Another point on Kerrigan’s sack: It came when he was aligned in a four-point stance vs. the guard. But the real point is that it allowed him to use his favored rip move. One difficulty doing it outside is that tackles can keep a distance and negate this move. Much tougher to do that inside, and sure enough it worked for Kerrigan. It'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett works his linebacker group in pass-rush situations.

7. I also forgot to note in the Ten Observations another play that stood out with Orakpo: Ducking under the left shoulder of the tackle en route to a sack. It was an impressive display of balance and explosion, one that Michael Roos could not handle. The Redskins had rushers go by linemen last season; not like this.

8. This wasn’t exactly Ken Houston stopping Walt Garrison, but it was a good job by David Amerson to stop Kenny Britt on a third-and-4 pass, leaving the Titans a yard short. Amerson played more physical than he had showed at N.C. State last season. He won’t look pretty in this role at times, but he just needs to be willing. He did allow himself to be cut by a blocker on one run; he’ll learn how to avoid those situations.

9. Brandon Jenkins did a nice job on some rushes, but his spin move will need refining. It did work one time when he dipped his right shoulder into the right tackle and spun back inside. It worked this time. But the next time he tried it, Jenkins appeared to start his spin a bit early and the right tackle had no trouble adjusting. He’s going to be at his best when paired alongside Kerrigan and/or Orakpo. I also think Jenkins will be a nice addition on special teams.

10. Seemed like Bryan Kehl was a step slow to the ball Thursday night, or a step slower than I expected at least. He didn’t really make any plays. Undrafted free agent Will Compton, playing alongside him, was decisive, but he has a ways to go. Roddrick Muckelroy did not distinguish himself, missing a couple tackles. He also got sucked up on a play-action pass on Tennessee’s second-half touchdown in which the flat on his side was wide open.

11. If you saw any of Chase Minnifield’s jams, you understand why the coaches consider him the most aggressive corner in this area. He practically jumps at the receiver and I worry sometimes about him getting off-balance. But I haven’t seen that happen yet. And I like how willing he is to hit.

12. One reason I like Richard Crawford is because he’s a smart player. In talking to him last year, it’s easy to see him becoming a coach someday. So it wasn’t a surprise that he knows how to play as a small corner. On his near-interception, Crawford forced the quarterback into a tough throw by being in good position in terms of his depth. When you’re shorter, you have to understand how to play and Crawford doesn’t have Amerson’s length. So he must be in even better position, and on this play he was.

13. Phillip Merling did what a veteran should do against backups: play well. He’s held his own against the No. 2 linemen in camp and he played with power Thursday. Chris Baker also showed a little bit at times; his best rush came when he remained low – that’s a lot of heft driving a lineman back. Baker did make a play by beating the tackle. There was one time in which he appeared to get upfield too fast and vacated his gap, leading to a hole and solid run.

Links: Redskins' Cooley retires, to do radio

July, 17, 2013
Dallas Cowboys's Todd Archer analyzes defensive tackle Nick Hayden's chances of making the 53-man roster.

The Cowboys worked out quarterbacks Kyle Padron, Chase Clement and Alex Tanney on Tuesday, writes Calvin Watkins of Dallas is expected to keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster, Tony Romo and Kyle Orton.

Pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware says there is 'no big difference’ in switching to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme, writes Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

Bill Parcells says outsiders who criticize Jerry Jones have a distorted view of how the Cowboys' owner and general manager operates, writes Machota. Says Parcells: "I think Jerry is a good businessman and a good listener. What you have to do is make sense to him. You’ve got to make sense to him. If he thinks you’re making sense, he’ll alter his opinion. I enjoyed him. I like him. I like him a lot.”

New York Giants

In a recent radio appearance on Sirius XM, Receiver Victor Cruz said he felt he deserved a better contract than the extension he received from the Giants last week. The Giants’ obligation to Cruz is nearly $46 million for the next six years, as he’s signed through the 2018 season. Conor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger has more.

Ohm Youngmisuk of continues his position-by-position look at the Giants with a breakdown of the receivers and running backs entering training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles signed 6-8, 335-pound offensive tackle Michael Bamiro, writes Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. Bamiro, 22, thought he had another year of college eligibility but was denied it by the NCAA. Instead of putting him in last week's supplemental draft, the NFL declared him an immediate free agent.

With the Phillies' playoff hopes fading, Philadelphia sports fans will focus their attention on new coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles, writes Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Washington Redskins

John Keim of the Washington Post continues his position-by-position look at the Redskins’ roster entering training camp with a breakdown of the tight ends.

Tight end Chris Cooley will retire from the NFL and join the Redskins’ radio broadcasts as an analyst. Mark Maske and Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post have the story.

Linebacker Bryan Kehl, a seven-year veteran, knows shining on special teams is the key to winning a roster spot, writes Brian Tinsman of the team's website.
Washington Redskins

Mike Wise is of the opinion that the Redskins have themselves to blame for the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on them a year ago. And while I think what the league did was ridiculous and inexcusable, Mike's point is one I've also made and is worth considering as everybody remains so angry about it. The Redskins and the Cowboys didn't do what they did to take a stand against the league-endorsed collusion that was going on. They did it to try to gain a competitive advantage. That's what ticked off the management council and led to the penalties. And while it's crazy to think that spending behavior in an uncapped season could be subject to discipline, there are no "good guys" in this mess. The Redskins and Cowboys are victims, and this should not have happened to them. But they are not innocent victims. This whole thing was a mess, and no one has reason to be proud of anything they did.

To help fill the void left by Lorenzo Alexander's free-agent defection to Arizona, the Redskins re-signed linbacker Bryan Kehl, who'll presumably take on a little more responsibility as a backup and special-teamer.

New York Giants

Aaron Ross says he always had it in his mind that he would return someday to the Giants, who were happy to welcome him back to their secondary after a year away in Jacksonville.

John Mara hopes the fact that Victor Cruz's new agent is the same one Eli Manning has helps lead to a new deal with the Giants' dynamic slot receiver. But we all know that what Mara's hoping is that Cruz's new agent talks Cruz into accepting what the Giants want to pay him, right?

Dallas Cowboys

Teams can have as many as 30 pre-draft visits with prospective draft picks, and one of the guys the Cowboys are having in is Alabama guard Chance Warmack. I believe this would be their dream pick at No. 18 in the first round -- a blue-chip guard prospect who would immediately become either the best or second-best player on their line.

Remember how great Kevin Ogletree was in the Week 1 victory over the Giants? Well, they'll always have East Rutherford. But Ogletree is going to go play for the Buccaneers now.

Philadelphia Eagles

Reputations are tough to shake, and new Eagles cornerback Cary Williams would really like to find a way to shed his reputation as a loose cannon. Williams is penciled in right now as one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks, and I'm not sure how it's going to go. He's got his pluses, but he struggles downfield in one-on-one matchups against physical wide receivers, and he can be beaten for the big play. Maybe he should play up the whole crazy-guy thing instead of trying to shake it. Somebody told me the Eagles fans like passion and stuff.

Jeff McLane assesses the pickups the Eagles have made on defense, and looks at the ways in which the new pieces and the returning ones might fit into Chip Kelly's and Bill Davis' expected defensive scheme.
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.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Late in the Washington Redskins' afternoon practice, after catching a pass near the goal line, tight end Chris Cooley fumbled. Linebacker Bryan Kehl picked the ball up and ran the length of the field, fairly certain of a touchdown. Had you asked Kehl during that run what the likelihood was of the team's rookie starting quarterback running him down from 80 yards away and preventing that touchdown, he'd likely have laughed. But that's exactly what happened.

"I'm not going to let the guy have a free touchdown," Robert Griffin III explained through his famous smile at his news conference a few moments later. "So I ran him down, because I could. It's more of a thing to show the team not to give up on a play."

Coach Mike Shanahan was watching.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciRedskins quarterback Robert Griffin III made an impression with his hustle at Monday's practice.
"I was hoping he wasn't going to pull a hamstring," Shanahan said. "But yeah, that shows you the pride that he has."

Griffin's getting rave reviews around these parts for his attitude and the way in which he is balancing his dual responsibilities of fitting in with and taking charge of the team. After hearing a comment Griffin made about his ability to break arm tackles, cornerback DeAngelo Hall made him carry his pads Monday, telling him it would help him build up the strength to keep breaking those arm tackles. And Griffin is working on his rendition of "My Girl" for the team's rookie talent show, which begins Tuesday night. But he's also looking for opportunities to lead, and chasing after Kehl on a play that was basically over was one.

Of course, what you want to know is how he looked while actually practicing. My first impression was that he looked like a rookie -- a beat too slow with his decision-making in some key spots and a little bit off with throws in part as a result of that. This is what you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look like less than one week into his first training camp, and so there's no reason to be overly concerned about it. He throws a great-looking ball, obviously, and when he runs with it he looks fantastic. The issue is getting used to the speed of the NFL game. He's got plenty of time for that, and to hear him tell it, he's got help from his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

"Guys you go against every day in practice, they've seen this offense time and time again and they're good at stopping it," Griffin said. "Nobody will be as good at it as [Ryan] Kerrigan and [Brian] Orakpo, and that's just helping me get better."

Some other thoughts from my first day here at Redskins training camp:

  • The offensive line looks like a real problem area, and it's down two starters. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage in his surgically repaired knee. The scope showed no damage to knee ligaments, and Shanahan said he's hoping Lichtensteiger will be back by the first regular-season game. Right tackle Jammal Brown is still awaiting news on his recurring hip problem. So Maurice Hurt was starting at left guard and Tyler Polumbus at right tackle with the first-team offense Monday, and the line was overmatched, even against Washington's second-team defense. It needs to jell quickly. Griffin is, as you might have heard, a considerable investment for this organization. It'd be good to keep him upright if possible.
  • Veteran Santana Moss is the shrimp of a wide receiving corps that includes Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson, but he looks great and sounds motivated, and I wouldn't count him out as a starter opposite Garcon. The Redskins used Hankerson and Morgan in the slot, as well as Moss, during practice Monday.
  • Evan Royster looks very good in the competition at running back. Tim Hightower sat out team drills because of his recovery from his knee injury, so Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris got the reps. Royster made one excellent leaping one-handed catch, and skittered through the defense for a big gain on another play.
  • The defensive line rotation is very fluid on the first-team unit. There were plays on which Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen were the ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield, plays on which Adam Carriker and Bowen flanked Cofield, plays on which Carriker and Bowen played the ends with Jenkins in the middle ... That's the way they want to run it, to keep everyone fresh, if possible.
  • Madieu Williams was the first-team free safety with Brandon Meriweather playing strong safety. Tanard Jackson, who's a candidate for that starting free safety spot, isn't allowed to practice in pads for his first two days off the PUP list, so it remains to be seen where he fits into the depth chart.
  • DeAngelo Hall was used a great deal as the slot cornerback with either Kevin Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside opposite Josh Wilson. It looked like he was beaten a few times, though on those plays the ball was not thrown to his man.
  • London Fletcher intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Just the way he's done it since the time of leather helmets. Seriously, that guy doesn't age.
  • Former Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff tore the same ACL he tore in the preseason last year, and he will miss the entire season. The Redskins viewed him as a potentially valuable backup at inside linebacker.
Interesting little transaction of NFC East interest today as the Washington Redskins announced the signing of former New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff. Nice pickup for the Redskins. A year ago, before tearing his ACL in the preseason, Goff was slated to be the starting middle linebacker for a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. Now, he comes into Washington as insurance (assuming he's healthy) at a position at which the Redskins suddenly have some interesting depth.

Goff won't be a starting inside linebacker for the Redskins, as those two spots in Washington's 3-4 defense belong to London Fletcher and Perry Riley. But Fletcher's quite old and Riley's still quite young and so you never know when you might need help at one of those spots. Adding Goff to a backup mix that includes Lorenzo Alexander, recently signed Bryan Kehl and fourth-round draft pick Keenan Robinson is a low-risk, high-upside move.

From Goff's perspective, it appears he misread the market. The Giants would have had him back (at their price, which was what they told all of their own free agents), but he wanted to see if he could find greener pastures. But while he visited places like Cleveland and Miami, the Giants went out and traded for linebacker Keith Rivers, likely costing Goff a chance to go back to New York and reclaim his starting middle linebacker job. Now, if he'd like to be an NFL starter again, he'll have to work his way back into such a role from a backup spot. At least the Redskins' linebacker group is a good one around which to spend time. Prolonged exposure to Fletcher is the kind of thing that can help a guy's career if he pays attention.

Breakfast links: Speedy Redskin

September, 23, 2011
The Friday links are up. Enjoy 'em.

Dallas Cowboys

Fresh injury on the offensive line, as Derrick Dockery, the Week 2 starter at left guard, has a knee injury and will miss Monday night's game. Rookie and Week 1 starter Bill Nagy looks like he's in line to start in his place. Are the Cowboys as banged-up on offense as the Giants are on defense? As of now, their starting quarterback, center, top two wide receivers and starting running back have a chance to miss Monday's game in addition to Dockery, and tight end Jason Witten plans to play with rib injuries. London Fletcher and the rejuvenated Redskins defense must be salivating.

Tony Romo's not close to being ready to play, Clarence Hill writes, but that doesn't mean he won't be ready by Monday night. Long way to go yet on this story.

New York Giants

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would neither confirm nor deny the assertion by former Giants linebacker Bryan Kehl that he (Fewell) coaches guys to fake injuries to slow down an opposing offense. Which of course means he does. But enough of this story, right?

Osi Umenyiora finally talked about his contract dispute with the team, which was resolved over a month ago, though not to Umenyiora's satisfaction because the Giants resolved it by just not doing anything and expecting him to play for his contract. I think people are sick of this story too and just want to know now when Umenyiora might play. He still doesn't seem to know.

Philadelphia Eagles

It seems clear by now that Michael Vick will start for the Eagles on Sunday in spite of the concussion he suffered in Week 2. The key, of course, as Bob Ford writes, is finding a better way to make sure Vick doesn't get another one.

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said the shift of linebackers could just be a temporary fix designed specifically to help the Eagles stop the Giants' running game this week. Pshaw. If it works, they're really going to go back to the alignment that the Rams and Falcons gashed? I call shenanigans. And I already called pshaw. So that's pshaw and shenanigans on the same story. Your move, Juan Castillo.

Washington Redskins

Brandon Banks is really fast, and he likes talking about how fast he is. Banks is one of those guys who makes you stop and watch the kickoffs and punts, because you hold your breath knowing he's going to break one and you don't want to miss it when he does. Fast and fearless. Good combination for someone in his job.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett supports DeAngelo Hall's stated plan to hit Romo in the busted ribs, if only because that may be the only place the rules allow you to hit a quarterback.

Giants acting desperate because they are

September, 22, 2011

No, I don't believe Deon Grant when he says he was really hurt, and I'm not sure why he went to such great lengths to deny something everyone knows to be true. He obviously faked an injury Monday night to slow down the Rams' no-huddle offense as it was nearing the goal line and give his New York Giants a chance to make the substitutions they hadn't been able to make. Methinks he doth protest too much, and in the face of a mountain of evidence.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said he heard Giants players yelling, "Someone go down! Someone go down!" Rams linebacker Bryan Kehl, who played for the Giants last year, said Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell coaches that. Giants players were smiling about it when asked after the game. Even the league office knows what happened, which is why they sent a useless memo Wednesday reminding teams that faking injuries to stop the clock is against the rules. They were basically telling the Giants, "We know what you did, and we know you know it's cheating, but we can't do anything about it so we're sending this memo so fans think we're on top of this. Please don't do it again."

Thing is, though, they will. And so will other teams when they find themselves in the position the Giants are in right now. The Giants, quite simply, are desperate. A lackluster offseason followed by an inconceivable rash of injuries has left them with a roster that will be outmanned in most weeks. So if they're going to win, they know they're going to have to use every possible avenue available to them. And while no one in the organization can officially condone or admit to a tactic that amounts to cheating, competitive athletes in this or any other sport are almost always willing to break rules if they're unenforceable. It's not cheating, the old saying goes, if you can't get caught.

The Giants still have a lot of very good players on their roster, but overall right now they're an average-to-below-average team that's losing a key player every other week to a season-ending knee injury. They know what trouble feels like, and they were feeling it early Monday night when Grant and rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams flopped the way soccer stars flop to draw phantom penalties. They were fortunate, as it turns out, to have been playing the Rams, who are a bad team that has very few good players and can't seem to get out of its own way. But they don't get to play the Rams every week. Things are going to get keep getting desperate for the Giants, over and over again, and when they do, you can bet they'll be looking for any edge they can create.

Should they fear NFL repercussions? Of course not. The NFL can't enforce this rule. They can't have an official judge on the spot whether a guy is hurt and throw a flag, and they can't fine a team for faking injuries and risk having the accused faker come back with a torn ACL. (Which, especially if it's the Giants, is far too likely to chance at this point.) There's enough evidence and eyewitness testimony right now about the Monday night game that the league could punish the Giants if they wanted to. Instead they send out a memo in the hopes that the Giants will get embarrassed and stop doing it. But it's not going to work. As long as the Giants are as desperate as they are right now, fear of unlikely punishment isn't going to stop them from doing what they think they need to do to win.



Sunday, 1/25