NFC East: Evan Royster
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.
Running backs (4)
The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.
I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.
Tight ends (3)
Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.
Offensive line (10)
- Trent Williams
- Shawn Lauvao
- Kory Lichtensteiger
- Chris Chester
- Tyler Polumbus
- Morgan Moses
- Spencer Long
- Josh LeRibeus
- Tom Compton
- Mike McGlynn
In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.
Defensive line (6)
This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.
- Ryan Kerrigan
- Brian Orakpo
- Perry Riley
- Keenan Robinson
- Trent Murphy
- Darryl Sharpton
- Adam Hayward
- Brandon Jenkins
- Akeem Jordan
As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.
I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.
The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.
RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.
S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.
TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.
WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.
CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.
OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.
LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.
NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.
Davis injured his ankle late in the week and was added to the injury list Saturday morning. Davis tested his ankle Sunday morning and could be seen walking with a slight limp at times. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Logan Paulsen, but rookie Jordan Reed will see considerable action. Reed replaced Davis in many sets in last week's loss at Green Bay, playing 21 second-half snaps to Davis' five. Davis said he only made one or two missed assignments, but that number likely does not mesh with what the coaches would say. He also dropped a pass. Meanwhile, Reed is still learning, but makes tough catches -- he made Robert Griffin III look good last week by grabbing a pass that was far behind him in the end zone, a catch few tight ends could make.
Forbath was unable to kick Saturday, a good sign that he would be inactive Sunday. John Potter will handle the kicking chores. Nothing has changed since last week: Potter has a strong leg but is inconsistent on field goals even in practice.
The Redskins other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, defensive lineman Chris Baker, guard Josh LeRibeus, running back Evan Royster and safety Jose Gumbs. Baker is a surprise, but it's not as if he's played well in the first two games as a backup in the nickel package.
Detroit will be without running back Reggie Bush, which is good news for a defense that needs a break. He provides the Lions' offense with another threat to go with receiver Calvin Johnson. The Lions did a good job getting Bush the ball in the open field. Joique Bell will replace Bush in the lineup.
But there were no other surprises among the inactives. The other six are quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Evan Royster, safety Jordan Pugh, safety Jose Gumbs, nose tackle Chris Neild and guard Josh LeRibeus. The fact that two safeties are inactive suggests they have confidence that strong safety Brandon Meriweather will hold up in his first action of the season -- and his first regular-season game since Nov. 18 against Philadelphia. Pugh and Gumbs both play free safety, though they worked with Pugh this summer on playing more in the box.
The fact that Neild again is inactive suggests the Redskins will use a lot of their nickel package again. Neild plays almost exclusively in their base package as Barry Cofield's backup.
The good news for Washington is that Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett is inactive. He's their most experienced safety and his absence last week did not help in the Packers' loss at San Francisco.
Quarterbacks (4): Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman, Pat White
Better or worse than 2012: Better, mainly because Griffin and Cousins are a year older and therefore more advanced in the offense -- yes, that’s true even with Griffin coming off an injury. Now, the asterisk comes with Griffin's durability and it could take him a couple games to return to the dynamic player he was pre-injury. But he's a smart kid who will evolve as a passer, particularly in his ability to diagnose schemes sooner. And because of Cousins' emergence, this position is more sound. If Grossman is your No. 3 QB, you're doing well.
Running backs (5): Alfred Morris, Darrel Young, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Chris Thompson
Note: No surprise that they kept five. Thompson deserved a spot, thanks to his speed and natural running ability. He sets up blocks well and can cut sharply. Yes he fumbled, but that’s a correctable issue. He’s still learning as a punt returner, but he’s dangerous once he gets started. And, again, his style is excellent. For a little guy with speed, he doesn't dance and doesn't try to hit the hole too hard. He's patient, then explodes. Royster was telling friends he was pessimistic about his chances. That was before a big final game against Tampa Bay, which helped him knock out Keiland Williams. The Redskins have some variety here: A standout rusher in Morris; a third-down back in Helu; change-of-pace guy in Thompson and insurance in Royster. This is, potentially, a strong group.
Better or worse than 2012: Better. Morris is a better runner; Helu is healthy and Thompson is a legitimate speed guy. And if something happens to either Morris or Helu, they at least know Royster can handle either role. Good depth here. Real good.
Receivers (5): Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
Note: This is the fewest they’ve kept at this position under coach Mike Shanahan in Washington (though he kept as few as four on a couple occasions in Denver). Had Dez Briscoe not hurt his shoulder in the preseason finale he could have been on this list. But they likely will place at least one receiver (Nick Williams) on the practice squad. Lance Lewis is another possibility. As a unit I’m not wowed by them, but I’m also not underwhelmed, either. Garcon is excellent and Moss is a reliable and clutch target in the slot. They need Morgan and Hankerson to blossom at the Z receiver spot. Morgan needs to show he’s regained explosiveness lost in his 2011 ankle injury. Hankerson needs to show consistency. Robinson is an occasional threat behind Garcon. If something happens to Garcon, then this group doesn’t instill fear in the opposition. However, with receiving threats at tight end and running back, this group does not have to carry the passing game. And I like that each one knows the offense well; makes a difference.
Better or worse than 2012: Slightly better. If Garcon plays every game, then that’s a big help. But did the others look dramatically different than 2012? Debatable. Hankerson dropped too many passes in camp; Robinson looked better, but he did so last summer, too. Morgan looked more explosive on some cuts. If he can show that during the games, then this group will be better. Regardless, the passing game can flourish with what they have. The scheme gets receivers open.
Tight ends (4): Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul, Jordan Reed
Note: I’ll be curious to see how they develop this group in the passing game. Davis, once again, is playing for a contract and should get plenty of chances. Paul showed improvement as a blocker this summer and dropped one ball in training camp practices. Reed showed flashes this summer of what he could eventually become; he just needs time. Paulsen is Mr. Reliable; a strong-handed target and solid blocker. Having multiple tight ends can cause matchup problems for defenses. It can also help on plays such as the bubble screen, where you can split better blockers out wide in some cases (Paul).
Better or worse than 2012: Better. Paul has improved -- his footwork is better on blocks and, this summer, caught the ball well -- and Reed gives them terrific depth. Davis doesn’t appear to be affected much by last year’s ruptured Achilles. Paulsen is consistent.
Offensive line (8): Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton, Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis
Note: The starting five was never really in doubt. Tony Pashos showed some positives at right tackle, but he did not move as well as Polumbus. Still, minus Pashos, they’ve left themselves with inexperienced backups. That doesn’t mean they can’t handle the job, but until you do it in a game it’s just speculation. There was noticeable improvement in both Compton and Gettis. LeRibeus? He had a chance to build on a good showing versus Seattle and instead failed to get in the necessary shape, setting himself back.
Better or worse than 2012: Same. The starting five’s consistency makes this group go. They work well together, a necessary trait in a zone-blocking scheme in which you need to know how the guy next to you handles certain combination blocks. Right tackle will again be scrutinized until Polumbus reduces the amount of pressures allowed. If he does, then this group can claim they were better than in 2012. Even with those issues last year the offense averaged 6.2 yards per play. The inexperienced depth is a concern – they’ve combined for zero starts and five games – or, at the least, bears watching. I'd say if something happens to Williams they're in trouble, but any team that would lose a Pro Bowl left tackle with his athleticism would suffer a big drop off.
However, keeping four is still a lot. But with Kirk Cousins nursing a sprained right foot and with Robert Griffin III not having played in the preseason, the Redskins might just keep White around for the first couple of games. They have roster exemptions for end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson, both suspended for the first four games, so they could make this sort of move. If Griffin and Cousins both stay healthy, it’s hard to see this being a long-term situation. Still, White made big strides after a rough start.
The Redskins also opted to keep running back Evan Royster, who perhaps saved his job with a strong preseason finale at Tampa Bay. He's one of five running backs along with speedy rookie Chris Thompson.
Gone, but not yet forgotten: The Redskins would like to re-sign a number of their released players to the practice squad, including Chase Minnifield, Nick Williams, Tevita Stevens, Will Compton and tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, among others. Minnifield’s release was a surprise, given how the coaches talked about him during camp and his physical style in press coverage -- and with the loss of corner Richard Crawford. But the coaches liked corner Jerome Murphy’s physical style as well – and his special teams ability. Williams is an intriguing prospect as a slot receiver and punt returner. Ogbeuhi is a raw prospect who needs to spend a year or two on the practice squad.
Safety DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick in 2011 and opening day starter in 2012, did not progress in coverage. Though he was better in the box, the Redskins have Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty ahead of him at strong safety. And they opted for Jose Gumbs, signed right before camp, as a swing safety.
The Redskins also placed offensive lineman Maurice Hurt on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The tough cut? Receiver Dez Briscoe. According to a league source, Briscoe would have made the roster had he not injured his shoulder in the preseason finale.
What's next: The Redskins next big moves will occur after Week 4 when Jenkins and Jackson return from their four-game suspensions. At that point end Phillip Merling could be in trouble, along with, possibly White, simply because it would be unusual to keep four quarterbacks all season.
The Redskins lack experienced depth along the offensive line and could always use more help at safety. So if anyone intriguing clears waivers, the Redskins would be interested. They also retain the rights to suspended safety Tanard Jackson, who is now eligible for reinstatement. However, it could take a while for the NFL to grant his return -- if they give it to him at all.
Redskins cuts: RB: Keiland Williams, Jawan Jamison, RB Tristan Davis (from exempt/left squad list). WR: Skye Dawson, Nick Williams, Lance Lewis, Dez Briscoe (designated as injured). OL: Tevita Stevens, Tony Pashos, Kevin Matthews, Xavier Nixon. TE: Emmanuel Ogbuehi. DL: Chigo Anunoby, Dominique Hamilton, Ron Brace. DB: DeJon Gomes, Chase Minnifield LB: Vic So’oto, Will Compton, Marvin Burdette.
They’re in: Griffin, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
Out: Pat White
Note: White made strides, and under different circumstances I’d keep him around. Just to see how he develops. But with questions about Griffin’s durability, I’d be reluctant to have White as my third quarterback because of his inexperience. He improved with his accuracy, but still was inconsistent on certain throws. He’ll take time to develop. Would you keep White to groom him as the backup and then trade Cousins in the offseason? Sure. But what if something else happens to Griffin and you hang onto Cousins, just in case? When you listen to the coaches, they definitely like how White has progressed. Their enthusiasm for his progress is genuine. A few weeks ago I would not have written any explanation about why he would or would not stick around.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
They’re in: Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Keiland Williams, Chris Thompson, Darrel Young
Out: Evan Royster
Note: Royster is a better running back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to trade him. (Was told by one coach of another team there would be at least a limited market for him.) Before the Bucs game, I was convinced he was gone. Now? I think it's 51-49 he leaves. Or, perhaps 50.5-49.5. Williams is a better special-teams player than Royster. Both have solid hands, but Royster needs the ball a lot to be effective. So in a pinch he’s not as effective. Though he’s a good fit in a zone-read, the Redskins have a featured back (Morris), a third-down back (Helu), a speed back (Thompson) and a special-teamer do-it-all (Williams). It does not sound as if Williams' shoulder is that bad from Thursday; if it is, then this changes.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
They’re in: Fred Davis, Jordan Reed, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul
Out: Emmanuel Ogbuehi
Note: No surprises here. On draft day coach Mike Shanahan made it clear they could keep four tight ends. Paul looked a lot more comfortable this summer than last, thanks to an offseason of work after playing the position for the first time. Reed will help once he becomes more consistent. Ogbuehi impressed them, but there’s no room.
They’re in: Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
Out: Dez Briscoe, Skye Dawson, Nick Williams
Note: The first five were a lock before camp opened and remained that way throughout the summer. Briscoe could sneak in because of his size, but his hands are inconsistent – that was true last season and again this summer. He had a nice play the other night, but I didn’t like that he got caught from behind. With four tight ends, three of whom are solid receiving threats, and with Helu, the Redskins don’t need as many receivers as in the past. Keep in mind, too, that Shanahan has kept as few as four wideouts in the past (with Denver in 2005 and ’08, according to their opening day rosters). If they keep Dawson or Williams around on the practice squad they should be fine. Neither Dawson nor Williams did enough to warrant a spot. Dawson is quick and was tough to cover in one-on-one drills, but did little in 11-on-11 work. As a returner he was fine, but needed to be great.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
They’re in: Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus
Out: Tony Pashos
Note: The Redskins opt for youth at the backup spots, but while Pashos did show some good things – his hands, strength – I’m not sure he moved as well as needed in this offense. Again, another one I’m uneasy about because I don’t like the inexperience with the backups. Plus Compton’s development at left tackle should give them confidence that he could move to the right side if needed. The problem: Compton did not have a good final game, especially early. Gave up more than you’d like in protection and some issues in the run game, too. He was inconsistent in the opener, but played well in the second and third games. They also have Maurice Hurt, who likely will be on the PUP list. I’m uneasy with the backup guards, even though I do like how Gettis progressed.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
They’re in: Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Phillip Merling
Out: Ron Brace
Note: Merling would have been bumped had Jarvis Jenkins not been suspended. So when Jenkins returns, Merling could be in trouble. But Merling was fine against the run. Golston has played well enough to open at left end; he does a better job than Baker of doing his job here, occupying blockers. Baker too often likes to get upfield and make plays; it can lead to big gaps in the defense.
They’re in: Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Bryan Kehl, Nick Barnett, Brandon Jenkins
Out: Will Compton, Marvin Burdette
Note: This is tough for me because I like how Compton has played. He’s a smart, decisive player who was able to defeat blockers in part because he often beat them to the spot. I’d definitely want him on the practice squad. The other question is, what happens when Rob Jackson returns from suspension? Do they cut one of these players? I don’t know who you would cut; Tapp has been a terrific surprise (for me anyway) and Jenkins is safe. So they might end up with nine linebackers when Jackson returns.
They’re in: DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, Chase Minnifield, Jerome Murphy
Note: Murphy is a surprise choice; the coaches really like him and he’s a physical player and good on special teams.
They’re in: Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, Bacarri Rambo, Jordan Pugh, DeJon Gomes.
Out: Jose Gumbs
Note: Gumbs to the practice squad. And, by the way, I’m not confident at all in this position. The Redskins, one league source said, had contacted teams about Gomes a couple weeks ago, seeing if there was any trade interest. Whether or not he’s still on the market – or if anyone would part with something for him -- I don’t know. And if they’re concerned about Meriweather’s durability, perhaps you keep Gomes because he can play in the box and back up Doughty. He’s also a good special-teams player. I'm not anticipating a Tanard Jackson return either. He can apply for reinstatement Saturday. That does not mean he'll be reinstated immediately -- if at all. Remember, it was an indefinite suspension.
They're in: Sav Rocca, Kai Forbath, Nick Sundberg
Note: If you’re expecting great analysis here, stop reading. Nothing to say. They were in from Day One.
Highlights from the Washington Redskins' 30-12 preseason finale win at Tampa Bay. They ended the preseason 4-0:
1. Robert Griffin III tweeted that he had been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews, but then coach Mike Shanahan said the doc had a couple concerns. And that Shanahan would meet with Griffin over the weekend to discuss the situation. OK, I do not think this is just a ploy by Shanahan to keep the Eagles guessing, especially because the decision could come early in the week -- and if you’re Philly, you’re prepping for Griffin regardless. Much easier to adjust to a non-read-option attack than vice versa if Kirk Cousins has to play. Shanahan, though, is huge on gaining any little advantage. Still, it’s legit for Shanahan to want to see another week of practice, if that is the case. Just know that if this is the case, there will be more probing into the coach-player dynamic. Maybe Shanahan just wanted to remind everyone who controlled the decision.
2. But if it’s Andrews who has the concerns, then no one can blame Shanahan if he wants to take a little more time to evaluate -- or if he ultimately chooses to sit Griffin for the opener. There is, wrongly, a belief that Shanahan and the Redskins have rushed Griffin back. The kid hasn’t played in a game yet and, despite being cleared for practice at the start of camp, did not take any 11-on-11 reps until three weeks in. So, no, they have not rushed him back. When you see Griffin, you see someone who if not 100 percent is very close. If he were limping or missing practices and then it was announced he would play in the opener, then, OK, he’s being rushed. Now? Even if he plays I don’t think he would have been rushed. There’s one person who was rushing here; because of it he’s put himself on the verge of meeting his goal to play in the opener.
3. What are the concerns? Could be as simple as: Learn how to take care of yourself on the field. The coaches have preached this to Griffin for a while and, despite perception, he did learn last year. After his concussion he ran out of bounds at a much higher percentage than before. But when it’s a key situation he will try to grab every yard possible, turning upfield instead of running out of bounds. Have said this several times, but Griffin needs to learn how to keep the defenses guessing when scrambling by keeping the ball alive -- pump-faking as he approaches the line, or even beyond. Cousins did this a couple times against Pittsburgh. But Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did it as well, even getting linebacker London Fletcher to jump in the air after Roethlisberger had crossed the line of scrimmage. It’s just another way for Griffin to protect himself.
4. Chris Thompson’s speed and playmaking ability will earn him a roster spot. Shanahan praised him earlier in the week, excused his fumbles and called them correctable and said he’d keep getting better. Read between the lines. Then Thompson returns a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Whether or not he ends up as the main returner immediately is irrelevant; he still needs refining in this role. But it just shows what he’s capable of doing. Thompson was extra patient on the return, a trait he showed last week too. He’s good at pausing, forcing the coverage to commit and then spotting the opening. What I like about his running style: the ability to cut sharply and the fact that he’s always leaning forward when cutting up through the hole. For a little guy, he never gets knocked back.
5. Thompson also picked up a defensive linemen coming on a third-down stunt. Really liked how he attacked the block. The coaches like when you’re willing to handle this task, and Thompson did not back down at all. Made a good block, too. He deserves a roster spot; he understands how to run with the ball in this system. Thompson did misjudge a punt, not getting a good read on the ball and falling slightly forward as he caught it. He can work on catching punts in practice, as he has been doing.
6. The question is, did Evan Royster do enough to warrant a roster spot. I did not think entering the game that he would earn a job. And I think it comes down to him and Keiland Williams. For a while I thought the Redskins would keep only four backs because neither one of the rookies had shown anything in camp. Thompson was in and out of the lineup. But the past week or so changed my mind, and it looks like five backs could earn spots. It would be deserved, too, if you’re keeping the best 53. While Royster ran well, I still wonder how he fits. I know if something happened to Alfred Morris, Royster would be a good alternative. But if nothing happens? Then what does Royster do? Williams is a better special-teamer and that could still make the difference. I will say, Royster’s touchdown run was all him. Josh LeRibeus pulled but didn’t move anyone, and two defenders popped Royster, who bounced outside to his right and cut up for the score. By the way, on his 31-yard run I liked the subtle block by tight end Fred Davis. Royster started left and cut back to the right, the same side Davis was on. He was engaged with the backside linebacker, a block he didn’t always sustain last year. This time he did and it proved to be a pivotal one as Royster cut back.
7. Quarterback Pat White made some more plays which, considering his layoff from the NFL, isn’t too bad. But he still hasn’t shown that he can be a consistent or solid passer in the league. He did throw a nice out to Skye Dawson, a low zinger into tight coverage. He seems to be more comfortable when he’s outside the pocket. He threw an interception because he never saw the linebacker. Yeah, White stared at the receiver, but on a slant sometimes that’s what it takes on a quick route. He just failed to see the defender. On that same series he missed badly over the middle and should have been intercepted then, too. Yes, White’s touchdown run was nice, but the one thing everyone knew about him before he came to the NFL was that he could run. Can he pass out of the zone read? He didn’t do it this preseason. Can he throw any touch passes? Didn’t do that either. Or drop it in over the top of a linebacker down the middle – and in front of the safety? Nope. In other words, he has a long ways to go, as he should. I would not keep him.
8. Brandon Meriweather showed enough to make you think he’ll be fine for the season opener. Shanahan seemed pleased afterward with what he saw. Meriweather did not make a huge impact, but that wasn’t surprising given the layoff. He just needed to be active around the ball and prove he can still run well. He was generally around the ball and stuck his nose in the action when appropriate. The Redskins could use what he adds. I remember a corner blitz from the numbers against Philadelphia last season that I’m guessing they don’t run if not for Meriweather. Why? Because he had the speed to rotate and cover a speed guy like DeSean Jackson. That’s why it’s important to see how well he was running against the Bucs Thursday night. Meriweather needs to stay healthy.
9. Once again, safety Bacarri Rambo tackled well, especially in the open field. Before I get to that, I like how active Rambo is, whether it’s deep or playing near the line of scrimmage. I liked that he makes quick reads and breaks when playing the curl/flat drop zone. Last week he broke up a pass to C.J. Spiller, and this time Rambo tackled the tight end. Give Rambo credit for getting there before they can do anything with the ball. On one open-field tackle Rambo approached, broke down and then attacked and made the play. It’s too bad he didn’t really see any legitimate quarterbacks the past two games so he could get tested downfield. But he licked the one problem he had early on. Those missed tackles could turn out to be the biggest plays he made this season – just because of what he learned and how it helped him improve.
10. OK, this is the last observation so we’ll combine a few into one with a little rapid fire. I thought Chris Baker played a terrific game, showing a lot of strength (as did Phillip Merling). Liked what Bryan Kehl did; active and avoided some blocks to make plays. Brandon Jenkins is a raw pass-rusher. Got inside the tackle on one rush, coming out of a three-point stance. Did see him get wide on one other time but often quiet. Was not impressed with tackle Tom Compton early in the game; knocked over on the first play; allowed pressure on the third play and later in the game he whiffed on one pass set, expecting the defender to either bull rush or engage. Instead he went around the edge. Right tackle Tony Pashos was fine, though he allowed a pressure. Leonard Hankerson dropped another ball. He’s an improved route runner, but those hands. … And will Dez Briscoe’s catch and run help him enough to get a spot as the No. 6 receiver? Briscoe’s hands were inconsistent during training camp so that matters, too. It’ll probably come down to keeping a sixth receiver or an 11th defensive back or a ninth offensive lineman. Good play by David Amerson; right spot, right time on the overthrow. Jose Gumbs had a couple good pops, though I wonder on his downfield hit if it could have been better. He hit the receiver with his right shoulder, but he could have taken the guys head off with a big hit (afraid of drawing a fine perhaps?).
• Corner Josh Wilson, who had offseason shoulder surgery, will also play against Tampa Bay. The Redskins typically rest their starters in the preseason finale, but Wilson did not play in the first two preseason games. They’d like him to play 15 to 20 snaps Thursday. Running back Evan Royster said his sprained left ankle is fine and he expects to play Thursday. Royster did not play versus Buffalo because of his ankle.
• The Redskins placed corner Richard Crawford on waived/injured in part because they can pay him less money if he clears waivers and returns. Crawford’s injury was bad: he tore the ACL, MCL and LCL in his left knee and the recovery period will take nine months.
“He’s a great kid, an unbelievable worker,” Shanahan said. “He’s done everything you ask to give himself the opportunity to be successful. It is a blow not only to him but to us.”
• There’s a simple reason why veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth was released: his hamstring. Stallworth hurt it early in camp and it affected his performance. “You could see he just wasn’t ready,” Shanahan said. They’ll miss his blocking as much as anything he would have contributed in the passing game. Stallworth blocked with an attitude, something the coaches love -- and something that’s necessary in the outside zone game.
• Nose tackle Barry Cofield wore padding over his cast during practice Monday, giving him the same clubbed look that Trent Williams had with his sprained wrist in camp. Shanahan said he doesn’t know how long Cofield will need to wear the cast. The benefit for Cofield is that even with the cast he can use his fingers, giving him the ability to use both hands. He relies on his quickness a great deal and gets free with quick swim moves more than just using his hands to overpower a defender. But every player needs his hands and if Cofield can still use his, there’s little reason to think his play would suffer much of a drop.
- The pace of Buffalo’s offense. I wrote about this Friday morning, but Buffalo likes to use a fast-paced attack, something the Redskins’ season-opening opponent, Philadelphia, does as well. How will the Redskins handle this? What will the Redskins do if caught in a personnel grouping that isn’t the best for what Buffalo’s offense has on the field? Because the starters will play only 15-20 snaps, it will provide only a small test -- the pace can take its toll over the course of a game -- but it will be a help nonetheless.
- Safety Bacarri Rambo’s progression. I’d play him more than the other starters, or at least in the final preseason game, just to give him more chances to tackle in the open field. He clearly needs the work. He might end up starting, but he still has yet to truly win the position. At this point he’s in there by default. He has a lot of skills to offer, but if this area doesn’t improve it’ll cause big problems.
- Corner Josh Wilson. He’ll make his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games while his surgically repaired shoulder continued to heal. Wilson remains the starter, ahead of rookie David Amerson. But Wilson is not coming off his best season and was asked to take a pay cut in the offseason -- so it’s not as if he’s firmly entrenched at this position. He’s much more knowledgeable about the defense than Amerson and, with a rookie safety, that matters. The Redskins can’t afford a lot of defensive backs learning on the go, though Amerson has looked good at times. But Wilson still needs to play well.
- Backup running backs. There’s no doubt who the top two players are at this position (Alfred Morris and Roy Helu -- but you really didn't need me to tell you that, did you?). Is Evan Royster in any danger? The problem is, the rookies have yet to show that they deserve a roster spot. Chris Thompson has flash, but he’s barely done anything in practice, let alone a game, in part because of injuries. Coaches are big on players being available; can they rely on Thompson in this area? His speed is intriguing (and speed is why Mike Shanahan, among others, initially fell in love with Brandon Banks in 2010). So it matters. But based on performance Thompson still needs to prove he belongs. I like Jawan Jamison’s running style, but the same applies to him. Royster is an average runner, so he’s no lock. Keiland Williams is a good special-teams player, but not much help from scrimmage.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Wade PayneRookie safety Bacarri Rambo (29) needs more work on his open-field tackling to avoid headaches later.
- Veteran backups. Specifically linebacker Nick Barnett and receiver Donte' Stallworth. Barnett, the ex-Bill, isn’t worried about any sort of revenge; rather, he needs to show that he can still play at a certain level. This will be his first chance to do so. The Redskins have a pressing need for inside linebacker depth, and having a former starter who is familiar with this defense would help. As for Stallworth, he’ll make it only if the Redskins keep six wideouts. He’s played special teams sparingly in his career, but will have to show he can help there to stick around. And stay healthy. Lingering injuries never help aging vets.
- Right tackle. If Bills defensive end Mario Williams plays -- he went two series in the opener and did not see time last week -- then Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus will have a good game to measure any progress. Polumbus did not have a strong game last week. Nobody else has taken first-team reps at right tackle. But along with watching Polumbus, I want to keep an eye on veteran Tony Pashos. He’s Washington's most aggressive right tackle when it comes to using his hands, but what does he have left? The Redskins likely would need to keep nine linemen for him to make the roster. And Tom Compton is still working on the left side, but he’s coming off a strong game.
- Nose tackle Chris Neild. With Barry Cofield sidelined by a fractured bone in his right hand, Neild will get a chance to work against the Bills’ starting line. He’s not in danger of being cut, but this is a good opportunity to face quality blockers.
- Rookie tight end Jordan Reed. He struggled as a blocker last week, mostly, it appeared, because of inconsistent technique. He was not overpowered, which is a good sign for him. But he does need to help in this area. Reed also dropped a ball last week; I’d like to see him get a chance to display his athleticism.
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.
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).
Anyway, how it works is anyone who puts a post on Twitter with the hashtag #nfceastmail could see their question answered here in a weekend post. Like so:
Thanks for all of the questions, and keep them coming for next week.
How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?
After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.
New York Giants
The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.
Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.
Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.
When I got up this morning, I figured my Monday post on the Washington Redskins would be about Robert Griffin III. Made sense. Another huge game, his first fourth-quarter comeback, poise, excitement, yada, yada, yada...
But then I thought I might want to try something different. It's not as though I'm going to run out of opportunities to write about Griffin, after all. And the Redskins have another rookie on offense who had his first 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Alfred Morris, Washington's sixth-round pick in this past April's draft, ran for 113 yards on 21 carries in Sunday's 24-22 victory in Tampa Bay. He's fifth in the league in rushing yards, the unquestioned starter at running back on the league's fourth-highest-scoring team. He's grateful and humble and anything but flashy.
And then he did something that sealed the deal. He called me back.
"I never would have expected for all of this to happen so soon," Morris said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "But life's crazy. Some other guys got nicked and bruised, and I got the opportunity to show the coaches what I could do, and they liked it."
Mike Shanahan and the Redskins' coaches love it. They took Morris in the sixth round because they knew last year's starter, Tim Hightower, might not make it back from his knee surgery and they'd need depth at running back for training camp. He came from a Florida Atlantic team that went 1-11 last year, and the scouting report on him was he was an unspectacular, straight-ahead runner who might even be better suited to play fullback.
But what Shanahan saw was a young man who ran exactly the way he wants his running backs to run -- one cut and get up the field. Morris fits the Redskins' system, perfectly. And while Shanahan certainly didn't draft him expecting him to start and gain 376 yards in the first four games, he did believe that Morris was the kind of back who could have success in his offense if they had to use him.
"I've always been a one-cut type of back. I've never been a guy that jukes a lot," Morris said. "I don't like losing yards. That's one of my pet peeves."
He and Shanahan may have been meant for each other. The Redskins' coach was impressed right away with the way Morris hit the holes, leaned and fell forward and didn't do anything potentially costly in an effort to do something spectacular. Shanahan knew he had spectacular coming at quarterback, and still believes he'll get it from his receivers. At running back, he needed someone (a) workmanlike and (b) healthy. Shanahan likes Hightower a lot, but he wasn't sure he'd make it all the way back from the knee surgery. He likes Roy Helu and Evan Royster too, but he didn't think he could trust them to stay healthy, and he was right. One of the best things about Morris, when Shanahan was deciding on a starter in August, was that he was available.
In a lot of ways, that story makes sense for Morris, who still drives his 1991 Mazda 626 (ironically nicknamed "Bentley" by teammates) to practice because he says it keeps him grounded. Morris may be a starting running back and one of the most productive in the league, but he believes he has to prove himself every week. Nobody told him, for instance, when the team signed Ryan Grant last week, that the veteran former Packer was not being brought in to threaten Morris' job. Even if that's the case, Morris is determined not to view it that way.
"I'm in my first year," Morris said. "To have a veteran who's been in the league, that can only help me. I can learn from him, and more competition always helps make everyone better. The way we look at it here, with the backs, any one of us can be a starter. Any one of us can carry the load. With Coach Shanahan, you never know who's going to start the game until game day, and I like it that way. I'm never going to get complacent. I just need to keep working and getting better."
While the Redskins' first-round pick is dazzling the league on a weekly basis, the sixth-round pick is lining up behind him and grinding out yards. Would Morris have liked to be drafted higher? Of course he would have. But he's as grounded as it gets -- and as appreciative.
"Everybody wants to get drafted as high as possible, but the way I look at it, it's a blessing, because not many guys get drafted from 1-11 teams," Morris said. "I wouldn't have it any other way than the way it played out. My opportunity came, and I'm making the most of it."
The perfect marriage of player and situation, is young Alfred Morris and the Redskins. And regardless of Shanahan's reputation as a running back flip-flopper, Morris may just hold onto this job for a long time.