NFC East: H.B. Blades

Yeah, there was some traffic. Next time I'll take the train so I can work on the way down. Lesson learned. Or I need to hitch a ride with Mortensen on that bus he's got.

Anyway, some stuff happened while I was on the road, and I'm going to start with the Redskins, who made a couple of moves.

They traded 35-year-old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and a conditional draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for 25-year-old running back Tim Hightower. I put the players' ages in there for good reason, since it's the latest illustration of what the Redskins are up to -- namely, getting younger and rebuilding with their eyes more on the future than on 2011. They've been remaking their defensive line with the additions of Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen and the subtraction of Jeremy Jarmon and now Holliday. More moves might be coming there, and if they do, expect them to fit in with most of the moves the Redskins have been making -- moves for younger, hungry players who are already good and somewhat established but have room to grow as the team moves on into the future. Hightower enters the running back mix with Ryan Torain, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. He's got the most experience of that bunch, and Mike Shanahan likes having depth at the position. Sensible move that gets them younger overall and brings in something of a veteran presence at a position where they lacked it.

They re-signed right tackle Jammal Brown, who started slow last year in his first season with the team but improved in the second half as he became healthier, to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. This move was expected, though there was some thought they'd look elsewhere. (Denver's Ryan Harris had come up in some speculation.) Continuity is good for an offensive line, and Brown will return for a second year in Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Left-to-right, the Redskins' starting offensive line right now is Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Brown. Everybody but Chester from that group was on the team last year.

They also brought back H.B. Blades, who'll be a special-teamer and a backup for them at the inside linebacker spots. Depth is good, and with Lorenzo Alexander possibly moving inside to make room for first-round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan on the outside, the Skins have it.

The Redskins have had a very busy -- and I think a very good -- first week of free agency. They're not making the kinds of moves that make you think they'll just right into 2011 contention, because they likely won't. But in the second year of a five-year contract, Shanahan is building a team, and trying to do it the right way. And don't look now, but it appears Dan Snyder has been staying out of it. Just like he promised.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the linebackers of each NFC East team. Today: Washington Redskins.

The Redskins moved to a 3-4 scheme last season, but London Fletcher wasn’t fazed by the scheme change and just kept up his steady pace. He is a true professional and one of the most consistent linebackers of this generation. The Redskins could lose Rocky McIntosh in free agency. McIntosh started next to Fletcher on the inside, and a change of scenery and scheme could do him well, as I think he fits a 4-3 front better than Washington’s 3-4.

On the outside, Brian Orakpo again showed why he can become one of the better pass-rushers in the league, but he wasn’t the same player during the second half of the season. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the problems that Orakpo had versus the run this year. There was little to get excited about opposite Orakpo, and adding another outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback might free Orakpo up to really wreak some havoc. This is a major need.

For the second time in his career, Andre Carter showed that he is not a fit in an odd front. He could be playing elsewhere next season, and for the most part, was replaced by Lorenzo Alexander. A liability as a pass-rusher and in coverage, Alexander is best suited as a backup on the outside and as a core special-teamer rather than in a starting role.

Others worth mentioning are Perry Riley and H.B. Blades on the inside and Chris Wilson and Rob Jackson on the outside. The undersized Blades is an extremely poor-man’s version of Fletcher and had a solid 2009 campaign. Wilson is a pretty good special-teams player and shows promise as a pass-rusher. Jackson could get a chance at more snaps going forward.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Redskins-Pats: What did we learn?

August, 29, 2009
8/29/09
9:01
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

It's much easier for me to defend Jason Campbell when he plays like he did last night. The Redskins lost to the Patriots in the final seconds of a preseason game, but they appeared to gain much-needed confidence in the process. Campbell was 13-of-22 for 209 yards and a rushing touchdown, but the most important thing was that he looked poised the entire time. We saw what he can do when the offensive line gives him a little time.

 
  AP Photo/Nick Wass
  Marko Mitchell caught a touchdown pass in front of cornerback Jamar Love during the second half of Friday night's game.

After he called it a night, Campbell told Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that the offense couldn't "dink and dunk" its way down the field and be successful. And that's why you see coach Jim Zorn calling for so many downfield passes. I thought Post columnist Mike Wise summed it up pretty well after last night's game. OK, let's take a closer look at what took place:

Tom Brady and Randy Moss pretty much toyed with DeAngelo Hall. It wasn't an awful performance by the defense at all, but Hall was clearly in over his head against Moss. I realize he's going to make a lot of cornerbacks look bad, but you would hope Hall wouldn't get completely overwhelmed. When receivers such as Terrell Owens, Moss and Larry Fitzgerald showed up, it was always nice to have Shawn Springs on the field. Unfortunately, he now plays for the Pats. The best news for the Skins? They don't have to see Moss again -- unless it's in the Super Bowl. The good news for the defense is the three turnovers. In the second half, linebacker Rocky McIntosh made a superb play to tip the ball away from the tight end and allow LaRon Landry to go the other way. Also a really nice play on the ball by rookie corner Kevin Barnes. He's got some really good skills. This draft class is looking better all the time.

The Skins had 15 penalties for 113 yards? REALLY? Amid some of the positive aspects from this game, the penalties have to be driving Jim Zorn nuts. And you can't really pick on one unit. The defensive tackles may want to work on lining up in the right spots and you should start eliminating the false starts along the offensive line at this stage in the preseason. The 15-yard penalties will get you beat, and that's what happened when Hall grabbed Moss' facemask. The Skins' defense had a chance to get off the field at that point, but the penalty gave the Patriots another shot. You can't do that with one of the most potent offenses in the league.

There's no way in the world you can keep Marko Mitchell off the roster -- and why would you even try? He's big and he makes important catches. He froze a defender in the second half and then changed his route when he recognized that the Patriots had busted coverage.  Colt Brennan found him for a 33-yard touchdown. Patriots cornerback Jamar Love never had a chance. The guy keeps getting in the end zone, and he's become perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the preseason for the Redskins. He offers what quarterbacks like to call a wide strike zone and he appears to be learning how to beat jams near the line of scrimmage. He could be a real threat near the goal line because of his body control and hands.

Colt Brennan didn't perform well enough to overtake Chase Daniel -- at least in my opinion: The same things that made Brennan one of the most prolific passers in the history of college football can also get him in big trouble. He's supremely confident and he thinks he can fit a ball into any space. But he has to be smarter when he's around the goal line. For the second time in as many games, Brennan made a horrible decision near the goal line. He forced a pass that was picked off by Jonathan Wilhite and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Brennan tried the old "I was just trying to make a play" excuse after the game, but that doesn't hold water. He basically surrendered 10 points with that ill-advised throw -- seven to the Patriots and three that he took away from the Skins. I liked that he came right back with the touchdown to Mitchell, but it wasn't enough to overshadow the interception in my mind. I do like the way Brennan handles screens. He's athletic enough to spin away from trouble and dump the ball to Marcus Mason on the run. Not as easy as it looks.

Hated to see Mason get the bruised ribs in the fourth quarter. It's hard to recover from those when you're taking a lot of punishment at running back. I think Mason's put himself in position to challenge Ladell Betts for the backup role. He's more explosive than Betts in my mind, and he's a better change-of-pace back. Mason puts more pressure on defenses -- both on the ground and through the air -- than Betts.

Hello, Anthony Alridge!: I've been waiting to see this guy all preseason. The former University of Houston star -- as proud U of H alum Nantz noted several times -- has elite speed. He's only about 5-foot-9, but as you saw Friday night, no one can seem to get a clean shot on him. I know he was going against the Patriots' backups, but Alridge still popped off the screen. I hope the guy gets a shot. Last year, the Redskins didn't have enough depth at running back. But with Mason, Dominique Dorsey, Betts and Alridge, they look a lot better this season.

Does Chad Rinehart frustrate you guys as much as he does me? I thought he had his moments, but the guard just sort of looks lost at times. On a play in the second half,
he let a Patriots defensive tackle race right past him. The player ended up being flagged for hitting Brennan too low. But that never happens if Rinehart does his job. It's like he never he even made an attempt at the guy. I'd hoped Rinehart would be a lot farther down the road at this point. Too many mental mistakes from what I'm seeing. Zorn will want to cut Rinehart after watching that play. Not saying he will, but the thought will cross his mind.

I'm not sure why Zorn doesn't run the ball inside the 10-yard line. In the second half, I kept wondering why Zorn wouldn't let Mason or Alridge have a chance to run the ball near the goal line. He seemed intent on letting Brennan find someone in the end zone. That would've been a good test for the offensive line to try to plow it in there.

Did the Skins not think the Patriots would blitz? In the second half, a linebacker for the Patriots (Guyton?) came clean from the right side. It's like the Redskins were shocked that Bill Belichick might send an extra rusher.

H.B. Blades is a bad man: How great was that stick he put on Fred Taylor? You don't want to get caught running high when Blades is anywhere around. He absolutely destroyed Taylor, causing him to spin in the air like a merry-go-round.

With 4:30 left in a meaningless games, I find myself shouting at Brennan: When your team's in field goal position, how in the world do you take a sack? This might have been the point when I actually knew Daniel would make the team ahead of Brennan. Just a bone-headed play right there. Once you've escaped the pocket and don't see anything, fling it out of bounds. That play set up Shaun Suisham's miss from 52 yards. Everyone can try to pile on my man Suisham, but that was all Brennan's fault.

What's the deal with the coverage? You're in a close game in the fourth quarter and you let Patrick Chung just shred the punt coverage unit? The punt certainly wasn't high enough (46 yards in length), but someone has to at least force Chung to make a move. He darts toward the sideline and coverage completely fell apart. Bad, bad play right there on special teams.

I'll be keeping my eye on the Cowboys and Giants this evening. Thanks for your continued interest.

What's in Mosley's Mailbag?

May, 16, 2009
5/16/09
5:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Welcome to this special weekend edition of The Bag. I just finished reading through 4,609 of your questions and I've selected the seven best/easiest to answer. And just a reminder: This is probably not the best forum to track me down if you're a college head coach or former high school classmate. Now let's get started:

K.C. from the University of Maryland, you're up first: Hey Matt, I'm really enjoying the blog, good balance for the four teams. This offseason, the Skins made a HUGE (literally) addition on D to a unit ranked No. 4, and they added Dockery to help the line Now I know the line isn't great, but even if only one of the three receiving rooks steps up, our offense will be tons better. Plus, this is Campbell's first time being in a system for two years! What do you think? I can't see why we are getting no love this offseason, but I'd like to rise up rather than fall like we do most years. Thanks.

Mosley: Thanks, K.C. I'm sure you enjoyed seeing the Maryland cornerback (Barnes) go in the third round. I think the Redskins definitely have a chance to make a run at the playoffs, but they're playing in a brutal division. If they can go 3-3 in the division, they have a great shot. I like their early schedule, so it's not hard to see them coming out of the gate 5-1. But we all know what happened last season. I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon of any of those '08 second-rounders until I see them do something when it counts. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better be ready to go for training camp. If they have a summer filled with hamstring and knee injuries, then it will be much of the same in '09. And don't get too fascinated with that No. 4 ranking. The defense didn't cause enough sacks and turnovers. Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo are supposed to chage that. Right now, I see them as the fourth-best team in the division.


Longtime reader Jason in Bryn Mawr, Pa., has an Eagles question: Matt, what do you think about the apparent offer the Eagles made for Anquan Boldin (reported by the Arizona Republic), third-round pick and Sheldon Brown? The media and fans here in Philadelphia seems to think it was a very good offer, but I think it's an embarrassing offer; the Eagles would be lucky to get a fourth-round pick for Sheldon Brown. Would he definitely start in Arizona, where they have two very promising young cornerbacks? Arizona wants a first, third and fifth for Boldin, not a third and fourth.

Mosley: Basically, the Cardinals were asking for the same thing the Detroit Lions received in the Roy Williams trade. Unfortunately for the Cardinals (and Boldin), there's only one Jerry Jones in the league. To land a third-round pick and a potential starting cornerback doesn't qualify as an "embarrassment" in my mind, but you're correct to say the Cardinals aren't hurting that much in the secondary. And it's not just about the draft picks either. Teams don't want to pay the $10 million per year that Boldin is asking for. It remains to be seen whether Boldin will try to force a trade via a training camp holdout. For now, he may just come down with some "timely" injuries during OTAs and minicamps.


Josh from Winston Salem, N.C., thinks I'm too hard on Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams: Mr Mosley, why dont you believe in Roy Williams? He emerged as the No. 1 guy in Detroit by his third year, and in his fourth year, had 838 yards in 12 games, which is about an 1,120-yard season. I understand that Calvin Johnson is playing with bad quarterbacks like Roy did and putting up better numbers, but it doesnt mean Roy is not a 1000-yard reciever, it just means Calvin Johnson is better. Can you name me a wide receiver in the NFC East that is better then Roy Williams?

Mosley: Josh, call me Matt. When a player has been in the league five seasons and only has one 1,000-yard season, then I don't think you can call him a "1,000-yard receiver." I think Williams is an exciting player who can occassionally take over games. But I'd want my No. 1 receiver to consistently make an impact. His career in the NFL has been anything but consistent. And here's my list of Beast receivers who are better than Williams: DeSean Jackson of the Eagles, Santana Moss of the Redskins and I'd almost put Steve Smith of the Giants ahead of him -- based on last season's results. Smith makes clutch catches on a consistent basis. I've only seen Williams put up big numbers once -- and it was in Mike Martz's anti-run offense in Detroit.


Steve from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: I hate to keep saying this Matt Mosley but you are an NFC East beat writer. Please give all the teams equal coverage. We are Dallas Cowboys news fed all the time while the Eagles and the Redskins get the least coverage. Of course your subtle negativity toward the Eagles articles is not becoming, either. Objective writing must be an afterthought in your book. ESPN.com needs to assign the NFC East a new beat writer.

Mosley: Steve, I appreciate the note. Seriously. You may not realize that a "beat writer" is someone assigned to cover a team on an almost daily basis. We have some wonderful beat writers across the country -- and fortunately several of them reside in the NFC East. I'm not a beat writer for any of the four teams in the division, although from time to time, it may seem like that's the case because I interview coaches and players for blog entries and columns. My main role is to provide commentary/opinion on what's happening around the division. On some occasions, Eagles fans will think I'm being too critical of their team. And yes, there are Cowboys fans who think I'm much too critical of their club. It's a little tricky striking the right balance some days. Last season, the Cowboys seemed to provide the most off-the-field drama, but Plaxico Burress and the Giants made a late run. But whether it's positive or negative, I always appreciate the feedback. OK, let's get back to the field.


Paul in Boston has a Cowboys question: Hey Matt: As always, the blog kicks -- it's a must-read on a daily basis. I was wondering if you knew anything about the current state of the relationship between Brian Stewart and Wade Phillips in the aftermath of Stewart's dismissal as defensive coordinator of the 'Boys last season. I know the two were close, and had worked together for a while. It's also speculated that the decision to fire Stewart came from the brass and not from Phillips. Has Stewart found work anyw
here else?

Mosley: Thanks for reading, Paul. I spoke to Stewart two days ago, and I think the relationship is fine. He still views Phillips as a mentor and recognizes the role he's played in his career. Phillips never wanted to fire his close friend, but Jerry Jones didn't give him a choice. In Jones' mind, it was important for Phillips to take on the full role of defensive coordinator. And with former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo on the staff, Phillips will have some help. Stewart will be the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco team in the United Football League this fall. Dennis Green will be the head coach. Former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham was supposed to be on the staff, but he's decided to walk away. The league will only have a six-game schedule this fall.


Craig from somewhere in Pennsylvania: I want to preface this e-mail with the fact that I usually love your writing and think your opinions make a ton of sense. But I am not sure what you are talking about with Sinorice Moss in your blog posting, Matt. In very limited playing, he flashed on several occasions and looked good when given chances. Just because of the depth and amount of young guys, his opportunities were few and far between. Check out the film from the Week 5 game when Burress was suspended and Domenik Hixon went out hurt and he had 45 yards and two touchdowns .... so two guys ahead of him go down and he racks up 45 yards and two touchdowns in half a game. And then Plax and Hixon come back and he goes silent. How can you put that on him? He got his chance, shined and got put back on the shelf. And I know you're gonna say the Seahawks sucked but still it was his biggest chance and he looked good.

Mosley: Actually I had no plans to say the "Seahawks sucked," but it's a fair point on your part, Craig. I have nothing against Sinorice Moss. I think he has incredible speed and he might be able to make some plays downfield. I've just never thought he had the potential to become a consistent threat. Smaller players such as Steve Smith (Panthers version) and Santana Moss (big brother) have learned how to make contested catches on a regular basis. If the Giants thought Sinorice could do that, he would've been on the field by now. In my mind, this training camp is his last opportunity to shine. He'll be competing with Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and David Tyree for that third receiver role. I don't like his chances at this point.


Mark W. left this question in The Bag a couple weeks ago: Matt, I'm a huge fan of yours. I just wanted to comment on the Orakpo story (your concern that the Skins may not use him properly). A few points: A) Greg Blache is the defensive coordinator and is no dummy. B) Blache knows he needs to get more pressure on the quarterback, hence the Skins' eagerness to draft a pass-rushing specialist in the first place. C) The Skins have major concerns at the LB position with the departure of Marcus Washington and the degenerative knee condition of Rocky McIntosh. D) The Skins are relying on H.B. Blades (a special teamer) to start a linebacker. Ok, so how to balance A/B with C/D when Orakpo could be also develop into a standout at linebacker? If the Skins were solid at linebacker, there isn't even a thought to playing Orakpo at linebacker right now. But they aren't, and they need to find some depth there. If Orakpo proves he can play the position, outstanding, but they need to find out now. Although ideally you want him rushing every down, with Albert Haynesworth, Philip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Andre Carter, you're not in horrible shape on the line. To me, this is all about a team with little depth at key positions. This is, as you pointed out, May, and you need to find out who is versatile and can fill gaps for you at other positions if calamity strikes. Rushing the passer isn't something you need to study the playbook to do. With Orakpo, you just cut him loose, so it isn't as though he needs a ton of reps on defensive end at this point.

Mosley: You make some great points, but I don't agree with your conclusion. I watched Brian Orakpo in person at least four or five times in college. I realize he's an outstanding pass rusher, but he's about to face a completely different level of offensive tackles. He won't run into a lot of Phil Loadholts (No. 54 overall) this season. He'll have to refine his pass-rushing moves and learn some new ones. And that's why I'd have him at defensive end from Day 1. And there are people within the organization who agree with me. You don't draft a pass-rusher and then switch him to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 just because you want some versatility. H.B. Blades or whomever you want to throw in there (Fincher) will be better at the strong-side position than Orakpo will be in his first season. Why do we think a guy who's played with one hand on the ground for years will suddenly be fine at linebacker? The more I think about the Redskins using Orakpo at linebacker on first and second downs, the more ridiculous it seems. And please don't try to hang your hat on Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter. They're decent defensive ends, but even the great Haynesworth won't turn them into 12-sack guys.

OK, thanks for your time. I'll try to answer a couple more on Sunday.

Thursday Morning Beastlines -- or TMB for regulars

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
11:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys 

  • Cowboys assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither has been released from Baylor University Medical Center, according to the club. By the way, Gaither is one of the unsung heroes for the Cowboys. He's a guy who works ridiculous hours and is constantly upbeat. Players swear by him. Oh, and he reads this blog every morning. 

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

  • Don't expect H.B. Blades to go in the tank just because Brian Orakpo's on the scene.

Monday Beastlines

March, 30, 2009
3/30/09
11:27
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Injury update on Marcus Washington

November, 16, 2008
11/16/08
9:11
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington has left the game with a sprained ankle and his return is questionable. Washington has been banged up all season. H.B. Blades has taken his place in the starting lineup. Blades is part of the Redskins' short-yardage unit.

He's sort of a poor man's London Fletcher. Both are little guys who bring a tremendous amount of energy. The Cowboys continue to work the perimeter with Marion Barber. At some point, you'd expect them to run a counter play right at Redskins defensive tackle Kedric Golston.

Friday Beastlines

October, 10, 2008
10/10/08
11:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

  • Todd Archer talks about the contingency plan at cornerback. But it's tough for Wade Phillips to look that far ahead. Heck, he didn't even know Pacman had a four-man security detail.

Eagles

  • You may have heard about the "Fire Andy Reid" petition that's going around. Well, Bob Brookover is here to defend Reid.

Giants

Redskins

  • Rocky McIntosh doesn't feel compelled to say much -- or anything.

Pre-game report: Westbrook's active

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
12:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Greetings from Lincoln Financial Field, where we're about an hour away from kickoff. It's 66 degrees with 63 percent humidity right now. We'll have a high of 73.

In other news, the Redskins will be without starting cornerback Shawn Springs (calf) and linebacker Marcus Washington (hamstring) for today's game against the Eagles. Fred Smoot and H.B. Blades will start.

For the Eagles, Brian Westbrook (ankle) will return after missing last Sunday's game against the Bears. Westbrook came out about two and a half hours before the game and appeared to be cutting pretty well. I still think Correll Buckhalter could end up carrying the load, but Westbrook's presence gives the Eagles a lift.

The Eagles are also missing Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, but we knew he was going to be out. Andrews doesn't seem to be making much progress with his back, and that's something we should keep our eye on.

Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor will miss his second consecutive game and Jon Jansen will once again start for Stephon Heyer at right tackle.

Here's the entire list of inactives: Eagles: QB A.J. Feeley (emergency), LB Joe Mays, DE Bryan Smith, G Shawn Andrews, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Matt Schobel, DE Victor Abiamiri Redskins: QB Colt Brennan (emergency), CB Shawn Springs, S Justin Hamilton, LB Marcus Washington, DE Jason Taylor, T Stephon Heyer, T Chad Rinehart.

Redskins Camp Confidential

August, 7, 2008
8/07/08
5:53
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

In case you missed it, my Redskins Camp Confidential article is now featured on ESPN.com. I have a ton of stuff that I couldn't fit into my 1,300-word allotment, so I'll try to drop some of those notes into a hefty mailbag Friday.

Here are a few of the players I took extensive practice notes on:

Feel free to ask me about any of these guys.

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