NFC East: Jammal Brown

So the Chiefs cut right tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday, probably because they've decided to take a tackle with the first pick in the draft. But this isn't a Chiefs blog. This is an NFC East blog, peopled by fans of teams in the NFC East. So why are we talking about this?

Winston
Because whenever a player of whom fans have heard gets cut in the middle of his contract, one of the first questions fans immediately ask is, "Should [my team] try to sign [this player that was just cut in the middle of his contract]?" And if you cheer for a team in the NFC East, and the player in question is Winston, the answer is yes.

It amazes me sometimes, the similarities our four teams can share. They all need help in the secondary, for instance, and they all need help on the right side of the offensive line. So here's a quickie team-by-team rundown of why each of our division's teams should kick the tires on this 29-year-old offensive lineman who is allowed to sign any time.

Dallas Cowboys

Obviously, the Doug Free contract is a huge bust and the Cowboys need a right tackle. They need guard help, too, but a right tackle is a fine place to start. Sadly for the Cowboys, they're too tight up against the cap to really compete for a free agent if that free agent is going to draw interest from multiple teams. I still think they address this in the draft.

New York Giants

Winston is better than David Diehl or James Brewer or Sean Locklear or whoever the Giants are currently planning to use on the right side. They won't overspend, but I'll bet they at least inquire about him.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have the best right tackle in the division in Todd Herremans, but they also have the most cap room -- by a mile. There is some sense that the offensive line would be stronger if they acquired a right tackle and moved Herremans back inside to right guard to replace the disappointing Danny Watkins. Enter Winston. They can afford him. They need him. No question they'll have interest.

Washington Redskins

This would be the perfect fit, for player and team. The Redskins need a right tackle, as it appears Jammal Brown's hip is never going to be right. Winston has zone-blocking run game experience, as well as experience working with Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from his time in Houston. I think the Redskins would have signed Winston last year if they hadn't be blindsided by the salary-cap penalty on the day before free agency started. They would love to have him. Unfortunately, that cap penalty is still in place this year. And even though they knew that in advance this time, it's likely to keep Winston out of their reach for the second year in a row.

Redskins' offensive line thoughts

February, 28, 2013
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The Washington Redskins started the same five offensive lineman in 16 of their 17 games this past season. This is a big part of the reason why they were able to win 10 of them. But change could be coming to the Redskins' line, at right tackle where they have an opening and at left guard where Kory Lichtensteiger is a free agent. Per Mike Jones:
Lichtensteiger has said he would like to return to Washington. But the problem is the Redskins have a total of 19 players with expiring deals, they have needs in their secondary and they are roughly $4 million over the salary cap because of the $18 million NFL penalty they must absorb this year ($36 million total over two years).

Can the Redskins afford to bring back Lichtensteiger, who last season played on a one-year, $1.26 million contract and likely will seek an increase and a longer-term deal?

The other part of the question concerns Josh LeRibeus’ development. How far along is he, and what kind of strides can he make in his second NFL season?

The cap realities mean the Redskins must at least ponder a potential life without Lichtensteiger, which means they must ask themselves whether LeRibeus is ready to take over or whether they need to find another solution at left guard for 2013. They'll also need to figure out right tackle, where it seems more than past time to move on from Jammal Brown and Tyler Polumbus likely isn't the long-term answer.

The Redskins have a couple of things going for them here. First, they're in good shape at the other three line positions. Trent Williams played at a Pro Bowl level in 2012, living up to his lofty draft status and looking like the franchise left tackle they need him to be. Center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester also played well and showed signs that they can be counted on moving forward. The Redskins' line issues aren't as pervasive or extensive as those of some other teams.

Second, because of their zone-blocking run schemes, the Redskins look for offensive linemen that are a little bit different than those many of the other teams look for. It may be that a Mike Shanahan-type guard or tackle can be found in the middle rounds and can start either right away or very soon, and that such a player would have fallen through the cracks because not every team's run game looks like Washington's or requires the same kind of linemen Shanahan needs to run it. Lichtensteiger obviously fits the scheme very well, but if they can't afford to keep him, it's possible LeRibeus or someone from the third round of this year's draft could slot in without too much of a hiccup. Not certain, but possible.

The line is probably the second most significant area of offseason concern for the Redskins after the defensive secondary. But fortunately for them, it's one area in which cheap solutions might turn out to be good enough.
Reports out of Washington say tackle Jammal Brown's contract will automatically void at 4:01 pm Friday, which will save the cap-strapped Washington Redskins $1.3 million on this year's salary cap. While this doesn't exactly leave a hole in the starting lineup, since the Redskins played the entire 2012 season with Tyler Polumbus at right tackle while Brown tried unsuccessfully to return from a hip injury, it does remind you that right tackle is an issue for Washington to address this offseason.

Do they bring back Polumbus, who was fine but not great as a full-time starter and is eligible for free agency? (Possible). Do they try again with Brown in spite of his inability to get on the field, since they still believe he's the best option for their zone-blocking run game? (Not likely). Do they elevate someone like Tom Compton? Do they go out on the free-agent market in search of a tackle, or try to find one in the draft?

Much of this offseason's focus in Washington will be on the defense, and in particular the secondary. But the offensive line needs tuning up. The Redskins started the same five offensive linemen in 16 of their 17 games in 2012, and that continuity was a big part of the reason for their success. But that doesn't mean the coaching staff won't look for spots at which it can improve.

Trent Williams hurt in fight, out of Pro Bowl

January, 26, 2013
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HONOLULU -- Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams won't play in the Pro Bowl after being hurt early Friday in a brawl at a Honolulu nightclub.

NFL officials and local police said Friday night the first-time all-star was hurt in a fight that injured three men, sending two to the hospital.

One man was arrested and five others are being investigated for assault, but not Williams, police said.

When asked whether Williams was being investigated for assault, Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said: "I would not say that."

The league said the third-year pro will be on the sideline for the Pro Bowl game Sunday and won't lose his status as a member of the NFC team. Officials say he'll be paid a full Pro Bowl share.

Redskins teammate Jammal Brown said on Twitter that Williams needed seven stitches.

"Wasn't his fault. ... He did nothing wrong," Brown said.

For the full story, click here.
Tyler Polumbus is eligible for free agency and was never a perfect solution for the Washington Redskins at right tackle to begin with. Sure, the Redskins' line had a good year with Polumbus starting on the right side. The Redskins led the league in rushing yards, so it obviously couldn't have been all bad. But the threat of running quarterback Robert Griffin III likely helped the line look better than it was. Pro Football Focus rated Polumbus the No. 77 tackle in the NFL in 2012.

The questions is the extent to which the cap-strapped Redskins can or need to make right tackle a priority in free agency or the draft, and I don't think you should be surprised if it turns out to be a low one.

There are a number of very good right tackles available in free agency, which could have the effect of diluting the market and landing someone very good in the Redskins' lap at a reasonable price. New England's Sebastian Vollmer heads the list along with Cincinnati's Andre Smith (who likely brings a bit too much knucklehead risk) and guys like Phil Loadholt. And even though they don't hold a first-round pick, it's not inconceivable that they could find a starting right tackle in the second or third round. Especially when you consider that Mike Shanahan's offense looks for specific kinds of linemen suited for zone-blocking, and not every team is looking for the same type of player.

But given the team's needs on defense in the secondary, and given the decisions that need to be made about the contract situations of key players such as Brian Orakpo, Fred Davis and Darrel Young, I wouldn't be surprised if they brought back Polumbus or found an even more economical solution than that. Shanahan told me in training camp, when people were still worried about whether Jammal Brown could stay healthy enough to play right tackle, that the important thing for him was health and continuity on the line -- that even if Polumbus might not be the same caliber player as Brown, he'd rather have him at 100 percent than wonder from week to week how much he could count on Brown. The Redskins believe that a large part of their offensive success this season was a product of starting the same five offensive linemen in 16 of their 17 games, and if Polumbus wants to come back at their price they could certainly talk themselves into the idea that the line isn't an area of the team that needs changing. And if he doesn't, they could talk themselves into the idea that they can find an adequate replacement.

Point is, given the salary cap problems the Redskins face because of the $18 million in league-imposed penalties they face again this season, they're going to have to prioritize. And they have so many needs at cornerback and safety, they're going to have to use resources to fix holes there. Positions like offensive line and wide receiver, where they could use some help, but did more than just get by in 2012, are likely to head to the back burner while the Redskins make budget-conscious decisions. So as much fun as it might be to shop on that good right tackle market, I doubt you should get your hopes up.
Good Wednesday morning to you. We have an update coming this morning to the All-Division Team, and a bunch of other goodies throughout the day. Hopefully it warms up a bit. Links.

New York Giants

As they spend their bye week assessing what's wrong with Eli Manning and the passing game, the Giants have a lot to ponder. Paul Schwartz writes that there are no easy fixes, and that it's on the coaching staff to devise new schemes and plans to replace the ones that appear to have stopped working.

It certainly appears as though the offensive line was playing better with Sean Locklear at right tackle than it has the last two games with David Diehl there. But the Giants seem determined to stick with Diehl and with the belief that he will play better.

Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo says Dez Bryant is "close to being a guy where it's 100 percent" in terms of his understanding of the key things he needs to do to succeed as a wide receiver. Romo has been all-in on Bryant for some time now -- consistently saying the right things to build him up and assist him, publicly and privately, and he seems to think it's paying off.

DeMarcus Ware thinks he had half a sack in Philadelphia on Sunday, and he wants his credit. To this point, the league statisticians have not given it, but the Cowboys have asked them to reconsider. Ware has a streak going, you see.

Philadelphia Eagles

As Nick Foles prepares to make his first career NFL start Sunday against the Washington Redskins, Bob Grotz takes a look at what exactly Andy Reid saw that convinced him to take Foles in the third round of this year's draft and make him Michael Vick's backup.

Want to know which Eagles are likely to be gone next year and who has a chance to be back? Paul Domowitch breaks it down, and there are quite a few names on the first list.

Washington Redskins

Jammal Brown is back at practice this week, and the erstwhile Redskins right tackle hopes his troublesome hip may yet allow him to return to game action before the end of this season. The Redskins have a couple of weeks to make that decision on Brown.

It should be noted, however, that working in conjunction with its running quarterback, the Redskins' offensive line has done a fine job this season even without Brown at right tackle.

Tackling some NFC East tackle issues

September, 14, 2012
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It appears as though oft-injured Will Beatty, who started the first 10 games of the season last year for the New York Giants, has lost his job for the time being to Sean Locklear, who's actually been playing while Beatty worked through a back injury for the past five months. Washington Redskins fans who remember not being at all impressed with Locklear while he was in Washington may laugh at this, but it speaks to a larger issue regarding offensive lines that's also affecting the Redskins, as you'll see in a minute.

[+] EnlargeSean Locklear
AP Photo/Evan PinkusWith offensive line continuity a key, Sean Locklear has earned a starting role in New York.
The basic point is that coaches very often prioritize offensive line continuity over anything else, sometimes including talent. The Giants almost certainly believe Beatty is a more talented player than Locklear is, but Locklear's been playing for weeks with the rest of the linemen while Beatty has sat out. The Giants' line isn't exactly crushing people right now, but Tom Coughlin liked the way Locklear and Kevin Boothe worked together on the left side in the opener and likely doesn't want to add to the problems by making a potentially disruptive Week 2 personnel change. Also, it's not as though Beatty was operating at an All-Pro level last year before an eye injury ended his season. If he's to get his job back, he'll need to show an ability to stay healthy week to week, and at this point he may need Locklear and/or David Diehl to play poorly enough in games to warrant a change for change's sake.

What's going on in Washington at right tackle is a somewhat similar situation, with one key difference. If Jammal Brown were 100 percent healthy, the Redskins would not hesitate to throw him right back into their starting mix. They believe the line functions best with a healthy Brown at right tackle. But they also don't believe (because they've seen so much evidence to the contrary) that they can count on Brown to stay healthy. So they started him on the PUP list, and after the first six weeks they'll see where he stands. They do think a 100 percent Brown is better than Tyler Polumbus, but they don't think an 80 percent Brown who might have to come out of the game at any time is a better option than a 100 percent healthy Polumbus. So again, the continuity factor wins out. Don't be surprised if Polumbus just holds down the gig all year.

The Philadelphia Eagles seem a little less concerned with the idea of cohesiveness on the line. They made changes to the starting five late in training camp last year, putting Evan Mathis at left guard and slinging Todd Herremans over to right tackle, and the changes went smoothly. They put 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins into the starting lineup at right guard in midseason once they determined he was ready. Howard Mudd believes in his schemes, which seem to require less concert movement than, say, Mike Shanahan's schemes in Washington do, and he's going to go with his best five guys. So while King Dunlap has the starting left tackle spot right now, the Eagles haven't ruled out the possibility that Demetress Bell wins it back if he shows something in practice over the coming weeks and/or months.

As for the Dallas Cowboys, for better or for worse, they're set with their tackles. Second-year man Tyron Smith believes he won't struggle with the transition from right tackle to left tackle as much as Jason Pierre-Paul made it appear he was in Week 1. And the Cowboys continue to believe, in spite of a relative lack of evidence, that a move back to the right side will help Doug Free. The Cowboys simply don't have much depth at tackle, and with everything they have invested in their two starters right now (as well as the question marks they have on the interior of the line), they can't afford to be playing around at those spots. Smith and Free just need to play better.

Breakfast links: New Year's Eve

September, 4, 2012
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Good morning. I hope everyone enjoyed a lovely holiday weekend and is ready for our first regular-season Tuesday. We will reveal the No. 1 player in our NFC East top 20 this morning (though by now I have to admit it's a bit anticlimactic). We'll have our first regular-season Power Rankings on the site around midday (I'm one of the voters this year). We'll have our weekly chat at noon ET, of course, and I'm at work on a number of goodies and treats for you in advance of the regular-season opener, which is ... well oh my goodness, it's tomorrow, isn't it? Excuse me while I celebrate with some New Year's Eve links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins released their first regular-season depth chart Monday, and Evan Royster is listed as the starting running back with Roy Helu No. 2 and rookie Alfred Morris No. 3. This, of course, does not require Mike Shanahan to start Royster or give him the most carries in Sunday's season opener in New Orleans, and Royster himself has not been told whether he is starting. This remains a mystery and likely will all week and all season, as the Redskins like all three of these backs and would feel comfortable starting any of them.

The Redskins are something close to fully healthy in advance of the opener, with linebacker Brian Orakpo and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger set to return from preseason injuries. Still a question mark about safety Brandon Meriweather, and Tyler Polumbus is the starting right tackle with Jammal Brown still hurt, but the Redskins have reason to feel good about the health of their roster going into the season.

Dallas Cowboys

Jason Witten should find out today whether he'll be able to play tomorrow night against the Giants after missing the past several weeks due to a lacerated spleen. Rainer Sabin believes the absence of Witten would have a "devastating" effect on the Cowboys, and I think he could be right. Whatever you think of John Phillips, Witten has just been too valuable a guy for the Cowboys' offense and would be impossible to fully replace.

Tony Romo may have work to do yet on the outside perception of him, but inside the Cowboys' locker room, there's no doubt about the leadership role Romo takes. Todd Archer explains.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jason Babin missed all of the preseason games due to a calf injury and has been, by his own admission, "a little irritable, a little cranky" about it. He says he's all set for Sunday's opener in Cleveland, and as impressive as Philadelphia's pass rush has looked all summer, it can look forward to adding its 2011 sack leader for the regular season.

Running back LeSean McCoy has emerged as a young leader of sorts as he's ascended to the role of workhorse running back in the Philadelphia offense. He's conscious of what that means, and of the recent tradition of which he's a part, and he's eager to continue to add to that tradition in 2012.

New York Giants

It is possible that the Giants will have starting left tackle Will Beatty back for tomorrow night's season opener, but Sean Locklear, who's been playing there while Beatty missed preseason time with a back injury, is preparing as though he's the starter. As we've discussed, I'd be less concerned about the effect a left tackle question has on Eli Manning, who knows how to avoid sacks and get rid of the ball quickly, than on the running game, which is looking to be better than 32nd in the league this year and needs offensive line improvement in order to be so.

The Giants are aware that the Cowboys have upgraded at cornerback since the last time they played them and their fullbacks spent the night hurdling Terence Newman. In order to prepare for the challenge the new corners present, the Giants are asking Morris Claiborne's LSU teammate, Rueben Randle, for tips on how to attack the rookie.

Morning. I don't feel as great about last night's draft as I did about last week's. I blame it on the lack of Aaron Rodgers. But life goes on, and maybe DeMarco Murray plays all 16 games, you never know. Still two days from those pesky predictions, but we have a chat and plenty of other good stuff for you today, starting of course with the links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Marcus Hayes thinks it's obvious who should be the Eagles' backup quarterback this year, and it's not who you think. Marcus' pick is Trent Edwards, and the reason is experience, which the other candidates don't have. You know where I am on this. If Michael Vick is hurt, they're toast anyway, so I'd go with rookie Nick Foles, who throws the best deep ball of the candidates and has the best chance of taking full advantage of the Eagles' speedy receivers. But Marcus makes a good point about Foles being a rookie, and it's an interesting debate, if one the Eagles hope never matters.

If you think you expect big things from Nnamdi Asomugha in his second year in Philadelphia, Reuben Frank writes, they're nothing compared to what he's expecting of himself.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins are delaying a decision on right tackle Jammal Brown, who will start the season on the PUP list and therefore be ineligible to play before Week 7. He still might miss the year with those hip problems that just refuse to get better, and in the meantime Tyler Polumbus is playing right tackle.

The latest on the running back carousel is that Evan Royster plans to play in the final preseason game Wednesday and they still don't know about Roy Helu. If Royster looks good and Tim Hightower's still not 100 percent with his knee, Royster is probably the favorite to start Week 1. Rookie Alfred Morris remains in the picture, and the picture remains a confusing mess.

Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett says the team's new rules for Dez Bryant are designed to strike a balance between supporting him and holding him accountable for his actions. That's a tough balance, and the most important thing is that Bryant is on board, which everyone says he is, though no one in the media has talked to Bryant in months.

Orlando Scandrick says he's not concerned about losing playing time when Mike Jenkins comes back. Because, yeah, come on. There's a chance we see the Easter Bunny before we see Jenkins on the field at this point, right?

New York Giants

Hakeem Nicks is apparently interested in getting some snaps in the final preseason game, and I guess the team feels like it's up to him if he feels good to go on that bum foot of his. Nicks feels he needs to see some game action in order to be ready for the regular-season opener eight days from now, and he's a responsible enough guy that the Giants trust him to do what's right in terms of his recovery from his injury.

Tyler Sash asked commissioner Roger Goodell, who'd suspended him four games for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy, to reconsider. Goodell said no, and Sash has to serve his suspension. And yeah, go ahead and lament the fact that the NFL requires players to appeal to the same guy who issues the suspension in the first place. But I think it's also worth lamenting that guys are still taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
The Washington Redskins will play their third preseason game of 2012 on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET against the Indianapolis Colts. The game is being billed as a showdown between two rookie quarterbacks -- No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of the Colts against No. 2 draft pick Robert Griffin III of the Redskins. But since those guys won't be on the field at the same time, here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: Tim Hightower. The Redskins' starting running back is seeing his first game action since he tore his ACL last October. Mike Shanahan said Hightower likely wouldn't start, and he doesn't want to overtax him right away. But this begins the process of finding out how much Hightower can help the Redskins early in the season. With Roy Helu and Evan Royster both sitting out due to their injuries, we're likely to see a lot of rookie Alfred Morris and some Tristan Davis at running back, but Hightower is the guy on whom the coaches will have their eye, because they want him back as soon as possible. They consider Hightower the most complete back on the roster, and if his knee will allow it he will be the starter.

On the other side of the ball: The coverages in the secondary. The Redskins have been doing some strange things back there, moving DeAngelo Hall around from the slot corner spot to free safety and all over the place, dropping linebackers into coverage, etc. I think it's because they don't have much quality at cornerback and safety, and their plan is to mix and match coverages as best they can in an effort to disguise their weaknesses. With Brandon Meriweather injured, I'm interested to see if Tanard Jackson can show anything at strong safety, or whether he's strictly in a fight with Madieu Williams for the free safety spot and Reed Doughty is Meriweather's backup. Safety's going to matter, especially if they're planning to use Hall inside and rely on Cedric Griffin to cover outside receivers.

If I think of it: Much as I joke, I'm as interested as anyone else to make a Luck-Griffin comparison. And no one's saying this will offer a definitive one, so we can have some fun with it. This should be Griffin's most extended action of the preseason, if tradition holds. I also have my eye on the offensive line, where Chris Chester returns at right guard but they're still without Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard and of course Jammal Brown at right tackle. I think you should get used to Tyler Polumbus at right tackle.
allas Cowboys Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLike its NFC East rivals, Dallas is shuffling and searching for ways to solidify its offensive line.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries ... all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it -- and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season -- only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.

But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division's other two teams -- the Giants' recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys' longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins -- the stats don't back up the NFC East as the league's toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division's honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.

A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division's offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren't cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.

But they're not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone's biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East's four teams. To wit:

  • Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can't get healthy, and they're thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven't seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn't get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp -- specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free's struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
  • The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn't, obviously, so they're still dealing with Jammal Brown's hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger's knee injury and Will Montgomery's limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
  • After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.

The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who's getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ranks with the game's great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.

All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it's not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East's teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division's annual claim to Beastliness.
Good morning. Hope everyone made it through those nasty northeast storms okay. Kids thought the lightning was awesome. Wife, not so much. But it's all good. Kids like the links, too.

Washington Redskins

Jammal Brown continues to seek a treatment that will help him get back on the field quickly and avoid surgery. But the Redskins' right tackle isn't having a lot of luck fixing that troublesome hip of his. And until he's 100 percent reliably healthy, the Redskins are likely to go with others at the position. Read into that what you will with regard to Brown and his chances of making the roster.

You've likely heard of the league-wide trend of teams transitioning to the use of iPads to replace the old, traditional, clunky playbooks. Stephen Whyno takes a look at what life is like among the Redskins with that new technology. Makes nothing but sense to me. I have to believe textbooks are on their way out, too, for the same reason. You know, those things so many of you should be reading all day while you're on here instead?

Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett called Jason Witten's spleen injury "very serious," and that Witten would have to be "still and idle" for a week to 10 days. And while he would not entertain questions about Witten's availability for the season opener 20 days from now, Garrett did say Witten would miss the remainder of the preseason. Which, again, certainly calls into question his ability to play in a real game one week after the final preseason game.

The good news out of Cowboys camp is that rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne is expected to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Chargers. Claiborne missed the preseason opener with a knee injury, and the Cowboys are eager to see what their first-round pick has to offer in live action.

New York Giants

The Giants like to use Kenny Phillips deep, where he's as good as anyone in the league. Phillips says he'd like to move up a bit every now and then, maybe snag a couple more interceptions, show he's good at more than just that center-field role. Coincidentally, Phillips is in the final year of his contract, and interception numbers can make a free-agent safety look good. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. There's little reason for me to believe the Giants have any interest in changing Phillips' role in their defense, where he's one of the most important and reliable pieces.

For all of the excitement about first-round pick David Wilson, it's worth remembering that he's still behind veteran D.J. Ware in line for carries and the role of Ahmad Bradshaw's backup. Ware looks good so far in camp, even if there are still a few things he needs to work on if he wants to hold off the rookie and secure that job.

Philadelphia Eagles

Les Bowen has a breakdown of the decisions looming about the Eagles' 53-man roster. And with Cedric Thornton and Phillip Hunt both making the case to stay, there's a feeling developing that the final defensive line spot could come down to Antonio Dixon versus Darryl Tapp. If that happens, it could make sense for them to try to trade Tapp and his $2.6 million salary. Long way to go yet, of course.

Oh, and if there's one team in the league you're 100 percent sure would be intrigued about the idea of an Olympic sprinter that was interested in playing in the NFL, which team would it be? Yeah, that's right.
On Tuesday, as we do every Tuesday, rain or shine, home or road, we had our weekly chat. It was fun, as always. It was entertaining. I hope it was informative, but that's not for me to decide. If you missed it, I have some highlights. But stop missing it!

Justin (Meadville, PA): Dan I never understood how anyone could say the Giants had a better pass rush than the Eagles when the Eagles had more sacks and actually fared better against the run. After being in tc and watching their first preseason game without Babin and Cole are you ready to reconsider?

Dan Graziano: I'm willing to admit, as I always have been, that it's a close call. But you can't tell me Jason Babin/Trent Cole is clearly better than Justin Tuck/Jason Pierre-Paul, and you surely can't tell me that Brandon Graham is better than Osi Umenyiora. It's a very close call ranking these two pass rushes, but I still like the Giants' guys if they're healthy. And incidentially, they are right now and Philly's guys are not.

st8prop (Atlanta, GA): Dan...remind Justin that the Eagles only had 2 more sacks than the Giants...it wasn't some huge margin. Also, I would like to think had Tuck and Osi not been out for almost half the season, the giants would have held the edge in sacks. Agree?

DG: I don't know what happens in alternate universes where different people are healthy. But yes, 50 sacks vs 48 is not a significant enough margin on which to base a definitive opinion, and there are other things to consider besides sack totals.

Joey (Cali): When the Cowboys drafted Tyrone Crawford you had your doubts that he could contribute soon and called him a developmental player, have your views changed at all? How do you think he fits this year?

DG: Yes, having visited Cowboys camp, watched practice and asked the coaches directly, my views have changed. Their plan is to use Crawford some this year as a situational pass rusher, maybe in nickel and dime packages, while continuing to try and add size to his frame in the hope that he can someday be a starting end for them. That is slightly different from my initial analysis. I always remain open to changing my opinions after further education and reporting.

Steve (Troy): Dan I know it was the preseason and almost useless to judge, but the Cowboys defense felt different and more relentless, what were your thoughts?

DG: My thoughts are that it was the preseason, and almost useless to judge.

Mark (Oregon): Do you think that Mike Shanahan is out of patience with Jammal Brown? Are they just waiting till he gets healthy enough to release?

DG: I don't think he has to be healthy for them to release him, and I don't think Shanahan is out of patience with him. I do think that Shanahan believes he's better off with a fully healthy backup-type player like Tyler Polumbus at RT than he'd be with an 80-perecent-healthy Brown.

Tony (McLean, VA): Can it be argued that it has been the Redskins QB's in fact, and not the O-line that has plagued team for the last few years?

DG: Pretty sure that's been argued to death. I think Mike Shanahan argued it so hard that he convinced his owner it was a good idea to trade three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get a new one.

Dan (Boring, MD): Any good grasp of who will backup Ahmad Bradshaw in NY? The rookie seems a bit unpolished as of yet and they keep a pretty good stable laying around.

DG: At this point, I don't see why it wouldn't be D.J. Ware.

Mark (Los Angeles): Michael Vick seemed awful confused when the Steelers backed out of the blitz on that one play. Is that first preseason game jitters or is he still not getting it?

DG: Yes, yes he did. Again, though, no long-term judgments based on preseason games. I understand it's scary when they remind you of old concerns, but deep breaths, people. Long way to go here.

Drop by next Tuesday, would ya?
With Tim Hightower still out as he continues to recover from last year's serious knee injury, second-year man Evan Royster will start at running back in the Washington Redskins' preseason opener Thursday night in Buffalo, coach Mike Shanahan told reporters Tuesday.

Royster
Royster
I don't see this as a surprise. Royster looked like the best back in camp when I was there last week, and the conversations I had with Redskins people while there led me to believe they think Royster has a higher ceiling than fellow second-year back Roy Helu does assuming both players are fully healthy. I know they also like rookie Alfred Morris, and that he's not out of this mix, and the chief concern they have with both Royster and Helu is health.

So the fact Royster gets the first start doesn't automatically mean he's the favorite to open the regular season as the starter. For one thing, Hightower's recovery is proceeding, and if he can get healthy he's the starting running back. Also, since the chief worry about both Helu and Royster is health, we have to see not only how they look in the preseason but also how they hold up.

Shanahan's history leads me to expect Royster to play the majority of the game Thursday, rather than share time equally with Helu and/or Morris. Shanahan likes to give his running backs "whole games," or something close to it, in the preseason to simulate the kind of work they'd be asked to do if pressed into a starter's role during the season. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Royster play the bulk of Thursday's game and then see either Helu or Morris start and play most of the Aug. 18 preseason game in Chicago.

Also, I'm curious to see how much the evaluation of the running backs is affected by the injury issues with which the Redskins are dealing. Fullback Darrel Young is out for this game, as are starting right tackle Jammal Brown and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, and right guard Chris Chester is a question mark due to a sprained ankle. It's tough for a running back to look his absolute best when he's missing his fullback and three-fifths of his offensive line.

To sum up: Consider this Royster start an interesting clue, but remember there's a lot more to sort and figure out about the Redskins' running back situation.
ASHBURN, Va. -- As the rest of the teams in the NFC East talk about dynasties, defending championships and ... whatever it is that Jerry Jones has been talking about all week, the Washington Redskins are working on moving up from fourth place. It has been a long time since the Redskins were a real factor. They've had three straight losing seasons and have reached the playoffs in just three of the past 19 years.

But for the first time in a long time, there is reason for hope. His name is Robert Griffin III, and he is a rookie quarterback on whom everything now rests. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the right to draft Griffin, and all he has to do is look around or listen to know what he represents to the Redskins' starving fan base.

"I didn't expect the excitement," said Griffin, who doesn't seem to be caught off-guard by too many things. "I wasn't looking to get drafted and have a whole city fall in love with me. So it's definitely a great experience. Hopefully, I can be the catalyst and get a lot of fans excited about this team."

Months before the games -- months before training camp, even -- Griffin already was doing that. His jersey became a fungal phenomenon, sprouting up instantly everywhere in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Stores began selling posters modeled after the iconic 2008 Barack Obama "HOPE" campaign posters, only with Griffin's face on them instead. The public reaction to Griffin has been outsized and unreasonable. But given the way Redskins fans feel about their team and how long they've gone without a franchise quarterback, it's easy for longtime residents of the area to understand.

"It's Washington, man," veteran Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "There's nothing reasonable. The whole city expects 'now,' so at the end of the day, all you can do is give them what they want."

"Now" may not be a reasonable goal for a rookie quarterback on a team that won five games last year and plays in the same division as the Super Bowl champions. But what Griffin has already done around here is change the vibe. People are talking with real excitement about what can or will be. Even coach Mike Shanahan, who has overhauled the roster to the point where 19 of the projected 22 starters weren't on the team two years ago, feels differently about 2012.

"It's the first time, I feel like, you go into a season and you've got a chance," Shanahan said. "You're excited about the year. You're excited about your football team. You're excited about the direction you're going."

That's all new this year, and the new front man is a huge reason why.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the offense be different under Griffin? If you watch the Redskins practice, you see a lot of new stuff. There are rollouts. There are bootlegs. There are designed runs for the quarterback. There are option sets, where Griffin has to decide whether to keep, pitch or throw the ball. Shanahan admits he's throwing a lot at his rookie quarterback, and it's by design.

"What I think you do is, you feed him everything," Shanahan said. "For people to grow, in my opinion, you teach them everything and then you find out what they're able to do. So we teach him everything, see how much he can handle, knowing he's going to get better and better every year because he's smart enough to get it. And then that'll be our job here for the next three weeks, really after this week, to isolate it down more to what we're going to do this season -- get a package for him that he's most comfortable with."

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelRedskins fans are hoping Robert Griffin III can turn things around in Washington.
In other words, all of the stuff we're seeing Griffin do in practice might not necessarily carry over into the season. If there's a particular part of the offense with which he's having a hard time, the Redskins could shelve it until next summer and go with the things they know he can do. Regardless, though, Griffin's athleticism and running ability give the Redskins options they didn't have in previous years. And it may help them cover up question marks on the offensive line and in the running game. Speaking of which ...

2. Do they have enough around him? Shanahan won't talk about the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on the Redskins (and the Cowboys) just before the start of free agency. But it's a pretty fair guess that, had they not been docked $18 million in cap space this year and again next year, they might have been able to sign some offensive line help. They did not. They're bringing back last year's offensive line, and two of the starters are already injured. There's a chance left guard Kory Lichtensteiger makes the season opener, but right tackle Jammal Brown has a recurring hip problem that could prevent them from being able to count on him. The good news is that some of their backups got playing time last year because of injuries and suspension. And left tackle Trent Williams looks like the best player on the field in practices. But Griffin's protection could be an issue all year if the line struggles with injuries.

If it doesn't, Shanahan believes it can be effective because the players all know the system and each other. He's also not worried right now about who will emerge has his starting running back. Veteran Tim Hightower would be the starter if not for his ongoing recovery from last year's knee surgery. Evan Royster, a sixth-round pick in 2011, has looked the best of the remaining bunch so far in camp, but they also like 2011 fourth-round pick Roy Helu and 2012 sixth-rounder Alfred Morris. "We have four backs that can play," Shanahan told me, and he's willing to let the camp competition sort it out for him.

Griffin's receiving group includes newcomers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, veteran Moss and last year's rookie star, Leonard Hankerson, whose 2011 was cut short by injury, appears to be back. They're also expecting big things out of tight end Fred Davis, who was their best pass-catcher for much of last year before a drug suspension cost him the final four games.

3. The secondary. The defensive front seven looks strong and deep, but there are question marks at cornerback and safety. Will DeAngelo Hall thrive in his new role as the nickel corner? Will Cedric Griffin or Kevin Barnes be good enough as his replacement on the outside? Is strong safety Brandon Meriweather a talented star who was miscast in Chicago? Or is he a malcontent who got kicked out of New England because he wasn't playing to his potential? Can Madieu Williams or Tanard Jackson hold down the free safety spot? Lots of new faces and moving parts out there, and these questions need to be answered if the defense is going to continue to make progress.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

As they will tell you, the Redskins did beat the Giants twice last year. And they played the Cowboys tough twice. Of all the last-place teams in the NFL, only one finished closer to its division's first-place team than did the Redskins, who at 5-11 were still only four games out of first. They have replaced a starting quarterback (Rex Grossman) who somehow threw 20 interceptions in only 13 games with a brilliantly talented, charismatic and ultra-promising rookie. They've beefed up at receiver and on the defensive line. And even if all of that isn't enough for them to contend in 2012, Redskins fans have all kinds of reasons to feel good about the direction in which their franchise is pointing.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Eagles should be better than they were last year. The Giants have reason to believe they'll be better than they were last year. The Cowboys made major upgrades at cornerback and should be tougher to play than they were last year. Even with the improvements, there are very few positions (Tight end? Linebacker? 3-4 defensive end?) at which the Redskins appear to be as good as or better than their division rivals. That's a comment on the talent in the rest of the division as much as it is on what the Redskins are doing, but it remains a troubling reality. The Redskins are still a work in progress, and while the NFL prides itself on the number of its annual surprises, a Redskins playoff push at this point would likely rank among the biggest.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Santana Moss
Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRERedskins receiver Santana Moss has lost 16 pounds since last season.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Moss' weight loss is striking. He's down 16 pounds and says he feels completely different. The Redskins' coaches called him in the offseason and told him they thought he was too big, and he agreed, so he got in shape and has come to camp determined to show the world he's still a top receiver.
  • The Redskins are converting Niles Paul, who last year was a rookie wide receiver, to tight end. He's 234 pounds and said his biggest concern when they asked him to make the change was that he wouldn't be able to block big pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul. But incumbent tight end Chris Cooley told him it was all about technique, and Cooley has been working with Paul to help refine that.
  • That's a pretty cool thing for Cooley to do for a player who may be about to take his job. Shows you what kind of guy and teammate Cooley is. He's got a chance to stick on the roster, but he has to show he's healthy and probably take a pay cut.
  • The Redskins' plan as of now for three-receiver sets is to use Garcon and Hankerson wide and Moss in the slot. But Moss could play well enough to see action outside in two-receiver sets, especially if Hankerson and Morgan have injury problems. Morgan, who has always had those, is being looked at as someone who can play any of the three receiver slots in Shanahan's offense.
  • Shanahan named defensive lineman Chris Baker as a player he thinks will surprise people. If that's true, the defensive line rotation looks formidable with Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who missed his rookie year with a knee injury but is back and looking good.
  • Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will switch up from time to time this year instead of staying pinned to specific sides of the field. Orakpo also says he's working on adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal in an effort to get his sack numbers up.
  • Neil Rackers has a chance to unseat Graham Gano as the kicker, but Gano held off a challenge from veteran Shayne Graham in preseason last year, so don't give up on him yet.
  • Brandon Banks has been told he has to make the team as a receiver, not just a return man. If he doesn't make it, look for Aldrick Robinson as a possible kick returner.
  • Somehow, we have reached this point in the Camp Confidential without mentioning the name of London Fletcher. But he's still very much in the middle of things at age 37. He ran an interception in for a touchdown during the first week of training camp. He's in the best shape of anyone in camp, as usual. They put Griffin's locker next to his because they felt Griffin could benefit from proximity to their best veteran leader, and Griffin said he knew right away the significance of the locker assignment. Fletcher said he wanted to come back to Washington in part because he wants to be there when they turn it around. If they do, his presence will of course be a big reason why.

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