NFC East: Kedric Golston

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

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.

Receivers (6)

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)

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.

Linebackers (9)

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.

Cornerbacks (5)
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.

Safeties (4)

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.

Specialists (3)

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.

Redskins minicamp observations

June, 17, 2014
Thoughts and observations after watching the Washington Redskins practice Tuesday:

1. David Amerson looks bigger and, indeed, he said he's added about six or seven pounds of muscle. Amerson does appear to have more toned arms. That will help when he plays press coverage and in run support. I'll have more on Amerson later this summer, but know this: He's had a good spring. Saw him stick with Pierre Garcon in a couple one-on-one occasions. Also, more importantly, saw him use his eyes better and more consistently. It was an issue last year.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsRedskins CB David Amerson appears to have gained some muscle weight this offseason.
2. Did see Garcon get him on one crossing route. Amerson tried to jam him, putting his right hand onto Garcon's outside shoulder. But Garcon's strength helped him here as he wasn't knocked off stride and created separation running across the middle.

3. Saw this for the first time: a receiver doing a spin move at the line to get away from press coverage. Garcon tried that against Amerson, but it didn't work. Amerson stayed patient and, partly because he didn't try to jam Garcon, was not fooled by the move.

4. Garcon dunked a ball after a catch in the end zone. The Redskins had college officials at practice and one immediately threw a flag. Players can no longer dunk over the goal posts.

5. The offensive players were convinced Amerson should have been called for holding on a back-shoulder attempt to tight end Jordan Reed in the end zone. I was just finishing up an interview with Amerson after practice when Reed walked past with a smile and asked, "Did he tell you he held me?"

6. Rookie receiver Ryan Grant had a few nice grabs Tuesday, mostly on underneath routes against zone coverage. He's good at driving the defender off and then cutting. Did it a couple times Tuesday. I don't know when he'll be able to really help because he has to get stronger and, ultimately, prove he can beat press coverage.

7. One coach I will enjoy listening and paying attention to this summer: outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. Yes, I know, I've mentioned him a few times, but after watching him work with the players I'm even more convinced of his impact. Just a detailed coach. I'll have more on that later this week. But he is good and isn't afraid to chastise anyone. Heard him ping rookie Trent Murphy during a drill Tuesday morning.

8. Murphy was juked out by Reed on one route. He can ask other veteran linebackers how that feels because that's what happened last year. Once more, Reed was among the last off the field after working more on his game. Nothing has changed since last year in that regard.

9. Reed also had a nice block on Murphy, getting his hands into the rookie's chest and pushing him to the ground.

10. With linebacker Brian Orakpo out (sickness), this was a good chance for Murphy to work against veterans. He also went against left tackle Trent Williams a few times. Murphy's spin move worked well against Moses, but Williams was able to stop it on the one time I saw it tried. The coaches like what they've seen from Murphy overall, especially off the field in terms of work ethic.

11. Rookie running back Lache Seastrunk, who lost the ball on a handoff in practice, stayed afterward to work on handoffs with fullback Darrel Young playing the part of the quarterback.

12. Kedric Golston worked at nose tackle with the first defensive line. He's done that in previous workouts this spring with Barry Cofield sidelined. And if he shows it's a spot he can help at during the summer, then it'll be tough to cut him. Golston adds experience and toughness up front, two qualities that should be welcomed. Add a little versatility and it makes him even more valuable, and it also makes it tough for Chris Neild to make the roster.

13. The quarterbacks worked on slant passes during drills with receivers. The quarterbacks dropped back, looked down the middle and then turned toward the receiver running the slant. It's a little thing, but I point it out for this reason: Robert Griffin III's last interception in 2013 came on a slant route. He eyed the receiver the whole way, who then got a good break to make the pick. Sometimes you have to eye the receiver off the line because the pass is coming right away. But in this case it led to the pick.

14. Wasn't able to spend a lot of time watching rookie right tackle Morgan Moses, but did see him get beat by second-year Brandon Jenkins to the outside on one occasion. Moses was too upright and a bit slow with his feet.

15. Jenkins failed to use the proper technique on an inside run, staying too wide and creating a gap inside. The coaches, um, reminded him of the mistake.

16. Said it last week and will continue to point out how much more energy there is during these practices. Some of that could just be because change brings a new energy. But some of it is the style of coaches they now have on staff. Raheem Morris was always vocal under Mike Shanahan, so his ribbing of players and coaches is nothing new. But things were just more lively Tuesday, with trash talking and banter.

17. The field goal kickers attempted three kicks apiece (from 39, 44 and 50 yards) at the narrow goal posts (about half the width of regular ones). Rookie Zach Hocker made all three attempts -- the ball jumped off his foot on the 50-yarder. Kai Forbath missed two of three but on regular goal posts he would have made each attempt.

18. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a nice bullet to receiver Aldrick Robinson; the pass arrived just before safety Bacarri Rambo for a touchdown.

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

June, 16, 2014
Not a lot going on, so it's a good time to catch up on some salary-cap numbers and scenarios. All numbers are from ESPN Stats & Information:

Cap space available: The Redskins have $2,551,306 left against the salary cap. Only three teams have less room against the cap (Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego). The Giants have $6.9 million available, but both Dallas ($10.2 million) and Philadelphia ($20.2 million) are in strong shape. Don’t forget, teams can carry cap space into next season. Also, as of now only the top 51 players count against the cap in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins would save $5.5 million against the cap if they cut Stephen Bowen after this season.
Cap savings: If the Redskins really wanted to save a few extra dollars, they could always look at right guard Chris Chester. If they cut him, it would save $2.7 million against the cap. But, again, someone has to beat him out. If they felt that confident about someone else they likely would have made a move by now. But they do have some young options here between rookie Spencer Long and third-year players Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. However, while Long obviously has never played, the other two have limited experience. Tyler Polumbus' release would save $1.5 million, but that means that either rookie Morgan Moses or third-year Tom Compton is ready to start. It’s hard to imagine Moses being at that point and Compton was not there at the end of last season.

Another place that will be interesting is the defensive line. The Redskins kept six at this spot each of the past three seasons. If they only keep that many this year, it means a veteran could be in trouble. They clearly aren’t going to cut Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher or Chris Baker. Also, as long as Stephen Bowen is healthy he’ll stick around.

Yes, the Redskins could have re-worked his deal (which counts $7.02 million against the cap) but they have wisely been reluctant to spread money into the future for players who may only be around another year or so. That’s the case with Bowen. He has one year left on his contract and is coming off microfracture surgery. I don’t care how optimistic you are about him, can you trust he’ll be around and playing at a solid level in two years? No. The way they’ve done things in the past they could ask him to take a pay cut, but they typically did that before this point. Just so you know: Bowen would save $5.5 million against the cap if cut after this season.

So if Bowen sticks, that gives the Redskins four. If they keep six again, that means they’d have room for two among Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston and Clifton Geathers. Here’s the savings for each player: Geathers ($600,000), Golston ($1,005,000), Jenkins ($1,027,184). Nose tackle Chris Neild also would be in trouble. His savings would be $645,000.

Highest paid: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000) followed by Trent Williams ($10,980,393). By the way, both players will count more against the cap than all the players at five other positions: safeties ($5.1 million), tight ends ($4 million), running backs $5.6 million), quarterback ($7.1 million) and cornerback ($8.6 million).

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.

Redskins re-sign Chris Baker

February, 27, 2014
Late in the season Washington's Chris Baker had clearly started to play well. But when this was pointed out to him, Baker said nothing had changed. The defensive lineman was only getting more time to show what he could do.

Looks like he’ll start to get even more time now that he’s returned. Baker signed a three-year contract worth $12 million and $4 million guaranteed Thursday. Baker does more than give the Redskins insurance; there’s a chance he’ll end up opening 2014 as a starter at right end with questions surrounding both Stephen Bowen (knee) and Adam Carriker (quadriceps). If nothing else Baker will be a prime contender for that job.

Baker’s a good example of developing and then taking care of your own. Though he did not come into the league with Washington, he had appeared in only two NFL games before arriving in 2011. By helping him develop, the Redskins won’t be forced to spend big money at this position. If Bowen and Carriker can’t play, or are released and not re-signed, then the Redskins still would need more depth.

But Baker gives them a potential starter along with Jarvis Jenkins. Veteran Kedric Golston adds veteran depth. Baker also helps because he can rush in nickel and play nose if necessary.

“I’ve been waiting for my chance ever since I signed as an undrafted free agent in Denver,” Baker said. “Sometimes you have to remain patient and wait your turn. I remained patient and kept grinding. I finally got my chance and took advantage.”

He started the last three games, recording 12 tackles, including six solo stops in the season finale at New York. Baker did a good job of playing with leverage, using his lower body strength and penetrating. He’s agile as well.

But he did have to learn that, in a 3-4 defense, sometimes getting upfield too fast was not a good thing as gaps can be created for the offense.

“I had an opportunity to gain the coaches' trust and I did the best I can,” Baker said. “I showed them if I’m given the opportunity to be out there consistently I can make plays, whether it’s in the run game or if it’s against the pass and pushing the pocket. I’ll prove to the coaches that they can trust me at any time on the field.”

Baker said there wasn’t a strong desire to wait until March 11 and test the market.

“I always felt if I could get a deal done with the Redskins, then I didn’t want to leave,” he said. “I’m comfortable with our defense. I like our staff and they like me. They helped me become the player I am today. I really didn’t want to leave.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- They expected the news, yet it still resonated. For weeks the Washington Redskins players answered questions about Mike Shanahan’s job fate. For days they read he was going to be fired.

When it finally happened Monday, the news still hit the players.

"It just got real," defensive end Kedric Golston said.

"Everyone expected it, but it doesn’t make it that much easier," tight end Logan Paulsen said.

"It definitely becomes a lot more real and makes the situation more sad," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

Shanahan was fired shortly after 9 a.m. Monday morning as players were trickling in for their end-of-season physicals. Others were already packing up the belongings in their lockers.

It comes at the end of a 3-13 season, which is why the firing wasn’t much of a surprise. They finished 24-40 in Shanahan’s four seasons.

"Frustrating," fullback Darrel Young said. "We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year."

The players know that few, if any, current assistant coaches will stick around. The firing impacts coaches the players had relationships with, in some cases for four years. But the players also know there's a bottom line for them, too. Some players won’t fit what a new coach wants to run, whether offensively or defensively. So their futures are at stake, too.

"It’s also difficult because we have to learn a new scheme," Paulsen said. "We have to adapt to a new coach, a new coach who you might not fit their system. So a lot of guys might be gone. That's always difficult. It will be a complete culture change. But right now I just feel for coach and the staff and hope it works out for the best for them."

And, as players who have been around here know all too well, a new coach doesn't always bring results. The Redskins will be looking for their seventh full-time coach under owner Dan Snyder, who bought the team in 1999.

"Just because you change coaches doesn't mean that all is fixed," Golston said. "You have to now start the work to build something to be successful.

"Whenever you have a coaching change it's tough because you have new philosophies. You have to understand their communication, understand what he means when he says something and what his pet peeves are, what his practices are like, what his offseasons look like. All those things are new to you, so it brings uncertainty so you have to adapt on the fly. It’s never a good thing."

The Redskins' season unraveled in a hurry. They were 3-5 after a home win versus San Diego and then blew a 13-point second-half lead at then 1-7 Minnesota. There was a palpable difference in the locker room after that game, as if the players knew they had blown their chance. They never won again.

"The turning point was the Minnesota loss," Young said. "I [still] went into every game thinking we were going to win, but to look back now that was the turning point in the season. It felt like we were playing good football … and all the emotions that go into it changed a lot for us."

Last year at this time the Redskins were preparing for a playoff game against Seattle, coming off seven straight wins and full of confidence -- about that game and the future. Despite Robert Griffin III’s knee issues in the offseason the rest of the roster felt good and were buoyed by what they considered a strong training camp.

"And then to be where we're at now," Golston said, "to lose in the ways we lost some games, it's been unfortunate just because you don’t have many years in this business to let one slip away and let something like this happen."

In the end, though, something wasn't working.

"None of these coaches played a down this year," Kerrigan said. "It’s all on us. We can complain and say we all like this coaching staff and don’t want them to be fired, but if we played better we wouldn't be in this situation. That’s what hurts me."

Redskins Gameday: Ten Thoughts

November, 7, 2013
1. It's the same as last week: If the Washington Redskins want to consider a late-season playoff push, then they must beat Minnesota Thursday night. They absolutely need to prove that they can play well in consecutive games, something they have not done all season. It's a big difference from last season and it's why any talk of a turnaround can't begin until they do so. Minnesota is not a good team, but that doesn't matter. Playing well does. If they play well and get to 4-5, it makes the following week's game at Philadelphia a huge one.

2. A big factor in Thursday's game? Health. And the Redskins easily have the advantage in this area. Minnesota might be without two starters on the offensive line and already lost solid tight end Kyle Rudolph. Their secondary is ailing. Still, no team that's 3-5 should feel overly confident. That's why I loved the Santana Moss quote that NBC-4's Diana Russini tweeted Thursday morning: “How is this an easy game for us when we aren't even that good?!"

3. The Redskins have done an excellent job against Adrian Peterson in their previous four meetings, though one ended prematurely because of his torn ACL. Still, in four games, his longest carry has been for 32 yards. Last season on his 17 carries against them, the Redskins used an eight-man box on all but four carries. Three times the Vikings spread the field and forced six in the box, but Peterson only gained a combined seven yards.

4. The key? The ability of nose tackle Barry Cofield and end Stephen Bowen in particular of holding double teams. Time and again the inside linebackers, at least one of them, was unblocked and able to fill a gap. When a lineman would peel off the double team to block, one of the defensive linemen would help plug the middle (Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston helped here, too). This happened time and again; the double teams were slow to break. Also, Minnesota has struggled this season when it comes to its double teams. The Redskins say Peterson's showing last week was helped by how Dallas' front four play, more intent on getting upfield. The Redskins' front wants to play more lateral and it can disrupt the double teams better.

5. Another key last season was that the Redskins did an excellent job swarming Peterson and forcing him to cut back inside. One run that exemplified what must happen occurred in the first half. On a run up the middle, both London Fletcher and Perry Riley were unblocked, forcing Peterson to try and bounce wide. As Peterson tries to get outside, corner DeAngelo Hall comes up aggressively and takes him down with a low hit. They need that sort of run support from the corners against a guy like this.

6. Whether you like Jim Haslett as a defensive coordinator or not is up to you. But he understands this is a player's league. I was struck by his answer Wednesday regarding the goal-line stand when he referred to the defense as "them." Well, he's part of it, too. And trust me when I say: some coordinators here in the past would not have said it like that. But Haslett realizes they're the ones that had to make plays and did so. (What he didn't mention: Hall was covering Antonio Gates on the fade stemmed because of a change in their goal-line package from the previous week when they got caught with one defensive back as Denver passed the ball). Haslett has his flaws. But he has a good understanding of the players' mentality.

7. Left tackle Trent Williams knows the challenges of playing in a dome against a pass-rusher such as Jared Allen. He only has three sacks, but Williams isn't about to relax. Playing in a dome removes the chance to disrupt timing through snap counts. “He always gets a great jump off the ball, so that becomes magnified,” Williams said. “You always peek at the ball, but [now] you try to time it up better and you have to be on your technique. One false move and he's on the quarterback.” On the other side, watch for end Brian Robison's spin move; used it to sack Dallas quarterback Tony Romo last week. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus can't let him get his hands into his chest.

8. Quarterback Robert Griffin III needs to build on last week's game with another strong outing. It'll be tough to match his completion percentage (71.8), but he needs to be efficient and avoid bad decisions, or take too long, as he did the previous week against Denver. Like the entire team, you can't say Griffin suddenly found himself because of what he did last week -- just like you couldn't say he was never going to develop because he played poorly versus Denver. Again: He's a young quarterback still enduring growing pains as a passer. But the Vikings represent a good chance for him to gain more confidence. They haven't applied enough pressure (17 sacks in 332 pass attempts). They allow a lot of completions (67 percent) and they're missing two defensive backs Thursday. Griffin should play well, if he's patient.

9. One reason the Redskins can feel a little better about the second half of the season is the quarterbacks they won't be facing: elite guys who are difference makers. In the first eight games they faced Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. Only Stafford and Cutler aren't among the top-seven rated passers this season. In the second half, the Redskins play only one quarterback currently rated in the top 15 (Atlanta's Matt Ryan).

10. The Vikings' numbers against the run look solid: 3.8 yards per carry allowed. However, they've faced only two teams that currently rank in the top 18 in terms of rushing in Chicago and Green Bay. They allowed 4.7 and 4.3 yards per carry, respectively, in those losses (and a combined 309 yards). The Redskins are running the ball well.

Injury report: Barry Cofield ditches club

September, 19, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield won’t need to wear a padded club to cover his fractured right hand during games.

He practiced without a club protecting his hand Thursday and coach Mike Shanahan said “he believes” Cofield won’t need it Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.

Cofield hasn’t had the hoped-for impact in the first two games, though not all of it can be attributed to the club on his hand. He has quick hands and got past the center Sunday against the Green Bay Packers with a swim move. But it was hard for him to grab onto ballcarriers.

Safety Brandon Meriweather (concussion) was limited. Defensive end Stephen Bowen (knee) was a new addition to the injury report after being limited in practice Thursday.

Place kicker Kai Forbath (groin) won’t kick until Friday or Saturday.

Defensive end Kedric Golston (abdomen) was limited.

For Detroit, running back Reggie Bush (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day. If he can’t play it changes up how much the Redskins need to defend. He’s more dangerous in the open field than backup Joique Bell.

Safety Don Carey (hamstring), receiver Patrick Edwards (ankle), tackle Jason Fox (groin) and linebacker Ashlee Palmer (ankle) did not practice. Three players were limited: safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (shoulder) and guard Rob Sims (knee).
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins strong safety Brandon Meriweather passed his concussion tests and took part in some drills during practice Wednesday. He will continue to be monitored daily to make sure no symptoms arise.

Meriweather was knocked from Sunday’s loss at Green Bay with a concussion after his hit on running back James Starks. He was fined $42,000 for his hit on Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy earlier in that game, which gave the rookie runner a concussion.

Kicker Kai Forbath did not practice because of his sore groin and won’t kick until Friday. The Redskins have kept John Potter around this week in case Forbath can’t go. Coach Mike Shanahan said Wednesday that he would consider using both during the game. He did not want to do that last week, saying Forbath’s groin was bad enough that the motion of just kicking a field goal was tough.

Potter missed his only attempt versus the Packers, a 50-yarder that he badly missed wide right.

Defensive end Kedric Golston was limited because of an abdominal issue.

Meanwhile, the Redskins' opponent Sunday, the Detroit Lions, has a long list of players who are hurting. Running back Reggie Bush (knee), safety Don Carey (hamstring), safety Louis Delmas (knee), receiver Patrick Edwards (ankle) and tackle Jason Fox (groin) did not practice Wednesday, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (shoulder) and guard Rob Sims (knee) practiced but were limited.

Redskins roster analysis: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redskins defense: What we've learned

August, 20, 2013
After watching the Redskins’ 24-13 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday, here’s what stood out:

  • It was easy to see how dominant nose tackle Barry Cofield was at times Monday night. It was even deeper than I realized. Two years ago the Redskins coaches predicted Cofield would soon be the NFL’s best nose tackle. I’m not going so far as to say that he is, but I will say he’s improved and now combines athleticism, quickness and brains. Anyway, on the first series he had consecutive plays in which he made a crucial contribution even if it wasn’t a flashy one. First, he was cocked to his right over the center. At the snap, he squared up with center Maurkice Pouncey. As the play went to Cofield’s left, he turned and gained leverage on Pouncey, pushing him back as he ran to that side and made the tackle. On the next play, he and Stephen Bowen both occupied two defenders as linebacker London Fletcher stepped into the hole. Bowen broke free to make the tackle as one of his blockers headed to Fletcher.
  • [+] EnlargeBarry Cofield
    Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWill a strong summer for Washington's Barry Cofield lead to a big regular season?
    On the second series, Cofield made his mark on two other plays, courtesy of swim moves past Pouncey. The center whiffed on his first block attempt. And the second one occurred on linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s interception for a touchdown. Cofield was into the backfield fast with another swim move. It’s hard to imagine teams having much success against him on a consistent basis with just one blocker. The same is true of Bowen -- and one of them more often than not will be singled up in pass-rush situations. Cofield got Pouncey again on a swim move -- Pouncey’s hands were low and slow (that motto works for brisket; not blocking Cofield). By the way, my thoughts haven’t changed on Kerrigan since watching the film. A good night.
  • I focused on this in my Ten Observations as well, but it’s really intriguing to see what the Redskins can do with their pass rush and how they can mix and match and create different looks. I love Kerrigan inside in some -- not all -- rush situations because of his quickness off the ball and his ability to play with leverage from his defensive-end days. Just a good changeup. And I like that they can mix and match: one play Kerrigan is over the right guard with Bowen over the left guard. It might be the opposite on the next play, giving that player a quality rusher with different strengths. Washington can rush Kerrigan and another linebacker from a four-point stance, with one standing up. It’ll be more effective with Brian Orakpo, naturally, but it works well thus far because of the various looks. What the Redskins are not having to do, yet, is send extra rushers out of necessity.
  • They did have one alignment in which they used five linebackers and two defensive linemen. Kerrigan was at left end with Brandon Jenkins at right end and Darryl Tapp inside to his left. The Steelers gained nine yards with a quick pass. But it was a first-down play, so it was an example of the Redskins perhaps trying to generate extra push with an early-down pass rush. It helps that Tapp is a former defensive end, albeit in a 4-3 (where the ends can be sometimes 30 pounds lighter than a 3-4 end).
  • Forgot to ask David Amerson about this play, but was reminded of it watching the game again on a 20-yard pass play (the DeJon Gomes late hit). Amerson did not get a good re-route on the receiver and then failed to drop deep enough in the cover-2 look, leaving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with an easy throwing lane. Amerson, though, continues to look like a future starter. When? He still has a lot to learn and prove, but he’s moving at the right pace. He’s willing to play physical and even though he missed on one tackle -- keep the head up -- he’s not shying from this role.
  • Corner Chase Minnifield was beaten deep by Markus Wheaton on one play, on which he made the tackle. In practices, Minnifield seemed to be beaten more when in off-man coverage, as he was playing here, than in press man. It’s probably because he’s good at disrupting the timing of a play. On the 45-yard gain, it really was just a straight go route with a minimal double move. But Minnifield handled press duties well and I liked how he shed one block from a receiver to make a tackle. Minnifield was aggressive with his hands and was able to control the receiver (Wheaton). You can always work with toughness.
  • Bacarri Rambo is coming up almost trying not to miss the ball carrier rather than to hit him. That was noticeable when Jose Gumbs delivered a few hits while playing in the middle. There was no hesitation. But Rambo is breaking down too much and his angles are off enough that the combination has equaled trouble for him. Rambo isn’t the only one who has struggled with angles, but he is the rookie starting at a spot where he needs to be a sure tackler. During camp Rambo looked like he belonged, and that he was good at correcting his mental mistakes. But one of the areas that’s tough to measure is how he’ll come up versus the run. With LeSean McCoy up in Week 1, the Redskins can’t afford a free safety still learning how to master the proper angles. I like that Rambo forced a fumble after one of his misses (a play in which Rob Jackson blew up the tight end and forced the back into a tough spot). But his struggles illustrate why it's a hard transition. He just needs to be a fast learner, as the coaches say he is in other situations.
  • Ends Chris Baker and Phillip Merling both had strong fourth quarters, but they should. I’d be worried about them if they didn’t; Merling is a veteran while Baker is expected to make the roster. Merling plays with power while Baker’s game is trying to get upfield. I like what Kedric Golston brings at end. I haven’t asked the coaches this directly, but to me it’s a no-brainer to start Golston during Jarvis Jenkins’ four-game suspension. Golston has played well and understands everything this position demands.
  • Saw a mixed night from rookie linebacker Brandon Jenkins, who continues to show enough as a pass-rusher. He has a quick get-off at the snap, but what he showed Monday was the ability to play with power, too. Late in the game he knocked lineman Kelvin Beachum off balance by driving into his pads. Earlier, Jenkins affected a throw again by getting his hands into the chest of the left tackle and moving him back. He wasn’t really close to a sack, but he did generate some push. Jenkins had a tough time on a couple plays getting off blocks against the run. Jenkins lined up in a standup position as well as with his hand in the ground. He had success rushing from both ways -- early in the game, against Pittsburgh’s first O-line, Jenkins, standing up, got his right arm into the chest of right tackle Marcus Gilbert and pushed him back. Jenkins does not play with as much power as Tapp, but it was an aspect of his game that flashed Monday.
  • The Redskins still need inside linebacking depth, but that doesn’t mean a guy like Will Compton has no value. I’d definitely keep him on the practice squad. He strikes me as the sort of player who eventually will make it and last a few years.
RICHMOND, Va. -- They are used to this by now, the Washington Redskins, as they rank among the top teams in the league over the past couple of years in the dubious category of drug suspensions. The latest, announced Friday, is a four-game suspension for defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who becomes the eighth Redskins player to be suspended for a drug violation in the last three years.

The whys, the wherefores, the excuses and the denials are all a matter of public record. Jenkins said in a statement that he believes the banned substance was in a supplement he took that didn't list any banned substances on its label. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said in a post-practice news conference that each of the drug suspensions is different and that the team is "trying to do our due diligence to make it right." Whatever. A lot of guys cheat, on a lot of teams, in every sport. Some get caught while most don't. The Redskins are having a bad run with drug suspensions, some of which are for performance-enhancers (as Jenkins' is) and some of which are not. Make of that what you will.

What it means in this case is that they become even more short-handed in the pass rush for the first four games of the 2013 season. They're already without outside linebacker Rob Jackson for the first four games, due to Jackson's own drug suspension. Starting defensive end Adam Carriker, whose place Jenkins was supposed to take on the defensive line, is out four-to-five months following the latest surgery on his right leg. The return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is obviously a big boost to the pass rush, but he's not likely to solve all of the problems himself. While Jenkins may not yet have shown the impact-player ability the team believes he ultimately will, the Redskins were counting on him to make a big step forward and a contribution in 2013. He now will have to wait until at least their fifth game to do that.

In the meantime, Kedric Golston likely steps into a starting defensive end role, which is less than ideal, and Chris Baker can play some end as well as nose tackle. Those guys could hold it down against the Eagles, Packers, Lions and Raiders to start the season, but defensive line is an area at which depth is vital and teams like to rotate players to keep them as fresh as possible. With Carriker out and Jenkins now down for four games, that rotation gets a lot thinner.

Most of the question marks for the Redskins this season, at least if you subscribe to the belief that quarterback Robert Griffin III will be fine, are on the defensive side of the ball. The first couple of days of training camp have produced more defensive questions than answers.

Breakfast links: A quiet NFC East

March, 13, 2013
Yeah, these things happen when only one of the teams in your division has cap room to burn. You have a quiet first day of free agency. The Eagles were busy and are likely to remain so, but the other three teams in our division look kind of sleepy right now, and you know the reason. Maybe some links will help.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins did bring back defensive lineman Kedric Golston on a three-year deal, but their effort to keep their team together appears to be hitting a speed bump as valuable special-teamer and backup linebacker Lorenzo Alexander appears to be on his way out the door. Tough loss, Alexander, but the Redskins weren't going to be able to pay him competitively with teams that saw value in him as a defensive player.

The Washington Post reports that cornerback Aqib Talib remains a target of the Redskins in free agency. And while Talib hasn't signed with anyone else yet, it's still hard to see how the Redskins can pay him. The one thing working in their favor is that the market for defensive backs is overloaded and should develop slowly. So even if it's not Talib, they may well be able to get someone good.

New York Giants

Ohm has the rundown on the Giants' options at tight end now that Martellus Bennett has left to sign with the Chicago Bears. There are a couple of interesting potential picks who could be there for them in the first round, but I kind of doubt they go that way with that pick. I think they'll add a mid-range veteran and sort it all out in camp.

As for veteran running backs to add depth at that position, the Giants apparently liked what they saw from Ryan Torain at the end of last season and have brought him back to supplement David Wilson and Andre Brown in the run game.

Dallas Cowboys

Crickets from Dallas, where $175,000 in cap room doesn't buy what it used to. But have no fear. Todd Archer has some names of potential second-tier free agents the Cowboys could target once the market moves a bit and they clear a little more room. Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn is on the list.

Cowboys tight end John Phillips left to sign with the Chargers, which isn't all that significant except that, as Tim MacMahon points out, he was the last surviving member of their horrible 2009 draft class. Four years later and nothing to show for an entire draft. You guys keep asking why they can't get past 8-8? This may be the kind of thing that answers that kind of question.

Philadelphia Eagles

We don't usually post four-year-old clips here, but this 2009 story from the Houston Chronicle details the heartbreaking backstory of James Casey, the new tight end the Eagles signed Tuesday. In case you like to know where the players on your team came from and what molds and drives them.

It's hard to see Patrick Chung as a slam-dunk answer at safety. But as Sheil Kapadia writes, there are things to like about Chung, and the Eagles certainly could use an answer at safety.
Tom Coughlin's new book, "Earn the Right to Win," hits the shelves today. (Honestly, is that the most Tom Coughlin book title you could ever imagine? "Earn the Right to Win?") You can catch the Giants coach with one of his former players Wednesday morning when he stops by "Live" with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. Coughlin's making the rounds this week. I'm curious to see whether Strahan or any of these other morning talk-show hosts asks any good questions about whether Kenny Phillips is coming back. Anyway, links.

Washington Redskins

Though they had options, and at least one player (Fred Davis) on whom they likely would have used it under different circumstances, the Redskins did not use the franchise player designation on anyone this year. Due to their salary-cap penalty, they really count not afford to.

I very much enjoyed Rich Campbell's feature on NFL players and their off-field businesses. It includes the Redskins' Lorenzo Alexander and Kedric Golston, who are operating a brand-new Pilates studio in Ashburn, Va. as well as Giants receiver Victor Cruz's "Young Whales" clothing line.

New York Giants

The Giants could plausibly have used the franchise tag on safety Kenny Phillips or tight end Martellus Bennett, but as Ohm points out, that's not how they roll. They use the tag for its originally intended purpose -- to buy themselves extra time to work out a long-term deal already in progress. With Will Beatty's deal wrapped up last week, there was no other player for whom the franchise designation would have suited the Giants' purpose.

Assuming Bennett goes elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, I'd expect the Giants to bring in some veteran tight end to replace him. But I doubt it'd be a high-level guy, since they don't tend to spend on that position. And regardless, they'll be keeping an eye this offseason on the development of Adrien Robinson.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer isn't ruling out the possibility that the Cowboys trade Anthony Spencer, even after they franchised him. I think it's farfetched to believe a team would trade a draft pick for Spencer knowing they have to either pay him $10.6 million or sign him long-term, but as Todd points out it's not unprecedented.

And Calvin wondered whether the franchising of Spencer and the release of safety Gerald Sensabaugh made it more likely that the Cowboys would target safety Kenny Vaccaro with their first-round draft pick. I have nothing against Vaccaro, and it's possible the Cowboys will target him or would have anyway. But with Spencer locked up to play defensive end for at least one more year, I think it's absolutely vital that the Cowboys use that pick on a building-block offensive lineman. To think they need a first-round safety to replace what Sensabaugh gave them is to overrate Sensabaugh.

Philadelphia Eagles

This recent look by Zach Berman at the Eagles' defensive line has me thinking that defensive line could be a major area of offseason emphasis, in free agency as well as in the draft.

Seems like everybody needs safeties around here, and the Eagles are obviously no exception. Sheil Kapadia has names of some potential targets, including some future Hall of Famers. Hard to see the Eagles signing someone as old as Ed Reed, but who knows? Maybe Chip Kelly feels differently about old guys than Andy Reid did.

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012

Just when I thought I was out, Roy Helu pulls me back in.

As this preseason has unfolded, the one thing we thought we knew about the Washington Redskins' running back situation was that Helu was confirming the coaching staff's fears about his ability to stay healthy. He hadn't been any kind of factor at all since the first preseason game, sitting out practices with sore Achilles' tendons while Evan Royster and Alfred Morris got starts and Tim Hightower made his return from last year's knee surgery. And in the first half of the Redskins' 30-3 preseason victory over the Buccaneers on Wednesday, it was all Royster.

But then in the second half came Helu, showing that burst through the line he showed when he got his chance last year and rolling up 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries. He even added 34 more yards on two catches, reminding everyone of that receiving ability with which they fell in love last year. I thought he looked good in blitz pickup, too. The result was the upstaging of Royster's 10-carry, 44-yard first half and a further deepening of the muddle that is the Redskins' starting running back picture with a week and a half left before the season opener. To wit:

Is Helu really their most talented back? And if he is, can they count on him to stay healthy? Or will nagging injuries always be an issue? Can they use him as a third-down back, or increase his reps in the second half after one of the other guys has softened up the defense?

Is Hightower healthy enough for a starter's workload 10 months after surgery to repair a torn ACL? And even if he is, has he lost a step?

Does Royster show more as a consistent runner than Helu does, in spite of the latter's explosiveness and receiving ability? And if so, is that the more important factor?

Is the rookie Morris good enough yet in pass protection to get significant reps as the starter if need be?

All we know is that (a) they like Hightower as the starter out of all of these guys if he's healthy and (b) he's not fully healthy right now. So there's no way to know who the starter will be on Sept. 9 in New Orleans until we see who runs on the field. But Mike Shanahan believes he has four good running backs who can succeed in his system, and that's fine by him. I reassert my belief that four different backs will start games for the Redskins this year, which is the same number of backs that started games for them last year, and that whoever it is that gets the ball from week-to-week will be a threat to clear 100 yards. Call the Redskins' running back "Timfred Heloyster."

Here's what else I noticed in the Redskins' final game of the preseason. Warning: It ain't much.
  • It's not that they had five sacks -- it's where they came from to get them. Marlon Favorite, Kedric Golston, Darrion Scott... the defensive line was generating pressure up the middle. With backups. And against backups, too, yes, I know that. But what this tells me is that the Redskins' defensive scheme doesn't plan to limit itself to using those outside linebackers to generate pressure. If they get an interior rush going, they could be a real force up front with the depth they do have (ahead of the guys who played Wednesday) on the defensive line.
  • The Redskins had to like seeing rookie cornerback Richard Crawford get an interception a few days after trading Kevin Barnes. Crawford's performance this preseason is one of the things that made Barnes expendable. The Redskins also like rookie safety Jordan Bernstine, who also had a pick.
  • I don't see how Brandon Banks has made the team as a wide receiver. He is still dangerous as a return man, and he had one very long catch. But he doesn't fight for the ball effectively against defenders and just doesn't show enough, technique-wise, as a wide receiver compared to the other guys competing for the spots. And Aldrick Robinson looks like he can handle kick returns, and someone (Santana Moss?) will figure out punt returns.
  • New kicker Billy Cundiff missed from 46 yards, but he sure looked good drilling those kickoffs through the back of the end zone. Expect a lot more of that from the guy who set an NFL record last year for touchbacks in a single season. I have to believe that's why he's on the team and Graham Gano is not.
Yeah, I know. You want to know when the Washington Redskins are going to re-sign London Fletcher. Don't have anything for you on that. All I can tell you is that they still plan to do it, he hasn't signed with anyone else yet and there are five months left before the season starts, so there's no real reason to worry that I can see.

In the meantime, though, they are still working. Mike Shanahan has said many times that the biggest thing the Redskins have lacked since he got there was depth. Having struck out in their pursuit of an upgrade at right tackle, they announced Monday that they have signed tackle James Lee, a former Buccaneer and Brown who will be thrown into the reserve tackle mix along with Willie Smith and Tyler Polumbus. He provides some level of veteran insurance in case Jammal Brown still can't shake his hip injury. At this point, with the top free-agent tackles all signed elsewhere and unless they can find a starter in the third round of the draft or later, the Redskins' best bet at right tackle is a healthy Brown. They just need to make sure they have some coverage in the somewhat likely event that Brown is not healthy.

Earlier in the day, ESPN 980 in Washington reported the Redskins had agreed to terms with defensive end Kedric Golston, who played for them last year and gets thrown into the defensive line mix. Having already re-signed Adam Carriker earlier in the offseason, and expecting Jarvis Jenkins back from the injury that cost him his rookie season, the Redskins believe their defensive line depth is a strength of the team. They signed defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in free agency last year, and both are back as projected starters in 2012.

Expect the Redskins to keep making depth moves in advance of the draft. They had defensive back Madieu Williams in for a free-agent visit last week, and they still intend to re-sign Fletcher and running back Tim Hightower.