NFC East: keenan robinson

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.

Camp preview: Washington Redskins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


NFL Nation's John Keim examines the three biggest issues facing the Washington Redskins heading into training camp.

A rookie coach: Jay Gruden showed during the spring that he’ll coach with energy, creating a different vibe at Redskins Park. He’ll catch passes, defend receivers, throw a pass or two. And he looked for coaches who bring a similar energy. The difference was noticeable throughout the spring workouts open to the media.

Gruden, too, is a players’ coach, which can be viewed as positive or negative (all related to wins and losses).

Thus far, his relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III has been all positive. If that continues, it’s a major boost to the organization after the toxicity of last season, regardless of who was at fault. It helps that Gruden is able to keep his ego in check; you don’t get the sense that there are any ulterior motives with him.

Having said all that, we have no idea how Gruden will handle a season in charge. What if there’s an issue with Griffin? What if the defense doesn’t produce and he thinks the Skins need to tweak their scheme? Will Gruden be able to make those hard decisions when necessary? In-game and in-season adjustments matter greatly, and Gruden has to prove himself in this area. He was not a unanimous hotshot choice to be a head coach, but the Redskins believed in him and thought he could handle the job. But now a first-time head coach has to do what established coaches such as Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan failed to do: lead a consistent winner. And he has to do that with general manager Bruce Allen, who has all the football power for the first time in his career.

Robert Griffin III’s rise: Griffin was viewed as a savior in 2012, setting records as a rookie and helping the Redskins win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999. His future, and that of the organization, looked tremendous -- even though when they were 3-6 it appeared they had the right quarterback, but not the right team.

Then came last season. And harsh judgment on Griffin and his future. Even as a rookie there was skepticism about whether Griffin’s career could last given all the running he did (sometimes by design, other times by necessity and other times because of poor decision-making). But last season, his mechanical flaws were critiqued more harshly, and his ability to develop as a pocket passer was questioned. Meanwhile, anonymous-sourced stories abounded about his ability to lead the right way and develop as a passer.

Griffin went from a beloved figure two years ago to one who now engenders sharp opinions one way or another. Now his personality is even questioned. Griffin can regain the love, but he’ll have to turn a strong offseason into an even better regular season. His road to redemption is not a long one, but he just has to get it done. Considering this is the first real NFL offseason he’s had, it’s not a big leap to think he’ll play better than in ’13 – even in a new offense. The Redskins’ ability to give him quicker reads with receivers more capable of winning at the line will help.

Where's the D? Washington improved its pass rush by adding a coach devoted to it (Brian Baker), signing a free agent (Jason Hatcher) and drafting another outside linebacker (Trent Murphy). That, combined with holdovers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, should give the rush a boost. Corner David Amerson gives the Redskins a young player, whom they love, to build around in the secondary.

But will that be enough to improve the defense? There are plenty of other question marks on a defense that remains in transition. Washington might have as many as five starters age 30 or older; this is not a once-great defense hanging on, it’s a once-struggling defense trying to get better. The D will receive a boost from the above additions, but still needs more.

The Redskins have to prove they are not a boom-or-bust defense. They tackled poorly in the back end last year, one reason they ranked 32nd in yards per pass attempt at 7.58. They have a new starting inside linebacker, Keenan Robinson; since being drafted in 2012, he has 11 career tackles, two torn pectoral muscles and zero starts. Safety Ryan Clark has been a solid player and is a terrific leader, but he needs to show he can still play at age 34. If a defense needs to be strong up the middle to win, the Redskins have this: a solid nose tackle in Barry Cofield, question marks at inside linebacker, and question marks at safety. While Griffin’s play garners the headlines, the defense holds a major key to success.
The position isn’t filled -- yet -- but linebacker Keenan Robinson has a lot of what the Washington Redskins want. He’s a big guy who can run, giving the defense a needed jolt of youth and speed. What they don’t know, and won’t know for a couple of months, is whether he can be an effective starter.

For now, though, Robinson works alongside Perry Riley at the spot once manned by London Fletcher.

“It’s not second nature, I’m still learning,” Robinson said. “But it’s becoming more natural every day. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I become in the scheme.”

Robinson
Robinson
The plan last season was for Robinson to back up Fletcher, learn the position more, and then take over as the starter in 2014. But Robinson, for the second consecutive year, tore a pectoral muscle. He never played a down.

What helps him is that Washington did not change defenses after firing coach Mike Shanahan.

“I’m becoming more comfortable and familiar with things that I did my rookie year [in 2012],” Robinson said. “I’m drawing back to those experiences and taking what I learned then and adding it to what I’ve learned now.”

Robinson has been calling plays during organized team activities (OTAs). But that’s part of the job requirement at this position. Plus, if the Redskins didn’t have him do it during the offseason when would he learn to call the signals?

With Robinson, the focus typically centers on his speed and ability to cover. It’s important, especially with more teams having athletic tight ends. Last week, Robinson ran stride for stride downfield with Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. At 6-foot-3, Robinson can match -- or at least come close to matching -- the height of many tight ends.

“Tight ends have become game-changers,” Robinson said. “In order for a linebacker to be successful and every-down players, they have to cover guys like that.”

But stopping the run remains the primary job of this position. The Redskins added pass-rushers this offseason in Jason Hatcher and Trent Murphy to pair with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. But for the pass rush to work, the Redskins must get offenses in obvious passing situations. And that starts by stopping the run.

“Run fits are very important,” Robinson said. “I feel OK in my run fits. As the Mike [linebacker], You have to stop the run. If I’m getting to where I need to get to every play, that can allow everyone else to do their job.”

It also would allow him to win the job. But there’s a big difference between looking good in the spring and doing so in the summer and fall. Robinson, who has 11 career tackles, will still have to prove he’s better than veterans Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton.

"He's a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around, he's a very fluid athlete. He’s active in the passing game and his run fits have been outstanding. It’s going to be a great competition come training camp. We're pleased with where all those linebackers are, especially Keenan’s progress."
 

Thoughts and observations from the Redskins OTA session Thursday (taking a look at big picture things here rather than practice plays made in the spring):

  1. Robert Griffin III worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
  2. But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III showed off his new throwing mechanics during practice on Thursday.
    Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
  4. Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
  5. His weight transfer was different as well; much more quiet but a definite transfer. Saw it on a deep ball to receiver DeSean Jackson.
  6. Griffin escaped the pocket on one play and looked like he was going to tuck and run. But he pulled up before he crossed the line and hit Pierre Garcon along the sidelines.
  7. Keenan Robinson lined up next to Perry Riley with the No. 1 defense. It’s only May, but it’s still telling when considering that he missed all of last season and part of his rookie year. They also signed Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, who worked with the second team. Adam Hayward also worked some with the second team at inside linebacker.
  8. The linebackers’ versatility will be a huge part of the defense this season, as you would expect. The key is that they now have three outside linebackers – Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy -- who are comfortable with their hands in the dirt, rushing from a two-point stance or dropping into coverage.
  9. Murphy beat Tom Compton during 11-on-11 work with a quick spin move to the inside. For a tall guy, Murphy does a nice job staying low on his spin.
  10. Second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins was mostly limited to rushing the passer last season, but saw him in coverage some Thursday.
  11. Here are the players I saw returning kicks Thursday: Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross.
  12. Chris Baker lined up at left end with the starting defense (keep in mind Stephen Bowen can’t work). Chris Neild was in the middle with Barry Cofield sidelined (hernia surgery) and Jason Hatcher was on the right side.
  13. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland still needs to be less grabby. Saw him tugging Santana Moss’ jersey downfield before the veteran caught the ball. Saw Breeland tugging other jerseys as they broke on a route (after the allotted five yards of contact). Not sure all the receivers quite appreciated his hands.
  14. Breeland was beaten on a double move by receiver Pierre Garcon. One thing Breeland said he needed to do was to keep his eyes on his man. He lost him this time, peeking too long into the backfield and awaiting a throw that wasn’t coming. Instead, it turned into an easy deep completion.
  15. Maurice Hurt worked at right tackle with the third unit. Josh LeRibeus worked at left guard with the second unit.
  16. Jackson’s speed was evident, especially on an end around. He was in traffic as he ran around the end, on the side opposite the media so it was hard to tell who it was at first. But he was moving at a different speed, which was the first clue as to who it was.
  17. Corner Chase Minnifield will get into a lot of tussles this camp – a safe prediction. He nearly got into one with tight end Niles Paul Thursday. Minnifield is physical and feisty and that will never please those running routes in practice. This time, Minnifield was grabbing Paul on the entire route and at the end Paul shoved him. Minnifield bounced up and shoved him back. It didn’t escalate.
  18. Minnifield did pick off a Kirk Cousins pass in zone coverage. Minnifield sank deep on the route and grabbed a pass that was intended for Williams.
  19. It was tough to see running back Chris Thompson’s speed last season, whether in spring, summer or before he was shut down during the season. He was coming off a knee injury. But he’s a year removed from that injury and the speed was more evident. Still worry about his durability, but he looked fast after running with a pass in the open field (during a spring practice).
  20. Safety Tanard Jackson ran with the third defense.
  21. Corner David Amerson looks more comfortable in press coverage and is using his long arms to his advantage when jamming receivers. Saw him do this a couple times, showing good technique and not getting beat in this look. It’s something he needed to work on as a rookie and I’m sure the learning curve will continue. But with his length and speed it’s a necessary tactic for him to learn.

 

  • It jumped out at me that the Washington Redskins only drafted two defensive players out of eight selections. The Redskins have done a good job of building an offense, one that could (potentially) be very good for a few years, especially if quarterback Robert Griffin III develops.
  • But the Redskins' defense is still building and of their nine players 30 years or older, seven play on defense. At least five will likely be starters -- maybe even six.
  • Redskins coach Jay Gruden really likes running back Lache Seastrunk. Though he only caught nine passes in college, Baylor's scheme does not call for many throws to the running backs (I think there were a combined five receptions by backs last season).
  • [+] EnlargeBashaud Breeland
    Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsCornerback Bashaud Breeland should find he fits in well with all of the Redskins' zone coverages.
    Though Seastrunk apparently showed at the combine and his pro day that he has good hands (he did have 10 drops in college), there is an adjustment to becoming a third-down back. He’ll have to learn to run routes, read coverages (though you can ease him in with easy routes, etc.). But it's also about pass protection: recognizing blitzes, knowing where you need to go. That takes time.
  • But until Seastrunk reaches that point, Gruden said he could become a backup to Alfred Morris, capable of being a home-run hitting type of back. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the combine, so he has good speed. Haven’t seen a lot of him, but Seastrunk is an intriguing pick.
  • The Redskins didn’t absolutely need a pass-catching back because they do have Roy Helu. But Gruden made it clear at the NFL owners meetings that he would like more from this role.
  • The guy I’m really looking forward to seeing is corner Bashaud Breeland. I liked what I saw of him on film, but there will be questions about his speed. However, for those wanting a safety, he’s a guy who could play there at some point if they wanted. Gruden said that was a possibility, but if nothing else, he’ll be a versatile corner for them.
  • I know a lot of people think the Redskins reached on a lot of picks. I don’t know if that’s the case or not because it really depends on how their draft board was aligned. I also know that you can’t go by certain projections because if that’s the case many were very wrong on a number of players (look at quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Tom Savage, whom some thought might go late one or early two). Point is, every team rates guys differently, so a reach for one is not for another.
  • Heck, some pegged Morgan Moses as a first-round pick. Sorry, but while he's talented, his play did not warrant that sort of projection. He went in the third round. So is that good value or some analysts just being way off?
  • As for Trent Murphy, the Redskins probably could have waited at 47 and drafted someone else. But this was the pass-rusher they wanted because they had missed on two others they liked (Marcus Smith, Kyle Van Noy -- the latter of whom they were not going to take at 34). If they had waited, maybe they get him at 66 and maybe they don’t. They liked him; they took him.
  • And, as some Twitter followers mentioned, would anyone have been disappointed to get Moses at 47 and Murphy at 66? Still, you can argue Murphy was a reach but the Redskins liked him. We’ll find out in a couple years who’s right.
  • Wrote this in other places, but I did hear good things about guard Spencer Long. I listed him as a risky pick because, well, I had to list someone. And his knee makes him riskier than the others. But one scout I trust liked him a lot.
  • I know there was angst about the Redskins not drafting an inside linebacker, but I never really thought they would. They liked Ryan Shazier and they felt Van Noy could play inside (full-time, not sure). But C.J. Mosley and Shazier, there was a big drop-off inside. If that’s the case, anyone they were going to draft would have had an uphill battle just to make the roster. And if that’s the case, there was no reason to draft them.
  • Not only do they like Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, they also like how Keenan Robinson has (thus far) progressed. They have a special teams guy in Adam Hayward and a young guy they can still develop in Will Compton, who showed some toughness last summer.
  • They also felt there wasn’t much room at safety. You can debate that one -- I think they’ll still be looking for guys next offseason. I loved Deone Bucannon and liked Jimmie Ward, but both went in the first round. This was not a deep class at safety, but I am a little surprised they didn’t draft at least one.
  • The Redskins will add some defensive lineman, most likely, as undrafted free agents. Be wary of all the news regarding the UDFA’s, by the way. There have been plenty of times in the past players say they’ve signed with someone when they might just be attending as a tryout guy. Or they agree with one team then change their minds and sign with another.
The company they keep suggests they have done it right. Washington is right there with the best teams in the NFL when it comes to holding on to its draft picks. Look at the top six teams when it comes to keeping their own draft picks. You have perennial playoff contenders, Super Bowl participants and league heavyweights.

And then the Redskins.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaDan Snyder and the Redskins' coaching staff need to focus more on developing the team's draft picks in the future.
It's strange company, indeed. But there they are, right behind Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New England. For the most part, it's a who's who of organizations that have done it right.

And then there are the Redskins.

"I don't think we can say we've done well because of our record," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said.

The numbers spell it out. Washington ranks seventh in the NFL with 28 former draft picks on its roster. In the free-agency era, that has to register as a surprise given the Redskins' reputation. Of course, the salary-cap penalties of the past two offseasons forced them to do business another way.

It's sort of like the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry tells a rental car clerk, "See, you know how to take the reservation. You just don't know how to hold the reservation, and that's really the most important part of the reservation."

If the Redskins want to sustain success, they will do more than just draft and retain players; they will improve at developing them.

It's not as if they haven't had success stories. In 2012, they rode two rookies to the playoffs: quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick. Griffin extended plays and ran well, so the Redskins incorporated that into their offense. Morris could plant and cut, so that's what they asked him to do. They've had other success stories, just not enough of them.

Too often the Redskins have relied on outside help to fill holes. This past offseason they needed offensive line help, so they signed a starting guard and added a veteran backup. Two years ago they drafted three linemen, yet none of them project to be in the starting lineup. One of those three, guard Josh LeRibeus, was a third-round pick who was inactive in every game last season.

Washington's director of player personnel Scott Campbell said Tuesday that to find players worth developing, you see how much they love football. If a guy struggles with weight issues, that's a concern. LeRibeus had those issues in college and again after his rookie season. He is young, so perhaps he still develops, but he'll do so with constant pressure behind him.

"If you can't develop and want to build through the draft, then you're just sitting there with guys that can't play and they're young," one former Redskins coach said. "It becomes a double-edged sword and you're headed nowhere fast. Then you have to roll the dice in free agency and find a veteran player you hope can bail you out of that situation."

As Allen pointed out Tuesday, the Redskins have won titles multiple ways: from his father's ability to trade draft picks in the 1970s to finding bargain Plan B free agents in the 1980s. But owner Dan Snyder's era has produced seven double-digit loss seasons in the last 11.

The Redskins have drafted 34 players in the past four years: 14 on defense, 20 on offense. Of that group, eight project to be starters in 2014. Another player, tight end Logan Paulsen, went from undrafted in 2011 to starting tight end last year. Fullback Darrel Young switched positions and now is a starter.

The defense really needs to develop its own (the offense is much younger). Washington's D is in transition, with three starters in the secondary 30 or older and four top linemen in that same category. That means, if they want to build success, and then sustain it, they must hope that some of these players develop: Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas at safety and linebacker Keenan Robinson, as a long-term replacement for the retired London Fletcher. They need more youth along the front or for Jarvis Jenkins to blossom in his third playing season.

Two offseason moves could help: the hiring of inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and signing safety Ryan Clark. Olivadotti had a terrific reputation for working with young players in his first go-round with Washington, helping Brian Orakpo as a rookie. If Robinson is healthy -- after tearing a different pectoral muscle in each of his first two seasons -- then he has a shot because of Olivadotti.

As for Clark, maybe at 34 he has nothing left. Pittsburgh didn't think so. But he can still add value in Washington, desperate to solve a longtime hole at safety. Clark, who almost always has been a part of a good secondary, starting in college, can provide more help in getting players from one point in their career to another. He's not afraid to call out players -- star players too -- and let them know what's not acceptable. He'll also guide them just as much. Clark will be as much a coach on the field as anyone.

The Redskins don't have a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, so a lot of their selections this weekend won't provide immediate help. But if the Redskins develop their own, they will build a foundation that they've too often lacked.

Free-agency review: Redskins

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:35
AM ET
Hatcher
Hatcher
Most significant signing: Defensive lineman Jason Hatcher. A major issue for Washington’s defense last season was the lack of an interior pass rush, which is something Hatcher did exceptionally well last season in Dallas. The Redskins could not push the pocket and the rush too often relied on blitzes or pressure from outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. It wasn’t enough. Hatcher doesn’t need to duplicate his 11-sack season, but he does need to provide a constant threat inside to diversify the Redskins' rush.

Most significant loss: The Redskins haven't lost anyone significant thus far and the players they’ve wanted to keep they have. But perhaps the biggest loss came when safety Mike Mitchell opted to sign with Pittsburgh at an affordable price. The Redskins were deeply interested in him, making him their first call in the legal tampering window, and then again early on the first day of free agency. But they lost out on him and free safety remains a hole.

Meriweather
Biggest surprise: The inability to add a safety and the lack of pursuit for the big-name inside linebackers. The Redskins didn't want to overspend at either position -- and at safety, they didn't see many options better than Brandon Meriweather, whom they re-signed. As far as inside linebacker, it’s not a position as important to them as pass-rusher. Still, they did not bring in any of the so-called big names at this position. They're hoping newly signed Darryl Sharpton can stay healthy or that Keenan Robinson can do the same and show that, despite missing most of his first two seasons, he might be able to help. Sharpton received only a one-year deal.

What's next? The Redskins have shown a methodical approach to free agency, and that won’t change. They’re not taking on bad contracts and should be set up nicely in terms of cap space for some big contracts in coming seasons. As far as remaining holes, the draft is considered deep at receiver, so there’s a good chance that position is addressed in the first several rounds. Inside linebacker and safety also could be early targets based on what they haven't done in free agency.

Free-agent analysis: Adam Hayward

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
8:30
PM ET
A thumbnail look at newly-signed inside linebacker Adam Hayward:

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

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

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

London Fletcher gets needed rest

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
8:30
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ASHBURN, Va. -- London Fletcher finally made a concession to his age. That’s why the Washington Redskins linebacker talked with coaches about having Nick Barnett replace him at times during games.

Fletcher
Barnett played eight snaps over two series for Fletcher in Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Detroit Lions.

“It’s something to keep me fresher,” said Fletcher, 38. “They rotate running backs, so we decided to rotate middle linebackers. … I thought it helped me during the course of the game.”

Fletcher finished with eight tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. He did not come off the field in the first two games, but struggled to get off blocks at Green Bay. As others have said, every player succumbs to age at some point.

“We don’t want to overwork him, especially with the offenses we go against nowadays,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “I’d like to give him a few more plays off to not just wear him down. We’re trying to keep him 100 percent. We feel very good about London. We want to keep him healthy and we think Nick is doing a good job, too.”

The Redskins were hurt in the preseason when second-year linebacker Keenan Robinson tore his pectoral muscle and was lost for the season. He was Fletcher’s backup and, potentially, his eventual replacement. Barnett, 32, is more of an insurance policy for this season.
Good day. Here are your links.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are trying to be careful with Tony Romo has he works his way back from offseason surgery to remove a cyst. But Romo is making it tough on them. He talked his way into practicing Tuesday on a scheduled off-day and is still hoping to play at least part of Sunday night's preseason opener against Miami.

Reports from Oxnard have consistently marveled at how explosive DeMarcus Ware looks in his new 4-3 defensive end role. Not surprising. Ware is a stud who could well thrive playing on the line of scrimmage full-time. The thing to watch is not Ware's effectiveness as a pass-rusher in his new stance but the extent to which the banging away at offensive linemen all game long wears on him physically throughout the season.

New York Giants

So I wrote something the other day about Cullen Jenkins maybe being able to lock in at defensive tackle this year for the Giants rather than move around between tackle and end, and then the Giants go ahead Tuesday and give him practice snaps at defensive end. Shows you what I know. Seriously, Jenkins' versatility is part of his appeal, and with Jason Pierre-Paul still recovering from back surgery it makes sense to look at all options.

Corey Webster says that part of the motivation for the Giants to make the Super Bowl this year is that they don't want one of their rivals using their locker room during Super Bowl week. Sure, hey, whatever works.

Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Berman breaks down the new-look Eagles secondary, where former Giants safety Kenny Phillips and his balky knee are the most significant wild cards.

And Les Bowen examines the deep-seated reasons that Donovan McNabb's legacy in Philadelphia will always remain a complex one.

Washington Redskins

Thin at inside linebacker due to the Keenan Robinson injury and spurned by Joe Mays, the Redskins are taking a look at veteran Nick Barnett, who used to play one of the inside spots in the Packers' 3-4 defense.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall is going to miss some practice time with a sprained ankle. Doesn't sound as though the regular-season is being threatened by this, but certainly any injury in the secondary is cause for concern, with so many question marks there already.
PHILADELPHIA -- Morning, all. One more day here in the City of Brotherly Love, and then I head home. So let's get linkin'.

Philadelphia Eagles

Donovan McNabb was one of the Eagles alumni introduced on the field prior to Sunday's open practice, and he got a nice hand as you'd expect. He'll officially retire today in a news conference at the Eagles' team facility, just a scant 21 months after his most recent NFL game.

Les Bowen took a look at the Eagles' receiving depth in the wake of the Jeremy Maclin injury. They have a wide variety of pass-catching options, even if none is the caliber of player Maclin is.

Washington Redskins

Rich Campbell writes that, for the first time in a while, Super Bowl expectations have a realistic feel to them as the Redskins begin preparing to defend their division title.

The Redskins may sign veteran linebacker Joe Mays to help fill a hole created by the season-ending injury to Keenan Robinson.

Dallas Cowboys

Lots of coaches this time of year say they like their teams to practice in the heat. But it's been unusually cool for Cowboys training camp so far in Southern California, and Jason Garrett thinks it's helping the Cowboys' preparations.

The Cowboys' defense doesn't force enough turnovers. This has been true for many years, as Jean-Jacques Taylor writes, and the problem bottomed out last year. This year's staff is trying to make forcing turnovers more of a priority for the Dallas D.

New York Giants

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who struggled last year with knee and foot injuries, left practice early Sunday due to a problem with his groin. No, you cannot make this stuff up.

If Nicks does struggle to stay on the field this year, the top candidate to replace him appears to be second-year receiver Rueben Randle, who is making a good impression so far this offseason.
Fantasy Week shall roll on, I promise, but we have other things to which we must attend, including our regularly scheduled noon ET Tuesday chat and your old reliable links.

New York Giants

Now that Victor Cruz is all signed up with his new contract, Steve Politi wonders what it means for the wide receiver the Giants have who's actually better than Cruz is. Hakeem Nicks has a year left on his deal and some stuff to prove.

It may have taken longer to reach a resolution than the Giants or their fans wanted it to, but Tara Sullivan writes that Cruz did the wise thing in the end.

Philadelphia Eagles

Geoff Mosher tries to figure out which Eagles veterans could be in danger of being cut before the start of the season, and, yes, of course he mentions Michael Vick, who's no lock to make the team if he doesn't win the starting quarterback job.

The oddsmakers like the other three NFC East teams better than they like the Eagles at this point, but they envision another close division race without a dominant team in the mix.

Washington Redskins

John Keim is breaking down the Redskins' linebacker position, and he thinks the key is health. Indeed, London Fletcher isn't getting any younger, Brian Orakpo hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two years and even some of the younger guys, like Keenan Robinson, have had trouble staying on the field. It looks like a good group, but it's got to stay healthy.

Is there a spot on the Redskins' roster for former West Virginia quarterback Pat White? He says he's willing to take anything they have.

Dallas Cowboys

Tim MacMahon writes that a continuation of Dez Bryant's breakout is one of the things that must go right in order for the Cowboys to have more success this year than they've had the past three. We'll have more on this later today as part of our Fantasy Week series. That there's what we call in the business a "tease."

Bryan Broaddus believes that Ronald Leary will beat out either Nate Livings or Mackenzy Bernadeau and claim a spot as one of the Cowboys' starting guards in training camp. Surely, less ridiculous things have happened.

 
Morning. Welcome to another offseason week in the NFC East. I'll be headed to Philadelphia Eagles minicamp later this week, but in the meantime it's business as usual, beginning of course with links.

Dallas Cowboys

Dwayne Harris came on strong as a good No. 3 wide receiver option for the Cowboys in 2012. But after the team drafted Terrance Williams in the third round, Harris is ready to fight for his job.

The Cowboys picked up $2 million in cap space over the weekend because the post-June 1 cut of Marcus Spears took effect. Calvin Watkins speculates that the savings could help lead to talks with Sean Lee about a new contract.

New York Giants

Aaron Curry says "proving people wrong is not a motivation," though he admits the motivations that helped him become a top college linebacker disappeared when he got his big first-round NFL contract with Seattle. Curry believes renewed focus and determination can help him be a help to the Giants, who felt his talent warranted taking a low-risk chance.

If fullback Henry Hynoski has to miss significant time with his knee injury, Bear Pascoe's value as a tight end who can line up at fullback will become even more obvious to Giants fans.

Philadelphia Eagles

DeSean Jackson has dropped agent Drew Rosenhaus and is the latest NFL player to be connected to Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports. Not sure what it all means for Jackson's future with the Eagles, as he got a long-term contract extension last year, but I know lots of people around the league are monitoring what's going on with Roc Nation and what effect its presence will have on the market.

The fact that Bennie Logan is new should help him as the Eagles' defensive coaching staff continues to throw ever-changing schemes and fronts at the players this offseason.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan says Alfred Morris' success isn't a product of the Redskins' system and that Morris is a good enough back to gain yards in any offensive system. And that may well be true, but it doesn't change the fact that Morris' running style fits the profile of what Shanahan looks for in a back, which is likely why he was able to get him in the sixth round and why Morris was able to get the chance to be the starter in the first place as a rookie in 2012.

People often ask what the Redskins' plan is at inside linebacker when London Fletcher inevitably decides to stop playing. Keenan Robinson, who was a rookie in 2012, is part of the answer. And he says he's almost all the way back from the injury that ended his 2012 season and ready for more playing time.
According to the team's official website, the Washington Redskins would like to know before free agency begins eight days from now whether veteran inside linebacker London Fletcher is planning to retire or return for the 2013 season:
Fletcher
Inside linebacker could be addressed in free agency or the draft. Either way, head coach Mike Shanahan said the team would like to know an answer heading into next Tuesday.

"I really don’t know," Shanahan said of Fletcher's plans. "London’s the type of guy [where] you don’t even want to ask him a question because his mindset is he’s a warrior [for] how hard he’s played and what he’s done for this organization."

In Shanahan's experience, the players that ponder retirement too long are the ones that are already mentally retired.

"One thing you have to do, is you have to have a mindset that there’s no way you’re going to retire," Shanahan said. "If you’re thinking about retirement and you’re not really sure... you’re probably already retired."

I'm sure the Redskins would like as much information as possible before embarking upon their offseason plan. And I'm sure they'd like to have Fletcher back. Especially considering the cuts they're likely to have to make elsewhere on the roster as a result of their salary-cap penalty, his leadership is likely to be important next year if the roster is more scaled down than they'd like it to be.

But I'm not as sure they really need Fletcher's answer by 4 p.m. ET next Tuesday. If he leaves, they could replace him internally by re-signing Lorenzo Alexander or elevating second-year man Keenan Robinson. Or they could find a free-agent option, as the linebacker market is generally slow-moving and team-favorable. Whatever they do, they're not likely to find an ideal replacement for everything Fletcher brings on and off the field. But it wouldn't be hard to find someone late in the market who could line up at inside linebacker for them in 2013, even if Fletcher drags out his decision. Given their cap problems and their needs elsewhere, I highly doubt that a Fletcher decision in the next eight days would alter their offseason plan too dramatically.

I still think Fletcher comes back and plays in 2013, but the fact that it's not yet resolved gives Redskins fans good reason to worry. Whatever he decides, though, and whenever he decides it, I don't think that's going to change what the Redskins do eight days from now at safety and offensive line.
We are, as I'm sure you could tell, in a bit of a slow period for news here in the NFC East. So I thought it might be a good time of year to take a position-by-position look at the teams in our division. I don't have a set schedule in mind, and it may not be possible to do it every day, but my goal is to pick one position each day and break down the way each of our four teams looks at that position. So today I've picked linebackers, and we'll start with the Washington Redskins.

Projected starters: OLB Brian Orakpo, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB London Fletcher, ILB Perry Riley

Reserves: Rob Jackson, Lorenzo Alexander, Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Goff, Markus White, Chris Wilson, Bryan Kehl

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Howard Smith/US PresswireBrian Orakpo (98) lead the Redskins with 9.0 sacks last season.
Potential strengths: The Redskins' hope is that Orakpo and Kerrigan are in the process of developing into one of the more formidable pass-rushing duos in the league. They've each shown that ability so far in their relatively brief careers, but the key is for each of them to take the next step. Some say Orakpo needs to develop another move. Kerrigan needs to refine his all-around game as he heads into his second season. The defense is set up to allow the two of them to take advantage of the opportunity to pile up sacks, and they will look to improve on the 16.5 for which they combined in 2011.

Potential weaknesses: Under Fletcher's guidance and tutelage, Riley last year looked like someone who could be a legitimate long-term answer at the inside linebacker position. He needs to demonstrate more consistency, or else the Redskins could turn to someone like Goff or the rookie Robinson. As brilliant and apparently indestructible as Fletcher is, he did just turn 37, and there remains a slim chance that his play could tail off at some point in the near future. The Redskins picked Robinson thinking he could be the Fletcher replacement down the road, and they signed Goff thinking he could fill in on the inside in case of injury. But if there is an unforeseen issue with either starting inside linebacker, any possible replacement at this point comes with serious question marks. Alexander is working with the inside 'backers in an effort to develop into an all-around utility player, but he's still learning.

Keep an eye on: Goff. He was slated to be the Giants' starting middle linebacker at this point last year and he has plenty of experience as an NFL starter. But like many of the 2011 Giants, he is coming off of a torn ACL, and the Redskins don't know yet what they'll be able to get from him. If he's fully healthy, he could be a major asset as a veteran presence in a reserve role. He's still only 26 years old, so if an injury or something else happened to present him with an opportunity, he could write himself a nice comeback story.

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