NFC East: Kevin Barnes

The Redskins' week ahead

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
8:31
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It’s an exciting time for those who survive the week and a crushing one for those who don’t. It’s also one of the tougher ones for coaches, who must inform a number of players they weren’t good enough to make the roster.

That makes this one of the more intriguing weeks in the NFL. And one of the busier ones, with game preparations ongoing and one more preseason game to play. Here’s how the week shapes up for Washington:

Monday

11:15 a.m.-noon: Media availability in locker room.

1 p.m.-3 p.m.: Practice. The media can watch the first 40 minutes. Players available coming off the field.

3:30 p.m.: (approximately): Mike Shanahan news conference.

Today’s topics: Robert Griffin III update; punt returners; injury updates to Kirk Cousins and Barry Cofield.

Tuesday

11:15 a.m.-Noon: Media availability in locker room.

Noon: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s news conference.

1 p.m.-3 p.m.: Practice. The media can watch the first 40 minutes. Players available coming off the field.

3 p.m.: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s news conference.

3:30 p.m.: Mike Shanahan’s news conference.

4 p.m.: Deadline for trimming the roster to 75.

Today’s topics: Last chance for a Griffin update until after Thursday’s game; progress report on the young players in the secondary; roster cutdowns, though there are typically few surprises in the first round. They could always try to trade someone to free a roster spot and get a draft pick (remember Kevin Barnes a year ago).

Wednesday

The Redskins will conduct a walkthrough and fly to Tampa Bay. No media access.

Thursday

7:30 p.m.: Preseason finale at Tampa Bay

Today’s topic: Griffin update. He’s supposed to be examined by Dr. James Andrews at the game. I would imagine it would occur after Griffin works out before the game. Considering the positive reports we’ve received thus far, it looks good for Griffin. Then it’s up to Mike Shanahan to determine if he’s ready to play in an NFL game. I can’t imagine Shanahan announces this after the game, but maybe he surprises me. As for the game itself? No thanks. The starters won’t play, but there may be a player or two who does enough to earn a final spot. Brandon Banks’ big game in the finale last year reminded all of his playmaking potential. His season then reminded them it was a mirage.

Friday

Players off. No media availability with players or coaches.

Saturday

No media availability

6 p.m.: Deadline for final cuts, trimming the roster to 53.

Note: The Redskins typically don’t announce their final cuts until three hours after the deadline, when all we need is the official confirmation because the names already are known. Reporters will have spent at least 13 hours already piecing the names together. The Redskins have a lot to decide: eight or nine offensive linemen? How many running backs? Safeties? Who would they be afraid to lose, even if they’re not quite game ready? Somebody makes the roster each year, it seems, because the Redskins are afraid to expose them to waivers. They're helped, on this day at least, by having roster exemptions for the first four weeks with Jarvis Jenkins and Rob Jackson suspended. So there will be real intrigue about who gets cut when those two return. Often times, though, injuries and performance through the first four weeks make these decisions a little easier.

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
10:28
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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.
The Washington Redskins play their final preseason game of 2012 at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While most, if not all, of the Redskins' starters are expected to sit out the game, here's a look at what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: The secondary. It was rough out there in the first two games, and then Tanard Jackson put on a show in the third and made you think maybe they have something at safety. I imagine we'll see some of DeJon Gomes at safety and some of Richard Crawford at cornerback, especially now that he's being given a great role in the wake of the Kevin Barnes trade. Tonight could offer a look at some of the depth at these key positions.

On the other side of the ball: The fight for the final wide receiver spots on the roster gets interesting with final cuts looming Friday. It could be a big night for guys like Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson, Dezmon Briscoe and Anthony Armstrong. Lots of people ask about Banks, and it's hard to see what he could do at this point to get on the roster. But I guess you never know.

If I think of it: The young offensive linemen remain interesting as the Redskins look for some long-term answers along the line. ... Lots of eyes will be on new kicker Billy Cundiff, just signed Tuesday to replace Graham Gano. Based on the reaction I saw, some people liked Gano and some hated him. Both groups should be interested to see how Cundiff fares.
A year ago, Kevin Barnes was the Redskins' nickel cornerback. Today, he is no longer a Redskin. As part of their effort to reduce their roster to 75 players by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Redskins have apparently traded Barnes to the Lions. (For what, we don't know. Can't possibly be much. Late-round pick is best guess.)

The Redskins didn't like the way Barnes played in the nickel corner role last year, and this spring they moved DeAngelo Hall in there and tried Barnes on the outside, where they thought his size made him a better fit. But he got passed on the depth chart by Richard Crawford, who played well and also contributed on special teams, and Barnes was about to be cut before the Redskins got the trade offer from the Lions. Crawford is now likely the No. 4 corner after Hall, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin, and there would seem to be little to prevent him from moving up the depth chart.

The Redskins' secondary is a weak spot on their team and a position of flux. They'll have two new starting safeties -- most likely Brandon Meriweather and either Tanard Jackson or Madieu Williams, and a obviously a reworked cornerback corps, and they'll rely on their coverage schemes to disguise weaknesses and move people (such as Hall) around to different roles as situations dictate. But it's also clear that younger guys on the roster -- like Crawford at corner and DeJon Gomes at safety -- will have a chance to move up the depth chart if they perform well. The Redskins are looking for people to show them something on the back end of their defense, and Barnes is a guy who didn't show enough.
The Washington Redskins will play their second preseason game of the year Saturday night in Chicago against the Bears at 8 pm ET. Here's a look at what I'll be watching...

Most closely: The protection for Robert Griffin III, and how he handles it if he sees more pressure than he did in the first game against Buffalo. In that game, the Redskins ran an offensive scheme whose sole priority seemed to be the protection of Griffin. They ran quick, short routes, and he made quick decisions and throws. Against the Bears' Cover 2, Griffin might have to go deeper into his progressions and reads, which could expose him to pressure of the still-banged-up line in front of him doesn't hold up long enough. That's fine, as long as he doesn't get hurt, because he's going to see pressure in the regular season and needs to practice handling it. Saturday night could offer a look at some things we didn't get to see Griffin do last week. I'm also interested to see if the line blocks for the run better than it did last week, when it couldn't open holes for Evan Royster and Roy Helu early in the game.

On the other side of the ball: The secondary. Brandon Meriweather was a washout in Chicago, but the Redskins believe he's a better fit for their coverage schemes and have him listed as their starting strong safety. Will he be fired up to play well against his old team, even in a meaningless game? And who's the starter at free safety? Madieu Williams or Tanard Jackson? At cornerback, it looks as though they like DeAngelo Hall on the inside, but that leaves Cedric Griffin or Kevin Barnes as a starter on the outside opposite Josh Wilson. Can rookie Richard Crawford build on his strong first preseason game and make himself a threat to those veterans' playing time?

If I think of it: Sure, I'm as curious as you are to find out whether Royster or rookie Alfred Morris starts at running back with Helu and Tim Hightower hurt, but I expect that they'll both play plenty. Also watching to see if we can spot Santana Moss this time, whether Fred Davis is a passing-game target at all and how the defensive line rotation works.

The NFC East: Living in the nickel

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
10:13
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One big reason cornerback Terrell Thomas is important to the New York Giants is that the Giants really like to use defensive backs. The Giants learned earlier this week that Thomas' latest knee injury would not require surgery and that he should be able to play for them this year. This is good news, because with Aaron Ross having left via free agency and second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara still developing, the Giants need Thomas. Not just as the starter opposite Corey Webster, but in the nickel and dime defensive packages they used more than any other team in the league last year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants used five or more defensive backs on 734 defensive snaps last year -- more than any other team in the league. That number accounted for 68.5 percent of their 1,072 defensive snaps. Only the Green Bay Packers went with five or more defensive backs on a higher percentage of their plays -- 69.0 percent, or 724 of 1,049.

I know this because our NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, recently did a post about how often the NFC North's teams were in nickel or dime packages last year, and he passed along the chart he got from ESPN Stats & Info showing how often each team in the league went with extra defensive backs. That's how things work on the ESPN.com NFL blog network. We're a team. A brotherhood. Eight pistons firing as one. It's really quite beautiful to watch sometimes.

Anyway, I looked at the chart and noticed that the NFC East's teams basically lived in nickel and dime defenses. Well, three of them at least. The Giants ranked second in the league in percentage of plays with five or more defensive backs. The Dallas Cowboys were fifth, at 59.5 percent. The Philadelphia Eagles ranked eighth, at 56.8 percent. And the Washington Redskins were the exception, ranking 24th at 43.9 percent.

The Redskins had injury issues at safety, didn't like the job Kevin Barnes was doing as their inside corner and have very good linebackers that they don't like to take off the field. But the other three teams in our division ... they love them some nickel.

Back to the Giants for a second. Just because they used extra defensive backs this much last year doesn't automatically mean they'll do it again. They're deeper and stronger at linebacker this year, and they didn't re-sign veteran safety Deon Grant. That means, if they go to those three-safety looks they've run the past couple of years, the third safety would have to be someone like Tyler Sash or Will Hill. With Thomas currently on the shelf, there's a chance they could ask safety Antrel Rolle to play the nickel corner position, but that's not ideal. Michael Coe is likely the next corner off the bench if Amukamara is pressed into a starting role, and while he's looked good in camp, he lacks experience. The Giants liked linebacker Jacquian Williams in coverage late last year and in the postseason, and it's possible they could design more packages this year that use just four defensive backs, since their 2012 strengths may lie elsewhere.

The Cowboys' ideal plan is to start Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins backing them up. Scandrick is good in the nickel spot, and overall this plan would give them enough depth to go to the nickel as often as they like. The issue right now, of course, is that Jenkins and Claiborne are hurt, and even if they expect those guys back for the start of the season, they're probably not getting to practice those nickel looks as much as they'd like to. Or at least, not with the personnel they'd prefer to use.

As for the Eagles, they're similar to the Giants in that they're stronger at linebacker this year and subtracted one of last year's starting corners when they traded Asante Samuel. With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the starters, the nickel spot right now is likely to fall either to veteran Joselio Hanson or (more likely) rookie Brandon Boykin. Curtis Marsh has been getting a lot of work in camp and is the first option off the bench should one of the outside guys get hurt. And undrafted rookie Cliff Harris has a chance to make the team and add depth. Given the responsibility the Eagles' linebackers have for run support and gap control in the Wide 9, it's likely the Eagles will lean on their defensive backs as much as they did last year, and play as much nickel.

A lot of this depends on opponents, too. The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all like to throw the ball a lot, so when they play each other they structure their defenses to stop the pass. And having teams like the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Lions on the schedule, as NFC East teams do this year, can make teams go to the nickel more. But if we're basing it on last year alone, our teams like to use extra defensive backs as much as anyone in the entire league.
ASHBURN, Va. -- As the rest of the teams in the NFC East talk about dynasties, defending championships and ... whatever it is that Jerry Jones has been talking about all week, the Washington Redskins are working on moving up from fourth place. It has been a long time since the Redskins were a real factor. They've had three straight losing seasons and have reached the playoffs in just three of the past 19 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE HOT ISSUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

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

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

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

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

  • Moss' weight loss is striking. He's down 16 pounds and says he feels completely different. The Redskins' coaches called him in the offseason and told him they thought he was too big, and he agreed, so he got in shape and has come to camp determined to show the world he's still a top receiver.
  • The Redskins are converting Niles Paul, who last year was a rookie wide receiver, to tight end. He's 234 pounds and said his biggest concern when they asked him to make the change was that he wouldn't be able to block big pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul. But incumbent tight end Chris Cooley told him it was all about technique, and Cooley has been working with Paul to help refine that.
  • That's a pretty cool thing for Cooley to do for a player who may be about to take his job. Shows you what kind of guy and teammate Cooley is. He's got a chance to stick on the roster, but he has to show he's healthy and probably take a pay cut.
  • The Redskins' plan as of now for three-receiver sets is to use Garcon and Hankerson wide and Moss in the slot. But Moss could play well enough to see action outside in two-receiver sets, especially if Hankerson and Morgan have injury problems. Morgan, who has always had those, is being looked at as someone who can play any of the three receiver slots in Shanahan's offense.
  • Shanahan named defensive lineman Chris Baker as a player he thinks will surprise people. If that's true, the defensive line rotation looks formidable with Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who missed his rookie year with a knee injury but is back and looking good.
  • Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will switch up from time to time this year instead of staying pinned to specific sides of the field. Orakpo also says he's working on adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal in an effort to get his sack numbers up.
  • Neil Rackers has a chance to unseat Graham Gano as the kicker, but Gano held off a challenge from veteran Shayne Graham in preseason last year, so don't give up on him yet.
  • Brandon Banks has been told he has to make the team as a receiver, not just a return man. If he doesn't make it, look for Aldrick Robinson as a possible kick returner.
  • Somehow, we have reached this point in the Camp Confidential without mentioning the name of London Fletcher. But he's still very much in the middle of things at age 37. He ran an interception in for a touchdown during the first week of training camp. He's in the best shape of anyone in camp, as usual. They put Griffin's locker next to his because they felt Griffin could benefit from proximity to their best veteran leader, and Griffin said he knew right away the significance of the locker assignment. Fletcher said he wanted to come back to Washington in part because he wants to be there when they turn it around. If they do, his presence will of course be a big reason why.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Late in the Washington Redskins' afternoon practice, after catching a pass near the goal line, tight end Chris Cooley fumbled. Linebacker Bryan Kehl picked the ball up and ran the length of the field, fairly certain of a touchdown. Had you asked Kehl during that run what the likelihood was of the team's rookie starting quarterback running him down from 80 yards away and preventing that touchdown, he'd likely have laughed. But that's exactly what happened.

"I'm not going to let the guy have a free touchdown," Robert Griffin III explained through his famous smile at his news conference a few moments later. "So I ran him down, because I could. It's more of a thing to show the team not to give up on a play."

Coach Mike Shanahan was watching.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciRedskins quarterback Robert Griffin III made an impression with his hustle at Monday's practice.
"I was hoping he wasn't going to pull a hamstring," Shanahan said. "But yeah, that shows you the pride that he has."

Griffin's getting rave reviews around these parts for his attitude and the way in which he is balancing his dual responsibilities of fitting in with and taking charge of the team. After hearing a comment Griffin made about his ability to break arm tackles, cornerback DeAngelo Hall made him carry his pads Monday, telling him it would help him build up the strength to keep breaking those arm tackles. And Griffin is working on his rendition of "My Girl" for the team's rookie talent show, which begins Tuesday night. But he's also looking for opportunities to lead, and chasing after Kehl on a play that was basically over was one.

Of course, what you want to know is how he looked while actually practicing. My first impression was that he looked like a rookie -- a beat too slow with his decision-making in some key spots and a little bit off with throws in part as a result of that. This is what you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look like less than one week into his first training camp, and so there's no reason to be overly concerned about it. He throws a great-looking ball, obviously, and when he runs with it he looks fantastic. The issue is getting used to the speed of the NFL game. He's got plenty of time for that, and to hear him tell it, he's got help from his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

"Guys you go against every day in practice, they've seen this offense time and time again and they're good at stopping it," Griffin said. "Nobody will be as good at it as [Ryan] Kerrigan and [Brian] Orakpo, and that's just helping me get better."

Some other thoughts from my first day here at Redskins training camp:

  • The offensive line looks like a real problem area, and it's down two starters. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage in his surgically repaired knee. The scope showed no damage to knee ligaments, and Shanahan said he's hoping Lichtensteiger will be back by the first regular-season game. Right tackle Jammal Brown is still awaiting news on his recurring hip problem. So Maurice Hurt was starting at left guard and Tyler Polumbus at right tackle with the first-team offense Monday, and the line was overmatched, even against Washington's second-team defense. It needs to jell quickly. Griffin is, as you might have heard, a considerable investment for this organization. It'd be good to keep him upright if possible.
  • Veteran Santana Moss is the shrimp of a wide receiving corps that includes Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson, but he looks great and sounds motivated, and I wouldn't count him out as a starter opposite Garcon. The Redskins used Hankerson and Morgan in the slot, as well as Moss, during practice Monday.
  • Evan Royster looks very good in the competition at running back. Tim Hightower sat out team drills because of his recovery from his knee injury, so Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris got the reps. Royster made one excellent leaping one-handed catch, and skittered through the defense for a big gain on another play.
  • The defensive line rotation is very fluid on the first-team unit. There were plays on which Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen were the ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield, plays on which Adam Carriker and Bowen flanked Cofield, plays on which Carriker and Bowen played the ends with Jenkins in the middle ... That's the way they want to run it, to keep everyone fresh, if possible.
  • Madieu Williams was the first-team free safety with Brandon Meriweather playing strong safety. Tanard Jackson, who's a candidate for that starting free safety spot, isn't allowed to practice in pads for his first two days off the PUP list, so it remains to be seen where he fits into the depth chart.
  • DeAngelo Hall was used a great deal as the slot cornerback with either Kevin Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside opposite Josh Wilson. It looked like he was beaten a few times, though on those plays the ball was not thrown to his man.
  • London Fletcher intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Just the way he's done it since the time of leather helmets. Seriously, that guy doesn't age.
  • Former Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff tore the same ACL he tore in the preseason last year, and he will miss the entire season. The Redskins viewed him as a potentially valuable backup at inside linebacker.
Somebody asked in the chat today whether undrafted cornerback Chase Minnifield, who was grabbing headlines during minicamp, had a chance to make the Washington Redskins' roster. I got distracted and didn't take the question (partly because those "is there a chance?" questions make me crazy, because of course there's a chance or else why would you be asking?), but now the answer is, "No." The Redskins announced Tuesday afternoon that they have waived Minnifield, who has apparently not fully recovered from the knee injury that knocked him all the way out of the draft.

Redskins coaches were raving about Minnifield last month, thinking the knee injury that hurt his 40 time at the combine resulted in them getting a steal. But apparently that injury is also going to cost him the season. If he clears waivers, he'll go on the Redskins' injured reserve list. So while he could eventually play for them, it won't be in 2012.

The Redskins also announced they've signed free-agent cornerback David Jones, who's played for the Saints and Jaguars during his five-year career. But he's probably just a camp body, and Brandyn Thompson, Kevin Barnes and Jordan Bernstine stand to take over the snaps Minnifield would have had in training camp. Barnes needs to show something at one of the outside cornerback spots, since the team was not happy with his work in the slot last year.
Our position-by-position analysis of each of the NFC East's teams continues now with a look at the cornerbacks of the Washington Redskins.

Projected starters: DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson

Reserves: Cedric Griffin, Kevin Barnes, Brandyn Thompson, Richard Crawford, Morgan Trent, Jordan Bernstine, Chase Minnifield

[+] EnlargeDeAngelo Hall
Al Bello/Getty ImagesDeAngelo Hall, right, led the Redskins last season with three INTs and 16 passes defensed.
Potential strength: The secondary is not the strongest part of the Redskins' team. Wilson is an OK cover guy, and Hall is not, but he has in the past shown a knack for making plays on the ball. So they may use Hall inside more this year and go with Griffin on the outside. They believe Griffin can play bump coverage and that they can get him help with safeties, and if they do that his physicality could be an asset. The schemes are the key here. The key for the coaching staff will be to deploy the corners in ways that play to their strength and attempt to minimize the impact of their weaknesses.

Potential weakness: If Hall and Griffin get matched up in man coverage, they're going to be at risk of getting burned. Hall seems energized by the move inside, but we've not seen him play there for an extended period of time, and so there's no evidence that he can do it long-term. It makes sense that it could maximize his playmaking instincts, we just haven't seen it to know whether it works. Part of the motivation for the move is that Barnes played poorly in the slot-corner role last year, so if Hall isn't the full-time answer, they'll need to find one. They've used Crawford, Thompson, Minnifield and even Wilson there at times in the offseason, but that area of coverage definitely needs to improve.

Keep an eye on: Minnifield. Undrafted out of Virginia, Minnifield turned a lot of heads in minicamp, and the Redskins' coaches say they're thankful for the knee injury that led to his disappointing 40-time and dropped him out of the draft. They say they had a third-round grade on Minnifield and that the injury hasn't sapped him of his speed. It's clear there's opportunity in this group, and if Minnifield plays in training camp the way he played in OTAs and minicamp, he'll have a better than reasonable chance to make the team and see the field in the regular season.
Santana MossGeoff Burke/US PresswireWashington Redskins receiver Santana Moss showed up this season much slimmer than the past.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Santana Moss is no fool. When free agency opened and the Washington Redskins signed two wide receivers (and nearly a third) in the first hour, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was sure his veteran wide receiver was paying attention.

"If you don't," Shanahan said bluntly, "you've got to be an idiot."

Shanahan spoke with Moss this offseason and was blunt with him too. After a disappointing season in which he caught just 46 passes for just 584 yards, the now-33-year-old Moss was plainly in jeopardy of being cut. His mission, his coach told him, was to lose weight.

"We talked to him in the offseason and said, 'Hey, this isn't you. If you want to be part of our football team, you've got to lose some weight,'" Shanahan said after the Redskins' final minicamp practice here Wednesday. "And he came back under 190 and he looks like a different guy. He's made a commitment, and you have to at that age. And he knew that if he didn't do that, he'd probably be gone."

Even with the new additions at wide receiver, the slimmed-down Moss still projects as one of the Redskins' starting wide receivers along with Pierre Garcon. Josh Morgan, the other new addition, is working his way back from a leg injury, and Leonard Hankerson, last year's impressive rookie, is coming back from a hip injury. Moss' experience, flexibility and improved conditioning pushes him ahead of the younger injury guys.

"Last season, some of the things I wanted to do, I would get winded sometimes," Moss said. "When you get older and you see some things with yourself and your game, you just want to find some things that can help you get better. I just felt I've been at my best when I'm in the 190s, so I got back there."

The best part about it, from the coaching staff's standpoint, is that Moss didn't just lose weight. He got in better overall shape.

"I feels he's more powerful," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He's more explosive. He has a better understanding of the offense. To me, he came in possessed. He was ready to go. You saw it physically, and then to see him in the meeting rooms, he's been great. He's been so attentive and it's shown on the field. The guy's not thinking out there. He's confident in his speed. He feels confident in his knowledge of the offense, and there's no hesitation. He's been very exciting."

Some other notes from my two days with the Redskins:

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was all over the place in Wednesday's practice. He intercepted Robert Griffin III once and nearly did it another time when he had Moss blanketed in coverage over the middle. The Redskins have been using Hall in a variety of ways this offseason, asking him and a few other of their corners (Richard Crawford, Brandyn Thompson and Chase Minnifield) to take some reps at the slot corner position.

The thinking behind this is Kevin Barnes was not good in that slot-corner role last year, and some of the smaller, quicker corners on the roster might handle it better. When they move Hall inside, they can keep Josh Wilson and either Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside and try to maximize everyone's strengths. They're selling Hall on this plan by telling him he'll be playing a multi-faceted role similar to the one Charles Woodson plays in Green Bay, and Hall seems to be buying. He did a handspring backflip to the sideline after his interception Wednesday.

"I think it's something new for him, so he's kind of energized," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "He really likes it. He's the kind of guy that can go in there and get sacks. That position should make a lot of plays. When you look at the Charles Woodsons, the guys that play in that scheme, you know you get four or five sacks every year, you get four or five interceptions, you get big plays. And hopefully we can get that out of him."

As I've mentioned a few times, the Woodson comparisons seem too easy. Every team likes to say they're going to use a guy like Woodson, but Woodson's a Hall of Fame-caliber player who fills multiple roles because he's awesome at all of them. Time will tell if Hall can handle such an assignment.

Minnifield is a guy with whom everyone seems to be impressed. He was signed as an undrafted free agent, but Haslett said the Redskins thought he was a third-round talent whose stock slipped because he ran a lousy 40 time coming off a knee injury.

"I'm ecstatic that he did not run well in his 40 time to make him a free agent and to be able to come to Washington," defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said.

Minnifield is down the depth chart a bit, but there are opportunities in the Redskins' secondary, and if he continues to play well, he could force his way into the mix.

I'll pick Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams in the "who'll be the starting safeties?" pool. The Redskins coaches are all raving about Williams' intelligence and calling him "a coach on the field." And while the conventional wisdom on Meriweather is that he's a poor fit as a strong safety, Mike Shanahan thinks it only looked that way in Chicago because he was a poor fit for their scheme.

"What I think he is, what I looked at him as, playing two-deep, I'm thinking this guy's got to rush, this guy's got to bracket, and he's a really smart football player," Shanahan said. "If you just play conventional three-deep or two-deep like Chicago did the majority of the time, that's not what he does. They way we use him with blitzes, the way we use him in combinations, he's a smart guy."

Shanahan also said he called New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to ask about Meriweather, who, Belichick released last September, and that Belichick gave him a good review and agreed that he'd be a good fit in Washington's defense.

I have more, but that's more than 1,000 words, and should hold you for tonight. Let me know what else you want to read about the Redskins in the coming days.
Morning, all! It is Wednesday, and you know what that means. No? Oh, sorry. It means we're doing our live video mailbag at 2 p.m. ET. It worked well enough last week that we're going to go ahead and try it again, so please show up, put your headphones on and fire up those video questions. Meantime, to hold you over, we have links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Sheil Kapadia expects much to be written and said about DeMeco Ryans as the leader to cure the ills of the Eagles' defense. But he points out that, in order to fill that role, Ryans will have to prove he can cover well enough to stay on the field for three downs. Certainly, that's the Eagles' expectation.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is among the Eagles players playing for a new contract, as well as to forget the disappointment of last year, and the reviews from organized team activities are very good. It bears stating that almost everyone seems to have good OTAs. But Rodgers-Cromartie has the opportunity to show more of his ability than anyone in Philadelphia got to see last year.

Washington Redskins

Dan Steinberg has everything you need to know about customized Robert Griffin III vehicles. Yeah, apparently license plates didn't take the phenomenon far enough. Hey, the offseason is long.

Anything could happen with the Redskins' alignment of players and positions in the secondary, and cornerback Kevin Barnes is working a bit at safety in an effort to take advantage of potential opportunity.

Dallas Cowboys

Former Cowboys cornerback Dwayne Goodrich wants his tragic story to be an example to younger players today about personal responsibility and the importance of life beyond football. Todd Archer's story is well worth the read.

The Cowboys seem determined to keep all four of their good cornerbacks. The question is, can Mike Jenkins be the No. 3 if Orlando Scandrick is the only one in the group that can play the slot? How will this arrangement work, Josh Ellis would like to know.

New York Giants

Will Beatty is dealing with a back problem. I bring this link up because the name of James Brewer is in it, and I am genuinely curious, as this offseason moves along, to see to what extent Brewer can force himself into the Giants' offensive line mix. As of now, his opportunity is as a swing tackle. But the Giants drafted him in 2011 with high hopes that he could develop into something, and if Beatty and David Diehl are projected as the starting tackles, there are a number of ways Brewer could find himself with an opportunity to play even more. He'll have to prove he can first.

The Giants are going to the White House on Friday, and though he's already been there, Eli Manning says he's looking forward to his return visit as a two-time Super Bowl champion.
We were promised Jeremy Maclin news Tuesday and didn't get it. As of this morning, neither Maclin nor the Philadelphia Eagles have issued any kind of statement on the mysterious medical condition that has kept the star wide receiver from practicing in training camp. You won't get speculation here, and if I had any real information on it I'd tell you. But the longer this goes, the more it puts Maclin in jeopardy of missing the start of the season. And while his status as a football player obviously isn't as important as his personal health, we don't know anything about the latter except that it's not good enough to allow him to play. So that's all we can write about right now.

More Eagles

Rich Hoffman says protecting Michael Vick's blind side is the key to the Eagles' season. Right tackle Winston Justice is still hurt. Ryan Harris, his apparent replacement, is hurt. King Dunlap, one of the largest human beings I've ever seen, is slated to start there in Thursday night's preseason game. And they have a rookie, first-round draft pick Danny Watkins, in line to start at right guard. Hoffman's right. These are questions they need to answer.

Hall of Fame Eagles receiver Pete Pihos died Tuesday at the age of 87 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease. The story of Pihos' final years is an achingly familiar one we've read before about the later lives of former NFL players. Dementia. Swindled out of a bunch of money. These guys get old and forgotten and suffer for having played NFL football. It's why retired players groups were working so hard to make sure they were taken care of in the recent labor negotiations.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones says that if Felix Jones has a good year, so will the Cowboys. With those other backs hurt, and based on a creeping suspicion, I was already sliding ol' Felix up my fantasy draft board a bit. Hope Jerry didn't let the secret out. What's that? He says this every year? Oh, right.

Igor Olshansky says he doesn't care whether he starts or not, which could be a good thing, since it looks as though he might not. The Cowboys believe they have a lot of defensive end depth now with Kenyon Coleman having joined the mix and Jason Hatcher freed from his elevator prison.

New York Giants

The Giants signed Rhys Lloyd, who's a kicker who only kicks off and never kicks field goals. My first thought was that they only did this because Lawrence Tynes has that thigh injury and they need someone who can kick off in their preseason game Monday night. Then I read that they tried to sign Lloyd last year, so I thought maybe there was more to it. Then I remembered that nobody's going to need a kickoff-only kicker anymore because every kicker in the league is going to be able to drill the ball through the back of the end zone now that kickoffs have been moved up to the 35-yard line. So I'm back to thinking it's that first thing I said.

Mike Vaccaro says the return of Osi Umenyiora isn't the only reason to feel good about the Giants' defense going into this year. Man, the narrative on the Giants has shifted in just one week, hasn't it?

Washington Redskins

Kevin Barnes is a guy who could play a big role in the Redskins' secondary this year. With Phillip Buchanon suspended for the first four games, Barnes will get a lot of chances to play, even if it's only as the nickel corner with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson as the starters. Stephen Whyno takes a look at Barnes and what he's up to as he prepares for the season.

Roy Helu tells Brian Tinsman that he learned a lot in his first NFL preseason game and is looking forward to putting those lessons into practice in the next one. He also says Tim Hightower has been great working with the younger backs on the roster, which I found kind of funny because Hightower is only 25 years old. I mean, it's great he's working with the less experienced guys and all, but a veteran at 25? Gives you an idea why they were fired up to be able to get him.

Enjoy the day, folks. I'll have a few things up before my flight to Dallas. And who knows? Maybe we get that Maclin news ...
All right. I didn't forget you guys. Been a busy day what with the chat and some video stuff we've been working on for the site. But I have been here at Redskins Park, where some things are happening. Let's take a little spin through some of them.

Item No. 1: Rex Grossman returns.

[+] EnlargeJohn Beck
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJohn Beck has had a slow start to training camp.
Mike Shanahan said in his morning news conference that Grossman would "be here tonight," which is something about which many people have been asking me and for which I now have an answer. Grossman was a free agent and is re-signed to enter the quarterback competition along with John Beck, who's taken so many first-team reps that, Shanahan says, his "arm was a little sore today" and "He didn't have the zip on it that he normally has."

The other thing everybody's asking is how Beck looks, since it sounds like Shanahan favors him as the starter. I wish I had better news for you guys. Beck has not looked good the two days I've been here. His throws are consistently behind receivers, his deep passes wobble and he looks jittery when he sees extra rushers (who aren't even allowed to hit him, by the way). It's only Aug. 2, so it's unfair to judge a guy based on the way he looks right now. But you guys are asking how he looks, so there it is, with those caveats.

What do I think they'll do at quarterback? I think they'll decide between Beck and Grossman, depending on how each looks in camp and maybe even switch it back and forth during the season depending on how they play. I do not think they'll bring anyone else in, and I think the quarterback spot will be a glaring weak spot that costs them a chance to contend in 2011. I believe their offseason moves have been good ones, but I think that because this is a team building for the future, not a 2011 playoff team.

Item No. 2: Phillip Buchanon is back ... sort of.

The Redskins re-signed the cornerback Monday, and Tuesday Shanahan revealed that Buchanon would be suspended for the first four games of the season. Didn't say why, but four games does tend to mean a second violation of the substance abuse policy. (A first violation gets a warning that's not made public.) Buchanon will be here and eligible to practice Thursday and throughout camp but will miss the first four games. And no, I don't expect them to bring in another corner for those four games. Could be a chance for a guy like Kevin Barnes to show something.

Item No. 3: Ryan Kerrigan still hurt.

Shanahan said the team's first-round pick would miss "another two or three days" of work because of the bone bruise on his knee. Said they don't want to rush the kid, who hasn't had injury problems in the past. What long-term effect this has is a good question. Kerrigan will be a rookie who didn't have minicamps, and every day of training-camp practice he misses is a day lost in learning the new techniques he must learn to play 3-4 outside linebacker as opposed to the 4-3 defensive end spot he played in college. That could explain why they are, as has been reported, looking for inside linebacker help. They tried on Nick Barnett before he signed with Buffalo, and Lofa Tatupu was supposed to be in for a visit today. Bringing in help there could allow them to keep Lorenzo Alexander at the outside linebacker spot opposite Brian Orakpo in the event that Kerrigan isn't ready to take all the starter snaps beginning in Week 1. Alexander's versatility is critical here. He lined up in several different linebacker spots this morning, and they could use him in a variety of ways regardless of Kerrigan's status.

Item No. 4: Jarvis Jenkins

The defensive line was one of the most impressive-looking things about the Redskins in morning drills, and Jenkins stood out, particularly in his ability to create pressure up the middle against the run and the pass. "You can tell he likes to work," Shanahan said of his second-round pick. "All the things you look for in a guy, I believe he has." Jenkins will have an opportunity for playing time on the line even once Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen are able to practice.

The Redskins have a walk-through in a little while and we'll get some more interviews, so I'll keep you posted if anything else happens or anybody says anything especially interesting. But hopefully these here give you something to chew on in the meantime. If you need me, you know you can find me on Twitter.
Good morning, all. Yes, in spite of the hang-wringing and incredulous impatience of last night, I really believe today is the day. I think the players didn't like the way the NFL handled things last night, don't want to be forced into re-establishing their union if they don't want one and honestly felt they needed time to look over the deal the owners handed them before agreeing to it. I think all of this is reasonable. And from all I've been told, I have no reason to think any of it will hold up the deal beyond today. Could the players vote no and surprise me? Sure. But I think (a) this is a really nice deal for them and (b) they all want to get back to work. So, in the spirit of justified optimism, we link:

Dallas Cowboys

Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard debated on "First Take" on Thursday whether this is a "make or break" season for Tony Romo in Dallas. Skip says it is. Chris says he's nuts. Chris is right. If Romo throws for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and the defense gives up the second-most points in the league again and they miss the playoffs, how exactly would that be Romo's fault? Said it before, say it again: Romo is the least of the Cowboys' problems.

Calvin Watkins' "Old School" series checks in with Nate Newton, who thinks, among other things, that the Cowboys should have designated Doug Free as their franchise player before the lockout began.

New York Giants

Mike Garafolo listened to Ahmad Bradshaw do an interview with a Miami radio station and couldn't figure out which way he was leaning -- Giants or Dolphins. On the heels of Drew Rosenhaus' comments about Bradshaw and the Dolphins earlier this week, Bradshaw sounds like a guy who wants and expects to be back with the Giants but is trying to use the Dolphins' potential interest as leverage for the best possible deal. Of course, the Dolphins really could use him and could make an offer to lure him away. It was Dolphins versus Giants last year for Antrel Rolle, and Miami was upset to lose out. Revenge?

Giants.com asks who was the Giants' best free-agent signing of the past 15 years -- Kerry Collins, Michael Barrow, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce, Kareem McKenzie or Plaxico Burress? Honestly, given where they were at quarterback before he signed, I might go with Collins here.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are ready to begin training camp next week if the players sign off on the deal, and they still expect to have it at Lehigh.

And we have this latest entry on why it would be better for the Eagles to sign a cornerback who's not as good as Nnamdi Asomugha than it would be for them to sign Asomugha himself. It's twisted logic every time I read it, and yet it's become something of a consensus. Fine. You guys want Ike Taylor, go get him. You just won't be as good as you could have been. I mean, jeez. If Asomugha doesn't fit into the defense you're planning to run, but you can afford him and he wants to sign with you ... maybe you should be running a different defense.

Washington Redskins

Jason Reid says the Redskins will be one of the teams most affected, in a negative way, by the lost offseason: "The accelerated schedule poses problems for ballclubs relying on inexperienced quarterbacks and those envisioning significant roster turnover, both of which describe the Washington Redskins' situation." I'll add that I also think they're hurt because this second year of Jim Haslett's 3-4 is a critical one in that transition, and they really didn't get to have the offseason I'm sure Haslett wanted to have with it.

Mike Jones lists Kevin Barnes, Keiland Williams, Graham Gano, Perry Riley, Anthony Armstrong and LaRon Landry as potential "breakout" players for the Redskins in 2011. Mike has written on Barnes a lot this offseason, wondering if the Redskins will indeed make him a starting cornerback and address other free-agent needs instead. Worth watching.

All right. More later. It's Friday, so you know we have plenty. But right now I have to go vote on a proposed bowl of cereal, pending the addition of a glass of orange juice.

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