NFC East: London Fletcher

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."
The NFL's fame and glory machine didn't spit out DeSean Jackson this time around. It just showed him the blueprint.

Jackson is too young and too good for his ugly release last week by the Philadelphia Eagles to end his career. Regardless of anything that came out publicly (or whatever the Eagles or other teams may know privately) about the off-field detriments that undermine Jackson's wondrous on-field benefits, someone was going to pick him up.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAt 27, DeSean Jackson must realize that his relatively young NFL career is at risk.
The Washington Redskins didn't waste time and they didn't scrimp.

But what Jackson got to see was the manner in which the machine will spit him out if he lets it. A team can cut you, it turns out, without explaining why, and can let everyone assume it's because of the way you act and the friends you hang out with away from the field. A team can do this and have the wide NFL world nod in agreement at phrases like "doesn't fit" and "what's best for the football team."

So while the week's debate has been about whether this turn of events is good/bad for the Eagles, good/bad for the Redskins, good/bad for the Jets or any other team that may have been involved or interested, why not take a moment to debate whether this is good for the player? Is getting cut by the Eagles and signed by the Redskins going to benefit DeSean Jackson? Or is the machine determined to spit him out long before his desire and skill level dictate that it must?

I've been talking to people about Jackson for three years now, and here are a few things I believe I know:

Jackson is not an evil person. The Aaron Hernandez comparisons you may have heard or read are shameful and irresponsible. One guy is in jail on first-degree murder charges. The guy we're talking about here appears to have some childhood friends with shady connections. That's a pretty wide gulf, and it deserves to be treated as such in our analysis. We could sit here and say that someone of Jackson's fame and wealth is risking a lot if he refuses to cut ties with people who have nothing to lose. And if he's allegedly flashing gang signs after touchdowns, on his Instagram page or in his videos, as the police officers in the NJ.com story that hit last week minutes before his release say he has, then he's doing himself a disservice.

Jackson is a 27-year-old who's been famous for almost half his life, but he knows the right thing to do with his platform. He goes into schools to speak actively against bullying, talking to bullies, victims, teachers ... anyone who can help with the problem. He doesn't just throw money at his causes; he works actively to help.

But he also conveys an untethered element. He was incredibly close with his father, who died quickly and cruelly from pancreatic cancer in 2009, and people who have spent time around Jackson will tell you the past five years have been rough. I once asked a player in the Eagles' locker room about Jackson and was told, "Not a bad guy, but sometimes you shake your head." I have heard stories about him pouting in the locker room. He himself admitted to dealing poorly with his last contract year; he let it affect him on the field, and he was suspended for missed meetings. Eagles personnel have for years expressed concern about the extent to which Jackson liked to focus on making rap music, sometimes to the detriment of his football business, in their opinion.

And the NJ.com story got into his off-field associations in pretty strong detail. While the national takeaway was the uber-simplistic bit about alleged gang ties, the reasonable takeaway is that Jackson doesn't always make the best-looking choices. What I know about gang culture couldn't fill a shot glass, but I don't think DeSean Jackson is in a street gang.

The problem Jackson has now is that, right or wrong, some people who've been following this story for the past week do think he's in a gang. So the next time the NFL's fame and glory machine finds him caught in the works and tries to spit him out, there's going to be a chorus that thinks it's the right thing to do.

I wonder if he's in the right environment to succeed. The Redskins have a new, inexperienced head coach in Jay Gruden. They have a 28-year-old first-time offensive coordinator in Sean McVay. They have an attention-magnet quarterback in Robert Griffin III who's coming off a year that handed him a slate of his own problems to work out. The Redskins have lost locker-room leadership in recent years, most significantly with the retirement of London Fletcher. One of the top leaders on their offense is wide receiver Santana Moss, whose roster spot one would think is in jeopardy as a result of the Jackson signing. If Jackson is looking for another tether now that the Eagles' tether has been severed, it may be tough for him to find it in Washington.

Which makes it even more important for Jackson to realize what's happened here and work to make sure he's prepared the next time it happens. It's important for a lesson to be learned. Jackson doesn't have to change who he is or what he does away from the field if he doesn't want to. But his is now an at-risk career at the age of 27, and he needs to understand that. The next time the machine tries to spit him out, it's going to have a lot more impetus than it did this time around. Jackson's mission going forward is to fight that off -- to realize he's under a new and frightening kind of scrutiny, and to work to make sure he doesn't give anyone a reason to think he's something he's not.

D'Qwell Jackson an option for Redskins

February, 27, 2014
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They have a coach who was with him in Cleveland and another who schemed against him for three years. Not many teams will have a better grasp of what linebacker D'Qwell Jackson could bring – and still do – than the Redskins.

Cleveland released the veteran linebacker Wednesday, which, of course, prompted another round of this game: “Are the Redskins interested in ...”

In Jackson’s case, though, he clearly provides something the Redskins need: A veteran presence at inside linebacker who can still play. They already have one defensive coach who knows what Jackson can, and can’t do, in outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. He served as Cleveland’s outside linebacker’s coach a year ago. Also, coach Jay Gruden had to scheme twice a year against Cleveland’s defense for the past three seasons.

I’d be surprised if the Redskins aren’t interested for these reasons (and if they’re not, that’s also telling). We already know they need at least one inside linebacker capable of starting. Seven teams reportedly contacted Jackson’s representatives after news of his release, with a visit set at one of them for Thursday. One Redskins source pointed out, however, that Jackson was not yet on the league’s transactions (that will occur Thursday) so admitting interest would be to admit tampering as well. But, yes, they’ve done their homework on him.

Jackson, who has never made the Pro Bowl but who did lead the AFC in combined tackles three years ago (and the NFL in 2008), was released in part because of a pending $4 million bonus. The two sides attempted to restructure his current deal, but to no avail. If you think a player is still at a certain level, this step would have been accomplished. It’s not as if Cleveland is in dire cap shape and had no choice. But Jackson’s agent, Brian Mackler, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that the Browns could not commit to him for more than the 2014 season.

Still, in watching a few of his games, it’s not as if Jackson can’t play. I didn’t see missed tackles. I didn’t see botched coverage assignments. I saw a lot of those last season watching the Redskins. But I also didn’t see any game-changing plays (five forced fumbles in his career; eight interceptions). Still, he’d be an upgrade over last year’s linebacking play and would also be able to provide leadership. The latter can’t be underestimated with the loss of London Fletcher, especially for a defense that will undergo numerous personnel changes. Even if Perry Riley is re-signed, which is not a lock, he’s not a leader.

But would Jackson want to come to Washington (he played at the University of Maryland)? Jackson said he’s looking for something the Redskins haven’t had in years: stability.

“I'm willing to go to 31 other teams at this point,'' Jackson told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "Obviously I'm looking for a place that has some type of stability, some place that a guy that's been around and you know he's not going to be out in two years. I don't have a crystal ball or anything but ideally that's going to probably have a lot of weight in determining my decision in where I go.''

Chances are Jackson will have better options than Washington. Keep in mind that he has played in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 and might be better suited to the former. Mackler called Jackson one of the most respected people in the business that he’s come across in his 24 years involved in the NFL.

Here’s another quote from Jackson: “Losing year after year, it sucks.”

He lost double-digit games in each of the past six seasons and has played for one winning team. The Redskins have lost double-digit games in three of the past four seasons and have had one winning team since 2007. Despite players and coaches proclaiming the Redskins are closer to a 10-win team than a 13-loss team, they did indeed lose 13 games last year. And it’s tough to claim you’re closer to a 10-win team when you are replacing at least half of your defense. Jackson understands this, so if he comes here it’ll be because he received the best offer not necessarily because it’s the best situation. Which, of course, sums up why most free agents go anywhere.

Redskins can learn from Seahawks

February, 3, 2014
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1. Talent matters when it comes to compiling a defense, but Seattle is proof of how you can get the most out of that talent, especially defensively. They did it without a lot of first-round picks; they did it without spending a lot of money. It’s why the Redskins need to limit (quit) the blame game when it comes to any defensive problems.Certainly some issues played a part in what happened here (and, yes, turnovers killed the entire team this past season). The Seahawks are proof of what goes well when the organization is on that so-called same page and, when it came to the Redskins' defense, I'm not sure that was always the case. Still. It can be done without: spending a lot on players and no first-round picks. Not that Seattle lacked first-round picks, but the Seahawks’ defense has thrived without many of them.

2. Seattle’s starting lineup includes five players selected in the last three drafts – only one in the first round. The Seahawks did a good enough job that you forget about the big miss on linebacker Aaron Curry as the fourth overall pick in 2009.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceSafety Earl Thomas is one of just two first-round picks starting on the Seahawks' defense.
3. The Seahawks’ starting defense includes two former first-round picks (safety Earl Thomas, 2010; linebacker Bruce Irvin, 2011). That’s it. The Redskins last season had five former first-round picks. But three of them were drafted by other teams. Way of life here. So the Seahawks have more picks in Rounds 4-7 (six) among their defensive starters than players selected in Rounds 1-3 (four). They also had a former undrafted free agent in Chris Clemons. Not every coach -- including good ones -- are strong at developing talent. They'd rather have players already developed (who wouldn't?). But the point is that you can get there this way and be successful. I don't know if outside linebackers coach Brian Baker is adept at doing this, but I know inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti has been in the past.

4. This has become my favorite phrase the past couple of weeks, but I’ll use it again: draft and develop. Seattle’s defensive starters include nine of its draft picks. The Seahawks not only won a Super Bowl, they did it in inexpensive fashion. Their one big free agent, Cliff Avril (who does not start, but plays a lot), was key. Though he didn’t record a sack his pressures in the past two games resulted in huge plays -- the tipped pass for a pick against San Francisco and Malcolm Smith's return for a touchdown Sunday. The point: use all avenues to improve, but you don’t need a lot of free agents to succeed.

5. I like that players such as Kam Chancellor play special teams. My guess is that he hasn’t lost the drive that turned him from a fifth-round pick in 2010 to a starter and Pro Bowler. Meanwhile, the Redskins had a sixth-round pick (Bacarri Rambo) who was not a good special-teams player. Nor was fifth-rounder Brandon Jenkins. Sean Taylor used to love playing on special teams. When guys have that sort of hunger, it trickles down. When you don’t -- and when you have veterans who would rather not be on there -- it also trickles down.

6. It’s not just playing with a hunger, it’s preparing with one. That’s what turned London Fletcher from an undrafted guy into what he became. The Seahawks have multiple players like that; even former first-round pick Earl Thomas, whose talent is enhanced by his preparation. Phillip Thomas, a fourth-round pick by Washington last season, had a reputation in college for preparing a certain way. I don’t know if he’ll develop into a good player, but it gives him a shot.

7. Seattle’s defense plays fast and with a hunger that few other teams possess. It’s hard to emulate unless you get the right collection of players. But Seattle’s formula included constantly looking for such players, which is why the Seahawks made so many transactions early in Pete Carroll’s tenure.

8. By the way, Carroll is a defensive coach. He hasn’t harmed Russell Wilson's development. It’s why, when the Redskins were looking for a coach, my thought was to not write off one side of the ball for candidates. Good head coaches come from any side; maybe Jay Gruden will be one for the Redskins. But it’s why you should never limit yourself in a search (the Redskins did not, though it seemed like they favored Gruden from the get-go).

9. I also know that having John Schneider there helps tremendously. There are other successful organizations that do things well and do it a little differently (though the draft would be a common thread) so there’s more than one way to get there. It's wrong to think only Seattle has that formula, but the Seahawks are the franchise du jour. But for the most part there’s an organizational blueprint that is followed by the best teams, the ones who consistently win. I don't think the Redskins have always been on that same page. That's not to say they missed on everyone because they haven't; they just haven't developed enough lower-round picks to build depth or provide low-cost starters.

10. What Wilson did so well Sunday night is what Robert Griffin III needs to mimic: Hit the plays that are available, including those slant routes. They sustain drives. Wilson wasn’t always perfect in the playoffs on these routes (watch the New Orleans game when he missed them a few times by throwing behind the receiver). But in the past two games he was on target with those passes, especially on third downs. He also extended plays (in the playoffs and all season) and consistently hurt teams when doing so -- by throwing the ball, not running. Wilson knows how to operate in the pocket and he threw with a terrific (and consistent) base. Wilson ran 11 times for 42 yards in the postseason, including 3 carries for 26 yards Sunday night. The ability to run is helpful and needs to be used, but if it's a constant crutch then it's not a good thing.

The next big thing: Redskins

January, 23, 2014
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The first priority for the Redskins is finalizing Jay Gruden's coaching staff and putting together their playbook. After that, here is what they need to do in the next few months:
  1. Figure out who they want to keep. They have a number of free agents, especially on defense. They need to find a way to keep linebacker Brian Orakpo, a pivotal player because he can rush the passer and has become a solid run defender. He'll always flirt with double-digit sack totals and twice has gotten there. The team can always use the franchise tag to keep him around, but he is a priority. They also will want to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley. Then there's cornerback DeAngelo Hall, coming off a good season, and backup D-lineman Chris Baker, who contributed late. He showed enough to warrant interest elsewhere.
  2. Who fits up front? With a new offensive system, the Redskins must decide how much they want to reshape the line. The O-line is a smaller group, built for Mike Shanahan's outside zone and stretch zone system. Gruden will still use zone blocking, but he also featured bigger guards at Cincinnati. Kory Lichtensteiger will need to bulk up to stay at guard; perhaps he could move to center. It's tough to make a lot of changes -- at least in the first year of a new regime -- but the Redskins likely will make some.
  3. Spend. The salary-cap penalty is gone. And that means the Redskins will be able to spend -- money has never helped them win a title, but it will enable them to rebuild their defense. They'll have approximately $30 million in salary-cap space; of course, they'll need to spend a decent amount to fill out their defense since six players who started at least seven games are free agents. But the Redskins can be active. Considering they have no first-round pick, that's important. They need to fix their secondary, even if they re-sign Hall. They need to replace retired linebacker London Fletcher and re-sign Orakpo and Riley. They also could use another receiver, especially if Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery takes a long time. The good news for Washington is that this draft is deep, especially with bigger cornerbacks.

Redskins coaching scorecard

January, 17, 2014
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In less than a week, new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden has put together a good portion of his staff. Gruden's staff will include several holdovers, including Sean McVay (promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator), Chris Foerster (offensive line), Jacob Burney (defensive line), Raheem Morris (secondary) and Jim Haslett (defensive coordinator). But they still have hires to make. Here's an updated list:

Head coach: Jay Gruden

Offensive coordinator: Sean McVay

McVay is highly respected by his players and comes across as older than his 27 years. He won't call plays, so he'll be able to ease into this position. Still, it's a lot of responsibility and there will be a transition and learning period. There always is.

Quarterbacks: Vacant (Gruden, a former quarterback, will no doubt work with this position)

Running backs: Vacant (Earnest Byner interviewing Friday)

Wide receivers: Vacant

Tight ends: Vacant (Wes Phillips interviewed for the job Thursday)

Offensive line: Chris Foerster

He has experience in different blocking schemes, though he works best in the zone blocking system. Players have spoken highly of him over the years. His lines the past couple of years have not been the most talented individually, but still had more success than anticipated. We don't know how much the young linemen have developed or if any will be future starters (but keep in mind that Joe Bugel did not develop any young players in his second stint in Washington either. Just some perspective.).

Defensive coordinator: Jim Haslett (has not been officially announced)

Like many, I'm surprised by this move given how the defense has played and the natural inclination to clean house, especially if a staff is unsuccessful. My guess: Haslett is surprised, too, or at least would not have predicted this on the day Mike Shanahan was fired. They improved down the stretch the past two years, but even this year their points per game -- the stat they point to the most -- did not dramatically improve (they were 30th for the season; 25th from Weeks 9-17). They finished 18th in total yards allowed -- 10th in the second half of the season (they faced five top-10 offenses in the first half and two in the second). Excuses can be made that explain some -- certainly not all -- of their deficiencies. The salary cap, head-coach meddling (though certainly there may have been some "suggestions" that worked; we never hear about those). After a while, excuses get old. But clearly the front office felt they were legitimate and perhaps they felt keeping Haslett, a former head coach, would be beneficial to a first-time head coach, one with whom he has a relationship. But it's now time for this defense to finally produce at a greater and more consistent level.

Defensive line: Jacob Burney

He's helped Barry Cofield become a solid nose tackle and the front has been solid against the run; I like how Chris Baker has developed, but Jarvis Jenkins has not done enough in the pass game. Overall, the pass rush needs to improve.

Inside linebackers: Kirk Olivadotti

Had a great reputation when he was here the first time around. This is an excellent hire, but he will be limited to just working with the inside linebackers. He worked with Perry Riley as a rookie and will have another starter to train inside with the loss of London Fletcher.

Outside linebackers: Brian Baker

Don't know a whole lot about him other than he's a veteran coach who has worked with Haslett in the past. He's coached linebackers in three of his 17 NFL seasons, serving as Cleveland's outside linebackers coach last season, but he played linebacker at the University of Maryland. Cleveland's linebackers did not produce as hoped. Dallas did not retain him after the 2012 season when it changed coordinators. His last three seasons have been spent in a 3-4 scheme.

Secondary: Raheem Morris

Energetic and enthusiastic. I'm sure he felt he'd be someone's coordinator by now, but he'll instead enter his third season as Washington's secondary coach. It's not as if the secondary play the past two years would have helped him land a coordinator's job. That's not all on him, however, as there's little doubt they have to upgrade the talent base. And what matters is this: general manager Bruce Allen wanted to keep him around. Fletcher gave him a strong endorsement on Twitter after Gruden was hired.

Special teams: Ben Kotwica

Have heard good things from people who used to work with him. In New York he had to replace a legendary coach in Mike Westhoff. That won't be the case in Washington so those players who remain from last year will be more eager to buy what he's selling.

Jay Gruden likes the 3-4 defense

January, 10, 2014
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ASHBURN, Va. -- When Mike Shanahan changed the Washington Redskins to a 3-4, he talked about how that scheme would bother him as an offensive coordinator. Four years later, it’s the same reason the team likely will stay in that scheme.

New Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he’d like to stick with that alignment.

“This team is built for a 3-4,” he said. “I hate the 3-4 as an offensive coordinator.”

The thinking always has been that it provides the defense a better way to disguise who will be rushing on a particular down. If they send four pass-rushers, which outside linebacker will rush?

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliWhile it's clear the Redskins will stick with the 3-4 scheme, it's unclear whether Jay Gruden will retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
The Redskins have played a 3-4 for the past four seasons, never ranking above 13th in total yards or 21st in points allowed (in the previous 11 years they had eight top-10 defenses in total yards and three in scoring).

The Redskins have recorded more sacks in this scheme than it did the previous four years in a 4-3 front: 138 to 116. But in each of the past four years opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of at least 87.0. In the previous six years opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of 87.0 or higher only once. Four times they were under 77.1. (For the record, three of the top five defenses against the pass in 2013 used a base 3-4 front).

The 3-4 wasn’t used much until the 1980s thanks to Pittsburgh’s defensive success. The added linebacker provided more athleticism against increasingly speedy running backs. Plus, it was easier to find athletic linebackers than athletic big men for a 4-3.

So it should help against the run. The Redskins have allowed opposing running backs to gain at least 4.0 yards per carry in each of the past four seasons. That happened three times in the previous six years.

But, in the end, the problem never has been about a 3-4 or a 4-3. Other teams switch and improve; New Orleans went from No. 32 in 2012 to No. 2 this season after going to a 3-4. It was always about finding the right players to fit that scheme -- you need linebackers who excel in coverage; as a group the Redskins haven’t had that, for example. It was also revealing that linebacker London Fletcher tweeted Thursday that Raheem Morris should be the next defensive coordinator and not Jim Haslett, the boss of the past four years.

Over the past several years, multiple NFL people I’ve spoken with are mixed on Haslett; he’s too boom or bust for some. But while nobody would say he’s one of the best coordinators, no one would say he’s the worst either. If he became available, he’d draw interest from other teams. While this was Haslett’s group, he did not have the autonomy that previous defensive coordinators here have had, with head coach Mike Shanahan having a big say. Shanahan compiled the staff and, one former coach here said would sometimes overrule the staff’s opinion on prospective players. And the salary-cap issues the past two years prevented needed upgrades (though money doesn’t always equate to successful signings).

Still, Fletcher’s tweet was interesting. One former player said two years ago that an issue defenders had was the ever-changing rules of the defense. It sometimes led to confusion, he said.

Gruden worked for one season with Haslett in the United Football League and respects him. But he has not yet named him as his coordinator. Regardless, it appears the scheme will remain in place. At least that’s the initial goal, though Gruden said it would be evaluated.

“I know when we played against the Redskins it was very difficult to run against them,” Gruden said.

The Redskins held Cincinnati to 93 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry in a 2012 loss to the Bengals. Not that it helped much as Cincinnati still scored 38 points and passed for 385 yards.

“There were some issues in the back end, but there is a core foundation in place,” Gruden said. “They were well-coached on defense.”

Washington Redskins season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 31
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The complete collapse. After last season's strong finish and all the youth on offense, the Redskins appeared poised to have an excellent year. Their defense looked good this summer, too, and welcomed back linebacker Brian Orakpo. But instead of fighting for a playoff spot, they're now battling other teams to find a head coach. It was not difficult to see the Redskins doing worse than last year, considering the cap penalties and Robert Griffin III's knee. But 10-6 to 3-13? That was tough to predict.

Biggest disappointment: The return of the circus atmosphere. The locker room held together well during the losing and maintained their support of the coaching staff. But the consistent leaks led to one story after another taking shots at Griffin, his father and the Shanahans. It led to speculation about why certain stories emerged. It also turned a bad season into a horrible one in which it became clear change was necessary. And the rift between Griffin and coach Mike Shanahan widened. One year ago the future appeared bright for the franchise. Now they'll enter the offseason with a lot of questions about their future.

Biggest need: Head coach. They already needed secondary help, another linebacker, a pass-rushing lineman and another receiver -- plus an offensive lineman or two. Now they need someone to lead the franchise. This is the sixth time owner Dan Snyder will have to find a new head coach in the offseason, which suggests his approach has not worked. No coach will have lasted more than four years under him. Not everything is his fault, of course, but it is a fact. Snyder will need to find someone who can develop Griffin, which means the offensive coordinator hire will be highly important as well. The Redskins likely will look to an offensive-minded head coach (for the fourth straight time under Snyder). But what they need to find is a good head coach. Otherwise they'll repeat this scenario in three or four years.

Team MVP: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He set a franchise record with 113 receptions, a testament to his consistency as he caught at least five passes in every game. He made the occasional flashy catch -- a one-handed grab or when he slipped and fell and caught a ball while sitting. But for the most part it was just about consistency, from the way he ran his routes to his approach to playing. Garcon played with passion and emotion and also contributed in the run game with his blocking. Garcon excelled at getting yards after the catch on horizontal routes because of his fearless style. Though running back Alfred Morris had a strong season, too, Garcon was more consistent.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 29, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 20-6 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

What it means: The end of the Mike Shanahan era, as he will be fired shortly, perhaps as early as Sunday night, according to multiple reports. Shanahan’s tenure will end with a 24-40 record after a 3-13 finish this season. It became clear in the past three weeks that Shanahan would not be coaching the Redskins in 2014 thanks to multiple stories that emerged painting quarterback Robert Griffin III in a bad light, among other things. That brought a return of the circus atmosphere Shanahan said had ended. But it’s tough to pin his ouster on Griffin’s influence with owner Dan Snyder. One of Shanahan’s complaints, according to the reports, was his dislike of Griffin's supposed close relationship with Snyder. Rather, Shanahan’s ouster can be justified from a football decision. In a bottom-line business, a 3-13 mark in a fourth season is tough to overcome. The Redskins last finished 3-13 in 1994, Norv Turner's first season.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins played a full game against the best defense he’s seen in his NFL career, and the results weren’t pretty. Cousins was inaccurate on a number of throws on this wet, dreary day -- too wide on some, high on others and inside on yet some more. It was a bad all-around day for Cousins, who also threw two interceptions (one off a high pass to Santana Moss, which could have been caught). Another pick was dropped -- actually a couple of more were in danger of being intercepted -- and he also lost a fumble in the red zone. Cousins showed he’s still a young, developing quarterback. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he has not shown that he’s worthy of being traded for a high pick by any means. Nor that there’s any reason to think anyone but Griffin should be the starter in 2013. Cousins has some skills that you like and other aspects he must overcome. A couple of passes were dropped, but Cousins really struggled, completing 19 of 49 passes for 169 yards.

Record day: Receiver Pierre Garcon became the third receiver in NFL history to catch at least five passes in all 16 games. Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith (2001) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (also 2013) are the other two. There are better receivers in the NFL than Garcon, but you have to admire his consistent play this season -- as a pass-catcher and run-blocker.

End of another era: Linebacker London Fletcher played his last NFL game. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was inactive because of a strained groin, corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, linebacker Perry Riley and safety Reed Doughty also will become free agents. All have been with Washington for at least four seasons. Any new coach will have a lot of holes to fill, which is what happens when a team goes 3-13.

Next up: Search for a new head coach.

Friday Conversation: London Fletcher

December, 27, 2013
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Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who will play his last NFL game Sunday (he thinks) had a couple of extra minutes to talk about the Hall of Fame, what it would take to lure him out of retirement and what he'll miss about the game. After Sunday's home finale versus Dallas, Fletcher was asked whether he thought he'd be a Redskin for life. He said, "I think so. … People will probably remember me as a Redskin, but I hold all those places [St. Louis and Buffalo, too] near and dear to me. I don't see how you can devalue any of the other places I played at. I spent four years in St. Louis and five in Buffalo, seven here. Burgundy and gold will always be in my heart."

What’s the 1 percent scenario it would take to get you to come back?

Fletcher: It would have to be maybe a team that has six games left, a playoff contender. … It won’t be for a 16-game season.

How much do you think about the Hall of Fame? How do you see yourself compared with other guys who have gotten in?

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker London Fletcher feels he has a good case to be a Hall of Famer.
Fletcher: I know I compare very favorably to the guys. I think you make a more difficult case to keep me out of the Hall than to vote me in, when you look at things like productivity, durability. Everything you look for. I don’t see why I wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer.

People know your passion for the game and how much you like studying it. Does coaching ever enter your mind?

Fletcher: It does. I don’t know. I’ll never say never that I won’t do it. Just right now I don’t think it would be something I’d be looking to do.

Why not?

Fletcher: Just with the age of my children -- a 6- , 5- and 3-year-old. One thing I want to do is spend more time with them and do some things that football doesn’t allow me to do. I’ve been so consumed with football. Even when we take vacations, I’m always thinking about the job, so it would be hard to stay involved right away with coaching. I know I wouldn’t be able to give them all the attention I would want to give them.

When you do TV, would you rather be in the studio or a game analyst?

Fletcher: I haven’t done a game before. I enjoy being in the studio. But obviously, if you do a game, it’s a different type of studying. You’re really breaking down teams, their strengths and weaknesses. That’s something [games] I haven’t done yet, and maybe it’s something I try to see which one I like better. But I know I enjoy the studio.

What little things will you miss?

Fletcher: Sundays, just coming out and playing. Coming out of the tunnels on Sunday. I’ll miss the hitting part of it. And, come June and July, the grass smells different to me. I know it’s football season. I’ll miss that part of it. It’ll be difficult in the offseason around the time I normally start preparing for the season because I’ve done it for so long. Now to have some type of change where I’m not going to do it, that will take some getting used to.

How much did you enjoy the hitting? What did that feel like for you?

Fletcher: Oh man. You’re talking about the ultimate feeling, man, when you get that perfect hit and you know you delivered that big hit. There’s nothing like it.

Addicting?

Fletcher: Yeah. And just the competitive standpoint. When there are goal-line stands or when you stop someone on third down. It’s just so many different things. It’s not about the big hits, it’s about making big plays.

Brian Orakpo: 'I'm pretty banged up'

December, 24, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said he wants to play in the season finale. Whether he can or not remains uncertain.

Orakpo
Orakpo strained his right groin early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was limited in practice Tuesday.

“I’m pretty banged up, man,” Orakpo said.

Fullback Darrel Young (hamstring) was a full participant in practice. Safety Brandon Meriweather missed practice to take care of a personal matter.

Orakpo said he’d like to play in the season finale against the New York Giants, but with a caveat.

“I’m not going to be stupid,” he said. “If I feel good, I’ll try to give it a go. If not, it’s been a good season.”

Orakpo, a first-round pick in 2009, is a free agent after the season – along with fellow linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley. Fletcher is retiring, but the other two face an uncertain future.

But Orakpo said he’s not thinking whether Sunday will be his final game with Washington.

"It’s been a disappointing year from the whole aspect of our record,” Orakpo said. “I’m not concerned with it possibly being my last game. We have to take care of these Giants and get this bad taste out of our mouth.

“It’s going to be the last time to suit up [as a group]. Hopefully go out with a bang and finish the season somewhat on a positive note.”
IRVING, Texas -- The swerving, spinning and juking moves have not been on display as much this season, but Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo showed his moxie in Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins.

Romo
Actually, he showed it the week before against the Green Bay Packers when he ducked under linebacker Clay Matthews, but his throw to Miles Austin drifted inside and was intercepted, leading to the Packers’ winning touchdown.

But against the Redskins, Romo was able to wiggle free from trouble a handful of times to come up with big plays that led to the 24-23 win.

“That’s the thing about Romo, he’s a great quarterback, especially when you allow him to make those off-schedule plays and buy time,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “He eluded the sack a couple of times when we had free guys. That’s just him. That’s what makes him great, the ability to do that type of deal. Unfortunately he’s done that to us a number of times since I've been here.”

Romo’s first touchdown pass of the game came when he spun away from an unblocked and blitzing cornerback, E.J. Biggers. He set his feet and hit Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard score in the second quarter.

In the fourth-quarter drive that ended with Dan Bailey's field goal, Romo spun away from trouble on third-and-1 and found Austin for a first down.

On the game-winning drive, he was able step away from pressure and find Terrance Williams for a 51-yard completion that flipped field position and put the Redskins on their heels.

"That’s another Houdini play from Romo,” Bryant said.

And on the winning score Romo bought himself some time -- thanks to solid protection -- but stepped up and froze the defense with a quick pump fake that gave DeMarco Murray a little more room to get into the end zone from the 2 for the 10-yard strike.

“Tony’s been remarkable throughout his career being able to create a little time for himself, buy a little time for the receivers, and he did it again,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Certainly the biggest play of the ballgame.”

Redskins can't deliver win for Fletcher

December, 22, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. – It’s not the sendoff London Fletcher or anyone else on the Washington Redskins wanted or envisioned. It could have been. It could have ended with a defensive stand and Fletcher leading the charge off the field.

Instead, it ended with another brutal loss for Washington and the final home game for the 16-year veteran. Fletcher announced his retirement on Wednesday, saying he was 99 percent sure he was done. That 1 percent did not seem to be much in play Sunday as Fletcher soaked in all of the atmosphere, from the pregame introductions to taking his time walking off the field, surrounded by cameras as he headed over to some fans in the stands.

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports"As much as I tried to make this a normal game and week, it wasn't," London Fletcher said.
His three young kids played near his locker long after most of the place had emptied.

“Man, I thought we had it,” Fletcher said. “What better way would there have been for me personally to end my career [than] with a defensive stand on the goal line?”

It was a different final drive for Fletcher, who exited the game when the Redskins went to six defensive backs. He was back in for the final series of plays, which resulted in a touchdown.

“You have to give Tony Romo credit,” Fletcher said of the Dallas quarterback, who tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal in the Cowboys' 24-23 win. “He bought time and made plays.”

Thus ended an emotional week for Fletcher.

“As much as I tried to make this a normal game and week, it wasn’t,” Fletcher said. “I really had to curb my emotions throughout the week. At the end the reception that I got … not only today but just throughout the week as I’ve seen people all over the DMV area. People bought me lunch and all kinds of stuff.”

But his teammates couldn’t get him a win.

“When you have a guy like London that’s played to win and showed you how to be a pro,” Redskins receiver Santana Moss said, “you want to go out and give it your all. We knew what we had at stake this far in the season and that was nothing. So why not go out there and put our hearts on the line for a guy who has showed us in so many ways how to be a good professional. … Everybody went out and left everything on the field. We still came up short.”

Fletcher finished with six tackles. His 16-year career will come to an end next week, so the players have one more shot to send him out with a win. They just happened to want this one at home against Dallas a little bit more.

“You always want to send a guy like London out with a win,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Disappointed we couldn’t get it done.”

Fletcher gets one more week to prepare as an NFL player, then he’ll leave for the next phase of his career, perhaps as a broadcaster. And he’ll get plenty of chances to answer how an undrafted player from Division III John Carroll University ended up never missing a game in 16 seasons.

“I came into the league as a long shot, “ he said. “Based on God’s plan, I was a sure shot. People didn’t know what was inside of me.”

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 24-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

What it means: The Redskins have lost seven consecutive games, tying the franchise record for the longest streak since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. They're now a well-earned 3-11. They also lost seven in a row in 1998 and ’94. Sunday was yet another example of a team that just can’t make plays when needed. The defense allowed Dallas to drive 87 yards for the winning touchdown drive. The special teams allowed yet another long return to open the game in bad fashion, and the offense did not help itself in the red zone and with another turnover. Though the Redskins can claim they played better and were, once again, close, the reality is that they’re just not good enough to win. They consistently played bad football all season, and this game was no different. The defense, minus Brian Orakpo, didn’t apply enough pressure, giving quarterback Tony Romo way too much time. It led directly to two touchdown passes.

Red zone woes: The Redskins had excellent field position much of the day, but their first two trips in the red zone did not end well. After an 18-yard punt return by Santana Moss, the Redskins had a first down at the Dallas 37. They ended up kicking a 36-yard field goal. Their next drive was excellent, moving from their 21 to a third-and-goal from the Cowboys’ 2-yard line. But consecutive penalties left them at third-and-12, and another field goal followed. When you play close games, series like these lead to losses.

Saying goodbye: This was the final home game for linebacker London Fletcher as well as a number of other Redskins. The coaching staff also might have coached their final home game. It’s still hard to imagine owner Dan Snyder allowing this regime to continue, though strange things can still happen. But for Fletcher, it was no doubt his last home game and he was the last Redskin to leave the field, surrounded by numerous photographers -- and getting a nice hand from the fans. Fletcher did not leave with a great game, finishing with one solo tackle. He was out for much of the winning drive as the Redskins used six defensive backs.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins was OK in his second start of the season, completing 21 of 36 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It’s his third pick in two starts and each came off a bad throw and not a forced one or bad decision. Cousins had some nice throws, including one with right tackle Tyler Polumbus right in his way. But overall there was nothing special to his day, and he failed to get a first down on the final series.

What’s next: The season finale at the New York Giants. The Redskins already have clinched last place, so they’re left once more playing for pride. But it’s not as if the Giants have anything at stake, either.

Jason Witten ready to take Ironman lead

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
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IRVING, Texas -- For the past seven years, every time he has played the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has known he would see linebacker London Fletcher.

Sunday is likely to be the last time, with Fletcher saying he is 99.9 percent sure he will retire after the season.

Fletcher
Witten
With Fletcher’s retirement, Witten would take over the NFL’s ironman streak of consecutive games played for position players. Fletcher will play in his 255th straight game Sunday, and make his 214th straight start.

Witten will play in his 170th straight game on Sunday. Houston punter Shane Lechler has played in 188 straight games.

“Anything like that labels you as just getting up there,” said Witten, who is 31. “It is hard to play consistently and at a high level like he has every week, week in and week out. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously, London -- that’s just unbelievable at that position to do it as long as he’s done it.”

Witten missed one game as a rookie in 2003 with a broken jaw.

Over the years, Witten has developed a healthy respect for Fletcher.

“London’s a great competitor,” Witten said. “He kind of defeats all the football odds. He’s not big. He’s not overly fast. But he’s just a great football player and he’s done it for a long, long time. I heard about his starts streak. It’s hard to play that many games, and that’s all you need to know about a guy like that is every Sunday he comes and he brings it. Just a true pro. Great player, and obviously a great career. I’ve enjoyed going against him the last seven or eight years, and just a great competitor.”

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