NFC East: Rex Grossman
Paul served as Young's replacement last week, but now when the Redskins need a fullback they'll have to use one of the two tight ends active Sunday night: Logan Paulsen or Fred Davis. They'll also miss Paul and Young on special teams. However, it will be a good chance for Davis to show what he can still do. The problem is, quarterback Robert Griffin III had developed a strong level of trust in Reed, especially on third down.
The other Redskins inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, cornerback Chase Minnifield, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and guard Josh LeRibeus.
The Giants' inactives: quarterback Ryan Nassib, cornerback Corey Webster, running back Brandon Jacobs, cornerback Trumaine McBride, tight end Adrien Robinson, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and offensive lineman Stephen Goodin. Also, James Brewer will start at left guard for Kevin Boothe, who shifts to center to replace injured Jim Cordle. With McBride and Webster out, Jayron Hosley will start at corner.
This also means undrafted rookie free agent Nick Williams will return punts in his NFL debut. He was signed off the practice squad during the week. Williams returned four punts for a touchdown in college.
Also inactive for Washington: quarterback Rex Grossman, guard Josh LeRibeus, safety Jose Gumbs, linebacker Brandon Jenkins, tight end Fred Davis and nose tackle Chris Neild. Jenkins was active in the first game against Philadelphia as the Redskins wanted more speed in their rush
For the Eagles, the inactives are quarterback Michael Vick, safety Earl Wolff, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, linebacker Jake Knott, receiver Damaris Johnson and tackle Dennis Kelly. Banged-up left tackle Jason Peters will start.
The emergence of rookie Jordan Reed, who leads all NFL rookies with 38 receptions, and the fact that Davis does not play special teams have kept him inactive. Niles Paul is actually the fourth tight end, but he is active because of his special-teams performance.
There weren't any surprises among the other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Chris Thompson, safety Jose Gumbs, offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and nose tackle Chris Neild. Jenkins was active last week as the Redskins wanted more speed in the pass rush. Thursday, veteran Darryl Tapp will be active instead.
The Redskins could have opted for E.J. Biggers to start at free safety, in essence giving the Redskins four cornerbacks on the field. But that's not the best alternative either, though in passing situations his speed would help.
Rambo, a rookie sixth-round pick, started the first two games of the season, but was benched in part because of his tackling, then was inactive the past three games because of his inability to stand out on special teams. One thing he did well during training camp and when he started is not get beat deep. That will be an important factor Sunday.
Gumbs, a first-year player, has played nine career snaps, but has shown the ability to hit. However, this game will also be as much about discipline and making sure to play the right coverages.
The Redskins will start Jarvis Jenkins at left end, moving Kedric Golston into a reserve role. Jenkins played the past two weeks as a backup following his four-game drug suspension. His ability to collapse the pocket will be pivotal.
Meanwhile, tight end Fred Davis is a healthy inactive for a second consecutive game. The Redskins keep Niles Paul active for his special teams play. Their other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, guard Josh LeRibeus, running back Chris Thompson, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and nose tackle Chris Neild.
The other Redskins inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, safety Bacarri Rambo, running back Chris Thompson, linebacker Brandon Jenkins, guard Josh LeRibeus and nose tackle Chris Neild. No real surprises from this group; Rambo’s stock has fallen mightily, but this is just a continuation of that decline. His special teams play is a big reason why he’s no longer active.
Davis injured his ankle late in the week and was added to the injury list Saturday morning. Davis tested his ankle Sunday morning and could be seen walking with a slight limp at times. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Logan Paulsen, but rookie Jordan Reed will see considerable action. Reed replaced Davis in many sets in last week's loss at Green Bay, playing 21 second-half snaps to Davis' five. Davis said he only made one or two missed assignments, but that number likely does not mesh with what the coaches would say. He also dropped a pass. Meanwhile, Reed is still learning, but makes tough catches -- he made Robert Griffin III look good last week by grabbing a pass that was far behind him in the end zone, a catch few tight ends could make.
Forbath was unable to kick Saturday, a good sign that he would be inactive Sunday. John Potter will handle the kicking chores. Nothing has changed since last week: Potter has a strong leg but is inconsistent on field goals even in practice.
The Redskins other inactives: quarterback Rex Grossman, defensive lineman Chris Baker, guard Josh LeRibeus, running back Evan Royster and safety Jose Gumbs. Baker is a surprise, but it's not as if he's played well in the first two games as a backup in the nickel package.
Detroit will be without running back Reggie Bush, which is good news for a defense that needs a break. He provides the Lions' offense with another threat to go with receiver Calvin Johnson. The Lions did a good job getting Bush the ball in the open field. Joique Bell will replace Bush in the lineup.
But there were no other surprises among the inactives. The other six are quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Evan Royster, safety Jordan Pugh, safety Jose Gumbs, nose tackle Chris Neild and guard Josh LeRibeus. The fact that two safeties are inactive suggests they have confidence that strong safety Brandon Meriweather will hold up in his first action of the season -- and his first regular-season game since Nov. 18 against Philadelphia. Pugh and Gumbs both play free safety, though they worked with Pugh this summer on playing more in the box.
The fact that Neild again is inactive suggests the Redskins will use a lot of their nickel package again. Neild plays almost exclusively in their base package as Barry Cofield's backup.
The good news for Washington is that Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett is inactive. He's their most experienced safety and his absence last week did not help in the Packers' loss at San Francisco.
They’re in: Griffin, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
Out: Pat White
Note: White made strides, and under different circumstances I’d keep him around. Just to see how he develops. But with questions about Griffin’s durability, I’d be reluctant to have White as my third quarterback because of his inexperience. He improved with his accuracy, but still was inconsistent on certain throws. He’ll take time to develop. Would you keep White to groom him as the backup and then trade Cousins in the offseason? Sure. But what if something else happens to Griffin and you hang onto Cousins, just in case? When you listen to the coaches, they definitely like how White has progressed. Their enthusiasm for his progress is genuine. A few weeks ago I would not have written any explanation about why he would or would not stick around.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
They’re in: Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Keiland Williams, Chris Thompson, Darrel Young
Out: Evan Royster
Note: Royster is a better running back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to trade him. (Was told by one coach of another team there would be at least a limited market for him.) Before the Bucs game, I was convinced he was gone. Now? I think it's 51-49 he leaves. Or, perhaps 50.5-49.5. Williams is a better special-teams player than Royster. Both have solid hands, but Royster needs the ball a lot to be effective. So in a pinch he’s not as effective. Though he’s a good fit in a zone-read, the Redskins have a featured back (Morris), a third-down back (Helu), a speed back (Thompson) and a special-teamer do-it-all (Williams). It does not sound as if Williams' shoulder is that bad from Thursday; if it is, then this changes.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
They’re in: Fred Davis, Jordan Reed, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul
Out: Emmanuel Ogbuehi
Note: No surprises here. On draft day coach Mike Shanahan made it clear they could keep four tight ends. Paul looked a lot more comfortable this summer than last, thanks to an offseason of work after playing the position for the first time. Reed will help once he becomes more consistent. Ogbuehi impressed them, but there’s no room.
They’re in: Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
Out: Dez Briscoe, Skye Dawson, Nick Williams
Note: The first five were a lock before camp opened and remained that way throughout the summer. Briscoe could sneak in because of his size, but his hands are inconsistent – that was true last season and again this summer. He had a nice play the other night, but I didn’t like that he got caught from behind. With four tight ends, three of whom are solid receiving threats, and with Helu, the Redskins don’t need as many receivers as in the past. Keep in mind, too, that Shanahan has kept as few as four wideouts in the past (with Denver in 2005 and ’08, according to their opening day rosters). If they keep Dawson or Williams around on the practice squad they should be fine. Neither Dawson nor Williams did enough to warrant a spot. Dawson is quick and was tough to cover in one-on-one drills, but did little in 11-on-11 work. As a returner he was fine, but needed to be great.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
They’re in: Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus
Out: Tony Pashos
Note: The Redskins opt for youth at the backup spots, but while Pashos did show some good things – his hands, strength – I’m not sure he moved as well as needed in this offense. Again, another one I’m uneasy about because I don’t like the inexperience with the backups. Plus Compton’s development at left tackle should give them confidence that he could move to the right side if needed. The problem: Compton did not have a good final game, especially early. Gave up more than you’d like in protection and some issues in the run game, too. He was inconsistent in the opener, but played well in the second and third games. They also have Maurice Hurt, who likely will be on the PUP list. I’m uneasy with the backup guards, even though I do like how Gettis progressed.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
They’re in: Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Phillip Merling
Out: Ron Brace
Note: Merling would have been bumped had Jarvis Jenkins not been suspended. So when Jenkins returns, Merling could be in trouble. But Merling was fine against the run. Golston has played well enough to open at left end; he does a better job than Baker of doing his job here, occupying blockers. Baker too often likes to get upfield and make plays; it can lead to big gaps in the defense.
They’re in: Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Bryan Kehl, Nick Barnett, Brandon Jenkins
Out: Will Compton, Marvin Burdette
Note: This is tough for me because I like how Compton has played. He’s a smart, decisive player who was able to defeat blockers in part because he often beat them to the spot. I’d definitely want him on the practice squad. The other question is, what happens when Rob Jackson returns from suspension? Do they cut one of these players? I don’t know who you would cut; Tapp has been a terrific surprise (for me anyway) and Jenkins is safe. So they might end up with nine linebackers when Jackson returns.
They’re in: DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, Chase Minnifield, Jerome Murphy
Note: Murphy is a surprise choice; the coaches really like him and he’s a physical player and good on special teams.
They’re in: Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, Bacarri Rambo, Jordan Pugh, DeJon Gomes.
Out: Jose Gumbs
Note: Gumbs to the practice squad. And, by the way, I’m not confident at all in this position. The Redskins, one league source said, had contacted teams about Gomes a couple weeks ago, seeing if there was any trade interest. Whether or not he’s still on the market – or if anyone would part with something for him -- I don’t know. And if they’re concerned about Meriweather’s durability, perhaps you keep Gomes because he can play in the box and back up Doughty. He’s also a good special-teams player. I'm not anticipating a Tanard Jackson return either. He can apply for reinstatement Saturday. That does not mean he'll be reinstated immediately -- if at all. Remember, it was an indefinite suspension.
They're in: Sav Rocca, Kai Forbath, Nick Sundberg
Note: If you’re expecting great analysis here, stop reading. Nothing to say. They were in from Day One.
Once Robert Griffin III made it through Tuesday’s practice, the final one of the week, with no setbacks, the next move was a mere formality: He would start the Sept. 9 season opener versus Philadelphia. And, Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that, indeed, this would be the case.
It’s not a surprise. It is, for Redskins fans, a welcome relief mixed with a little angst: Is he indeed ready? Griffin told ESPN 980 radio on Tuesday that he was fully recovered. And that he could run a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash if he were at the combine.
“I would say I'm 100 percent, but you can't put a number on it," he told the station. "No one ever knows when they are 100 percent or what percentage they're playing at. The biggest thing is, I'm not below 100 percent."
Later in the day, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, always a little more forthcoming than his father, said Griffin looked 100 percent to him. Then his dad, head coach Mike Shanahan, followed in his presser a half hour later by talking about how well Griffin has looked in practice the past two days and the noticeable improvement he’s made since training camp started.
“You can see he is in football shape and there hasn’t been a setback, so everything has been very positive,” Mike Shanahan said.
"Football shape" is one of Shanahan’s favorite phrases. Once Griffin was in football shape, any decision on Griffin starting was just a formality. It was going to happen. Griffin will still undergo an examination by Dr. James Andrews when the Redskins visit Tampa Bay on Thursday. One team source said that has not changed. And if Andrews finds anything wrong with Griffin's knee, he won't start. But Andrews has examined him recently and found no setbacks. Nothing has changed, certainly not for the worse.
“I’ve seen much improvement from the first day to where he’s at now from when he first came out -- just in his ability to move, his ability to scramble, just the ease in which he practices,” Shanahan said.
The minute he awoke from surgery, Griffin set a goal to return by Week 1. As shown in his documentary on ESPN on Tuesday, “The Will to Win,” Griffin was consumed with this goal. After a night out in Las Vegas for his bachelor party, when he and his friends rolled in around 5 a.m., Griffin bypassed sleep to work out at UNLV. When Griffin saw the numbers for the Redskins' iron man competition in the offseason, he announced he would set a record. He did.
But there was still the question of whether he could pull it off. Before training camp, I believed he would. Once camp started and we saw how cautious Mike Shanahan was with him, I started wondering what would happen. But the pace has accelerated of late, and the fact that Griffin never took a day off -- which is highly uncommon for players coming off knee surgeries -- sealed the decision.
In 2004, Redskins backup quarterback Rex Grossman ruptured ligaments in his knee, ending his season. Then, early in the 2005 preseason, he broke his left ankle. He missed the first 13 games before returning -- without the benefit of anything other than practice. Like Griffin.
“I know from my experience coming back, it might take a little bit to knock the rust off, but it’s not going to be a whole game,” said Grossman, who completed 9 of 16 passes for 93 yards in his first game back. “It might be the first half of the first quarter or once you take a hit. Once you get into the rhythm of the game you rely on everything you’ve done to that point to get ready, all the practices and experiences from last year. It all kind of comes back. There might be an initial uneasiness that you wouldn’t normally have, but every first game of the season, every season opener, I don’t care how much you’ve played in the preseason, it’s different and it takes a little while to get going. I don’t think it will be that big a deal.”
- Running back Alfred Morris does a good job anticipating pressure, probably because he knows where to set his eyes. Most of his 16 yards were gained because of this. This kid runs so much better than people realize and it’s really not just the yards after contact; it’s the yards he saves, too. (There should be a category: Yards after danger. I’ll get the Stats & Info folks on it pronto!) Here’s what I mean: On an outside zone to the left, Morris gained 6 yards after pressure 2 yards deep versus tight end Logan Paulsen. But Morris still cut up for 6 yards. Another time he had to cut 3 yards deep after left tackle Trent Williams missed a block. Morris is already cutting as he takes the handoff; he then set up a linebacker with a half-juke inside, then a spin outside. It was a 3-yard run, but it deserves an asterisk. I also liked how he set up his 7-yard run. Morris received good blocking and his patience helped; he cut inside a Darrel Young block for a nice gain. Morris did not do as well on consecutive pass plays, getting rolled by linebacker Manny Lawson on the deep ball to tight end Fred Davis, and on the next play failing to cut a linebacker.
- It makes such a difference when Roy Helu presses the hole the right way. Saw him do this on two good runs, and in both cases the linebackers overflowed and the blockers were able to help him more. Like on his 12-yard run in the first quarter; his ability to press allowed guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester to seal off lanes. When Helu does not help create lanes or is too fast, he gets only the yards that are available.
- By the way, here's how good the Redskins have it now at quarterback. They lost their top two quarterbacks for this game and started Rex Grossman, who threw for 171 yards and a touchdown. The Bills had to turn to their third quarterback in the first quarter, Jeff Tuel. You could say the Redskins were better off with their No. 4 QB than the Bills were with their third.
- Have said this before, but few quarterbacks throw with as much trust and anticipation as Grossman. It can get him in trouble (as on the dropped interception attempt on an outside comeback route to Aldrick Robinson) and it can lead to big gains (as on the 45-yard pass to Santana Moss in which Grossman put it a little behind his target but also avoided possible danger by a safety breaking on Moss’ outside). Still, the pass to Robinson was a dangerous one – off his back foot under duress.
- Tony Pashos is an aggressive right tackle. On his first play against Mario Williams, he stepped outside hard to get him (partly because he was aligned wider). Though Williams finagled his way inside, it did no damage because the initial punch and path by Pashos left Williams too far away. But that doesn’t always work. On the next play, Pashos went at him aggressively again, but Williams got inside. A hook by Pashos saved a sack.
- Quarterback Pat White makes throws on slants and digs with authority – an excellent base – and has done a nice job hitting guys in stride. But when he has to throw wide there’s not a lot on the ball and he’s less accurate. White has knocked off some rust, but he has to prove he can make a wider variety of throws. But one of those slants was to tight end Jordan Reed, covered by starting corner Ron Brooks. Reed has the size and athleticism to win that battle all night, and he gained 18 yards on this play.
- Reed was better as a blocker than he was a week ago, but still was not without troubles in this area. Nevertheless, he’s much further ahead than I thought he would be after watching his college games. On a 13-yard Helu run, Reed and left tackle Tom Compton had a nice combo block on the right end. Reed’s ability to take control early on the block enabled Compton to get to the linebacker and clear a final hurdle for Helu. The back was a little fast to this hole and probably could have set the defenders up a little better. But he made up for that by lowering his shoulder, breaking a tackle and gaining 5 extra yards.
- Reed made a smooth 2-yard catch on a third-and-1 in which he ran a quick out to the right and had to reach up for the ball, nearly having to jump. He caught it while being tackled. An example of subtle athleticism.
- When running back Chris Thompson fumbled, he was carrying the ball in his right arm – as he should on a run around right end. But he’s more comfortable with the ball in his left arm, which is where he placed it on every run he made the rest of the night, no matter where he was running.
- I wrote enough about Thompson’s game on the ground in my observations. I will reiterate that I like how he sets up blocks and has a good feel for the stretch zone system for a young player. On his 9-yard run he caused the end to widen and got the safety to think he was going wide, too. When he cut up, the safety could only offer an arm tackle that Thompson avoided. He also runs with a forward lean; for a little guy he doesn’t get knocked back much, does he? Thompson’s fumbles are a big problem and there are durability issues, but he does have intriguing skills. I would not keep him as my third running back because I don’t trust him that much. But as a fourth back (along with fullback Darrel Young)? Mike Shanahan will find a way to keep speed if the kid shows him a little something. With five corners now likely, there are possibilities.
- But I didn’t say anything about his blitz pickup in the fourth quarter. Thompson was willing and came up aggressively, but linebacker Chris White ran into him and wasn’t slowed a whole lot. Size does matter here.
- The second-year guard who consistently shows up is Adam Gettis. I saw his usual get-stood-up-in-pass-protection moment in which he somehow manages to anchor. And I did see him get pancaked on one play, though it did not lead to a negative play by Washington. Yes, like the other backup linemen they were facing the Bills’ starting front into the third quarter, a good test. Gettis lost his block on a Thompson run that led to a 1-yard gain. Marcell Dareus beat him inside for one pressure (yes, he’s a starter and Gettis is not). So I won’t go crazy over Gettis. But I see him finishing more blocks downfield, blocking more to the whistle and clearly developing. It’s rare that Gettis gets bumped off his line on the stretch zones, too, a credit to his strength. Gettis also had a good pull on a 5-yard Thompson run late in the game.
- I thought Compton was better last week, but he also was facing backups, unlike on Saturday. Compton whiffed on a block, was pushed back on another and was stood up on another. But Compton shows promise and did not look out of place. He still needs seasoning, but he has progressed.
- That third-quarter shovel pass from Grossman to Keiland Williams should have resulted in a touchdown. Gettis drove his man into the end zone but center Kevin Matthews lost his block. If he holds the block, Williams scores.
- This was a good test for right tackle Tyler Polumbus. I write more about him than the other linemen because this is the one spot where there was a big question mark after last season; even the coaches said he had to improve in protection. There were quiet moments for Polumbus, which is always a good thing and he did his job often. But the Bills' Mario Williams did get him on a few occasions. He caught Polumbus with quick hands on the first play and got inside, only to be picked up by Chester. Two plays later Polumbus’ technique wasn’t bad, but Williams drove him back with power for a pressure. His only other real trouble came late in the first quarter when he was caught off-guard by a stunt and the tackle, slanting to his left, knocked him back en route to forcing Grossman to throw the ball away. Williams did not do a lot of damage against the backups, though he was not in the game all the time (and mostly rushed from left end).
- On the 45-yard toss to Moss, Trent Williams picked up two blitzers with one shove. Two defensive backs sprinted off that side and Williams shoved the first one to the ground, knocking the second out of the way.
- Receiver Aldrick Robinson got himself wide open on a couple routes. It’s hard to truly see what the receivers and defensive backs are doing without benefit of the All-22 film. But there were at least two occasions in which Robinson got position on his man with a good hard step to the outside and a cut back inside. He turned his man around on one such route for a completion. Robinson has had a good summer; he had one last year as well – I remember one topic last year at this time was the variety of routes he was catching passes on in preseason games. Will this year translate differently? We’ll see. It does seem like he’s been more consistent from spring workouts until now (though still with some rougher days).
- The running game was terrific, but I need to start with the defense. Yes, the Bills have some issues at quarterback. Kevin Kolb was knocked from the game, but he’s at best an average quarterback. Still, the Bills want to play at a fast tempo and it’s not just about passing the ball; they want to run the ball a lot, too. But the Redskins’ defense forced two three-and-outs in addition to a 10-play drive (aided by a third-down penalty on David Amerson). It would have been good to see the Redskins’ defense face this attack longer, to get a better feel because it can wear teams down. However, the Redskins handled this attack well and one reason was linebacker London Fletcher. To a man, players talk about how communication and conditioning are key to battling that offense. The Bills typically snapped the ball with 20-23 seconds left on the play clock. Yet the Redskins’ D did not look confused or lost. They subbed and were able to use their base and nickel packages. “London is the calming force of the defense,” Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. “You feed off his confidence and getting the calls. That tempo is trying to catch you with everyone not communicating. That’s how big plays happen.” By the way, Buffalo managed a first down on only three of 12 series and none in the second half, though when Jeff Tuel is your quarterback for most of the game, that's bound to happen.
- It can’t be underestimated how important it is to have someone like Fletcher on the field. It doesn’t mean mistakes won’ t happen; it does mean that they can minimize those mistakes because of his knowledge. “He’s a coach out there and even with the short amount of time we had to get up, we were able to get the calls out and get lined up,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. I haven’t asked Fletcher about this, but there’s little doubt that he’s watched film of Oregon and of Philadelphia in preparation for the opener, and probably has for a while. There’s still no voice in the defensive room that players trust more than Fletcher.
- I know one growing trend in the NFL is the use of packaged plays in which the quarterback has the option to either hand off or throw – and only he knows what he’s going to do. Buffalo does that; Philadelphia will do some of that. And Saturday, the Redskins scored a touchdown in that situation. They don’t do this a lot, but it’s certainly not foreign to them. They scored a touchdown two years ago versus Minnesota in this fashion to receiver Jabar Gaffney, and their first drive against New Orleans in the 2012 opener featured several such plays. Anyway, against Buffalo, Rex Grossman spotted the safety in a spot that left him vulnerable – up near the line on the right side. Typically, the safety would have been where receiver Pierre Garcon was headed on his slant. Grossman knew what to do. Watch the offensive linemen on this play– everyone was blocking for a zone run to the right; left tackle Trent Williams went for the linebacker. Grossman stepped that way but threw the slant to Garcon for an easy score. The corner had no shot at making the play – and even gestured to the safety at the end. Don’t blame him at all. “I knew we would get a blitz or he would drop out of leverage,” Grossman said of the safety. A good call and an easy touchdown.
- It’s a shame about Richard Crawford on many levels. It leaves the Redskins in a bind for punt returner. I wrote about this elsewhere on the site, but the options are veterans such as Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall. However, coach Mike Shanahan does not like to use key players in this role, and both would qualify. Besides, Moss has not returned a punt since 2009, and Hall has four returns in five seasons. There’s also Aldrick Robinson, who was bad in this role two preseasons ago and didn’t show a lot of improvement last summer. Can they really trust him? Skye Dawson has looked better since two disastrous returns in the opener (a fumble and a bad decision to reverse field). Anyway, Crawford is one of the Redskins smarter players; he’s always struck me as a future coach because of the way he thinks and understands the game. And he had improved a decent amount this summer – after spending the spring working with Redskins Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green. Mostly, this is about Crawford’s returns and I liked how comfortable he was fielding the ball. It looked natural and he (usually) made the first defender miss.
- Another option is Chris Thompson. There’s much that I like about Thompson and what he offers, and yet there are two major issues that just won’t go away: durability and ball security. I was pleasantly surprised how he looked fielding the ball. In practice a week or two ago Thompson did not look smooth at all; he twisted his hands awkwardly catching it on the run to his left and he fought the ball other times. However, he looked much different Saturday. “When I got back there I was pretty calm,” he said. It showed. He ran up and caught one on his 31-yard return. He had to backpedal and grab another one and moved to the side. Still, he’s only fielded three punts in a game since high school. It’s hard to imagine they can trust him with ball security at this point. But they absolutely love his speed and his sharp cuts in the open field. Some of this talk makes him sound like Brandon Banks, though Thompson is loads ahead when it comes to character.
- Now, for Thompson’s runs from scrimmage. The fumbles are an issue, and it’s clear he’s still adjusting to running in this offense. Of his 15 carries, none went for more than 9 yards. There were some positive signs: He did not dance around, and when he saw the opening he cut up and took what was there. Liked on a 5-yard run in the fourth how patient he was running to his left, then cutting up and running into the gut of a linebacker, moving him back a yard. He only averaged 2.9 yards per run and I’m curious to see when rewatching the game what sort of holes he really had. I saw good signs. However, those fumbles are killers. He showed resiliency in what he did after the fumbles and that’s good. (He actually carried the ball in his left hand on a run to the right, his first after the fumble. Why? Because he's left-hand dominant and felt more secure with the ball in that hand.) But he’s fumbled twice in two preseason games. If you’re going to do that, you’d better make a few really big plays. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Can he make the roster? Yes, because the coaches love his speed and he can develop. But he has not yet earned it with his performance (just remember, though, two years ago that Banks had not really earned it either until a big preseason finale).
- I liked how rookie tight end Jordan Reed played after a tough debut versus Pittsburgh. In that game, he dropped a pass and struggled as a blocker. Saturday, Reed caught the ball well and blocked even better. Reed competes hard, one reason he’s further ahead as a blocker than the coaches had hoped or realized he would be at this stage. On Keiland Williams’ 23-yard run it was Reed who cleared an opening by driving a linebacker out of the way. It wasn’t his only good block, but it was one good example. He used his hands better and was a little quicker with his feet getting in position. I also like that he makes smooth catches on balls that would be a little tougher for most players of his size at his position. I don’t know when he’ll make an impact, but I like his potential.
- Another guy who deserves credit: safety Bacarri Rambo. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him after the game, but you saw one reason why the coaches really like him: The ability to quickly learn. With the tackles it was all about angles rather than desire and after working on it even harder this week, there was a big improvement. Should you be completely comfortable yet with him? No. Even Sean Taylor needed to adjust to this during games; I remember asking Gregg Williams about Taylor’s open-field tackling as a rookie. The difference for Rambo tonight is that he didn’t hesitate. He was decisive and it showed. He tackled running back C.J. Spiller in the open field. Rambo also tackled Kolb in the open field. OK, Kolb isn’t Mike Vick. But what Rambo needed was some confidence in this area, and he received it Saturday. The coaches even gave Rambo extra time when the other starters were out, a smart move. They need him to be solid in this area. One game doesn’t make or break anyone – good or bad – but it was a positive step.
- The Pat White show continues. Does it mean he’ll win a roster spot here? Not unless the Redskins do the unlikely and keep four quarterbacks. And while he’s done a nice job running the zone read plays, keep in mind what separated Robert Griffin III on these plays was his ability to provide a triple threat: run, hand off or throw. White hasn’t shown he can be consistent throwing the ball from this look. White has improved greatly since we first saw him in spring workouts and if nothing else he’s shown that if and when he’s cut, it would be wise for someone else to at least take a look. His passing is still inconsistent and while he’s good throwing slants – hitting guys in stride – he has trouble on out routes. Before I go crazy on him I’d like to see consistency throwing into different areas and against different looks. But for a guy out of football for three years White has been far from an embarrassment and has provided jolts of energy on the field. He was very patient on his touchdown run, allowing fullback Darrel Young to do his job and then following behind. It’s just too bad for the Redskins that White is ineligible for the practice squad. White is behind Grossman; that touch throw to Roy Helu on the wheel route was very, very nice by Grossman. Maybe White gets there someday but he’s not close to those types of plays yet. Still, he’s improved.
- Finally, running back Roy Helu showed once again what he can do in the open field. As a running back there are still times I’m not in love with him. He gets the yards that are available too often whereas Alfred Morris creates more yards for himself. Morris did just that on his first three runs; each one went for longer than it should have because of his vision or his cuts or all of the above. His patience is exemplary. Helu is learning how to run with a little more patience. He didn’t always set up blockers. But one of Helu’s best runs, a 12-yarder, also coincided with a major negative – a fumble. However, the run was good as Helu pressed the hole well and got the linebackers to overflow to their right. A big cutback lane opened and Helu took advantage. Lucky for him, he recovered his own fumble. On the next play, you saw the dangerous Helu: his footwork was sharp as he was forced to cut a yard or two deep in the backfield because of pressure. Then he made a quick jump cut outside; all tight end Niles Paul had to do was obstruct his man and he did. Helu bounced wide for 17 yards. There’s a big difference between Helu and Morris, but both can be dangerous when used properly. If Helu gets 10 touches a game he will provide some big plays. If you put him on the field in passing situations with tight end Fred Davis and receiver Pierre Garcon and use play action… one of them will get wide open. Get a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker, as Helu did, and it can result in a wheel route and long completion. I’m not about to say this will be the most explosive offense ever, but a healthy Helu certainly provides more options and added firepower.
Highlights from the Washington Redskins' 24-13 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1. It’s a good thing Barry Cofield's hand injury isn’t more serious and shouldn’t keep him out of any regular-season games. Cofield has looked exceptional in camp and was particularly good versus the Steelers. He twice beat Maurkice Pouncey with a swim move past his left shoulder and was disruptive in the backfield. What’s becoming clear is that Cofield and Stephen Bowen will receive fewer double teams with an improved rush from the linebackers, forcing extra attention. The more the Redskins can collapse the pocket, the better off they will be. On Cofield’s sack, one reason he was able to get there was because of an extra push by Bowen and end Kedric Golston (who is having an excellent camp). Cofield relied on athleticism to get him through his first season at nose tackle; now he’s using quickness and smarts. His ability to read plays has definitely improved. Combine that with his speed and he could be a major pest for offensive lines.
2. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan heard someone yelling to watch for the screen -- he thinks it was London Fletcher. But Kerrigan deserves credit for reading his clues as well, something he’s done an excellent job of since entering the league. It makes a difference. He noticed the tackle trying to lure him a little deeper and he saw the angle of the back coming out. So Kerrigan stopped, backed up a little and timed his jump. Just a smart play. Kerrigan’s growth in this defense is a big reason why the pass rush should be better. He lined up at right tackle, left tackle and left outside linebacker. The Redskins can pair him next to a speed linebacker (Brandon Jenkins) or a powerful one (Darryl Tapp). More importantly, they can throw a changeup to guards inside because of his speed. Kerrigan’s rush when aligned wide was also good. He did a better job getting into the tackle, closing any space between he and the tackle, and allowing him to use a quick rip move and then to strip the ball for a fumble. He took a more direct path to the quarterback -- too often when aligned over the tackle he goes too straight upfield; this time, he went more toward the quarterback.
3. The Redskins have committed 18 penalties in the first two preseason games, with three unnecessary roughness penalties in the first half (two by DeJon Gomes). Even Fletcher was called for one, on the second play from scrimmage. Fletcher pushed Pouncey to the ground drawing the foul (for some reason, I initially thought it was the tight end, but it was indeed the center). As a captain, he must be more mindful of his actions. Nobody knows this more than Fletcher.
4. Thus far, the Redskins have shown an ability to rush the passer in various ways -- without needing to resort to extra rushers. Will that continue? We’ll find out. But they applied pressure Monday night with four-man rushes from their base linemen as well as from their nickel set, tapping into their versatility at linebacker. Oh, and they did it without Brian Orakpo as well. One reason Orakpo was not missed? Darryl Tapp. The veteran is one of the more surprising players this summer, mostly because he was a veteran changing positions and that’s not easy to do. But Tapp played with the strength that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett talked about the other day. He did a nice job setting the edge against the run and was able to move left tackle Mike Adams off line with a big left-handed slap. All power. Tapp also drew a hold on Adams with a spin move. He’s not the same threat as Orakpo, clearly, but Tapp has improved. There was one rush early that still illustrated Orakpo’s importance by his absence. Rookie Brandon Jenkins rushed too wide on the left side and Tapp was a bit upfield. Kerrigan got a decent push at left tackle, but Bowen was double teamed inside and generated no pressure. Thanks to good coverage, Ben Roethlisberger was limited to a two-yard scramble. With issues in the secondary, whether from injuries or youth, the pass rush needs to be a major factor, especially early in the season while those problems are being corrected.
1. Griffin took 12 snaps, completing 6 of 8 passes. He also took eight snaps in a glorified walk-through against the scout team, focusing on their hurry-up offense as well as goal-line plays. During the faster-paced, 11-on-11 work, Griffin ran his first zone read play of the season, keeping the ball around the right end.
2. At this point, there is no favoring of the knee or planting softly when he throws. Really, it’s about his timing and rhythm in the passing game more than anything – how are his mechanics; is he over-rotating his shoulders on certain throws? He can correct any issues in this area with more work.
3. Griffin missed Aldrick Robinson high and was wide of receiver Santana Moss over the middle, though the latter appeared to be more of a miscommunication. Moss stopped, but Griffin threw as if he expected Moss to keep running.
4. Griffin also took snaps in a 6-on-8 drill. I liked a slant pass he threw to tight end Jordan Reed, matched up against a defensive back (a match-up the Redskins would like inside). Reed made the grab.
5. In the past three days, Griffin took a combined 49 snaps in 11-on-11 scout team work, completing 27 of 33 passes. Before this point he had only participated in 7-on-7 work. Quarterback Rex Grossman said it’s hard to gauge how much rust Griffin has been able to shake because he has only worked against scout team and in 7-on-7. “But his timing and rhythm looks a lot better than it did at this point last year,” Grossman said. “That’s to be expected. Kirk [Cousins] is too.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- After the Washington Redskins wrap up their minicamp here Wednesday, rehabbing quarterback Robert Griffin III plans to spend another week at the facility before going off to get married and enjoy the "personal life" portion of his offseason. He said after Tuesday's practice that he considers himself a responsible enough person to keep his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery going during his honeymoon, and had a succinct answer when asked how prepared he was for a possible setback in his recovery.
"I'm not," he said. "You just don't think negatively. I think LeBron said, you don't play the game afraid to get hurt. So I don't worry about setbacks. I just worry about my progress moving forward."
There really wasn't any actual "news" on the RG III front Tuesday. He worked on the side in practice with the other injured guys, running, throwing, staying out of team drills. He continues to say he's confident he'll be ready for training camp when that begins in Richmond next month, though he also said he has a month's worth of cutting drills to get through before that can happen. He took one question about Tim Tebow and a couple about his role in the planning of his wedding.
"Sometimes, I actually have a choice," he said. "And sometimes, it doesn't really matter what I say."
But as for the knee, Griffin says it's all about continuing to go through the slow rehab and doing everything right along the way to make sure the ultimate goal of being healthy for the season -- and beyond -- is met.
"I think, on the mental side, I'm okay," he said. "It's just the physical side, teaching my body to re-learn all the movements. That's what we're still working on."
Some other things I saw, heard, asked and learned Tuesday at Redskins minicamp:
"He's great. He's a stud," Williams said. "He's definitely got that strong pocket presence, that accuracy and he's a great leader, too. We don't worry at all if he's the starter. I just think it's funny -- everybody's looking for "that guy," and we've got two of them."
Griffin quoted Williams when asked about how Brian Orakpo was looking as he works to return from a pectoral muscle injury: "To quote my left tackle, 'Rak's out there pass-rushing like it's the NFC Championship Game." Indeed, Orakpo looks as though nothing ever happened, and he talks and acts like a guy who has missed a lot of time and can't wait until he's allowed to tackle someone again.
Speaking of guys who have been out a while, remember cornerback Chase Minnifield? He was the talk of last year's minicamp before a knee injury knocked him out for the season. He practiced in full Tuesday and says the biggest issue he's facing is getting used to going up against NFL wide receivers in practice. "I've just got to tone up on my technique," he said. "As far as my movement, my speed, my quickness ... that's all good. I feel like my play can stack up against anybody in this league." Minnifield picked off a Rex Grossman pass in team drills and looks like a guy who could help the secondary. The Redskins are just always going to have to worry about a recurrence of injury with him.
In discussing his depth chart heading into training camp, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "If you were a first-teamer last year, you'll start out as a first-teamer this year and then we'll see." This would seem to indicate that the starting right tackle job is Tyler Polumbus' to lose. Shanahan also said Brandon Meriweather, who projects as the starting strong safety, should be medically cleared in time for training camp, according to what the team's doctors are telling him.
Free-agent wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was at practice, and Shanahan said the team expected to sign him in the next couple of days.
Oh it's getting revved up now, isn't it? Schedule release this Thursday night. Draft next Thursday night. Some teams are even having minicamps already. Kind of stuff that makes for nice, meaty links.
Michael Vick and Nick Foles split the first-team reps at quarterback at the Eagles' first practice under new head coach Chip Kelly, who described the competition between them as "even" with a scant five months to go before the regular-season opener. If you had to bet, you'd bet Vick to start the season as the Eagles' quarterback. But we have seen Vick capable of making enough mistakes to blow that chance. The idea that Foles has no shot here just because he doesn't run well is, I believe, inaccurate.
But no matter who you are with the Eagles this year, even if you don't run fast, you're going to have to practice fast. Kelly spoke about the tempo at his first Eagles practice, and the difference between "game speed" and "teach speed."
It's hard to assess this as any kind of step in his recovery from knee surgery, but Robert Griffin III is feeling good enough these days that he plans to attend the Redskins' annual draft party two weekends from now at FedEx Field.
The Redskins don't need to draft a quarterback this year, since they have Griffin well backed up with Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman. But they surprised everyone by drafting two last year, so don't rule it out.
And speaking of teams drafting quarterbacks even though they're set at the position, Calvin Watkins wonders whether the Cowboys might look for a young project at the position at some point in this year's draft. Point is, some teams view quarterbacks as valuable commodities and like to draft them as often as possible. The Cowboys haven't been such a team.
Andre Brown wants to score 22 touchdowns and rush for 1,300 yards this year. I don't have a lot to say to this except that it's good to have dreams and that I think Brown is a quality back who will fill a valuable role for the Giants next year but likely fall somewhat short of those numbers.
Justin Tuck says he's in the right mindset to get back to work this year and that he hasn't always been in that right mindset the last few years. I think that last part is certainly fair and honest, but the first part is something he has been saying for a couple of years now, even when it has not, in retrospect, been true.