NFC East: Ryan Grant
Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.
Running backs (4)
The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.
I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.
Tight ends (3)
Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.
Offensive line (10)
- Trent Williams
- Shawn Lauvao
- Kory Lichtensteiger
- Chris Chester
- Tyler Polumbus
- Morgan Moses
- Spencer Long
- Josh LeRibeus
- Tom Compton
- Mike McGlynn
In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.
Defensive line (6)
This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.
- Ryan Kerrigan
- Brian Orakpo
- Perry Riley
- Keenan Robinson
- Trent Murphy
- Darryl Sharpton
- Adam Hayward
- Brandon Jenkins
- Akeem Jordan
As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.
I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.
The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
John Keim: Great question. Man, it'll be tough to have a greater impact than Moss did in 2005 when he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch. I can't see Jackson matching that total simply because he'll have much more receiving talent around him. Moss had tight end Chris Cooley, but those two combined for 155 of the team's 278 receptions. No other player came within 40 of Cooley's total (71). Moss made the offense; Jackson will complete this one. He will have a big impact, but without Moss the Redskins had no passing game. Without Jackson the Redskins could still be fine. They're just better with him and he gives them the same level of playmaker Moss was in '05.
Keim: They hosted Owen Daniels early in free agency, but that was about it (and he eventually signed with Baltimore). But the drop-off from Reed to Paulsen is only when it comes to pass-catching. They like, and need, Paulsen as a blocker as Reed still needs to show he could handle that role consistently. Ted Bolser hasn't impressed me a whole lot this spring, but I always viewed him as a guy to groom for a year or two down the road. Not much of a blocker and his hands were too inconsistent this spring.
Keim: I assume you mean if whichever one doesn't start because there's no way all three will considering each plays on the inside. But the answer is yes ... probably. Hayward is a career backup, with 13 starts in his seven seasons. He's a special-teamer and was not brought in to start. Sharpton and Jordan both can help on special teams as well and have more starting experience. The decision will likely come down to this: Do you keep a fifth outside linebacker (Brandon Jenkins and/or Rob Jackson) or a fifth inside linebacker? The guys inside are stronger on special teams.
Keim: I have my doubts too, especially if you want significant improvement. There is reason to believe they'll be better because of the new pass-rushers, giving them a more diverse attack. With new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, there is an added emphasis on an aggressive rush. Too often in the past the outside linebackers rushed contain, as they had been taught. Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will have a key role in the game planning (like Bob Slowik did last year; I trust Olivadotti a lot more). Just remember: Everything sounds good in the spring. We have to see it on the field. But the defense is aging and will remain in transition for another year. There's a lot of age up front, too -- and guys coming off injuries. It's a tough mix. They'll be helped, however, by improved special-teams play and fewer turnovers by the offense.
Keim: You are right, he dropped too many passes last season. I don't think he's a lock, but the head coach certainly likes what he adds. Two weeks ago he talked about how Moss was going to help the team. In my experience, coaches don't talk about the season that way for players they don't think will make the roster. Moss also has looked good this spring. But the other reason is this: Who will beat him out? After the three starters, there's not a whole lot of proven talent. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready to open the season; Aldrick Robinson is still Aldrick Robinson and while they like Nick Williams, is he really better than Moss? No. Besides, Williams has practice-squad eligibility. Ryan Grant will be there too but he's only a rookie. Moss provides insurance and proven depth and Jay Gruden likes him around for his leadership.
Keim: He had a good enough rookie minicamp to earn a contract. He's long, which always helps, but he has a ways to go before he can think about making the roster. Bridget has a number of players ahead of him.When training camp starts, and they start doing more one-on-ones with receivers, etc., then I'll get a better feel for him. During the spring I need to focus on the returning players, impact guys and newcomers of note. So... ask again in August.
Keim: Have not heard that, no. It's too expensive to change based on what team you have; could change on a yearly basis. They will be fast offensively on any surface. Keep in mind, too, that the defense is not considered fast.
1. David Amerson looks bigger and, indeed, he said he's added about six or seven pounds of muscle. Amerson does appear to have more toned arms. That will help when he plays press coverage and in run support. I'll have more on Amerson later this summer, but know this: He's had a good spring. Saw him stick with Pierre Garcon in a couple one-on-one occasions. Also, more importantly, saw him use his eyes better and more consistently. It was an issue last year.
3. Saw this for the first time: a receiver doing a spin move at the line to get away from press coverage. Garcon tried that against Amerson, but it didn't work. Amerson stayed patient and, partly because he didn't try to jam Garcon, was not fooled by the move.
4. Garcon dunked a ball after a catch in the end zone. The Redskins had college officials at practice and one immediately threw a flag. Players can no longer dunk over the goal posts.
5. The offensive players were convinced Amerson should have been called for holding on a back-shoulder attempt to tight end Jordan Reed in the end zone. I was just finishing up an interview with Amerson after practice when Reed walked past with a smile and asked, "Did he tell you he held me?"
6. Rookie receiver Ryan Grant had a few nice grabs Tuesday, mostly on underneath routes against zone coverage. He's good at driving the defender off and then cutting. Did it a couple times Tuesday. I don't know when he'll be able to really help because he has to get stronger and, ultimately, prove he can beat press coverage.
7. One coach I will enjoy listening and paying attention to this summer: outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. Yes, I know, I've mentioned him a few times, but after watching him work with the players I'm even more convinced of his impact. Just a detailed coach. I'll have more on that later this week. But he is good and isn't afraid to chastise anyone. Heard him ping rookie Trent Murphy during a drill Tuesday morning.
8. Murphy was juked out by Reed on one route. He can ask other veteran linebackers how that feels because that's what happened last year. Once more, Reed was among the last off the field after working more on his game. Nothing has changed since last year in that regard.
9. Reed also had a nice block on Murphy, getting his hands into the rookie's chest and pushing him to the ground.
10. With linebacker Brian Orakpo out (sickness), this was a good chance for Murphy to work against veterans. He also went against left tackle Trent Williams a few times. Murphy's spin move worked well against Moses, but Williams was able to stop it on the one time I saw it tried. The coaches like what they've seen from Murphy overall, especially off the field in terms of work ethic.
11. Rookie running back Lache Seastrunk, who lost the ball on a handoff in practice, stayed afterward to work on handoffs with fullback Darrel Young playing the part of the quarterback.
12. Kedric Golston worked at nose tackle with the first defensive line. He's done that in previous workouts this spring with Barry Cofield sidelined. And if he shows it's a spot he can help at during the summer, then it'll be tough to cut him. Golston adds experience and toughness up front, two qualities that should be welcomed. Add a little versatility and it makes him even more valuable, and it also makes it tough for Chris Neild to make the roster.
13. The quarterbacks worked on slant passes during drills with receivers. The quarterbacks dropped back, looked down the middle and then turned toward the receiver running the slant. It's a little thing, but I point it out for this reason: Robert Griffin III's last interception in 2013 came on a slant route. He eyed the receiver the whole way, who then got a good break to make the pick. Sometimes you have to eye the receiver off the line because the pass is coming right away. But in this case it led to the pick.
14. Wasn't able to spend a lot of time watching rookie right tackle Morgan Moses, but did see him get beat by second-year Brandon Jenkins to the outside on one occasion. Moses was too upright and a bit slow with his feet.
15. Jenkins failed to use the proper technique on an inside run, staying too wide and creating a gap inside. The coaches, um, reminded him of the mistake.
16. Said it last week and will continue to point out how much more energy there is during these practices. Some of that could just be because change brings a new energy. But some of it is the style of coaches they now have on staff. Raheem Morris was always vocal under Mike Shanahan, so his ribbing of players and coaches is nothing new. But things were just more lively Tuesday, with trash talking and banter.
17. The field goal kickers attempted three kicks apiece (from 39, 44 and 50 yards) at the narrow goal posts (about half the width of regular ones). Rookie Zach Hocker made all three attempts -- the ball jumped off his foot on the 50-yarder. Kai Forbath missed two of three but on regular goal posts he would have made each attempt.
18. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a nice bullet to receiver Aldrick Robinson; the pass arrived just before safety Bacarri Rambo for a touchdown.
Last week, Moss said he didn’t worry about where he stood. This week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden gushed about Moss after Wednesday’s OTA workout, saying he’s had an excellent offseason.
Then he dropped a (strong?) hint as to Moss’ future: “He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”
No reason to say that if you don’t think the guy will make the roster. Still, I would never call Moss a lock at this point; the Redskins would only be on the hook for $65,000 against the salary cap if he’s cut. His age works against him. He did drop too many passes last season (a drop rate of 8.9 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information). But he has looked spry out there (he's at the age where the word spry gets used more); he's a professional route runner and good to have around.
Here is a quick look at the receivers:
Pierre Garcon: A lock. Next.
DeSean Jackson: Ditto. But perhaps you keep a guy like Moss around to serve as a mentor of sorts for Jackson.
Andre Roberts: Lock.
Leonard Hankerson: Health is an issue. The Redskins still don’t know if he will be ready for the season opener. If that’s the case, then it would be good to have veteran insurance with a guy like Moss.
Aldrick Robinson: He can play all three spots, though has primarily focused on the X receiver spot in the past (where Garcon starts). He improved last season, but we’re still talking about a guy who has 29 career receptions in two full seasons. He doesn’t help much on special teams either.
Nick Williams: Unless he’s a returner, you can’t keep him over a veteran such as Moss unless Williams shows a heck of a lot this summer.
Ryan Grant: The rookie fifth-round pick runs good routes and is a likely a slot receiver in the NFL. But he has a lot to learn and must get stronger. It’s tough to see him being much of a help on special teams or from scrimmage as a rookie. But the coaches like him, and you always favor guys you drafted over those from a previous regime (unless there is a dramatic difference). Moss is far better now, of course. But if Hankerson returns and Robinson shows improvement, you are keeping Grant on the roster for what you think he can do beyond this season. Still, the Redskins could go with seven and keep them all, including Moss.
There are also a number of undrafted free agents on the roster, but it’s tougher to analyze them. They are all considered longshots, or more so players to develop on the practice squad, and that won’t change until the games begin.
You can keep a guy like Moss around as valuable insurance; Roberts’ ability to play more than just the slot means if something happens to one of the starters, you can move him around and plug in Moss. He still has value, even if it’s not as high as it used to be.
Here's a look at the draft picks from this past weekend:
LB Trent Murphy: Definitely has a variety of moves; did a good job getting to the inside on occasion. Knows how to use his hands – knocked tight end Ted Bolser back on one rush with a good thrust to his chest. Can definitely see why the Redskins feel he can add weight and still be effective. Though strong, he does not appear to be fully filled out.
Murphy needs to work on cutting angles even more and knowing how to finish moves at an NFL level, as coaches discussed with him, like not rounding off too much at the top of his rush. He was not blowing past blockers in camp, but you could see aspects of his game to develop, with his hands and multiple moves -- that, combined with his versatility, is vital and why the Redskins liked him.
RT Morgan Moses: Felt after the draft it would take him a little while and still feel that way after watching him this past weekend. But that’s why he lasted to the third round; it’s tough for a player at his position to start immediately as a rookie. His long arms bailed him out of situations in college and did so again Saturday. But his feet need to catch up quicker.
You could tell he was working on trying to stay low, but at times did not look comfortable because he was bent a little too much at the waist and not the knees. Like Murphy, comes across as smart. (Moses graduated this past weekend.)
OG Spencer Long: Looks comfortable pulling and takes proper angles. Appeared to change directions just fine while pulling, based on a linebacker's movement. In the one-on-one pass drills Saturday, saw him get beat with speed to his outside, but also later saw him anchor well. Saw similar moments -- good and bad -- in his game tape. It’s really tough to get a good feel for a guard in 11-on-11 on some plays because of all the congestion. But he’ll be one to watch in camp.
CB Bashaud Breeland: Physical but will have to learn how to make sure he’s not always getting called for holding or pass interference. He could have been called for holding a few times and pass interference at least once. (He'd work best with a good pass rush; then again, who wouldn't?) It’s definitely something to watch because he wasn’t going against starting NFL receivers. Knows how to play press coverage. Breeland is patient and mirrored receivers well. After talking to him, he has a good understanding of his own game and what he must do.
WR Ryan Grant: He’s smooth in and out of breaks and a mature route-runner; patient. But Grant dropped a few passes (one when he turned his head too soon). He did have one nice grab over the middle with outstretched arms. He made a nice adjustment on another catch. Curious to see if he can get separation against starting corners, especially in man coverage. That’s his challenge moving forward.
RB Lache Seastrunk: First, you absolutely must read this piece on Seastrunk. It’s hard to measure running backs until the games begin. He has terrific moves, but will he always be content to get what’s there and then some or will he look to bounce a lot? We’ll see. His hands were OK when we saw him, but heard there were a few issues in a practice we did not see. One thing that jumped out when talking to Seastrunk: his confidence. He has a lot.
TE Ted Bolser: Did not look like a guy who’d threaten any of the three tight ends ahead of him for a roster spot. When he blocked in college, he too often kept his head down and that got him in trouble at least once Saturday. He’ll need to add strength. Bolser also dropped too many passes Saturday – I think ESPN980’s Chris Russell had him with four at one point. Bolser is a developmental guy, as seventh-round picks should be. But, again, it’s about planning. Niles Paul is in the last year of his contract. They’ll want Bolser eventually to be a move tight end a la Paul -- lining up in different areas; a better blocker on the go than on the line. If Paul leaves and Bolser develops, they have a replacement. That’s how it should work. Plus, special teams will be key.
Place-kicker Zach Hocker: He was accurate, but I can’t say I paid close attention to him. Kickers win their job in games, not practices (unless you’re Shayne Graham and lose it in practice; he was horrendous). It will be an interesting competition with Kai Forbath this summer.
- Tackle Morgan Moses is a big man and stands out in the crowd -- even among his peers. But Moses will always need to work on staying low in his stance. The first time I saw him try to block, he was moving to his left and lunged -- too bent at the waist on other times, too. He’ll have to work on staying balanced. That's what this weekend is for; to start correcting some of these issues.
- But he used his long arms a couple of times to stop Trent Murphy -- also long -- on the pass rush. I’ll be curious to see how he progresses coming off the ball and being able to attack defenders.
- Could tell when he was, or wasn’t, driving off the ball by how he set. A light set did not always mean pass protection, though. But it did mean he wasn’t going to drive off the ball.
- One thing Murphy will have to learn: how to lessen the gap between he and the tackle. Otherwise, it’ll be hard to use his hands. In a one-on-one rush, Murphy dipped and should have had the advantage, but failed to get it.
- After the rush, outside linebackers coach Brian Baker – do not underestimate this guy’s presence – worked with him on dipping his shoulder to complete the move. That’s what this weekend is all about: learning a lesson, then applying it as they move forward. They spoke for another 5-10 minutes after the practice while the other players exited.
- Murphy lined up at left outside linebacker all of practice. Eventually I can see him being moved around; it’s what he did in college and it worked.
- Guard Spencer Long was beaten in a one-on-one the first time I saw him by tryout linebacker Aaron Davis; speed to Long's outside. But the next time he went, Long anchored well. Saw him do that in college, too; strong base. For what it’s worth, Long said he feels normal coming off his MCL tear this past season.
- Did not see all of tight end Ted Bolser’s drops, but others saw them. Did see him get bumped off his route by Murphy -- one thing that was evident on tape is that the ex-Stanford linebacker is comfortable moving in space.
- Corner Bashaud Breeland likes to get his hands on receivers, even after the five yards that are allowed. He’s physical and with long arms. He’ll try to get a subtle grab at the top of a route. Just something to watch this summer.
- But Breeland, playing right corner, is experienced in press. Used good technique on one jam, getting his left hand on the inside of the receiver and bumping him off stride. Did not see a lot of separation from receivers against him.
- Didn’t watch a lot of receiver Ryan Grant, but the one time I did he dropped a pass. Turned his head too soon. I'll pay more attention Saturday afternoon.
- Need to see more of running back Lache Seastrunk catching the ball. In one drill where players weave through cones and then catch a pass, saw a drop. But to measure his hands, need to see a lot more and in game situations. He’s convinced his hands aren’t an issue.
- In a one-on-one drill designed to help special teams, Seastrunk did one of his classic plant and cut moves. He made a hard jab to the left, let the defender bite and then cut back the other way.
- For what it’s worth, Seastrunk told the Redskins he would like a shot at returning kicks. Not sure if that will happen or not.
- The first-year guys in camp: linebacker Will Compton, punter Blake Clingan, defensive back Peyton Thompson, safety Akeem Davis and lineman Tevita Stevens.
But now that the so-called experts have spoken, it’s your turn. So I want to know what you think about the Washington Redskins' draft, but I don’t want your grade. I want to see who you like the most from this class. Just because a player was picked first does not mean he’ll end up being the best player from the group.
So I’ll give you four names or you can choose other. Maybe the best player will be receiver Ryan Grant, tight end Ted Bolser, guard Spencer Long or kicker Zach Hocker. If so, choose other. Grant’s intriguing because he looked great at the Senior Bowl, an opposing coach told me. But his speed? It turned some teams off. Long could be interesting as well, but he’s coming off the torn ACL and I had to cut the list somewhere.
Go ahead and vote. Let's hear who you like the best. And leave your comments below; I'll include some of the best in the story.
A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' white-knuckle 24-22 victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Sunday.
What it means: There's a pretty good reason the Redskins are OK with not having another first-round draft pick until 2015. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III continues to impress as he helps lift the Redskins to 2-2. For the game, he completed 26-of-35 passes for 323 yards and no interceptions. He rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He got the ball back on his own 20-yard line, down by a point with 1:42 left in the game and he marched the Redskins 56 yards into field-goal range, whence Billy Cundiff hit the game-winning 41-yarder. What you want from your quarterback is for him to give you the confidence he can bring you back and win a game late, and Griffin has the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his young career.
Bentley rolls on: The Redskins' other star rookie on offense, sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, rolled up 113 yards on 21 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that built the Washington lead to 21-3. Morris has a lock on the starting running back job in Washington, as newly signed Ryan Grant wasn't even active and is clearly on the roster only for depth. Morris would have to get injured or see his play drop off dramatically for him to lose the job.
On defense: Ryan Kerrigan is a complete animal, and he led the high-pressure first-half assault on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. When the Redskins were pressuring Freeman early, he couldn't find open receivers and the Redskins' coverage issues on the back end were masked. When the Bucs stepped up their protection in the second half and Freeman had time to throw, he was able to exploit mismatches in the secondary with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams against the Redskins' defensive backs. It's pretty simple, really. The Redskins' defense requires pressure in order to succeed.
Redemption... barely: You have to wonder if Cundiff would have been back next week if the kick had hooked any farther left. He'd already missed from 41 and 31 yards (and 57, but whatever) in the game, and his misses left the door open for Tampa Bay to mount its comeback. The Redskins got Cundiff (and cut Graham Gano) because of his ability to deliver touchbacks on kickoffs. But as much as NFL coaches prize field position in the kicking game, they almost certainly assumed he'd at least be reliable on field goals. Could be one bad game, but if the trend continues, the Redskins may have to sacrifice something on the kickoffs and look elsewhere for a more reliable kicker. It appears they're going to be in a lot of close games.
What's next: The Redskins play host to the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Landover, Md. Having allowed 326.3 passing yards per game so far this season, they will try and stop Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and an Atlanta passing game that's one of the deadliest in the league. They'll also be looking to break a seven-game home losing streak.
Joe from NYC thinks the New York Giants should line up defensive tackle Linval Joseph over backup Philadelphia Eagles center Dallas Reynolds on Sunday night and "blow his doors off." Further, Joe's game plan would ask the Giants' defensive ends to key on the run.
Dan Graziano: Joe, I think this is an interesting idea for a couple of reasons. First, it likely would catch the Eagles by surprise and potentially limit LeSean McCoy if the Eagles decided to go to the run more. Second, the Cardinals had great success last week collapsing the pocket against Michael Vick with an interior pass rush. The Giants' interior defensive line is an underrated strength, as Joseph and Rocky Bernard have both played very well this year, and the Giants could succeed with this type of defensive game plan in their big divisional showdown. One thing I will say, though: Whatever they decide to do in the pass rush, it's got to work, because they're banged up in the secondary with Jayron Hosley out, Corey Webster playing with a broken hand and Antrel Rolle questionable due to his knee injury. The Giants can't let Vick have any time to throw downfield, because that's exactly what the Eagles want to do.
Andy from Manhattan Beach, Calif. and Todd in Kalaheo, Hawaii both wonder why the Washington Redskins didn't sign Tim Hightower instead of Ryan Grant when they were out looking for running backs this week.
DG: Mike Shanahan said they did reach out to Hightower and that he was their first choice after they realized Roy Helu would have to go on injured reserve. But the reason Hightower didn't make the team in the first place a month ago was because he wasn't fully recovered from last year's knee injury. Shanahan said this week that Hightower had re-injured the knee during his rehab and was likely to have arthroscopic surgery to clean some things up. So, since they still don't know when Hightower will be fully recovered and healthy, they moved onto their next choice, which was Grant. They still intend to use Alfred Morris as the starter, but they like to have several running backs on hand, and with Helu and Evan Royster hurt, they needed to bring in someone.
Carlos from Austin, Texas wonders if the switch from Tony Fiammetta to Lawrence Vickers at fullback might be responsible for the struggles the Dallas Cowboys are having in the run game.
DG: I guess it's possible, Carlos, but that's what I see. I think the issue is the offensive line, which is playing even worse than it did last year and is getting pushed back into the backfield on almost every play. Not sure exactly how much the fullback can do when there's no push up front. Now, part of the problem is that the last two teams the Cowboys played -- Tampa Bay and Seattle -- have been the two toughest defenses against the run this season. That doesn't get a lot easier anytime soon, with the Bears this week and the Ravens following next week's bye. But eventually it will, and there remains the chance that the offensive line will improve as the season goes along (mainly because it can't get any worse). So I'd hold off before blaming the fullback switch.
Nate from Montreal wonders why the Eagles don't seem to call as many designed run plays for Vick as they used to and thinks doing so would help balance out the offense.
DG: They stopped calling so many designed runs for Vick because he refused to learn how to slide properly and they didn't want to expose him to any more contact than they absolutely had to. I think a big part of the reason McCoy rushed for 17 touchdowns last year was because they seemingly took out all of the plays from the year before on which Vick would run it in. And in general, the Eagles prefer to pass the ball rather than run it if they can. So, for all of those reasons, I doubt you'll see a return to the type of running Vick did in his huge 2010 season. They'd like him to read the field better and throw the ball to his receivers.
Thanks for the questions. Catch you all next week.
The Washington Redskins' signing of veteran running back Ryan Grant was, as it turns out, an injury-replacement move. Backup running back Roy Helu is going on season-ending injured reserve because of turf toe and Achilles problems, and fellow backup Evan Royster injured his knee in Sunday's game against the Bengals. So it's possible Grant, who has zone-blocking run game experience from his time in Green Bay, will be the primary backup to rookie starter Alfred Morris as early as this week. And yes, it's also possible he could take over as the starter at some point this season if Morris gets hurt or struggles. The Redskins are second in the league in rushing offense so far, but 39 percent of their rushing yards belong to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. It makes sense that they would seek to add a healthy player to their backfield to help take some of the load off Morris and Griffin in the run game.
Some other injury-related NFC East news from the early part of the day Wednesday:
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is practicing today after missing last week's game with a hip injury. It's the first Wednesday practice for Maclin since the season started, so there's reason to believe the Eagles when they say he's making progress and expected to play Sunday night against the New York Giants.
Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh says he's expecting to play Monday night against the Bears after missing last week's game with a calf injury. But nose tackle Jay Ratliff, center Phil Costa and punter Chris Jones all missed Wednesday's practice with injuries.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who missed last week's game with a neck injury, would start Sunday night's game in Philadelphia, but that backup Andre Brown has earned himself a larger role. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, linebacker Keith Rivers and cornerback Jayron Hosley missed Wednesday's practice, though missing Wednesday's practice is part of Nicks' pain-management plan for his foot, and he is expected to play Sunday.
Got nothing for you at this time on Redskins tackle Trent Williams or wide receiver Pierre Garcon, as the Redskins' injury news typically shows up later in the day on Wednesday. I promise, though, that I'll keep you posted. Redskins folks did seem optimistic after Sunday's game that they'd get injured safety Brandon Meriweather back for this week's game.
Rookie Alfred Morris has been the Redskins' starting running back for all three games so far this year, and he's got 263 yards on 61 carries. There's nothing to indicate the Redskins are unhappy with the job he's done, and no other Redskins running back has had more than two carries in any game since the start of the regular season. The most likely reason Grant is being signed is for depth, as backup running backs Roy Helu (turf toe) and Evan Royster (knee) both got injured in Sunday's loss to the Bengals.
Of course, Grant is a 29-year-old veteran who ran for more than 1,200 yards in each of the 2008 and 2009 seasons for Green Bay. And Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has a history of changing running backs during the season (though, granted, there's usually some sort of injury impetus for him to do so). So it's impossible to completely rule out the idea of Grant starting at running back for the Redskins at some point this season. As of now, they'll bring him in and get him up to speed in their offense, and we'll see what happens down the road.
I've written here several times that the Redskins' plan, if Tim Hightower can recover from last year's knee injury in time, is for Hightower to be the starter and those other two guys to find their way into the lineup as situations dictate. But that's a big "if," as Hightower's knee injury was significant, and there's no way to know if he'll be ready for a starter's workload in 2012. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan discussed this after the first training-camp practice Thursday, and here's some of what he said.
"Hightower looked good. As I told Tim, I said, 'I don’t want to overdo it. I'll get you through some individual work, a few team plays, then I'll try to get you ready for the regular season after the first preseason game.' I thought Tim did an excellent job today."
On if one of the running backs has emerged as a starter:
"I've been asked this question a lot of different times. I really don't know how to answer it because you don't know until guys get in game situations with running backs. Sometimes you get a running back that can carry the load by himself. Most of the time you kind of have two or three guys, but we'll just have to wait and see as the preseason goes on who wins the playing time."[+] EnlargeJames Lang/US PresswireTim Hightower is Washington's most complete back, but its unclear if his injured knee can handle a starter's workload.
On if he expects Tim Hightower to start if healthy:
"Well Tim was starting out with the first team before he got hurt. Last year he was a first-teamer, but obviously Roy did a good job, Royster did a good job. We've got a lot of guys that I believe have the ability to play and play well, so we'll just let it play out."
So what does this tell us? Not a lot, really. They're keeping an eye on Hightower's health and haven't ruled out adding someone. Helu hasn't been the picture of health himself, so if Hightower were to progress slowly or have a setback, I wouldn't be surprised if they added a veteran back like a Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant or Joseph Addai. But that's back-burner stuff right now, as the guys they have actually are practicing and they have reason to be encouraged.
Could Hightower make it all the way back and assume the starter's role he had last season? Possible. They do think he's their most complete back, and they haven't liked what they've seen out of Helu as a pass-blocker. So this is their ideal scenario, though it's a long shot after a torn ACL.
Could Helu or Royster win the job just by playing well enough in the preseason? Sure. Helu looks like the most talented back on the roster, and the popular perception outside the organization is that it's a matter of time before he's the starter. But the coaches aren't convinced, and they'll need to see improvement in key areas in which Helu struggled last season, not to mention health.
Could Shanahan just shuffle backs in and out willy-nilly all year so no one ever really knows who's the "starter?" Did Col. Nathan R. Jessup order the code red? There is plenty on Shanahan's resume to indicate that this is, indeed, the most likely scenario.
Upshot is, the Redskins think they have depth and variety at running back, and aren't worried about designating someone a "starter." And if you happen to be asking for fantasy purposes, my advice continues to be not to count on any of them. Or if you end up with one of them, trade him after his first big game. This is an unsettled situation and is likely to remain so throughout the 2012 season.
We are in the eighth week of NFL free agency, and the position to which it has been most unkind is running back. Due to the ever-increasing emphasis on passing offense and the punishing nature of the running back position, teams see less and less value in investing big money in the position. So as the calender flipped to May, a number of veteran running backs with pretty good résumés remained on the open market.
All four teams in our division could conceivably still be in the market for a veteran running back. The Washington Redskins continue to negotiate with Tim Hightower, who was last year's starter before he tore his ACL, and would like him to come back to front an otherwise young running back corps that leaned on 2011 draft picks Roy Helu and Evan Royster over the final weeks of the season. The New York Giants, having lost Brandon Jacobs to free agency, picked David Wilson in this year's first round, but given the youth of their backup plans behind starter Ahmad Bradshaw, it wouldn't be ridiculous for them to bring a veteran back into camp.
The Philadelphia Eagles whiffed on Ronnie Brown as LeSean McCoy's backup last year and have plenty of intriguing youngsters at the position now, but they don't know what to expect from Dion Lewis or Bryce Brown or Chris Polk. And even the Dallas Cowboys, with DeMarco Murray as the starter and veteran Felix Jones as the backup, could stand to add some depth.
So here's a look at the top 10 remaining free-agent running backs and what they might bring if one of our division's teams were to sign them.
Ryan Grant. Rushed for a total of 2,456 yards in 2008 and 2009 as the Packers' starting running back, but an injury in the 2010 season opener cost him that whole season. Showed flashes of his old form in 2011, averaging 4.2 yards on his 134 carries, and he's 29 years old. Might be looking to start somewhere. He was talking to the Lions this week.
Thomas Jones. The graybeard of this group, Jones will turn 34 in August, and his days as a full-time starter are behind him. Might still be able to help in the passing game, but as a runner he'd be well down the depth chart. Well-regarded veteran locker room presence who might help the development of the younger guys who are getting the carries in a place like Washington.
Joseph Addai. Another 29-year-old who's struggled with injuries and probably needs a part-time role to better his chances of staying healthy. Even in his prime as an Indianapolis Colt, Addai was never a 20-carry-per-game guy. His value there was mainly as a receiver and as a blocker in the passing game. But there are some teams in this division that might be looking for a part-time guy who's good at that stuff.
Cedric Benson. He topped 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons as the workhorse back in Cincinnati. Some say he chafed at the part-time role that developed for him as the 2011 season wore on, but at this point in the market he must see that a part-time role is his only option. Has had off-field issues that could scare teams away, but aside from that he might be a nice fit with Bradshaw in New York.
LaDainian Tomlinson. One of the best ever at the position and a possible Hall of Famer, Tomlinson could be looking at retirement as he comes up on his 33rd birthday next month. But if he wants to play and can approach the level he showcased in 2010 with the Jets, he's the kind of guy who'd get a young running back's attention.
Cadillac Williams. Another 30-year-old for whom injuries have been the dominant story in recent years. He can be a more than productive backup with starter potential if he can stay on the field, but he generally can't.
Ronnie Brown. Only twice in the past five years has the 30-year-old Brown had 200 carries in a season. He was never able to assert himself as the starter in Miami, and as the Eagles' backup last year he was pretty much a complete disaster. It's going to be tough for Brown to sell himself as a reliable backup with what he showed in 2011.
Justin Forsett. He's small and quick and doesn't have a lot of miles on him. He won't turn 27 until October. The question is how much you can get out of him, and in what role. He's not a power runner, but he's good at finding holes. He accelerates well but doesn't have great top-end speed. He catches the ball well but isn't much help as a blocker in the passing game. Someone will sign him, and if they find the right role he could be a good change-up back for someone. It just feels as though each NFC East team already has someone like him.
Maurice Morris. Morris is 32 but has never been a regular feature back. He's been under 100 carries in each of the past three years, and of all of the backs on this list he has the most experience in the kind of part-time role we're talking about. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and doesn't mind playing special teams. He will find a home.
Orangeskins from oompa loompa land saw Adam Schefter's report late Friday that running back Tim Hightower was visiting the Patriots and asks whether the Washington Redskins have given up on trying to re-sign him.
Dan Graziano: No, they have not. The Redskins still like Hightower an awful lot, and if he's fully recovered from his ACL tear they would love to have him back as their starting running back in 2012. Yes, ahead of youngsters Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Mike Shanahan loves Hightower, whom he views as an every-down runner, a good receiving back and a help in pass protection as well. He's not sold on either of last year's rookies as the total package yet, and so the Redskins' ideal plans for 2012 include a healthy Hightower at the front of their running back corps. Now, the question is how much they want to offer him before they're sure he's healthy again, and if he's getting interest from other teams, his price could stray beyond what they're willing to risk. Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai were also reportedly in New England for visits this week, so it remains to be seen what the chances are of Hightower signing there. If he does, the Redskins will look for a veteran back or two to add to the Helu/Royster mix.
Joseph Kony from Antarctica asks whether I share his belief that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's production will drop now that his big brother is back in the league this year. Joseph believes that "without the pressure of having to compete with his brother, Eli was able to have his best statistical year and win the SB... again."
DG: I think that's a reach, Joseph. Eli Manning's career arc is one of steady improvement year over year, with the one exception being the interception total from 2010. He's an excellent player in his own right, obviously mentally tough enough that no one should still be questioning the way in which he handles the fact that his big brother operates in the same profession. I would have thought the second Super Bowl ring would have eliminated questions about Eli and Peyton's shadow. But your question reinforces my sad theory that people are always going to believe what they want to believe, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Robert Shipman of Mobile, Ala., a Crimson Tide fan, likes the idea of safety Mark Barron going to the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 14 pick but wonders if the Cowboys might consider outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw instead as a pass-rushing complement to DeMarcus Ware.
DG: From everything I've been told about Dallas' mindset, they have evaluated Upshaw and Melvin Ingram and the other pass-rushers at the top of the draft and decided that they're all pretty much similar players to Anthony Spencer. And since they have Spencer on the franchise tag already, they believe the best way to maximize the value of that pick is to look at other positions. If they drafted Upshaw, it would be because they'd decided to rescind the franchise player designation and let Spencer leave as a free agent, and that doesn't seem a likely course of action. I think if both players were there at 14, they'd take Barron. The question at this point seems to be whether Barron will last that long.
Zach Iseminger of Southland, Texas recalls that last year, the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time gave responsibility for calling the offensive line protections at the line of scrimmage to quarterback Michael Vick. "Obviously there were other factors like a new O Line coach and a new blocking scheme and two rookies starting on the line, but just curious if a full off season with OTAs will help this year."
DG: It certainly could. I remember writing about this change last year at the Eagles' opener in St. Louis. Howard Mudd likes giving the quarterback the ability to call changes in protection based on what he sees at the line, and that game was the first time Vick had that responsibility. The pass protection did improve as the year went along, as everybody on the line got used to each other and to Mudd. It's still tough to block for Vick, who likes to try to keep plays alive as long as any quarterback in the league does. And the loss of left tackle Jason Peters is going to have a negative effect. But to answer your basic question, yes. As I tell my kids, the best way to get better at anything is to practice, and more practice identifying defensive schemes and calling those protections at the line can only help Vick.
Keep the questions coming, folks. Next Saturday, we'll be writing about the fourth through seventh rounds of the draft instead, but maybe we'll do this on Sunday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We can finally put to bed one of the flimsiest pregame storylines in recent memory. People who I know in the business, some with solid credentials, honestly thought the Cowboys would lose to the Packers because they'd never won at historic Lambeau Field.
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Cowboys receiver Miles Austin's 50-yard touchdown catch pretty much iced the game for Dallas.|
Never mind the fact that the last championship-caliber team to roll through here played the Packers in the 1967 Ice Bowl. By my count, Sunday's wind chill was approximately 91 degrees higher than that fateful December day, and only a handful of players in the Cowboys' locker room could tell you the score of that game.
On Sunday night, the Cowboys put a halt to the Aaron Rodgers coronation, and pounded the Packers, 27-16. I guess you could say that Green Bay was in the game for a half, but you never really got that sense as drive after drive ended with field goals instead of touchdowns.
As I waited in a narrow hall just outside the visiting locker room, Cowboys defenders attempted to be diplomatic about Rodgers' third start. But linebacker Kevin Burnett finally summed it up neatly."He's not going to stay back there long," Burnett said. "It's 1-2-3, first read, second, start running. We did a pretty good job on him."
Rodgers was 22 of 39 for 290 yards, but a lot of those yards came after the game was decided. Once the Packers fell behind 20-9 in the third quarter, they abandoned the run and became one-dimensional.
On this night, the Packers looked nothing like the team that played in the NFC title game. Or perhaps the Cowboys are actually this good. They can win a road game against an alleged NFC contender when their star quarterback isn't close to sharp in the first half.
You get the get the feeling the Cowboys desperately want to fast forward to December, which has also served as their football purgatory. And that's exactly what Burnett talked about after the game.
"All this is well and good, but we wish we could throw all this aside and just go to the playoffs," he said. "All of this means nothing if we don't win a Super Bowl. I think we're becoming greedy players."
You might think ending a losing streak at Lambeau and beating last year's NFC runner-up might be cause for celebration. But that wasn't case at all. Now, allow me to make several somewhat bold opinions based on Sunday's game:
1. I don't think anyone in the organization is second-guessing the pick of Felix Jones over Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. He's the first player in Cowboys history to score a touchdown in each his first three games. He's the perfect complement to the battering ram known as Marion Barber.
With the Cowboys trailing, 6-3, midway through the second quarter, Jones came in to spell Barber. He took a handoff, bounced it outside to the left and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. Tight end Jason Witten did a superb job of sealing off defensive end Cullen Jenkins on the play. Jones has already given the Cowboys something they didn't have in Julius Jones, who faded after a breakout rookie season. Barber can break a defense's will with his punishing style and then Jones brings a completely different style.
Jones and Barber combined for 218 yards rushing behind one of the most dominating offensive lines in the league. Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis may have said it best.
"I never pay attention to who's in there," he said. "But every time the rookie comes in, I know we're jogging way down the field to greet him."
2. The legend of Miles Austin continues to grow. On a night when Terrell Owens had two catches for 17 yards, Austin finished with two catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He was on his way to becoming the team's third receiver before a knee injury knocked him out during the preseason. Instead of pouting, he launched himself into rehab and was able to return for Monday's win against the Eagles.
On his second huge catch of the evening, he looked more like a 10-year vet than the fourth-year player that he is. When Romo heaved a throw down the sideline, Austin said he "stacked" the defenders.
What that means is that he made sure the players were on his hip (like boxing out in basketball) and then at the last second, he exploded up the field to gain separation and catch the ball. The former Monmouth (N.J.) University player told me the last bombs he caught were against Sacred Heart and LaSalle.
When he showed up at Valley Ranch four years ago, he said he had no clue if he belonged. But in time, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Anthony Henry told him he belonged. He said the positive feedback did wonders for him, and he finally started to believe that a career in the league was a possibility.
Austin said he'd thought about dunking the ball if he ever arrived in the end zone, but he opted for "running around like a chicken with my head cut off."
3. On a night when he had to be frustrated by his lack of production, T.O. actually made two big plays. When Romo threw an ill-advised interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, it was T.O. who raced down safety Nick Collins from behind after a 61-yard return. The Packers only managed a field goal on the drive.
And on Jones' 60-yard touchdown, it was T.O. who caught and passed him before escorting him the last several yards.
4. It was interesting to watch Packers Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver chase down Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones all the way across the field after the game to give him a hug. He whispered several words in Jones' ear and then jogged off to the Packers' locker room. Jones had another interesting night. He caused a Ryan Grant fumble early in the first quarter and then recovered it before racing 21 yards to the Green Bay 14-yard line. The play set up the Cowboys' first score.
In the third quarter, Jones gave up a 50-yard pass to Driver. The Cowboys appeared to be in zone coverage, but Jones didn't really pass Driver off to safety Ken Hamlin. He obviously has a ton of ability, but he's been beaten on deep balls in consecutive games.