NFC East: Willie Parker

Washington Redskins cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a complete list of the Washington Redskins' roster moves.

Surprise move: No huge surprises for coach Mike Shanahan, but he managed to let the suspense build by waiting until 9:08 pm ET to release his roster moves. I was mildly surprised to see running back Ryan Torain end up on the list. He played well for Shanahan in Denver, so it seemed like he would make the roster.

The biggest name on the list was obviously Willie Parker. He was buried on the depth chart throughout camp and never really had a shot at making the team. The Skins will go with aging backs Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Washington tried to move former third-round pick Chad Rinehart but couldn't find any takers. It's almost like Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen are trying expel all of Vinny Cerrato's draft picks.

No-brainers: Pretty much all of their moves fit in this category. Terrence Austin had his moments at wide receiver but maybe he can find a spot on the practice squad. I thought Robert Henson out of TCU was going to be a decent player, but he never really recovered from an embarrassing tweeting incident last season.

What's next: The Redskins will scour the waiver wire for defensive backs. They traded cornerback Justin Tryon and former Mr. Irrelevant Ramzee Robinson was released. Bruce Allen and Shanahan need to be looking at T.J. Houshmandzadeh. As of now, the Redskins may have the worst receiving corps in the league.

Any receiver who was waived today could appear as a starter in this offense. Roydell Williams remains one of the stalwarts of this bunch. And Devin Thomas will get one more season to try to meet expectations.

Willie Parker doesn't make the cut

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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The Washington Redskins have informed running back Willie Parker that he's going to be released Saturday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

It would have been much more surprising had the Redskins decided to keep Parker, who didn't receive a lot of reps in training camp nor the preseason. It looks like Mike Shanahan will rely on Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Ryan Torain at running back.

I believe that Torain will eventually overtake Johnson as Portis' primary backup. He's a better fit for Shanahan's one-cut approach.

Schefter also reports that Parker's in the process of hiring a new agent.

Will Shanahan improve run game?

August, 13, 2010
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Can Mike Shanahan make something of the Redskins’ running game?

Shanahan consistently makes chicken soup out of lackluster ingredients. Historically, he has not dedicated many resources to his running backs and has cultivated great offensive line play from late-round draft picks who did not meet the size and bulk criteria that most teams desire. Instead, Shanahan covets smart, mobile linemen who will cut out a defensive lineman’s knees without a second thought.

The Redskins’ offensive line was a massive liability in 2009 but Washington -- which opens its preseason Friday night at home gainst Buffalo -- has aggressively revamped the front five. First-round pick Trent Williams is an extremely talented rookie but first-year offensive tackles often struggle. His skill set fits what Shanahan wants from his blockers, even though he doesn’t have a ton of experience at left tackle. I would still consider Williams an upgrade for 2010 and certainly a fine long-term prospect. On the right side, Washington added Jammal Brown via trade. His reputation might exceed his production and he is switching tackle spots from his time with the Saints. But as with Williams, Brown can’t be looked at as anything but an upgrade. Former Viking Artis Hicks, who is expected to start at right guard, is also a move in the right direction. While Washington might not have an elite offensive line, it should be good enough -- especially considering the coaching.

Donovan McNabb can move an offense and provides an upgrade over what Washington had. But without breaking down every wideout, I will generalize that position by saying that I am less than impressed. Tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis appear formidable as receivers but not as run blockers. The Redskins wisely will employ a ton of double-tight end sets. Overall, I don’t think most defenses are going to fear this passing game enough to create a lot of space for this stable of old runners.

Willie Parker looks finished. He no longer has the speed that made him famous and never was much help in short yardage or in the passing game. Larry Johnson and Clinton Portis are once-great running backs who are held together with duct tape and have very few explosive traits left. Neither break tackles nor inflict punishment like he once did. Johnson has never offered much as a receiver and Portis’ receiving skills have quickly faded. Either might perform well for a game or two, but I don’t trust them to hold up over a long stretch. Johnson could only muster a 3.3 yards per carry average behind an excellent run-blocking line in Cincinnati last year. Still, he looked to have more left in the tank than Portis. While Portis is only 29 years old, he entered the league at a young age and doesn’t have the big body to withstand the type of punishment he has endured. Concussions, ankle problems and other ailments have plagued Portis in recent years.

Ryan Torain or Keiland Williams could take Parker’s job. Torain runs hard, but he takes a ton of big hits and can’t stay healthy. But Williams has an intriguing size-speed ratio and could be an unheralded player who Shanahan quietly develops. Keep an eye on Williams this preseason.

No team in the league got fewer rushing yards from their running backs in 2009. That will improve, and I expect Shanahan will manufacture a decent run game. Just don’t expect massive improvement.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Camp Confidential: Washington Redskins

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 20

ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.

Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.

“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”

It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).

Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.

With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Donovan McNabb is working on building a rapport with his new group of receivers.
1. Can Donovan McNabb elevate this pedestrian group of receivers to new heights? There’s a reason that Santana Moss seems to have a perpetual smile on his face these days. He didn’t even have time to complete routes last season because of the Redskins’ woeful offensive line. Now, coaches are showing him film of the Texans’ Andre Johnson and saying he could do similar things. McNabb invited Moss and the rest of the receivers to work out with him in Phoenix early last month, and you can already see the benefits on the playing field.

“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”

But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.

2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.

Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIRookie tackle Trent Williams has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
3. Have the Redskins solved their issues on the offensive line? I think a lot of this season hinges on whether three new additions to the line play well. Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl player for the Saints at one point, but he hasn't played since '08. He'll have to knock off some rust while learning how to play right tackle. Rookie Trent Williams has a ton of ability, but he's working with a much thicker playbook now. There were questions about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. So far, he's said and done all the right things in Washington.

And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIAfter recording 581 yards last season, Larry Johnson is turning in a solid camp in Washington.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
  • Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
  • If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.

Willie Parker is fourth-string RB?

August, 9, 2010
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The Washington Redskins have posted a depth chart on their website, and veteran running back Willie Parker's not in the top three. Ryan Torain is currently listed as the third-team running back behind Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker has not been receiving a lot of reps, and his placement on the depth chart is not a good sign for the former Steelers star.

It's also worth noting that Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are listed as third-team players. Santana Moss and 38-year-old Joey Galloway are the starters at this point. I thought that Donovan McNabb might whip Thomas and Kelly into shape with his "Hell Week" outing in Phoenix, but neither player has apparently impressed Mike Shanahan and son Kyle. Kelly can't stay on the field because of injuries and Thomas is still too inconsistent.

At this pace, the Redskins could feature the NFL's all-time highest average age at the skill positions. Shanahan values experience, but having Galloway in the starting lineup is a little ridiculous. Someone needs to light a fire under Thomas and Kelly, and that may need to be McNabb.

I recently sat down with McNabb for a 20-minute conversation. You can read more about that in Tuesday's Redskins Camp Confidential.

The Observation Deck: Redskins style

August, 6, 2010
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ASHBURN, Va. -- If Albert Haynesworth ever qualifies to participate in one of Mike Shanahan's practices, I actually think he'd enjoy himself. Shanahan asks his players to pour everything they have into morning sessions before hosting jog-throughs in the afternoons. And judging from his red-faced appearance at today's news conference, the head coach is about ready for this episode to end.

The MRI on Albert Haynesworth's knee came back negative, and the Washington Post's Jason Reid reported Friday morning that the defensive lineman's tearing it up on the treadmill. So why can this man not make it through two 300-yard shuttle runs that were easily handled by ESPN's Mike Golic? Your guess is as good as mine. One reporter excitedly noted that Haynesworth had appeared to increase his work in individual drills Friday.

"He's been doing the same thing," snapped Shanahan. "He's been getting a few reps and individual work -- the same thing he's been doing."

When I sit down with Shanahan this evening, I'm not going to lead with Haynesworth. I'm going to ask the coach to compare this Redskins team to some of his Broncos teams. And I'm curious to pick his brain about why he thought Donovan McNabb was the perfect fit for the Redskins. The guy's not known for his accuracy, and that's something Shanahan values. Now let's take a look at what caught my eye in practice Friday morning:
  • I talked to one longtime Redskins reporter who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's feeling really good early in camp. He's finishing off every run and he's actually shown a burst at times. He also appears to be really comfortable with his new surroundings. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Willie Parker making this roster. He's not getting many reps and it just doesn't look like Shanahan's giving him much of a chance. Ryan Torrain is receiving more carries than Parker from what I can tell.
  • Mike Shanahan doesn't miss a beat during practice. During drills, he'll stand away from everyone and just study different things. He also takes mental notes of which players don't hustle between drills and calls out their names at the end of practice. Those players are forced to run extra sprints. As one local beat reporter put it, "The adults are in charge again." I liked Jim Zorn, but he probably gave his players too much latitude.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions. No matter who wins the starting role, the other guy will receive plenty of playing time. By the way, Carter told me after practice that he thinks David Diehl's the best left tackle he's faced in the Beast.
  • Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll send him on a lot more blitzes.
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. If Haynesworth passes the conditioning test in the next month or so, he'll likely see a lot of time at right defensive end.
  • Torrain could end up serving as the third-down back, but he can't drop a perfect swing pass as he did Friday.
  • When former Cowboys receiver Joey Galloway broke free on a deep ball, Haslett just about lost it. "How many [expletive] times do we have to do this?" he shoutd in the general direction of safety LaRon Landry. By the way, Landry has a very difficult time not destroying receivers across the middle -- even when players are in shorts. In Friday's morning session, Landry pulled up at the last possible moment when Chris Cooley caught a McNabb pass across the middle. It looks like one of Cooley's brothers (Taylor?) was conducting some interviews for the tight end's blog after practice. They were focusing on Santana Moss.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams. At this moment, Moss and Galloway are your starting wide receivers. I think it's the weakest part of this team, but Moss tried to convince me otherwise during a 20-minute visit following practice.
  • If you need a Rudy type player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red-zone target. But he's quick and appears to have good hands. I'm interested to see if he can make some plays in the preseason. I'd love to see the little fella get some reps returning punts. He's not very sturdy, though. He caught a short pass Friday and then a shove from cornerback Kevin Barnes almost sent him into a crowd of corporate folks. I think a stiff wind might have the same effect on young Banks.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Perhaps Henson realizes that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin will do something similar to his Frogs in Week 3. Beck botched a handoff to Portis in Friday's practice. He didn't last with the Dolphins because of a side-arm motion that led to a lot of balls being deflected. If Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee can't fix a problem, then I'm skeptical of the quarterback having much of a future in the league. Lee has worked with Tony Romo, Chad Henne and Tim Tebow (Senior Bowl).
  • Haslett is trying to change the mentality of this defense. You'll hear the word "strip" over and over again in practice. Haslett wants one defender to strip the ball and another to come over the top and go for the scoop. There's an emphasis on takeaways in almost every drill.
  • Shanahan thinks that Jammal Brown and Malcolm Kelly will return to practice Monday, but he's not certain about that. I get the feeling that the Redskins are starting to lose patience with Kelly, who is nursing a tight hamstring. Late in Friday's practice, the receiver would've broken away from the peloton had he not been on a stationary bike. It's not like the guy has a bad attitude or anything. McNabb and Moss have both taken a special interest in the former Oklahoma star, but he has a hard time staying on the field.
  • Grapevine, Texas, native Richard Bartel continues to throw the ball well in practice. Everyone's focused on Beck since he arrived, but Bartel's the backup who seems to take advantage of every rep.
  • Brian Orakpo said he had some lofty personal goals for this season, but he's not willing to go on the record at this point. He spent much of our conversation talking about the Big 12 finding a way to stay together. With Nebraska defecting to the Big 10, Orakpo says this year's game between his Texas Longhorns and Adam Carriker's Cornhuskers will carry added significance. "I'm still trying to recover from when they almost beat us," said Orakpo, referring to the Big 12 title game.
  • Safety Kareem Moore is having an excellent training camp and it will be tough to keep him off the field. The Redskins have actually developed some nice depth at safety. But on that topic, I'm not sure what's happened to Chris Horton. Two years ago, he took the league by storm when injuries forced him onto the field. Now, he's barely getting any reps in practice.
  • I thought left tackle Trent Williams looked pretty quick in team drills. He tweaked his hip a little bit in practice, but Shanahan thinks he'll be fine.

Beastlines: Portis motivated to play

July, 16, 2010
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Dallas Cowboys

Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com takes a quick look at Illinois defensive lineman Joshua Price-Brent, whom the Cowboys selected in the seventh round of the supplemental draft.

Terrell Owens has a grudge against Chiefs head coach (and former Cowboys receivers coach) Todd Haley.

The Cowboys' team site analyzes the middle of the offensive line.

Continuing his "Proving Ground" series, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon looks at offensive lineman Travis Bright.

NFL.com recently released a list of the top 10 Cowboys of all time and the No. 1 Cowboy is ...

New York Giants

Michael Strahan thinks defensive end Justin Tuck will step up and be a leader on defense.

The Giants waived return man Domenik Hixon and signed sixth-round draft pick Adam Jennings.

Newsday has five training camp questions for the Giants.

Philadelphia Eagles

The team does not plan to cut backup quarterback Michael Vick. Meanwhile, the trustee that handled Vick's bankruptcy case is seeking repayment of at least $2 million that the quarterback gave to friends and family before he went to prison.

The Philadelphia Inquirer previews the Eagles' running game.

Washington Redskins

Clinton Portis will report to camp in shape and motivated to hold off Larry Johnson and Willie Parker for the starting job.

Coach Mike Shanahan reaffirms that the team has no intention to pursue Terrell Owens.

On the radar: Beast RB rotations

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The NFC East teams have an embarrassment of riches at certain positions. The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants are remarkably deep at wide receiver and some of the league's elite pass-rushers reside here. But running back is sort of a mixed bag, so let's compare the different rotations in the Beast in this week's edition of "On the radar," which is now syndicated in more than 37 countries and East Texas.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Geoff Burke/US PresswireThe Giants are hoping Brandon Jacobs can return to his form from 2008.
In Washington, Mike Shanahan must be hoping for a magic time machine, preferably one that returns his backs to the '06 season. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were at the top of their games four seasons ago, but they've been in steady decline since. Actually, Portis had an excellent first half of the season in '08 before trailing off because of injuries. I think the Redskins have the weakest group of the four teams. There's not a home-run threat in that bunch, which makes life easier on opponents.

I think the Cowboys will have the best unit if Marion Barber and his leaner frame can stave off injuries. He's looked a lot quicker in practice sessions this offseason and there's a chance he regains his '07 form, which led to a lucrative contract extension. Felix Jones is the biggest home-run threat in the division because of his speed and quickness. Offensive linemen don't have to hold their blocks as long when Jones is in the backfield. And with Tashard Choice as the third back, the Cowboys could have something similar to what the Giants featured during their Super Bowl season ('07).

I have the Giants and Eagles neck and neck at running back. Ahmad Bradshaw's going to be the X factor because he has the potential to be a dominant back. But there are questions about his durability after watching him hobble around in protective boots last season. If Bradshaw's truly 100 percent, he's capable of being the best running back in the division. Seriously. I think some of us have forgotten those carries during the Giants' playoff run.

Brandon Jacobs will have a hard time holding on to his starting spot, but he's a proud enough player that he might find a way. He was too tentative last season. He gave the Giants their offensive identity in '07 and '08. Like Barber, he needs to somehow regain that form. I think Gartrell Johnson has a good shot to be the third running back. It just seems like Andre Brown has fallen too far behind in his developmental process following a ruptured Achilles tendon in last year's training camp. You don't hear about a lot of backs making full recoveries from that particular injury.

With the Eagles, I'm anxious to see how LeSean McCoy handles the feature role. He's obviously started games in the league, but he had Brian Westbrook around to point him in the right direction. McCoy needs to become more consistent catching the ball. If he's able to do that, he has the potential to be a Westbrook-type player. I watched Mike Bell a couple of weeks ago and he's a little quicker than I remembered. I think he could be one of the most underrated pickups of the offseason. And we all know what Leonard Weaver can do from the fullback spot.

With a new quarterback in place, the running game will be more important than ever for the Eagles. Now we'll see if Andy Reid changes his approach. I have my doubts.

On the radar: Skins' RB rotation

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm anxious to see how Mike Shanahan divides carries among his stable of former star running backs. Shanahan surrounds himself with running backs the way Jon Gruden used to do with quarterbacks. He believes there's strength in numbers and he's left no stone unturned when it comes to backs whose careers peaked in 2006.

Clinton Portis
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Redskins have some veteran options backing up Clinton Portis.
As we discussed on the blog this morning, the Redskins have now made an offer to former Eagles star Brian Westbrook. Shanahan has even lobbied Westbrook's younger brother, Byron, who plays cornerback for the Skins. In my mind, Westbrook would have a highly specialized role in the Redskins' offense. Coming off a year in which he had two concussions in a short period of time, there's no way Westbrook can have more than seven or eight carries per game. He'd be used as a third-down back and the Redskins would try to get him matched up one-on-one with linebackers.

If Westbrook signs with the Redskins, either Larry Johnson or Willie Parker would be the odd man out. It would be silly to keep all four players active. It's not like any of them can help you on special teams. Are you going to ask Parker to run down on kickoffs? From the folks I've talked to at Redskins Park, Parker probably would be the first player to go. He has not looked all that explosive in practice sessions, but obviously we have a long way to go.

Given Shanahan's success in Denver, we've come to believe that any back can have success in his zone-blocking scheme. But that wasn't the case his last couple of seasons with the Broncos. Denver had a ton of injuries and the Mike Andersons and Olandis Garys of the world stopped showing up out of nowhere. Just because the Redskins' running backs have recognizable names doesn't mean they'll automatically put up big numbers in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Johnson's at his best when running downhill. But Washington's offense will require him to be patient and wait for cutback lanes to develop. He's never seemed like a good fit in this offense to me -- even if he still had his '06 legs.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb is convinced that finally having a consistent running game will allow him to have more success. But I don't see anyone in this backfield who would scare an opponent. Is anyone worried that Clinton Portis or Johnson will take it to the house from midfield?

I'm curious to hear what Redskins fans think of this rotation. You guys think there's room for Westbrook?

Shanahan's recruiting Westbrook

June, 3, 2010
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It's no secret that Mike Shanahan likes to surround himself with veterans, but he's taken it to another level at running back. Once he assembled the aging all-star rotation of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker this offseason, most of us thought he'd let it ride. But on Wednesday, Shanahan made it known that former Eagles star Brian Westbrook is still on his wish list:
Westbrook
"We want him to sign with us," said Shanahan. "Like I said, it could be some great competition. I really like Brian, what he's done and how he's handled himself. I'm sure he's weighing some options. It's not too far away from home. Any more I can do?"

For the record, quarterback Donovan McNabb was quick to remind us that he doesn't make personnel decisions. But you know that McNabb has endorsed his longtime pal and teammate in Westbrook. I'm sure at this point that Westbrook's looking at the Redskins' roster and wondering where he'd fit in.

It's highly unlikely the Redskins would keep all four veteran running backs heading into the season. Even without Westbrook in the fold, it seems like overkill. I'm thinking Willie Parker would be the first man overboard. Johnson could be your short-yardage back and Westbrook helps you in the passing game on third down. Portis should remain the starter.

So where do you guys think this is headed? Will Shanahan get his man?

Washington Redskins' weakness: O-line

May, 20, 2010
5/20/10
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NFC East Weaknesses: Cowboys (5/17) | Giants (5/18) | Eagles (5/19) | Redskins (5/20)

Many seem to think that Washington, a 4-12 team in 2009 that failed to win a game in the NFC East, is vastly improved and no longer is overwhelmed with weak spots on its roster. I tend to disagree. They still look like the NFC East’s bottom feeders to me.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireThe Redskins used the No. 4 overall pick on Trent Williams, but the offensive tackle doesn't have much experience on the left side.
I am not fond of the Redskins’ wide receivers, but do recognize that there is upside with younger wideouts such as Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. Depth here is a worry as there isn’t anyone resembling a No. 1 receiver in the group.

The situation at running back is worse. Mike Shanahan has a great reputation of getting excellent production from ordinary running backs in his scheme, but I contend that Clinton Portis, Willie Parker and Larry Johnson are all over the hill and used up.

While these two positions are problematic, they might be even more glaring if the line is not vastly improved. Once again, I have my doubts. Using the fourth pick in the draft on a very talented left tackle, Trent Williams from Oklahoma, certainly made a lot of sense. But the rookie is far from a sure thing and, despite his immense talents, doesn’t have a lot of college experience on the left side. And there is no getting around that he is a rookie. This is just a hunch, but I am betting that DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole and the Giants’ slew of defensive ends are not losing sleep knowing that they have to face Williams twice during the 2010 season.

Last year, the Redskins' pass blocking was poor while the run blocking was atrocious. At left guard and center respectively, it looks pretty certain that Derrick Dockery and Casey Rabach will return as starters. Dockery is a good pass-blocker and the left side of the line certainly does have potential, but Dockery needs work in the running game. Plus, he isn’t exactly the small, quick lineman that we have become so accustomed to seeing in Shanahan’s scheme. Rabach is about as ordinary as they come at the pivot, but isn’t a young player, so a decline might be imminent.

At the two spots on the right side, there will be competition for the starting roles and a combination of Stephon Heyer, Mike Williams, Artis Hicks and Chad Rinehart will get the nod. Heyer was among the worst starting offensive linemen in the league last season. Williams isn’t much better and doesn’t move well enough to recover in protection. Rinehart remains somewhat of an unknown and might be primed to come into his own, but banking on that doesn’t seem prudent considering what he has shown to this point. Hicks is versatile and was a solid signing considering the situation up front for Washington, but he has proved to be more of an ideal sixth lineman as opposed to starting material.

By the way, Donovan McNabb isn’t the most durable quarterback around and as noted above, there are some serious pass-rushers in the NFC East. If the Redskins don't get the line tightened up, McNabb could be in for a long season.

Mort: Westbrook to visit Redskins

May, 11, 2010
5/11/10
1:39
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Just when you thought Mike Shanahan had cornered the market on the best running backs from the 2006 season, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that former Eagles great Brian Westbrook will visit Redskins Park on Wednesday. Apparently the Skins' new quarterback/scout, Donovan McNabb, has been campaigning on behalf of his old buddy.

Westbrook
As some of you have probably heard, the Redskins already have running backs Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker on the roster. It's difficult to imagine a four-man rotation, although it certainly would be something to behold. Perhaps this is simply a courtesy call to appease McNabb, who reportedly lobbied for the Skins to sign Terrell Owens earlier this offseason.

If that's the case, it's a pretty revealing statement about how much power McNabb is wielding at Redskins Park. There's also the chance that Shanahan didn't like what he saw from one of his former Pro Bowlers during two recent minicamps and decided he needed backup.

I recall AFC West blogger Bill Williamson telling me how much Shanahan loved veteran players. And now we're seeing that come to fruition in Washington. The Redskins and Eagles have already spiced up their rivalry with the McNabb trade. Signing Westbrook would be icing on the cake.

We'll keep you updated throughout the afternoon. I'm told that Wilbert Montgomery has been spotted in the Ashburn, Va., area this afternoon, but those reports are unconfirmed at this time.

Saturday Beastlines: Special Skins edition

May, 8, 2010
5/08/10
10:36
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The Washington Redskins are hosting a minicamp this weekend and coach Mike Shanahan was kind enough to invite reporters to practice Saturday. Here are some of the most compelling storylines:

"He's a quality guy," Shanahan said of McIntosh. "I've talked to Rocky on a number of occasions. I'm glad he decided to come to our minicamp. I expect him here all through our OTAs and getting ready for the season."

"It's early; not enough time to give you a great evaluation," said Shanahan. "But you don't have to look long to realize how talented of a player we have. He's extremely talented. We're just throwing him in the fire right now, throwing a lot at him, seeing what sticks. We're throwing a lot at him, so he's gradually slowing down because he's thinking and not reacting. ... We know he'll get worse before he gets better. It's a work in progress."

  • Jason Reid of the Post has been talking to folks close to Albert Haynesworth about the defensive tackle's approach to the offseason. Doesn't sound like much has changed.
  • In case you missed it, here's the column I wrote Thursday about London Fletcher attempting to play in a 3-4 scheme.

What's in Mosley's Mailbag?

April, 16, 2010
4/16/10
3:00
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Thanks for your prolific letter-writing campaign over the past few weeks. I've read your thoughtful e-mails/threats and I'm prepared to respond in a meaningful way. Let's start on this important journey together:

One of our Canadian readers, Anton, has a question regarding the Cowboys' defensive line: Hey Matt, I just had a thought about the Cowboys: Since they have at least four quality defensive ends (Olshansky, Spears, Hatcher and Bowen) but have little depth behind Jay Ratliff at nose tackle, why don't they move one of those players to defensive tackle?

Mosley: Anton, it takes a unique player to fill the nose tackle spot in the Wade Phillips 3-4. Jay Ratliff has such a high motor that he rarely comes off the field. In some of the sub-packages, Bowen and Hatcher can move inside. But I agree that the Cowboys could use more depth at the position. Be interesting to see what happens if Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick makes it to No. 27 in the first round. Pretty versatile player and the Cowboys certainly like him.


Hunter in Anchorage has a Skins trade proposal: I'm surprised that the Redskins haven't talked to the Bills about a trade scenario that includes Jason Campbell for Marshawn Lynch. Wouldn't he be a lot better option for RB than the Skins most recent pickups of Larry Johnson and Willie Parker?

Mosley: Lynch is younger and more talented than Johnson and Parker, but he also carries some baggage. I think Mike Shanahan really has to watch who he brings into this locker room. I still wonder if bringing the petulant Johnson into the fold was the right move. If a trade's completed with the Bills for Campbell, I think it will involve a draft pick. Watch what happens at No. 9 for the Bills. If they take Jimmy Clausen, we'll have our answer. That would eliminate a potential landing spot for Campbell. I still think the Panthers would be wise to trade for Campbell, but apparently they're going to ride this out with Matt Moore.


Constantine from London wonders if the Giants might be interested in Albert Haynesworth: Big BIG fan of the blog, read it EVERYDAY! Huge Giants fan from the UK and would like your opinion on something. Reportedly the Redskins want a second-round pick for Haynesworth now that they've paid his bonus. With the Giants being interested in him during free agency last year, would they spend a second on him? I think they should. We'll cover our most pressing need (MLB) in the first round, and since getting Rolle and Grant in free agency, we need a big defensive tackle -- especially as Jay Alford is coming off a torn ACL. Your thoughts?

Mosley: First of all, love your use of the CAPS button. Second, I'm afraid the Donovan McNabb trade has skewed the way we look at everything in the Beast. Now it seems possible that a team might trade a former All-Pro defensive tackle to a division rival for a second-round pick. And by the way, I have not seen a report with anything as specific as what you're suggesting. I've written that I think the Redskins might settle for a second-rounder for Haynesworth, but that's more of a gut feeling. And despite Mike Shanahan's apparent disgust with Haynesworth, I don't think he wants him playing for the Giants. I think he would immediately make the Giants better on the defensive line. If you're Giants general manager Jerry Reese, you make that deal in a heartbeat.


Robert in Austin has the final word on our "owners gone wild" segment: Really, the owner of an NFL team seen mocking a former NFL head coaching legend? As a child, the Cowboys were seen as one of the classiest organizations in the NFL. Great ownership (Clint Murchison), management (Tex Schramm) and coaching (Tom Landry). Oh no more, as Jerry Jones in his short stint as owner has made the Cowboys a laughingstock from an ownership and management standpoint. The tone at the top for the Cowboys is horrible. An owner who drove out one coach because he could find "500 coaches to coach this team to a Super Bowl," and now mocking one of the great NFL coaches in the league who resurrected the football team? This incident makes me envious of the Steelers, a truly class organization.

Mosley: Hmm... It's an interesting time for a Cowboys fan to be envious of the Steelers. I didn't get the feeling that Art Rooney II felt particularly proud while delivering that public rebuke of Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday. And by the way, Jones has owned the Cowboys for 22 years now. That's not exactly a "short stint." I've been highly critical of him over the years, but I don't see this whole video incident as that big a deal. Jones likes Bill Parcells and I didn't hear anything in that video to make me think otherwise. He's made some awful moves over the past two decades (Roy Williams, Joey Galloway come to mind), but to say he's turned the organization into a "laughingstock" seems a bit harsh. OK, I'm getting tired of defending the man. Let's put this story to bed.


Patrick from Arkansas has an Eagles question: Hey, with the draft picks the Eagles have gotten in recent trades, do you think it's possible that they trade up to get someone like Eric Berry? They have already worked him out. Your thoughts?

Mosley: Berry's a rare talent at safety. The Eagles would have to sacrifice much of their draft to move up that far. In fact, I'm not sure the No. 24 and No. 37 would get you close enough to Berry. (I'm scrambling for my trade chart as we speak.) It's much more likely the Eagles stay right there at No. 24 and select a cornerback such as Boise State's Kyle Wilson. I also think USC's Taylor Mays will be available, but there are a lot of concerns about his ability to make plays on the ball. OK, let's do this again soon. You guys have been on fire lately.

Handicapping the Beast -- in April

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
3:11
PM ET

US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
One of the most important things to do when overreacting to a blockbuster trade within a division is to suggest one of the teams will leapfrog pretty much everyone in the league. And although I'm wired to have knee-jerk reactions in most phases of life, I've so far resisted the urge to elevate the Redskins to playoff contender status. Do they have a much better chance? Absolutely.

But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:

My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:

1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.

I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.

This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.

With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.

Cowboys win prediction in April: 12

2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.

With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.

It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.

I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.

Giants win prediction in April: 10

3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.

Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.

The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.

Eagles win prediction in April: 9

4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.

McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.

I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.

Redskins win prediction in April: 8

Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.

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