NFC East: Dejon Gomes

The Washington Redskins' 12-member draft class in 2011 was supposed to yield a number of key players. With those players entering the final year of their original contracts, it has not lived up to expectations -- or hopes. As of now, only one player will enter the season as a guaranteed starter and by this time next year it could well be that only a couple players remain from this group. Injuries didn't help as five of these players have missed an entire season or a substantial part of a year. Here's a look at how they stand:

Kerrigan
LB Ryan Kerrigan (first round): Established as the starting left outside linebacker. He’s become a solid player for Washington and was off to a terrific start last season with 6.5 sacks in the first seven games. Kerrigan injured his knee and, though he said it did not cause any dropoff in his play, he also admitted he lost a little explosiveness because of how it felt (he had just two sacks in the final nine games). Like Brian Orakpo, he should benefit from the arrival of outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, defensive end Jason Hatcher and rookie linebacker Trent Murphy. Kerrigan does well moving around and rushing from the inside. He’ll need to get out of the habit of trying to mostly rush with contain. But if others are being effective, Kerrigan will have a solid year with his relentless style. The Redskins gave him the fifth-year extension, so he will return next season -- as he should.

DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.

Hankerson
WR Leonard Hankerson (third round): There’s no guarantee he’ll even be ready to start the season. He’s been inconsistent and has never become the player Washington’s previous staff hoped he would be. Injuries haven’t helped him at all. But Hankerson lacks any sort of explosiveness after the catch. He’ll have a tough time this season coming off his knee injury. Not the way he’d want to enter a contract year.

RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.

S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.

TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.

Royster
Royster
RB Evan Royster (sixth round): Will enter once again as a guy on the bubble. He was insurance last year and carried the ball twice and caught one pass. With Morris, Helu and Seastrunk, it’s hard to imagine Royster being anything other than insurance again. It will depend, too, on how Chris Thompson looks this summer -- and how many backs Jay Gruden wants to keep. Tough to see Royster being around in 2015.

WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.

CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.

OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.

LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.

NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.

Redskins roster battle: Secondary

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
11:00
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Taking a look at some of the Redskins roster battles as they reach the final cuts. Here's a look at their secondary:

How many: The Redskins could keep 11 if they want, though that number could be reduced when end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson return from their four-game suspensions. They could also give that extra spot to the offense. For now, let’s go with 11 -- six corners, five safeties. Does the area with the least depth deserve the most players? Especially for a head coach who stresses keeping the best 53? If that's the case then, no, they won't get 11. Still, keeping that many would allow them to cover up issues with versatility, rotating safeties as they did in the second half of last season depending on the situation. And probably one of them likely would get cut when Jackson and Jenkins return.

Locks: DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Bacarri Rambo, Reed Doughty, Brandon Meriweather (if healthy), Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers. I’m a little shaky on this only because there are injury issues that coaches clearly need to see have been resolved, with Meriweather and Wilson. If healthy, they’re key parts to the secondary. Though Biggers hasn’t always jumped out in the preseason, and I'm not sold on him covering in the slot (does blitz well from here), he does have a history with secondary coach Raheem Morris and they like the fact that he’s a little taller and long-armed and versatile. So do I.

Looking good: Chase Minnifield. I have a real hard time seeing him get cut. He’s proven to be a smart, feisty corner and aggressive. He plays with an attitude. Minnifield has some things to learn and needs to show he can cover consistently when not jamming the receiver. But he plays the run well and after missing last season thanks to two knee surgeries, Minnifield has proven he can still play.

On the bubble: DeJon Gomes, Jose Gumbs, Jerome Murphy, Jordan Pugh. Before Richard Crawford’s injury, I had Gomes out. It would not surprise me if that still happens, especially if Meriweather looks fine tonight, lessening the need for another in-the-box safety (with Doughty on that list as well). Gomes is unreliable when playing deep and I’m not sure that he’s progressed enough to keep a roster spot, despite his special-teams play. Murphy and Gumbs both have jumped up with their training camp and preseason performances. The coaches like how physical Murphy plays at corner, almost with a linebacker’s mentality. More important, he’s a terrific special-teams player and that’s where he’d mostly play. Gumbs is a big-time hitter learning how to play free safety -- he’s more comfortable in the box. Pugh rarely jumps out, but the Redskins worked him hard this summer at becoming better when needing to play up. I somehow think Murphy earns a roster spot with Gumbs as a dark horse, perhaps as a fifth safety. What helps Washington a little bit is the versatility it has at corner, allowing the Redskins to mix up coverages even more and perhaps take one fewer safety if necessary. Their talent clearly is at corner.
RICHMOND, Va. -- Here are some notes and observations from Washington Redskins practice Wednesday:
  1. Coach Mike Shanahan said the team released veteran receiver Devery Henderson to give him a chance to sign with another team. He had no shot at making the final roster, which was apparent even before he had to miss a week to attend a funeral. Henderson did not look fast and Shanahan said he did not report to camp in shape. “Not in the type of football shape that I thought I could actually practice him full-speed without getting him hurt,” Shanahan said.
  2. His departure has little impact on what will happen moving forward. The big decision at receiver is whether or not they’ll keep six. Henderson was never really an option considering his early performance.
  3. Linebacker Nick Barnett did not practice, one day after working full for the first time. Shanahan said it was just to let Barnett's knee recuperate following arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. The Redskins are thin behind the starting inside linebackers and need Barnett to be healthy for depth. Corner Richard Crawford sat out after injuring his right calf in practice Tuesday.
  4. Said this yesterday, but the Redskins continue to work running back Chris Thompson with the punt returners. Thompson still does not look comfortable catching the ball. If he becomes a punt returner in the NFL, it will take a while.
  5. Kai Forbath made eight of nine field goals, but the one miss could be excused. It came from 65 yards and was wide right. He had the distance – there was a wind at his back. His other kicks, ranging from 32 to 58 yards, all were true.
  6. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather worked with the scout-team defense as did his backup, Reed Doughty. That left DeJon Gomes working with the starters. But Meriweather was active on the scout team, intercepting a tipped pass off Aldrick Robinson’s hands (not the best day for his hands). On the next play, Meriweather ran to his left and was involved in a collision as he broke up a pass to receiver Lance Lewis.
  7. A point of emphasis by the defense today: stripping the ball carrier of the ball. They worked on gang-tackling, but then one or two in each “tackle” would forcefully try to rip the ball (mostly just going through the motion).
  8. Another day of Jordan Reed displaying his athleticism. He made a leaping, twisted catch of a Rex Grossman pass over the middle. And he hauled in a deep ball down the left side from Robert Griffin III, drifting toward the sideline as he looked over his right shoulder. I saw this in his college games, but he makes catches that most tight ends can’t make.
  9. There’s usually little contact in scout team work, but that wasn’t the case when Josh LeRibeus pulled on one snap. Linebacker Darryl Tapp, running into the backfield, ran over LeRibeus, knocking him to the ground. Just ran him over. Yep.
  10. Here’s a veteran move: As the first-team defenders ran to the ball, a couple bodies tumbled to the ground. As they did, linebacker London Fletcher anticipated more falling bodies and deftly stepped away.
This Friday's links are sorted in order of most recent NFC East division title.

Washington Redskins

Rich Tandler has a detailed look at the position competitions the Redskins will have for spots on their defense this summer. Interesting to think that a couple of young guys whose potential as future starters they've liked at safety, DeJon Gomes and Jordan Bernstine, could be on the outside looking in because of their draft picks.

A recent AP poll shows that the name "Redskins" still draws widespread support. As we've discussed at length here, though, popular does not equal right.

New York Giants

The words the Giants are using to describe seventh-round draft pick Eric Herman make him sound like the kind of guy they like to play guard, though not necessarily the kind of guy you want to go out to dinner with.

Those who have asked whether the Giants might re-sign linebacker Michael Boley are hereby referred to the considerable off-field problems he's enduring at the moment as a reason that's not likely.

Philadelphia Eagles

Phil Sheridan writes that the Eagles had a draft plan and stuck to it, but he questions whether it did enough to address their issues on defense.

Matt Barkley says he believes Chip Kelly when Kelly says he'll adapt his schemes to fit his personnel, and he has no trouble believing he can play well enough to be part of those schemes.

Dallas Cowboys

The market for the remaining right tackles is moving quite slowly, which suits the Cowboys just fine. They're still waiting to see how their situation with their current right tackle, Doug Free, is going to resolve itself.

As the dust settles around the draft, and as people continue to question the way they managed the first round, the Cowboys remain very pleased with the players they got, according to Clarence Hill.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Redskins left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who missed practice all week with an ankle injury, is nonetheless active and expected to start Sunday's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks here at FedEx Field. This is good news for the Redskins, who likely hope to combat Seattle's defensive speed with the help of cutback runs by running back Alfred Morris. As we discussed in this morning's matchups post, substituting rookie Josh LeRibeus in that spot could have affected the timing of the blocking on the cutbacks and made that more difficult. Of course, if Lichtensteiger is playing with an ankle injury, that could affect things in the run game as well as well as in the pass protection in front of quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Redskins appear satisfied, after watching him work out prior to the game, that he can be effective.

Also active for the game are safety DeJon Gomes, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who missed the final four games of the regular season due to a drug suspension.

Wide receiver/return man Brandon Banks is inactive, as has become custom. The Redskins say Niles Paul will return kickoffs and Richard Crawford will return punts. Also inactive is quarterback Rex Grossman, who was active last week when the Redskins activated three quarterbacks for the first time all season.

I'm here in the press box at FedEx Field, sitting next to the great John Clayton and a few seats over from our fine NFC West blogger, Mike Sando. We'll have plenty for you all day and into the night, and it'd be swell if you could join our Countdown Live chat during the game.

Meantime, the full list of inactives:

REDSKINS
SEAHAWKS

Enjoy the game, everyone. Talk to you again real soon.

Inactives for Cowboys-Redskins

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
7:45
PM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- DeMarcus Ware is playing. He said he would, in spite of shoulder and elbow injuries that are likely to limit him, but it's now official that the Dallas Cowboys will have their Pro Bowl pass-rusher for tonight's NFC East title game against the Washington Redskins.

Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff is out, as expected. He has not played since Week 11 and is recovering from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys also deactivated running back Phillip Tanner so they could carry an extra linebacker -- Kyle Wilber -- for the game. That could indicate that Ware is not expected to be on the field for every snap due to his injuries.

For the Redskins, right tackle Tyler Polumbus returns to action after missing last week's game due to a concussion. He's active and expected to start. Safety DeJon Gomes is inactive due to a knee injury, further depleting a Redskins' secondary that is already missing injured safety Brandon Meriweather and suspended cornerback Cedric Griffin.

The Redskins also are listing all three of their quarterbacks -- Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman -- as active for this game. It's the first time all year they've carried three active quarterbacks. The only other game for which Grossman was active this year was the Week 15 game in Cleveland in which Griffin was inactive and Cousins got the start. I don't think that means anything about the health of Griffin's knee. I think it's more likely just a precaution given the importance of the game. And with Gomes inactive, they had the spot to burn.

I'm here all night at FedEx Field and will be chatting live during the game if you want to come and join. Should be a good one.

Here's the full list of inactives for the game:

REDSKINS

WR Brandon Banks

WR Dezmon Briscoe

S DeJon Gomes

LB Roddrick Muckelroy

LB Vic So’oto

T Tom Compton

G Adam Gettis

COWBOYS

RB Phillip Tanner

C/G Kevin Kowalski

G David Arkin

G Ronald Leary

DT Robert Callaway

T Darrion Weems

DT Jay Ratliff
I know this wasn't your game, Washington Redskins fans, but if you happened to see the third-to-last play of the Cowboys-Panthers game Sunday (maybe it came on your TV after the Giants-Redskins game ended, and you caught a glimpse), the Cowboys' defense showed you what's supposed to happen on a deep, desperate, downfield late-game throw. Cam Newton hauled off on second-and-10 from his own 46 and threw deep to Brandon LaFell down the right sideline. LaFell was double-covered, the way the Cowboys wanted him to be -- the cornerback trailing, the safety over the top creating a too-tight window. The pass fell incomplete. Two plays later, having held their lead, the Cowboys had won the game.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Elsa/Getty ImagesVictor Cruz got behind the Washington secondary for the game-winning touchdown on Sunday.
Now, I'm sure you feel like bringing up the Cowboys, of all teams, is just rubbing salt in the wound. But that happened to be the other game I watched in detail from Sunday, and it happens to be a perfect example of what the Redskins weren't able to do to seal their victory over the Giants. Up three points with less than a minute and a half to go, knowing Eli Manning needed to go 77 yards to win the game and would need to hit some big plays in order to do it, the Redskins called for double-coverage on Manning's top two wide receivers -- Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. This was the correct defensive call by the coaching staff.

What the coaching staff did not do is actually go out and cover the receivers themselves. And unfortunately for them, neither did the defensive backs assigned to Cruz. Cornerback Josh Wilson let Cruz get behind him, which he never should have done at that spot on the field. And safety Madieu Williams, astoundingly, did the same. So when Manning's pass found Cruz, the only hope either Redskin had was to catch him. And there was no chance of that happening.

So to those calling for the firing of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, I pose this question: Who do you propose as his replacement, and would that person somehow be able to make Madieu Williams a better NFL safety?

Of course he wouldn't.

The Redskins' secondary is a wreck. The two players they hoped would start for them at safety haven't played a single snap this season. Tanard Jackson got hit with a season-long drug suspension on cutdown day, and Brandon Meriweather has suffered through a series of injuries that have delayed his Redskins debut until some time in the future. That means their best safety is Williams, who's a really good guy and gets the defense but doesn't have the physical skills at this point in his career to actually play it. The rest of the safety crew is Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes and Jordan Pugh. What this means is, when you call for double coverage at the end of a game like this and you're assigning a safety as part of that against one of the best receivers in the league, you're not working with top-level options.

At cornerback, Wilson is the Redskins' best player right now. And he's having a fine season for them. But he's not the kind of cornerback who's going to scare teams away from throwing to his side or targeting his man. So when he plays against the better passing attacks, he's probably going to give up a big play every now and then. It is what it is. If Wilson's your No. 2 cornerback, that's probably okay. If he's your No. 1, you have a personnel problem. DeAngelo Hall struggles so much in man coverage that they've been trying to hide him inside, even play him at safety every now and then. Cedric Griffin hasn't shown much. Richard Crawford and Jordan Bernstine are kids.

Now, this could be construed as an excuse for Haslett -- he's got nothing with which to work, so what's he supposed to do? But I think that's oversimplifying the argument, and I would actually take it further. I think that Haslett has actually been doing a remarkable job of coaching the Redskins' defense this year, and that he should be commended for what he's actually accomplished in spite of such extreme personnel deficiencies in the secondary.

Whatever success the Redskins' defense has had from week to week (and it has had some, including a three-interception game against Matt Ryan and the Falcons a couple of weeks ago) has been the result of extremely complex scheming and play calling by the coaching staff. Haslett has been mixing up pre-snap looks and post-snap coverages, moving linebackers into coverage, sacrificing pass rush in order to help on the back end where it's been called for. While they still give up far too many points, the Redskins have been able to make plays to keep themselves in the game against teams like Atlanta and Minnesota, and given what they have on the back end in terms of players, I think that's a testament to the job Haslett is doing calling their plays. It's why I think the return of Meriweather (whenever that happens) will help. Because while Meriweather's not great in coverage, he can help in blitz packages and play the run and do a number of things that will help the Redskins continue to scheme creatively, which they'll have to do every week in order to have a chance on defense.

I know this isn't a popular point of view, and I know it's easy to yell "fire the coach" when things aren't going well. But I submit that, when a defensive coordinator calls for double coverage on a wide receiver, he's expecting at least one of the men assigned to the play to keep himself between that receiver and the end zone. And if the six-year or nine-year veteran to whom that assignment was given can't even do that much, I'm not sure how changing defensive coordinators can fix a problem like that.

Breakfast links: 'Jerry Wipes'

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
8:00
AM ET
Good morning, all. There's a game tonight. No, not in our division, but still. Makes you realize it's time to get fired back up for Week 2 in the NFL. I'll be headed to Philadelphia this weekend to see the one team in the division I didn't catch in Week 1, as the Eagles take on the Ravens. Looking forward to seeing whether Michael Vick has knocked off the rust or if... well, we'll see. We'll get there one link at a time. Or actually eight.

Dallas Cowboys

If Phil Costa's back injury doesn't improve, Ryan Cook will find himself starting at center for the Cowboys, not just this week but potentially for weeks to come. The team likes Costa and wants to develop him, but if he's going to be an injury question mark and Cook is going to play well in his stead, Costa might find the plans for his development slowed down a bit.

Not only does the man who cleaned Jerry Jones' glasses in the season opener have an explanation for why he did it, he's had the idea to sell "Jerry Wipes" (with the proceeds going to charity, of course, since he's Jerry Jones' son-in-law and is OK on money) for $2.99 a pack. It's a world gone mad, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to see it clearly.

Washington Redskins

Rams coach Jeff Fisher is fine with the draft-pick haul he got in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and he's happy for his friend Mike Shanahan that the player Shanahan took with that pick had such an impressive debut. But that doesn't mean Fisher's looking forward to trying to stop Robert Griffin III when the Redskins arrive in St. Louis on Sunday.

Rich Campbell's defensive game review features several stars, including Ryan Kerrigan, DeJon Gomes and DeAngelo Hall, and very few negatives (Madieu Williams). The Redskins' front seven could have a field day Sunday against a depleted Rams offensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid says he takes the responsibility for the apparent mistake of taking safety Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round in 2011. Says he "goofed," which is a favorite word of his. I think the heat he's taking for this is justified. In the salary-cap era, those high draft picks are just too important to whiff on.

Vick is fine throwing the ball 56 times in a game if that's what the coaches want, though he admits it'd be nice to see more balance in the play calling. As I wrote Sunday, the Eagles absolutely needed to try and run the ball more than they did against a weak Browns run defense. I'm not sure trying to run it against the Ravens is the healthiest idea, though. The difference Sunday is that they're not likely to get 88 offensive plays this week.

New York Giants

Will Beatty appears to be healthy again, and now that he is he'd like his starting left tackle job back. It does not sound, however, as though he's certain to get it back anytime soon.

Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a game in 2010, will be at MetLife Stadium for Sunday's game and will be involved in the coin toss. LeGrand was at the Cowboys-Giants opener, too, but this game will be extra special. The visiting team is the Buccaneers, who are coached by LeGrand's college coach, Greg Schiano. After taking the job in Tampa Bay, Schiano signed LeGrand to a contract and brought him to offseason workouts so that he could experience life as an NFL player for a short time before he announced his retirement a few days later.

Breakfast links: Cowboys start on top

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
8:00
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Hey, remember last year, when we did the links in order of the division standings? Well, we can do that again. Sort of. Two of our teams haven't played yet, so we'll alternate their order today and tomorrow to be fair. Otherwise, have at your links.

Dallas Cowboys (1-0)

Been a while since we'd heard Dez Bryant's voice, as the Cowboys wouldn't let him do any training camp or preseason interviews while his court case is pending. But he spoke after Wednesday's win (about football only) and said he's feeling good about his knowledge of and place in the offense. Money quote is the one about "If I'm out there with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, I've got to know what the hell I'm doing." Looks to me like he does.

Wondering how the Cowboys got it done? ESPN Stats & Information breaks down the game. Seems Romo was very effective throwing the ball downfield and while out of the pocket. No surprise there. If you watched the game, you saw that Romo had to move his feet a lot to elude pressure and keep plays alive. It's one of many things at which he's better than his reputation might lead you to believe.

Philadelphia Eagles (0-0)

First-round draft pick Fletcher Cox is downplaying the idea of pressure on him in his rookie season, and to a certain extent I see where he's coming from. Cox will be part of a rotation at defensive tackle and likely given the chance to learn and hone his craft at the NFL level without having to be relied on as an every-play starter type. Kind of a perfect scenario, with all the depth the Eagles have on the defensive line.

The Eagles believe that last year's first-round pick, guard Danny Watkins, has come a long way since this time last year, when he was unable to start the season opener. Sheil Kapadia writes that it's time for Watkins to make good on that talk.

Washington Redskins (0-0)

Robert Griffin III says his NFL debut will be even more special because it will be in his parents' hometown of New Orleans -- a place that means a lot to him and his family.

Rich Campbell writes on the Redskins' loss of strong safety Brandon Meriweather to a knee injury for the next two to four weeks. Rich says the effect of this injury on the Redskins' defense will depend on the ability of Meriweather's replacement -- be that DeJon Gomes or Reed Doughty -- to play deep coverage. I think Rich could be right, but I know there are a lot of things the Redskins have been looking forward to doing with Meriweather in blitz packages and different types of coverage schemes that might have to be put off or curtailed while he's out.

New York Giants (0-1)

Victor Cruz said he can't afford to be dropping balls, and the Giants did some complaining about the replacement officials. It was a bit of a bitter locker room on the Giants' side. They're obviously not worried about their season-opening loss having a long-term effect, since they know all about overcoming things. I think they're just mad they lost to the Cowboys.

One of the big questions coming out of Wednesday night's game for the Giants was, as Steve Politi asks, "Where was the pass rush?" Obviously, there was some sense in the Giants' locker room that the Cowboys were getting away with too much holding, but every defensive line thinks that after every game, especially losses. The Giants live and die by their pass rush, and Wednesday it did not win them the game.

More bad news for Redskins' secondary

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
4:01
PM ET
So, a week ago, it looked as though the Washington Redskins' starting safeties for Sunday's season opener in New Orleans might be Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson. While you might not have been overly thrilled with that pairing, you'd had a chance to get used to the idea that it could work.

Well, on Friday, the NFL announced that Jackson was suspended for a year for his latest violation of its drug policy. And on Wednesday, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told reporters that Meriweather had sprained ligaments in his knee in Monday's practice and will miss 2-to-4 weeks.

The technical football term for this is "not good."

Madieu Williams is the likely starter at free safety, and Shanahan said DeJon Gomes could get the start at strong safety in Meriweather's place. (The other options are Reed Doughty and rookie Jordan Bernstine.) But regardless, one of the Redskins' thinnest positions is now much thinner. And their coverages will be affected by the issues with personnel at safety. The Redskins aren't overly strong at cornerback, either, but when they're at full strength they believe they can compensate for that weakness by not isolating their corners on receivers. They give them help, very often from safeties. Now, they have to worry about their safeties.

Like I said, not good.

On the bright side, it's not as though the quarterback they're facing Sunday is coming off a year in which he set NFL records for passing yards, completions, completion percentage and 300-yard passing games.

What's that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observation deck: Colts-Redskins

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
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The story of the day in the NFL preseason was the game between the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts. The Redskins won the exhibition game 30-17, but that obviously wasn't what made it a story. This was the showdown between the top two picks in this year's draft -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Colts and Robert Griffin of the Redskins. And the pair put on a fun show.

Griffin was 11-for-17 for 74 yards and a touchdown. He missed on three deep throws down the field, but at least one appeared to be the fault of his wide receiver, and he showed quite a bit otherwise. On the four-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, Griffin moved out to the right side extremely quickly, showing his speed and preventing the Indianapolis defense from reacting in time to do anything about it. Griffin continues to show poise and confidence and doesn't get rattled when things don't go exactly as planned. Those are key qualities that, along with his talent and athleticism, bode well for his ability to handle NFL life in his rookie season and beyond.

Luck was 14-for-23 for 151 yards and a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. His test was tougher, since the Redskins' defense played better in this game than the Colts' defense did and he faced intense pressure on nearly every play, but he looked very good. Neither rookie quarterback showed anything to make his team feel any less excited about its future.

Here's what else I saw from the Redskins in this game:
  • The Redskins' defense is going to be about pressure up front. The defensive line and linebackers look very active and aggressive, even with Brian Orakpo out with an injury, and they did a very good job of disrupting things for Luck and for the Colts' run game in the backfield. When the Redskins drop a lot of guys into coverage, as they did on the Colts' final drive of the first half, their weaknesses are exposed. And when the quarterback avoids the rush, as Luck did on his touchdown throw, the Redskins could have problems downfield. On that play, safety Madieu Williams was in single coverage on the wide receiver, and it was a mismatch.
  • That said, safety Tanard Jackson looked excellent. Starting in place of an injured Brandon Meriweather at strong safety, Jackson looked good in run support, made some nice tackles and knocked away the Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. Jackson could beat out Williams for the starting free safety spot. He's a favorite of secondary coach Raheem Morris from their time together in Tampa Bay, and his issues have all been off-the-field, not on. A couple of secondary players made good plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, including cornerback Josh Wilson and safety DeJon Gomes. The issues are down the field, not up front.
  • Rob Jackson was the starting outside linebacker in place of Orakpo, but Chris Wilson quickly replaced him and had a great game that included a third-quarter sack of Chandler Harnish for a safety.
  • On offense, rookie Alfred Morris got the start at running back again and looked very good. He carried the ball 14 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. He's exactly the kind of runner Mike Shanahan likes -- he makes one cut and gets up the field -- but he's also got some nice moves once up the field and that forward body lean you've heard so much about that helps him pick up extra yards. He needs to improve in pass protection before the Redskins feel great about him, but he looked good throwing blocks in Saturday's game, and it's clear that's a matter of reps and not ability or willingness. Tim Hightower is still the coaches' preferred starter at running back, and he looked lively as he got 28 yards on five carries in his first game action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October. But they're bringing Hightower back slowly, and with Roy Helu and Evan Royster both nursing injuries, the chances are improving that Morris will be the starter for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener in New Orleans. I still expect each of those four to start at some point this year, assuming they all get/stay healthy.
  • Brandon Banks was returning kicks again in the second half, but it cannot be a good sign for Banks' roster chances that Niles Paul returned kickoffs and Moss returned punts in the first half. Banks was told he'd have to make the team as a wide receiver, not just a return man, and it does not appear as though he's done that, so they're probably looking at other return options to see what they have.
  • The Redskins' offensive line did a very good job in the run game, and we've seen it look worse in pass protection, though the Colts did have success early with an interior pass rush against Will Montgomery and backup left guard Maurice Hurt. That might get better once Kory Lichtensteiger is back healthy, but it's something to watch. For what it's worth, Griffin seems to handle the rush well. Doesn't get flustered when forced out of the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, etc.
  • Josh Morgan looked better than Leonard Hankerson, who had a bad drop and slowed down for some reason on a deep throw from Griffin that fell incomplete. I think the coaches would like to line up with Hankerson and Pierre Garcon as their starting wide receivers, but Morgan could surpass Hankerson if he stays healthy and keeps making plays.
  • You'll laugh, but Rex Grossman looked good, especially when he threw it to Dezmon Briscoe (who's making a late push for a roster spot himself). Grossman finished the game 8-for-8 for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the backup defense of one of the league's worst teams. Somebody asked me on Twitter if the Redskins might cut Grossman and just go with rookies Griffin and Kirk Cousins at quarterback, but why? Grossman knows the offense, can help the rookies learn it, and when he's not throwing interceptions he runs it quite well. He's the perfect backup for the 2012 Redskins.
It's been a little while, but I have not forgotten our attempt to look at each team in the division on a position-by-position basis. Today we're going to do safeties, and we're going to start with the Washington Redskins, who will have two new starters after cutting O.J. Atogwe and letting LaRon Landry leave in free agency.

Projected starters: Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams

Reserves: Tanard Jackson, DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty

Potential strength: They like the depth they have at the free safety spot, and they hope a training camp battle between Williams, Jackson and Gomes produces a high-quality starter. Williams has impressed Redskins coaches with his on-field and off-field intelligence, and the speed with which he's not only been able to pick up the scheme, but help others learn it as well. More than one Redskins coach during minicamp called Williams "a coach on the field." Jackson is a top talent who ran into trouble in Tampa Bay, and the Redskins hope a reunion with former Bucs coach Raheem Morris (who is now their secondary coach) can straighten him out and bring out the best in him. And Gomes is a young player they like as a potential starter down the road -- they just don't know how soon he'll be able to be that. Doughty is seen as a reliable backup who can play either safety spot if needed.

Potential weakness: When they signed Meriweather, the Redskins saw a guy who'd been miscast in the Bears' two-deep coverage schemes last season and could flourish in their more varied and complex coverages. Rather than play a traditional strong safety role, Meriweather in Washington will be asked to rush more, help out with blitzes and work as part of different combinations in the coverage schemes. It could work, but it could also backfire. This is still a guy who was cut by two teams last year. And while the Redskins might have themselves convinced it was a personality conflict that got him booted out of New England, and a poor scheme fit that made him ineffective in Chicago, it's possible the problem is with the player himself. And if he can't handle the job, all they have behind him right now is Doughty.

Keep an eye on: Jackson. He's four years younger than Williams, and if he keeps his focus on the field and plays the way he's capable of playing, he's probably the better player at this point in his career. The Redskins aren't skeptical about his ability. They just wonder if a guy with his off-field history is always going to have those problems, or if he can really be counted on to change. It's hard to say what they'd have to see to convince them they can trust him. But if he outplays Williams and doesn't fail any more drug tests along the way, he could see a lot of time in that Redskins' defensive backfield, and potentially be a major help at a position that's a question mark right now.

NFC East training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
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AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

DALLAS COWBOYS

Inside linebacker: Dan Connor versus Bruce Carter.

Carter was the Cowboys' second-round pick in 2011. He was injured when they drafted him, so they didn't expect him to make much of an impact in 2011. Once recovered, he played in each of the team's final 10 games, but didn't play much. With Keith Brooking and Bradie James gone, the Cowboys need a starter at inside linebacker next to 2011 standout Sean Lee. Their hope is that Carter can be that for years to come, and they'd be perfectly thrilled if he could jump in at the start of this season. But they're not kidding themselves, and they know Carter might need some time to develop. That's why they signed Connor, the free agent from Carolina. Connor's the veteran, and a guy they can plug in next to Lee right away and feel good about. But Carter's the one with the upside, and he's getting first-team reps this offseason while Connor recovers from shoulder surgery. My sense is that Carter will either convince them he's ready and get the job or convince them he's not and leave the job to Connor with the chance that he usurps him later in the year. I don't think Connor's performance in the preseason matters to this competition as much as Carter's does. We could have picked No. 3 wide receiver for this exercise, or guard, or center. But the Cowboys' main issues are on defense, and this is a spot the coaches will have their eyes on later this month.

NEW YORK GIANTS

No. 3 wide receiver: Rueben Randle versus Domenik Hixon.

The Giants have two of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the free-agent departure of Mario Manningham left that No. 3 spot open. They drafted Randle in the second round and think very highly of him, but that's not going to be what gets him the job. He'll need to outplay the other guys in training camp in order to earn it, and the other three names on this list have more experience in the league and the offense. My pick as the current favorite to open the season in that spot is Hixon, who was the favorite for it last year before re-injuring his knee. I think that, if he's healthy, he's got the best chance to land that position. But that's a huge "if" with Hixon, and Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan all have the physical tools they need to impress coaches during this competition. It's probably Barden's last chance to show he can stay on the field and compete. And Jernigan has a shot to stick if he shows he can help in the return game. But my best prediction is a healthy Hixon wins the job and Randle gradually takes snaps away from him during the year as he continues to develop into the long-term answer.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Strong safety: Kurt Coleman versus Jaiquawn Jarrett.

This one got even more interesting with the recent signing of veteran O.J. Atogwe. Given his recent injury history and how slow he looked when actually on the field with the Redskins last year, I still think Atogwe is more likely to be a backup and a veteran mentor than a threat to the starting spot opposite free safety Nate Allen. But it's possible that neither Coleman nor Jarrett will impress enough to win the job. Jarrett is the team's 2011 second-round pick, and they have high hopes for him. He didn't show much last year, and his main problem is that the thing for which he was best known in college -- hard hitting -- is not something he's able to demonstrate during an offseason program. If he can make strides in coverage and then lay some people out in preseason games, he might have a chance to grab the starting spot. But if Coleman beats him out and Atogwe is healthy enough to stick, people will justifiably start wondering whether Jarrett really has a future as a starter in Philadelphia.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Safety: Madieu Williams versus Tanard Jackson.

This one could have been wide receiver, where there's a jumble at the spot opposite Pierre Garcon. But the Redskins' safety situation is its own jumble, and it's one about which more fans probably should be worried. They're projecting Brandon Meriweather as one of the starting safeties. They think he fits their coverage schemes much better than he did those of the Bears last year, and they think the reason the Patriots cut him had more to do with personality conflict than performance issues. So they feel good about that spot. For the other, they like Williams, who has impressed them as an alert and intelligent leader on the field. It's possible he could get a challenge from Jackson, the talented-but-troubled former Buccaneer who's reunited with former coach Raheem Morris (now the Redskins' secondary coach), but they'll need to see Jackson play in the preseason -- and stay clean -- before deciding how much he can give them. They also like their depth here, with guys like DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty and Jordan Bernstine, so it's possible a sleeper candidate could emerge. But as of now, keep an eye on Williams and Jackson fighting it out for that spot next to Meriweather.

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