NFL Nation: Brian Orakpo

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.

Running backs (4)

The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.

Receivers (6)

I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.

Tight ends (3)

Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.

Offensive line (10)

In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester. Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.

Defensive line (6)


This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger.

Linebackers (9)

As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.

Cornerbacks (5)
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.

Safeties (4)

I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.

Camp preview: Washington Redskins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's John Keim examines the three biggest issues facing the Washington Redskins heading into training camp.

A rookie coach: Jay Gruden showed during the spring that he’ll coach with energy, creating a different vibe at Redskins Park. He’ll catch passes, defend receivers, throw a pass or two. And he looked for coaches who bring a similar energy. The difference was noticeable throughout the spring workouts open to the media.

Gruden, too, is a players’ coach, which can be viewed as positive or negative (all related to wins and losses).

Thus far, his relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III has been all positive. If that continues, it’s a major boost to the organization after the toxicity of last season, regardless of who was at fault. It helps that Gruden is able to keep his ego in check; you don’t get the sense that there are any ulterior motives with him.

Having said all that, we have no idea how Gruden will handle a season in charge. What if there’s an issue with Griffin? What if the defense doesn’t produce and he thinks the Skins need to tweak their scheme? Will Gruden be able to make those hard decisions when necessary? In-game and in-season adjustments matter greatly, and Gruden has to prove himself in this area. He was not a unanimous hotshot choice to be a head coach, but the Redskins believed in him and thought he could handle the job. But now a first-time head coach has to do what established coaches such as Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan failed to do: lead a consistent winner. And he has to do that with general manager Bruce Allen, who has all the football power for the first time in his career.

Robert Griffin III’s rise: Griffin was viewed as a savior in 2012, setting records as a rookie and helping the Redskins win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999. His future, and that of the organization, looked tremendous -- even though when they were 3-6 it appeared they had the right quarterback, but not the right team.

Then came last season. And harsh judgment on Griffin and his future. Even as a rookie there was skepticism about whether Griffin’s career could last given all the running he did (sometimes by design, other times by necessity and other times because of poor decision-making). But last season, his mechanical flaws were critiqued more harshly, and his ability to develop as a pocket passer was questioned. Meanwhile, anonymous-sourced stories abounded about his ability to lead the right way and develop as a passer.

Griffin went from a beloved figure two years ago to one who now engenders sharp opinions one way or another. Now his personality is even questioned. Griffin can regain the love, but he’ll have to turn a strong offseason into an even better regular season. His road to redemption is not a long one, but he just has to get it done. Considering this is the first real NFL offseason he’s had, it’s not a big leap to think he’ll play better than in ’13 – even in a new offense. The Redskins’ ability to give him quicker reads with receivers more capable of winning at the line will help.

Where's the D? Washington improved its pass rush by adding a coach devoted to it (Brian Baker), signing a free agent (Jason Hatcher) and drafting another outside linebacker (Trent Murphy). That, combined with holdovers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, should give the rush a boost. Corner David Amerson gives the Redskins a young player, whom they love, to build around in the secondary.

But will that be enough to improve the defense? There are plenty of other question marks on a defense that remains in transition. Washington might have as many as five starters age 30 or older; this is not a once-great defense hanging on, it’s a once-struggling defense trying to get better. The D will receive a boost from the above additions, but still needs more.

The Redskins have to prove they are not a boom-or-bust defense. They tackled poorly in the back end last year, one reason they ranked 32nd in yards per pass attempt at 7.58. They have a new starting inside linebacker, Keenan Robinson; since being drafted in 2012, he has 11 career tackles, two torn pectoral muscles and zero starts. Safety Ryan Clark has been a solid player and is a terrific leader, but he needs to show he can still play at age 34. If a defense needs to be strong up the middle to win, the Redskins have this: a solid nose tackle in Barry Cofield, question marks at inside linebacker, and question marks at safety. While Griffin’s play garners the headlines, the defense holds a major key to success.
The Redskins need to improve their pass rush, something that was evident the past two seasons. And it became a priority in the offseason, one that I felt should be the case, in the way of new coaches, free agents and a draft pick. It should be improved, but there are other places where they must do better.

I started thinking about this after my guy Chris Russell from ESPN980 fell, hit his head on something and predicted the Redskins would record 50 sacks. OK, he didn’t fall and, last I know, nothing fell on his head. Know this about Russell: he works hard and doesn't just fling numbers haphazardly. And his story prompted me to do some digging to see the impact of sacks on reaching the postseason.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Nick WassBrian Orakpo can help Washington's pass defense improve by generating a consistent pass rush.
Fifty sacks is an optimistic, best-case scenario situation. If everything falls into place could it happen? Well, only nine teams combined in the past five years have reached this number. Are the Redskins really at that point?

So much enters into play with this number and a few players, especially outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, must have their best seasons. Jason Hatcher needs to stay healthy; Trent Murphy has to prove he can rush in the NFL as a rookie. Etc. But game situations and the quarterbacks they’re facing also matter. They’re not facing the same caliber of passers that they did a year ago overall, so it’s realistic to expect solid improvement. They did not make quarterbacks uncomfortable last season, hence the overhaul. But they should be better (a phrase uttered many times about this team in a variety of areas).

But what his story did was force me to do some research on ESPN Stats & Information. And I found a number that absolutely must improve regardless of their sack total – and it’s not always connected to sacks, either.

Yards per pass attempt.

The Redskins have been dreadful in this area the past four years; it’s evident in the number of big plays allowed and it’s why they’re considered a boom-or-bust defense.

First, a little stat on sacks over the past five years: There were three seasons in which teams recorded 50 or more sacks and two seasons in which no teams did. Of the teams that finished top 10 in sack totals, 47.1 percent made the postseason. And only one of the nine teams with 50-plus sacks in this span has won a playoff game. By the way, the Redskins' high total under coordinator Jim Haslett was 41 in 2011.

Now, yards per pass attempt from 2009-13: During this period, 60 percent of the teams that finished top 10 in this category made the postseason. Only once has more top-10 teams in sacks made the postseason over a top-10 team in YPA. Seattle ranked eighth in sacks (44), but first in yards per pass attempt (5.82). The Seahawks’ season ended well. Quarterbacks knew they had to unload fast and Seattle responded by making tackles.

Washington has been terrible in allowing yards per pass attempt during this time. Since 2009, the Redskins’ best finish in this area came in ’09 when they were 18th at 6.96. Since then, under the current defensive staff, their best finish was 21st in 2011 at 7.47 yards. They were 31st last year, allowing 8.04 yards. You can’t assume that number will improve dramatically just because of more sacks. Rather, they need to tackle a whole lot better in the back seven for that to happen.

The Redskins don’t have to finish with 50 sacks to be a better defense; 45 sacks but more strip/fumbles would be plenty. But they do have to pressure more and when the ball is caught, they have to tackle. It's basic, but basic has been problematic in recent years. If they do that, wins will follow.

Something to prove: Brian Orakpo

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
8:45
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We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: linebacker Brian Orakpo.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are letting Brian Orakpo play under the franchise tag tender for $11.45 million this season.
Why he has something to prove: He's on a one-year contract and will need a big season to get the sort of deal he wants. Orakpo said at his golf tournament this spring that he felt he didn't have anything to prove. And, yes, what he's done over the course of his career has been solid. But he also hasn't had a monster season when it comes to sacks and that would help him get paid. A lot. Coach Jay Gruden has said he's content on Orakpo riding out the season on a one-year deal and why wouldn't he be? It provides more motivation for his best pass-rusher. It could be a win-win. Not everyone in the building thought Orakpo would even receive the franchise tag offer from the Redskins, so there are others waiting for that season as well. Orakpo contends he is an elite linebacker and it's true that he has more responsibilities than others at his position, especially in terms of dropping into coverage (as does Ryan Kerrigan of course; other linebackers in this style of 3-4 also have this job). But the big-money guys post the big totals. Orakpo's all-around game has developed, but if he makes more game-changing plays and gets a few more sacks, he'll cash in.

What he must do: Take advantage of his surroundings, as in coaching and talent. The Redskins added an interior pass-rusher in Jason Hatcher and drafted Trent Murphy to add another dimension as a third outside linebacker in their fast nickel package. That means Orakpo (and Kerrigan) have more around to help. In the past, teams mostly worried about those two as the defensive line posted paltry sack totals (8.5 sacks the past two years combined). Both Orakpo and Kerrigan should benefit if the inside can pinch the passer more; in 2011 the pass rush was much better in part because of how well Orakpo worked with end Stephen Bowen. Also, the Redskins' outside linebackers are being taught more techniques this offseason. It's not just about adding moves, it's about using their hands better and taking stronger angles off the ball. Under the previous linebackers coaches, it was more about responsibilities. Now it's about technique. Orakpo is considered a momentum rusher, going as much by feel. There are counters he can add (spin move) that would make this tactic more effective. There's also a heavy focus on sack/fumbles -- Orakpo has caused just six fumbles in his career. He needs several such plays this season -- and then some.

Projection: Obviously he'll start outside. Orakpo has developed as a linebacker and is a solid all-around player; the Redskins wisely retained him this offseason (though I was not in favor of a deal worth $11 million per year. Not yet.) He works hard and plays with passion. And when he's on his game, he not only pressures the passer he sets up teammates to do the same. Just because the Redskins drafted Murphy does not mean they view him as Orakpo's replacement after this year (Orakpo does not see it that way, either). If Orakpo has a really good year, and the pass rush overall is strong, why wouldn't you re-sign him? The Redskins have helped him out by some of their moves this offseason; Orakpo will need to produce.
1. I've mentioned Washington Redskins outside linebackers coach Brian Baker a number of times and wanted to give you more of a feel for him as a coach, just by listening to him during practice with his players. A few things I noticed: He's constantly teaching and reminding players when what they've done is right or wrong. It's constant. He even chastised one player (wasn't quite sure who) for not having his eyes on him when he was speaking.

2. During pass-rush drills, he reminded the players, “don't let them control your body! Keep your elbows tight!” It's a point of emphasis. At one point, he told rookie Trent Murphy, “Give me one good one 93; I need one good one before we move on!” Murphy gave it to him. Baker worked with players on where their hands should be on the blocker at the snap (obviously not low, but he worked on getting the hands right before the snap, too). Baker: “You can't let him get into your chest. The closer you are the higher you put your hands.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassJay Gruden had his coaches concentrating on special teams during the Redskins' minicamp.
3. And, finally, I like that Baker does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to pass rushing. He worked with Brandon Jenkins on his footwork off the snap when positioned at right outside linebacker. It's a little different than on the right side and he wanted to make sure he stayed on the right path from the get-go. But he also told Jenkins, “You can't get it to look like everyone else. You've just got to get it right. Make it work for you.” He also worked with Jenkins on accelerating at the top of the rush -- it's where you win.

4. I don't know what sort of difference one outside linebackers coach can make, but I also know it can't be overlooked. He's a legit coach.

5. Redskins coach Jay Gruden incorporated more of his coaches in special teams drills. It's not as if other coaches in past years did nothing here, but it was noticeable this past week. Secondary coach Raheem Morris worked with the flyers in punt coverage while receivers coach Ike Hilliard showed them how to get off a jam. Baker helped with the tackling drills. Gruden said it enables special teams coach Ben Kotwica to get more out of his allotted 10-15 minutes. There is a definite increased emphasis on special teams, starting from early in the offseason.

6. The Redskins now know they'll face quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener against Houston. Not sure it's a big surprise and not sure it really matters. Fitzpatrick was 9-5 as a starter from Nov. 14, 2010 to Oct. 30, 2011 -- that includes the 23-0 shutout of Washington. Since then, Fitzpatrick is 10-23 as a starter. Of course, his first NFL start came against Washington, a 24-9 loss while with Cincinnati in 2005. Fitzpatrick has thrown 106 touchdown passes to 93 interceptions in his career.

7. Three months later DeSean Jackson remains a big topic in Philadelphia. It started, again, with running back LeSean McCoy saying Jackson's release caught everyone's attention. It let them know if you don't buy in, you will be cut. Kelly refuted that notion. “I don't send messages to other players by how I deal with other players,” Kelly told Eagles reporters. “And how LeSean McCoy interprets things … LeSean has a beautiful mind. Sometimes trying to analyze that mind I don't wrap myself around that too much. Or bother myself too much with that. However LeSean interprets things is how LeSean interprets things.” The Eagles do think they have enough speedminus Jackson to still thrive.

8. There was a big to-do over the Patriots having a Jets playbook and that led to a discussion over whether it made a difference. Some who have covered the NFL a long time insist it means nothing; others who have covered it a long time insist it does. With players switching teams all the time, I doubt it's a big secret what's in various playbooks and coaches study so much tape that there shouldn't be many surprises. The bigger issue is when you know another coach's tendencies. I say that because some coaches here in the past felt that part of the success they had against Giants quarterback Eli Manning stemmed from having their playbook. But it also helped that they felt offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride didn't change a whole lot. Tendencies mattered more.

9. One player who must have a strong year for Dallas: cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys traded up to get him with the sixth overall pick in 2012, but his impact has been poor. Claiborne has picked off two passes, has battled nagging injuries and lost his starting job last year. This is the time of year for player optimism and Claiborne is no different. Everyone is saying the right things about Claiborne, as you would expect. But they like that he's competing. One nugget: Claiborne pulled a rookie corner off the field in order to face receiver Dez Bryant in practice. "Me and him talked about it before we even started up that we want to be the best and we want to go against each other," Claiborne said. "We feel like we both compete at a high level. I get good work when I go against him and it's vice versa. When I'm not up there, he's telling me to come. We're trying to help each other so we can be the best for our team."

10. The Redskins nearly had Antrel Rolle in the 2005 draft, but he went one pick ahead of them at No. 8 to Arizona, so they drafted Carlos Rogers instead. Rolle, a corner when he came out, continues to improve at safety. Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt said of Rolle, “Before, as far as formations, he didn't see formations. He didn't really see the route concepts. Now, the last two years, it's all coming together for him and he's feeling more comfortable. So with Antrel's ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn't really scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become."
ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Hatcher should be ready for training camp and the Washington Redskins say there’s no reason to worry. His knee issues will be corrected. But anytime a soon-to-be 32-year-old is coming off any type of surgery, there’s always a level of concern.

And when that player is a pivotal part of the defensive strategy, a finger needs to be crossed that he’ll remain healthy.

Hatcher
Hatcher
One part of the Redskins’ offseason that I didn’t like was the inability to get much younger defensively. You can’t fix everything in one offseason, but my concern for months has been the age of the defense and the changes it might need to undergo. The Washington Post’s Jason Reid wrote about it here.

Washington’s defensive front could have quality depth, giving the Redskins more flexibility than in recent seasons. Or it could have some broken-down parts that struggle to get through the season. The Skins will potentially have five defensive linemen who are at least 30 years old. Stephen Bowen is coming off microfracture knee surgery. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, who had a hernia operation in the offseason, saw his production wane in the second half of last season. Both are in the 30-and-over category.

For the Redskins’ pass rush to improve, they need a healthy Hatcher to provide an inside threat to the outside combination of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. If Hatcher is healthy, teams can’t just focus on the perimeter, as they’ve been able do the past two years. If he’s not ...

The Skins need Cofield to give them consistent quality play (the depth will give him more rest; in the first half of last season, he was good). They need Chris Baker, whom they’re high on, to also help in their nickel packages in his most expansive role. They need Jarvis Jenkins to become a threat in the pass game, something he has not yet been.

The Redskins’ front has potential. It also has concerns. The defense depends on those concerns being alleviated.

Jason Hatcher to have MRI on knee

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
12:40
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins aren’t concerned, but they are also not taking any chances. So defensive lineman Jason Hatcher won’t participate in the rest of this week’s minicamp because of pain in his knee.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Hatcher will have an MRI on his knee to determine why it’s giving him some issues.

Hatcher
Hatcher
“We’ll get him checked out,” Gruden said. “But I feel he’ll be ready for training camp. That’s the big thing. We’re taking the proper precautions.”

Gruden said he wasn’t sure when Hatcher tweaked his knee. But the free agent signee told Gruden that he felt pain and had a little swelling.

The Redskins signed Hatcher away from Dallas to provide an inside pass rush. The Redskins also have depth along the line to limit how much wear and tear players like Hatcher must endure during the season. But he will be a key part of Washington’s nickel pass rush.

Hatcher attended practice, but did not go through individual drill work. Two other defensive linemen, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, both worked off to the side as they recover from surgery. Cofield had a hernia procedure recently, but has participated in individual drill work. Bowen had microfracture knee surgery and was not expected to return before training camp.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo also missed practice. Gruden said Orakpo has a cold and, perhaps, strep throat. But he is hoping Orakpo returns Wednesday.
ASHBURN, Va. -- One addition could lead to better individual play. The other could be seen as insurance for his potential departure. Both could help Brian Orakpo in the short term, and that's all he's worried about.

In fact, Orakpo said he never viewed rookie Trent Murphy as anything other than a guy who could help now. He said he did not wonder if Murphy was drafted to be his eventual replacement.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Brian Orakpo
AP Photo/Michael PerezBrian Orakpo views the additions of rookie Trent Murphy and outside linebackers coach Brian Baker as a sign that better days are in the immediate future for the Redskins' pass rush.
"That's the last thing I'm thinking of," Orakpo said. "That's the first time I even thought about that to be honest with you."

Orakpo said Murphy's addition was necessary. So, too, was outside linebackers coach Brian Baker's. And Orakpo said both can help him -- and Ryan Kerrigan -- have more of an impact this season.

First, Baker. Here's the list of pass rushers he's worked with in the past: Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware and La'Roi Glover. How much did he mold their games? Tough to say, but clearly Baker can pass along tips he picked up working with those players onto the Redskins' linebackers.

"Just pass-rush concepts, man," Orakpo said. "Not just being an athlete. All kinds of different stuff he learned coaching guys throughout his years. Hand usage. Hand placement. I'm a momentum type of pass rusher. Now he's trying to teach a guy like myself proper hand placement and not being so wild at times when I'm rushing.

"We've been doing a lot of techniques. Any time we got a break, me and Baker are going at it doing different techniques, working different hand placements, working half of the offensive tackle or the tight end. Just trying to get better."

It's different.

"I haven't done this before," Orakpo said. "This is brand new for me. I'm excited. It will get all of us better and get all of us to another level. It comes with years of experience, always trying to incorporate something new in your game. I'm excited Baker is here and also that [Kirk Olivadotti] is here because he's teaching the inside linebackers a lot of new things as well that we were accustomed to my first year. Those guys are huge assets."

That's how Orakpo views Murphy, chosen in the second round last month. Orakpo said one word came to mind when they picked him: Depth.

While many will debate whether Murphy was the right choice, the bottom line is the Redskins needed another pass rusher. Just adding Jason Hatcher in the offseason would not provide enough of a boost, or depth, in this area.

"It's all about getting another guy to come in and create havoc," Orakpo said. "Depth is huge. You need three or four pass rushers that can go. This team has relied on me and Ryan doing the dirty work. But every other team has three to four guys ready to rock and roll. You saw what Seattle did bringing three or four guys, moving my boy Michael Bennett around. Cliff Avril on one side, Chris Clemons one side. Just moving guys all over the place. ... We finally got the big picture and got someone in here."

It's no secret what the Redskins want to do: tap into the three linebackers' versatility. That's evident in practice as each of them has lined up all over the place. The goal: pressure with four or, at most, five. You can be aggressive without always having to blitz. Washington blitzed more in 2012 in part because it lost Orakpo and Adam Carriker to injuries. But it left a weak secondary susceptible.

"If you pressure with four guys, you have a much better chance," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "You saw the success Seattle had -- they very seldom blitz. We have the ability with four, five guys that we have being able to rush the passer, keeping them fresh -- that we can get pressure."

If that's the case, then Orakpo likely would receive the sort of long-term contract he desires from Washington. He made it clear a long time ago he'd still like a long-term deal and that not having one wouldn't impact his approach, or desire to attend workouts. He'd still like one before the season, but Gruden said long ago he's fine with letting him play the season out on the franchise tag. Other members of the organization said it's conceivable the Redskins will keep all three pass rushers beyond this season.

For now, Orakpo's concern is 2014.

"Don't look into the one-year-left-rookie-drafted [storyline]," Orakpo said. "We have to look at this year and trying to get to that Super Bowl. Forget about the future. That's just business. Business will take care of itself. We're trying to make noise this year."
ASHBURN, Va. -- Some of the younger Redskins didn’t know about one of Matthew McConaughey’s most famous movies, "Dazed and Confused." But certainly the 48-year-old head coach would. Turns out Jay Gruden didn’t know it, either.

[+] EnlargeMatthew McConaughey
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci"It's great to have him out here," QB Robert Griffin III said of actor Matthew McConaughey's visit to Redskins practice on Wednesday.
“I’m a big movie guy, too,” Gruden said. “That’s terrible. ... I can name a lot of them. I’ve got to think of that movie now. I’m going to Google that one when I get done.”

But make no mistake, while they might not have known that particular movie, they were well aware of McConaughey. He was on the sidelines during practice Wednesday, standing next to owner Dan Snyder while wearing a yellow Redskins T-shirt (the one with the R logo).

“I love Matt, man,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s like one of the guys. He’s always been like that. He’s a huge fan of the Redskins, man. He’s out here like any other fan. He wants to learn and see the guys work. It’s always great to see a friend out here watching us work.”

Not all of those friends have won Academy Awards.

“It’s a big deal,” Orakpo said. “He’s one of the top A-list actors out here and he’s on the practice field just chilling like he’s one of the guys. I have nothing but respect. All the work he’s done. … He’s a phenomenal actor and for him to be out there showing support for the Redskins means a lot to us.”

At times players were taking a peek at McConaughey; at least that’s what some of the coaches thought.

“I think If I were a woman I’d notice it a lot more,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “But, yeah, it’s great to have him out here. He’s a big supporter of us. Anytime you can get those guys out there it’s great.”
 

Thoughts and observations from the Redskins OTA session Thursday (taking a look at big picture things here rather than practice plays made in the spring):

  1. Robert Griffin III worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
  2. But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III showed off his new throwing mechanics during practice on Thursday.
    Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
  4. Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
  5. His weight transfer was different as well; much more quiet but a definite transfer. Saw it on a deep ball to receiver DeSean Jackson.
  6. Griffin escaped the pocket on one play and looked like he was going to tuck and run. But he pulled up before he crossed the line and hit Pierre Garcon along the sidelines.
  7. Keenan Robinson lined up next to Perry Riley with the No. 1 defense. It’s only May, but it’s still telling when considering that he missed all of last season and part of his rookie year. They also signed Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, who worked with the second team. Adam Hayward also worked some with the second team at inside linebacker.
  8. The linebackers’ versatility will be a huge part of the defense this season, as you would expect. The key is that they now have three outside linebackers – Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy -- who are comfortable with their hands in the dirt, rushing from a two-point stance or dropping into coverage.
  9. Murphy beat Tom Compton during 11-on-11 work with a quick spin move to the inside. For a tall guy, Murphy does a nice job staying low on his spin.
  10. Second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins was mostly limited to rushing the passer last season, but saw him in coverage some Thursday.
  11. Here are the players I saw returning kicks Thursday: Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross.
  12. Chris Baker lined up at left end with the starting defense (keep in mind Stephen Bowen can’t work). Chris Neild was in the middle with Barry Cofield sidelined (hernia surgery) and Jason Hatcher was on the right side.
  13. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland still needs to be less grabby. Saw him tugging Santana Moss’ jersey downfield before the veteran caught the ball. Saw Breeland tugging other jerseys as they broke on a route (after the allotted five yards of contact). Not sure all the receivers quite appreciated his hands.
  14. Breeland was beaten on a double move by receiver Pierre Garcon. One thing Breeland said he needed to do was to keep his eyes on his man. He lost him this time, peeking too long into the backfield and awaiting a throw that wasn’t coming. Instead, it turned into an easy deep completion.
  15. Maurice Hurt worked at right tackle with the third unit. Josh LeRibeus worked at left guard with the second unit.
  16. Jackson’s speed was evident, especially on an end around. He was in traffic as he ran around the end, on the side opposite the media so it was hard to tell who it was at first. But he was moving at a different speed, which was the first clue as to who it was.
  17. Corner Chase Minnifield will get into a lot of tussles this camp – a safe prediction. He nearly got into one with tight end Niles Paul Thursday. Minnifield is physical and feisty and that will never please those running routes in practice. This time, Minnifield was grabbing Paul on the entire route and at the end Paul shoved him. Minnifield bounced up and shoved him back. It didn’t escalate.
  18. Minnifield did pick off a Kirk Cousins pass in zone coverage. Minnifield sank deep on the route and grabbed a pass that was intended for Williams.
  19. It was tough to see running back Chris Thompson’s speed last season, whether in spring, summer or before he was shut down during the season. He was coming off a knee injury. But he’s a year removed from that injury and the speed was more evident. Still worry about his durability, but he looked fast after running with a pass in the open field (during a spring practice).
  20. Safety Tanard Jackson ran with the third defense.
  21. Corner David Amerson looks more comfortable in press coverage and is using his long arms to his advantage when jamming receivers. Saw him do this a couple times, showing good technique and not getting beat in this look. It’s something he needed to work on as a rookie and I’m sure the learning curve will continue. But with his length and speed it’s a necessary tactic for him to learn.

 
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


ASHBURN, Va. -- A wrap-up of the Washington Redskins' draft. Click here for a full list of Redskins draftees.

Best move: Trading out of the 34th pick overall and picking up another third-round choice. The Redskins did not have a first-round pick, so being able to pick up another choice among the top three rounds was a strong move. The Redskins might have stayed at 34 had linebacker Marcus Smith still been available. The Redskins saw a couple other players they liked get picked as well, so trading back was a no-brainer. Plus, they liked a handful of pass-rushers, so they knew someone they liked would still be around at 47.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Moses
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesOffensive lineman Morgan Moses, taken in the third round, has a chance to develop into a starter.
The Redskins were able to get a player who might help their pass rush in linebacker Trent Murphy and then two players who could be future starters on the offensive line in tackle Morgan Moses -- whom many experts said could go in the first round -- and guard Spencer Long. Though you can debate if the Redskins reached on Murphy -- they liked his all-around game better than Jeremiah Attaochu's -- the bottom line is they found three players who can possibly help instead of two. Murphy could be insurance if Brian Orakpo leaves after this season via free agency. Or Murphy, Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan could form a strong pass-rush group.

Riskiest move: Long from Nebraska in the third round. There is a chance that Long becomes a solid player for the Redskins. One scout called Long a potential longtime starter at center (though the Redskins, for now, view him as a guard). The scout considers him a smart, tough player with good size, so perhaps he works out well -- and might ultimately end up being a steal. However, Long is coming off an ACL tear. It’s always hard to say a team could have waited and still gotten their man with the next pick, but in this case, that could be true. This is more of a pick for 2015 and beyond than anything else, so there is a definite benefit to selecting him. But if he doesn’t pan out, the perception will be that they reached in the third round for a guy who had been hurt.

Most surprising move: Drafting kicker Zach Hocker in the seventh round. The Redskins have Kai Forbath, who has made 35 of 40 field goals in two seasons with Washington. The Redskins don’t like to draft players they feel have no shot at making the roster, so they clearly expect Hocker to do more than compete with Forbath. Hocker could be better than Forbath on kickoffs, too, which would please the Redskins. Still, it’s a bit surprising they ended up drafting more kickers than safeties. But the coaches entered the draft feeling like they had enough competition there already. The same is true at inside linebacker.

File it away: Bashaud Breeland could develop into a solid player and help the Redskins in a variety of ways, perhaps even at safety at some point. The Redskins did not need a cornerback to come in and play immediately; they did not view anyone after the second round as being better than their top three. But Breeland can help right away on special teams -- another area of need. In college, he blitzed well from corner and was never afraid to mix it up against the run. He also plays a physical style the coaches love. The knock on Breeland is speed, so he’ll need some work, but he has a chance.
The plan was to watch linebacker Trent Murphy before the draft, knowing that he would be a possibility with the second pick in the third round. But there were a handful of other pass rushers to get to before him. So I never made it. And then they drafted him. So now here’s a mini-scouting report on the Redskins second-round pick (47th overall).

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsStanford linebacker Trent Murphy is a disciplined, if not splashy, choice for the Redskins.
What I liked: Excellent production and solid all-around player. Terrific hands in the pass rush and helped him shed blocks in run support, too. Keeps them tight; quick hands, too. His sacks and pressures not just the result of QBs holding onto the ball. Had one against Michigan State in which he beat the left tackle to the outside with his hands, squeezed inside a (horrible) block by the running back and sacked the quarterback in 2.6 seconds. Saw others in that range as well. Another took 3.3 against USC. Good variety of moves (has a spin move). Understands how to play with leverage --in both the pass and run game -- and when he did, would shed blocks in the run game and get tackles for a loss. Saw him get triple teamed on occasion against USC and Michigan State. Saw two blockers on him a number of times --whether assigned double teams or a guard/running back/tight end helping out. Lined up all over: as an end on either side in a three- or four-point stance; as a standup linebacker on either side. Disciplined rusher; did not see him lose his gap or freelance. Didn’t see him fooled; saw him locate the ball well.

Against both USC and Michigan State -- close games -- Murphy made some of his bigger plays late so the motor runs strong all game. Seems to understand angles. Showed good movement in coverage; the Redskins say he’s a fluid athlete and I would agree. Doesn’t mean he’s a great athlete, but he moves well. Saw him drop in zone; saw him cover backs and tight ends one-on-one. Can’t say he’s great here, but he did move fine. Plays special teams. Saw him rushing the punter and was on field goal protection. In fact, in the Michigan State game, he caught a pass on a failed attempt (nullified by a penalty). Did not see him get taken out of a play by double teams in the run game.

What I didn’t: Is not a great athlete and will not beat linemen with his burst or his speed. Ran the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds at the combine. There were times when tackles recovered on moves that should have resulted in greater pressure. If he got you with his hands initially, then watch out. If not, athletic and long-armed tackles would recover. Rounds off his rushes at times, similar to Ryan Kerrigan; in some cases that was because he was rushing to contain (against Oregon, for example). But in other cases it just helped the tackles recover. No explosive moments; it’s just not his game. Has good height at 6-foot-5, but could probably stand to add another 10 pounds or so to play outside and hold up against the run long-term.

Scout's take: One scout provided this assessment of Murphy's game: "An old-fashioned SAM linebacker, not very quick but productive. Not flashy, smart, big but slow twitch as a rusher."

Summary: A lot to like about Murphy, though I don’t know if there’s anything that makes you say, ‘Wow’ or makes you jump up and down. Hence: mid-to-late second rounder. That’s not a bad thing necessarily; it just means he’s not explosive. You need to let his game marinate in your mind a little bit because there are a lot of things he does well. Was he a reach? I don't know; I know what some experts say (some of whom had certain guys rated high who remained on the board in the third or are still undrafted, so who knows?) I know the Redskins liked him before the draft so it really only depends how their board stacked up. He can be a productive player and he’ll be helped by being able to play off better rushers, drawing more solo matchups. He can help on special teams and should add toughness and smarts at the position. It does mean that Brandon Jenkins and Rob Jackson have some work to do. Is he Brian Orakpo's eventual replacement? Not sold on that one yet. If the Redskins find a way to get their starters and Murphy on the field a lot and all are productive, then why break that up?
The Washington Redskins really didn’t have much of a choice. With Brian Orakpo a potential free agent after next season, the smart move was to make sure they didn’t have to replace two outside linebackers in one offseason.

Kerrigan
So they picked up Ryan Kerrigan's fifth-year option Friday. Yes, it’s another expensive contract (about $7.3 million) and you can debate if he belongs in a certain category. But if he hit the open market after 2014, he would probably command something in the $7-million-a-year range. It’s not a major stretch for Washington to pay him this much money, and for one year it won’t hurt.

Kerrigan is not an elite rusher, but he also won’t be paid that way. He’s a guy with a high motor who plays well off others. It sounds simplistic, but not everyone does this, and it results in sacks and big plays (10 forced fumbles on 24.5 sacks). He’s able to create on his own, particularly when they rush him inside the tackle or guard. Though he’s not great in coverage, he’s paid to rush the passer. He also was off to a terrific start in 2013 before hurting his knee. Kerrigan won't blame his lack of production in the second half of the season on the injury, but there was a drop-off in play. We'll find out in 2014 if it was the knee or not.

The Redskins will face a bigger quandary with Orakpo next offseason when they decide what he’s worth (again). They are content to let him play out the season on the franchise tag and then negotiate. If he has a great season, they would probably pay him with big smiles on their faces. If not? They can let him go and start over, albeit at an important spot.

The Redskins have expressed interest in several pass-rushers who could be available in the second round next week, bringing a handful in for visits. We’ll see what that means once they start selecting players.

But their goal would be to keep Kerrigan and Orakpo together for a few more seasons. They have put together a situation where they feel both can flourish. They added an outside linebackers coach in Brian Baker who has coached a number of excellent pass-rushers. They added an interior pass-rusher in Jason Hatcher. They have proclaimed a desire to turn the rushers loose more often.

Both Kerrigan and Orakpo will have a chance to prove they are worth what the Redskins have invested.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
1:10
PM ET
Apparently, not everyone thinks adding more pass-rushers is a good idea. So it says in one of the questions -- I have my own thoughts on the matter in Part 1 of the mailbag. And why do the Redskins stink in prime-time games? Could it be something other than, well, they've been bad most of the past decade? More draft questions, too. Enjoy
 
The Washington Redskins' defense is optimistic about where it's headed, thanks to the addition of Jason Hatcher and a tweaked philosophy regarding the pass rush. Whether their play matches that optimism always remains the biggest hurdle. What's not in doubt: They will have two players among the most expensive at their positions when it comes to the salary cap. The fact both are in their front seven isn't a coincidence as the Redskins' offseason goal has been to improve the pass rush. So, after breaking down where the Redskins' top cap hits at each position offensively stood in comparison to their NFL counterparts earlier this week, it's time to take a look at the defense.

Safety

NFL's top five cap hits
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs $11,619,700
Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers, $10,100,000
Antrel Rolle, New York Giants, $9,250,000
Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $9,000,000
Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans, $8,000,000

Meriweather
Redskins' top cap hit
Brandon Meriweather (59th), $1,000,000

Summing it up: Notice who’s not in the top five? Jairus Byrd, after his new deal with New Orleans. But don’t worry: He’s set to take up the most cap room in 2015 at $10.3 million. I like Byrd, but not at that figure (I’d have paid Sean Taylor that sort of cash). But Byrd was never really a legitimate option for the Redskins. Mike Mitchell was and he’ll count $2.2 million this season and $4.95 million in 2015. But the overriding point is Washington views the best way to help this position is by bolstering the pass rush. Starters Meriweather and Ryan Clark both are on one-year contracts, so this position is still a question mark beyond this season (and still will be one entering the year).

Corner

NFL's top five cap hits
Brandon Carr, Dallas, $12,217,000
Johnathan Joseph, Houston, $11,250,000
Lardarius Webb, Baltimore, $10,500,000
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City, $10,500,000
Tramon Williams, Green Bay, $9,500,000

Porter
Redskins' top cap hit
Tracy Porter (43rd), $2,800,000

Summing it up: Next season, Darrelle Revis' cap hit jumps to $25 million. Which means he’s playing on a one-year deal. Is it a good thing the Redskins’ biggest cap hit here belongs to Porter, who has battled injury issues along with consistency during his career? Of course, it’s not like he occupies a lot of space. DeAngelo Hall's cap hit is $2,062,500 but that jumps to $4,812,500 in 2015. By then the Redskins need young corner David Amerson to have fully emerged -- can he become their best corner? If not, then they’ll have to start looking for a No. 1 corner. By the way, the top five on the list for 2014? They’ve combined for four Pro Bowl appearances and one All-Pro spot (Joseph). But Carr did do a good job vs. Washington last year (and in at least one game against then-Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson).

Linebacker

NFL's top five cap hits
Lawrence Timmons, $11,816,250
Tamba Hali, Kansas City, $11,464,706
Brian Orakpo, Washington, $11,455,000
Clay Matthews, Green Bay, $10,943,750
James Laurinaitis, St. Louis, $10,400,000

Orakpo
Redskins' top cap hit
Orakpo

Summing it up: That’s quite a list for Orakpo to be part of, but to stay on there after this season -- at least in Washington -- he’ll have to be a little more productive. But even if he has another season like last year, Orakpo will still be in the $10-million range. When Hali got paid, he responded with sack totals of 12, nine and 11 in the next three seasons (with nine forced fumbles and one interception). I don’t think anyone says Hali's overpaid (well, at least not many). In Orakpo’s last three full seasons, he has a combined 27.5 sacks, but only four forced fumbles. More game-changing plays and he’ll get the contract he desires. Another interesting part on this is that two of the five are inside linebackers, though Timmons plays in a 3-4 and Laurinaitis in a 4-3.

Defensive tackle

NFL's top five cap hits
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit, $22,412,000
Haloti Ngata, Baltimore, $16,000,000
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, $15,627,253
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, $9,000,000
Barry Cofield, Washington, $7,667,500

Cofield
Redskins' top cap hit
Cofield

Summing it up: Cofield’s base salary jumped from $840,000 last season to $4.55 million (the lower figure was the result of a restructuring last spring in which $3.5 million in base salary was converted to a signing bonus). This is as high as Cofield’s cap number will be and in two years it falls to $6,877,500. I know the coaches felt he would become the NFL’s top nose tackle by this time. That’s not the case, but Cofield does have his strengths and has done a nice job with Washington. For a short stretch last season he was playing as well as anyone on the team defensively, and he always plays hard. He’ll be helped by having Hatcher in the pass rush, perhaps giving Cofield more one-on-one matchups. If that happens, then perhaps Cofield will have the sort of season in all phases that coaches have hoped for.

Defensive end

NFL's top five cap hits
Mario Williams, Buffalo, $18,800,000
Charles Johnson, Carolina, $16,420,000
Chris Long, St. Louis, $14,900,000
Greg Hardy, Carolina, $13,116,000
Calais Campbell , Arizona, $11,250,000

Bowen
Redskins' top cap hit
Stephen Bowen (15th), $7,020,000

Summing it up: All of the top five on this list play in a 4-3, where ends can excel as playmakers and, therefore, command big bucks. The 3-4 ends, typically, are not -- with some exceptions. Bowen has not been a playmaker, though for a while he was an effective player both against the run and as a rusher. However, he has just one sack since the 2011 season (26 games). And after microfracture surgery and being 30, I wonder about the level at which he’ll be able to play. Multiple Redskins sources said they still expect him to be in the Redskins' plans, but will it be at this cap figure? That's a big hit for someone in his situation. If Bowen returns healthy and plays well, the Redskins will greatly benefit. If not? That's a lot of cap room to occupy. One more note: Johnson and Hardy combine for approximately 23 percent of Carolina's cap.

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