NFL Nation: Jammal Brown

So the Chiefs cut right tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday, probably because they've decided to take a tackle with the first pick in the draft. But this isn't a Chiefs blog. This is an NFC East blog, peopled by fans of teams in the NFC East. So why are we talking about this?

Winston
Because whenever a player of whom fans have heard gets cut in the middle of his contract, one of the first questions fans immediately ask is, "Should [my team] try to sign [this player that was just cut in the middle of his contract]?" And if you cheer for a team in the NFC East, and the player in question is Winston, the answer is yes.

It amazes me sometimes, the similarities our four teams can share. They all need help in the secondary, for instance, and they all need help on the right side of the offensive line. So here's a quickie team-by-team rundown of why each of our division's teams should kick the tires on this 29-year-old offensive lineman who is allowed to sign any time.

Dallas Cowboys

Obviously, the Doug Free contract is a huge bust and the Cowboys need a right tackle. They need guard help, too, but a right tackle is a fine place to start. Sadly for the Cowboys, they're too tight up against the cap to really compete for a free agent if that free agent is going to draw interest from multiple teams. I still think they address this in the draft.

New York Giants

Winston is better than David Diehl or James Brewer or Sean Locklear or whoever the Giants are currently planning to use on the right side. They won't overspend, but I'll bet they at least inquire about him.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have the best right tackle in the division in Todd Herremans, but they also have the most cap room -- by a mile. There is some sense that the offensive line would be stronger if they acquired a right tackle and moved Herremans back inside to right guard to replace the disappointing Danny Watkins. Enter Winston. They can afford him. They need him. No question they'll have interest.

Washington Redskins

This would be the perfect fit, for player and team. The Redskins need a right tackle, as it appears Jammal Brown's hip is never going to be right. Winston has zone-blocking run game experience, as well as experience working with Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from his time in Houston. I think the Redskins would have signed Winston last year if they hadn't be blindsided by the salary-cap penalty on the day before free agency started. They would love to have him. Unfortunately, that cap penalty is still in place this year. And even though they knew that in advance this time, it's likely to keep Winston out of their reach for the second year in a row.
Reports out of Washington say tackle Jammal Brown's contract will automatically void at 4:01 pm Friday, which will save the cap-strapped Washington Redskins $1.3 million on this year's salary cap. While this doesn't exactly leave a hole in the starting lineup, since the Redskins played the entire 2012 season with Tyler Polumbus at right tackle while Brown tried unsuccessfully to return from a hip injury, it does remind you that right tackle is an issue for Washington to address this offseason.

Do they bring back Polumbus, who was fine but not great as a full-time starter and is eligible for free agency? (Possible). Do they try again with Brown in spite of his inability to get on the field, since they still believe he's the best option for their zone-blocking run game? (Not likely). Do they elevate someone like Tom Compton? Do they go out on the free-agent market in search of a tackle, or try to find one in the draft?

Much of this offseason's focus in Washington will be on the defense, and in particular the secondary. But the offensive line needs tuning up. The Redskins started the same five offensive linemen in 16 of their 17 games in 2012, and that continuity was a big part of the reason for their success. But that doesn't mean the coaching staff won't look for spots at which it can improve.

Trent Williams hurt in fight, out of Pro Bowl

January, 26, 2013
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HONOLULU -- Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams won't play in the Pro Bowl after being hurt early Friday in a brawl at a Honolulu nightclub.

NFL officials and local police said Friday night the first-time all-star was hurt in a fight that injured three men, sending two to the hospital.

One man was arrested and five others are being investigated for assault, but not Williams, police said.

When asked whether Williams was being investigated for assault, Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said: "I would not say that."

The league said the third-year pro will be on the sideline for the Pro Bowl game Sunday and won't lose his status as a member of the NFC team. Officials say he'll be paid a full Pro Bowl share.

Redskins teammate Jammal Brown said on Twitter that Williams needed seven stitches.

"Wasn't his fault. ... He did nothing wrong," Brown said.

For the full story, click here.
Tyler Polumbus is eligible for free agency and was never a perfect solution for the Washington Redskins at right tackle to begin with. Sure, the Redskins' line had a good year with Polumbus starting on the right side. The Redskins led the league in rushing yards, so it obviously couldn't have been all bad. But the threat of running quarterback Robert Griffin III likely helped the line look better than it was. Pro Football Focus rated Polumbus the No. 77 tackle in the NFL in 2012.

The questions is the extent to which the cap-strapped Redskins can or need to make right tackle a priority in free agency or the draft, and I don't think you should be surprised if it turns out to be a low one.

There are a number of very good right tackles available in free agency, which could have the effect of diluting the market and landing someone very good in the Redskins' lap at a reasonable price. New England's Sebastian Vollmer heads the list along with Cincinnati's Andre Smith (who likely brings a bit too much knucklehead risk) and guys like Phil Loadholt. And even though they don't hold a first-round pick, it's not inconceivable that they could find a starting right tackle in the second or third round. Especially when you consider that Mike Shanahan's offense looks for specific kinds of linemen suited for zone-blocking, and not every team is looking for the same type of player.

But given the team's needs on defense in the secondary, and given the decisions that need to be made about the contract situations of key players such as Brian Orakpo, Fred Davis and Darrel Young, I wouldn't be surprised if they brought back Polumbus or found an even more economical solution than that. Shanahan told me in training camp, when people were still worried about whether Jammal Brown could stay healthy enough to play right tackle, that the important thing for him was health and continuity on the line -- that even if Polumbus might not be the same caliber player as Brown, he'd rather have him at 100 percent than wonder from week to week how much he could count on Brown. The Redskins believe that a large part of their offensive success this season was a product of starting the same five offensive linemen in 16 of their 17 games, and if Polumbus wants to come back at their price they could certainly talk themselves into the idea that the line isn't an area of the team that needs changing. And if he doesn't, they could talk themselves into the idea that they can find an adequate replacement.

Point is, given the salary cap problems the Redskins face because of the $18 million in league-imposed penalties they face again this season, they're going to have to prioritize. And they have so many needs at cornerback and safety, they're going to have to use resources to fix holes there. Positions like offensive line and wide receiver, where they could use some help, but did more than just get by in 2012, are likely to head to the back burner while the Redskins make budget-conscious decisions. So as much fun as it might be to shop on that good right tackle market, I doubt you should get your hopes up.

Final Word: Seahawks at Redskins

January, 4, 2013
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North AFC: North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Seattle Seahawks' wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field:

Rookie showcase. Washington's Robert Griffin III (102.4) and Seattle's Russell Wilson (100.0) are the only qualifying quarterbacks in NFL history to finish their rookie seasons with NFL passer ratings in triple digits. They also are the first full-time rookie starting quarterbacks to face one another in an NFL playoff game. Houston's T.J. Yates was a replacement for Matt Schaub when he went against fellow rookie Andy Dalton in the playoffs last season.

Wilson and Griffin aren't alone among rookies playing prominent roles for their teams. The Redskins, led by Griffin and 1,600-yard rusher Alfred Morris, have a league-high 46 touchdowns passing, rushing or receiving from their rookies this season. The Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts are tied for second with 30 apiece.

Seattle also got 12 sacks from its rookies. Bruce Irvin had eight of them. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner finished his rookie season with 140 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks as an every-down player.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle quarterback Russell Wilson has shown steady improvement when facing heavy defensive pressure this season.
Picking their spots. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he counted nine all-out blitzes for Washington against Dallas in Week 17.

The Redskins collected a league-high 12 interceptions while blitzing during the regular season. Wilson, after struggling against pressure early in the season, has eight touchdown passes with no picks against five or more pass-rushers since Week 8. He has hit on six deep passes against five-plus rushers over that period, third most in the NFL. Deep passes are those traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage before the reception.

Wilson has eight overall touchdown passes on these deep throws, tied for second most in the NFL. He has thrown none of them on the road, however. His completion rate on these throws drops from 53.3 percent at home (16-of-30) to 28.6 percent on the road (8-of-28).

Pictures of health. The Seahawks enter the playoffs with zero starters on injured reserve unless you count guard James Carpenter as a player Seattle was counting on. Nickel pass-rusher Jason Jones and nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond are the most prominent Seahawks on IR. The Redskins' IR list features starters Adam Carriker, Brian Orakpo, Fred Davis, Jammal Brown and Brandon Meriweather. Also, nickel cornerback Cedric Griffin missed four games to a suspension and is returning.

Watch that play fake. The Seahawks have increasingly used play-action to great effect from the shotgun formation. Wilson has completed 14 of 15 such passes over the past five games. Both defenses must be wary. Griffin's average target depth jumps by a league-high 5 yards on play-action throws. His Total QBR score is a 13th-ranked 58.4 without play-action. It jumps to 86.8, fourth best in the league, when using the tactic. Seattle's defense ranks 24th in QBR allowed (74.4) against play-action. Washington's defense ranks third (46.9) by this measure.

Cornerback playmaking. Griffin, Wilson, Morris and Marshawn Lynch will command most of our attention as the most productive offensive players for each team.

There should be some outstanding battles in the secondaries as well. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is one of four players over the past 10 seasons with at least eight interceptions and three forced fumbles in one season (Charles Woodson and Ed Reed are two others to do it).

Sherman and fellow corner Brandon Browner tick off opposing receivers with their aggressive, sometimes against-the-rules tactics. The Redskins haven't gotten many calls along those lines. They made only seven first downs this season via penalties for illegal contact, defensive pass interference or defensive holding this season. That is half the NFL average and second fewest in the NFL behind Cleveland (six).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
The Washington Redskins will play their third preseason game of 2012 on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET against the Indianapolis Colts. The game is being billed as a showdown between two rookie quarterbacks -- No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck of the Colts against No. 2 draft pick Robert Griffin III of the Redskins. But since those guys won't be on the field at the same time, here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: Tim Hightower. The Redskins' starting running back is seeing his first game action since he tore his ACL last October. Mike Shanahan said Hightower likely wouldn't start, and he doesn't want to overtax him right away. But this begins the process of finding out how much Hightower can help the Redskins early in the season. With Roy Helu and Evan Royster both sitting out due to their injuries, we're likely to see a lot of rookie Alfred Morris and some Tristan Davis at running back, but Hightower is the guy on whom the coaches will have their eye, because they want him back as soon as possible. They consider Hightower the most complete back on the roster, and if his knee will allow it he will be the starter.

On the other side of the ball: The coverages in the secondary. The Redskins have been doing some strange things back there, moving DeAngelo Hall around from the slot corner spot to free safety and all over the place, dropping linebackers into coverage, etc. I think it's because they don't have much quality at cornerback and safety, and their plan is to mix and match coverages as best they can in an effort to disguise their weaknesses. With Brandon Meriweather injured, I'm interested to see if Tanard Jackson can show anything at strong safety, or whether he's strictly in a fight with Madieu Williams for the free safety spot and Reed Doughty is Meriweather's backup. Safety's going to matter, especially if they're planning to use Hall inside and rely on Cedric Griffin to cover outside receivers.

If I think of it: Much as I joke, I'm as interested as anyone else to make a Luck-Griffin comparison. And no one's saying this will offer a definitive one, so we can have some fun with it. This should be Griffin's most extended action of the preseason, if tradition holds. I also have my eye on the offensive line, where Chris Chester returns at right guard but they're still without Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard and of course Jammal Brown at right tackle. I think you should get used to Tyler Polumbus at right tackle.
allas Cowboys Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLike its NFC East rivals, Dallas is shuffling and searching for ways to solidify its offensive line.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries ... all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it -- and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season -- only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.

But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division's other two teams -- the Giants' recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys' longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins -- the stats don't back up the NFC East as the league's toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division's honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.

A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division's offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren't cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.

But they're not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone's biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East's four teams. To wit:
  • Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can't get healthy, and they're thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven't seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn't get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp -- specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free's struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
  • The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn't, obviously, so they're still dealing with Jammal Brown's hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger's knee injury and Will Montgomery's limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
  • After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.

The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who's getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ranks with the game's great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.

All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it's not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East's teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division's annual claim to Beastliness.
With Tim Hightower still out as he continues to recover from last year's serious knee injury, second-year man Evan Royster will start at running back in the Washington Redskins' preseason opener Thursday night in Buffalo, coach Mike Shanahan told reporters Tuesday.

Royster
Royster
I don't see this as a surprise. Royster looked like the best back in camp when I was there last week, and the conversations I had with Redskins people while there led me to believe they think Royster has a higher ceiling than fellow second-year back Roy Helu does assuming both players are fully healthy. I know they also like rookie Alfred Morris, and that he's not out of this mix, and the chief concern they have with both Royster and Helu is health.

So the fact Royster gets the first start doesn't automatically mean he's the favorite to open the regular season as the starter. For one thing, Hightower's recovery is proceeding, and if he can get healthy he's the starting running back. Also, since the chief worry about both Helu and Royster is health, we have to see not only how they look in the preseason but also how they hold up.

Shanahan's history leads me to expect Royster to play the majority of the game Thursday, rather than share time equally with Helu and/or Morris. Shanahan likes to give his running backs "whole games," or something close to it, in the preseason to simulate the kind of work they'd be asked to do if pressed into a starter's role during the season. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Royster play the bulk of Thursday's game and then see either Helu or Morris start and play most of the Aug. 18 preseason game in Chicago.

Also, I'm curious to see how much the evaluation of the running backs is affected by the injury issues with which the Redskins are dealing. Fullback Darrel Young is out for this game, as are starting right tackle Jammal Brown and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, and right guard Chris Chester is a question mark due to a sprained ankle. It's tough for a running back to look his absolute best when he's missing his fullback and three-fifths of his offensive line.

To sum up: Consider this Royster start an interesting clue, but remember there's a lot more to sort and figure out about the Redskins' running back situation.
ASHBURN, Va. -- As the rest of the teams in the NFC East talk about dynasties, defending championships and ... whatever it is that Jerry Jones has been talking about all week, the Washington Redskins are working on moving up from fourth place. It has been a long time since the Redskins were a real factor. They've had three straight losing seasons and have reached the playoffs in just three of the past 19 years.

But for the first time in a long time, there is reason for hope. His name is Robert Griffin III, and he is a rookie quarterback on whom everything now rests. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the right to draft Griffin, and all he has to do is look around or listen to know what he represents to the Redskins' starving fan base.

"I didn't expect the excitement," said Griffin, who doesn't seem to be caught off-guard by too many things. "I wasn't looking to get drafted and have a whole city fall in love with me. So it's definitely a great experience. Hopefully, I can be the catalyst and get a lot of fans excited about this team."

Months before the games -- months before training camp, even -- Griffin already was doing that. His jersey became a fungal phenomenon, sprouting up instantly everywhere in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Stores began selling posters modeled after the iconic 2008 Barack Obama "HOPE" campaign posters, only with Griffin's face on them instead. The public reaction to Griffin has been outsized and unreasonable. But given the way Redskins fans feel about their team and how long they've gone without a franchise quarterback, it's easy for longtime residents of the area to understand.

"It's Washington, man," veteran Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "There's nothing reasonable. The whole city expects 'now,' so at the end of the day, all you can do is give them what they want."

"Now" may not be a reasonable goal for a rookie quarterback on a team that won five games last year and plays in the same division as the Super Bowl champions. But what Griffin has already done around here is change the vibe. People are talking with real excitement about what can or will be. Even coach Mike Shanahan, who has overhauled the roster to the point where 19 of the projected 22 starters weren't on the team two years ago, feels differently about 2012.

"It's the first time, I feel like, you go into a season and you've got a chance," Shanahan said. "You're excited about the year. You're excited about your football team. You're excited about the direction you're going."

That's all new this year, and the new front man is a huge reason why.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the offense be different under Griffin? If you watch the Redskins practice, you see a lot of new stuff. There are rollouts. There are bootlegs. There are designed runs for the quarterback. There are option sets, where Griffin has to decide whether to keep, pitch or throw the ball. Shanahan admits he's throwing a lot at his rookie quarterback, and it's by design.

"What I think you do is, you feed him everything," Shanahan said. "For people to grow, in my opinion, you teach them everything and then you find out what they're able to do. So we teach him everything, see how much he can handle, knowing he's going to get better and better every year because he's smart enough to get it. And then that'll be our job here for the next three weeks, really after this week, to isolate it down more to what we're going to do this season -- get a package for him that he's most comfortable with."

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelRedskins fans are hoping Robert Griffin III can turn things around in Washington.
In other words, all of the stuff we're seeing Griffin do in practice might not necessarily carry over into the season. If there's a particular part of the offense with which he's having a hard time, the Redskins could shelve it until next summer and go with the things they know he can do. Regardless, though, Griffin's athleticism and running ability give the Redskins options they didn't have in previous years. And it may help them cover up question marks on the offensive line and in the running game. Speaking of which ...

2. Do they have enough around him? Shanahan won't talk about the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on the Redskins (and the Cowboys) just before the start of free agency. But it's a pretty fair guess that, had they not been docked $18 million in cap space this year and again next year, they might have been able to sign some offensive line help. They did not. They're bringing back last year's offensive line, and two of the starters are already injured. There's a chance left guard Kory Lichtensteiger makes the season opener, but right tackle Jammal Brown has a recurring hip problem that could prevent them from being able to count on him. The good news is that some of their backups got playing time last year because of injuries and suspension. And left tackle Trent Williams looks like the best player on the field in practices. But Griffin's protection could be an issue all year if the line struggles with injuries.

If it doesn't, Shanahan believes it can be effective because the players all know the system and each other. He's also not worried right now about who will emerge has his starting running back. Veteran Tim Hightower would be the starter if not for his ongoing recovery from last year's knee surgery. Evan Royster, a sixth-round pick in 2011, has looked the best of the remaining bunch so far in camp, but they also like 2011 fourth-round pick Roy Helu and 2012 sixth-rounder Alfred Morris. "We have four backs that can play," Shanahan told me, and he's willing to let the camp competition sort it out for him.

Griffin's receiving group includes newcomers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, veteran Moss and last year's rookie star, Leonard Hankerson, whose 2011 was cut short by injury, appears to be back. They're also expecting big things out of tight end Fred Davis, who was their best pass-catcher for much of last year before a drug suspension cost him the final four games.

3. The secondary. The defensive front seven looks strong and deep, but there are question marks at cornerback and safety. Will DeAngelo Hall thrive in his new role as the nickel corner? Will Cedric Griffin or Kevin Barnes be good enough as his replacement on the outside? Is strong safety Brandon Meriweather a talented star who was miscast in Chicago? Or is he a malcontent who got kicked out of New England because he wasn't playing to his potential? Can Madieu Williams or Tanard Jackson hold down the free safety spot? Lots of new faces and moving parts out there, and these questions need to be answered if the defense is going to continue to make progress.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

As they will tell you, the Redskins did beat the Giants twice last year. And they played the Cowboys tough twice. Of all the last-place teams in the NFL, only one finished closer to its division's first-place team than did the Redskins, who at 5-11 were still only four games out of first. They have replaced a starting quarterback (Rex Grossman) who somehow threw 20 interceptions in only 13 games with a brilliantly talented, charismatic and ultra-promising rookie. They've beefed up at receiver and on the defensive line. And even if all of that isn't enough for them to contend in 2012, Redskins fans have all kinds of reasons to feel good about the direction in which their franchise is pointing.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Eagles should be better than they were last year. The Giants have reason to believe they'll be better than they were last year. The Cowboys made major upgrades at cornerback and should be tougher to play than they were last year. Even with the improvements, there are very few positions (Tight end? Linebacker? 3-4 defensive end?) at which the Redskins appear to be as good as or better than their division rivals. That's a comment on the talent in the rest of the division as much as it is on what the Redskins are doing, but it remains a troubling reality. The Redskins are still a work in progress, and while the NFL prides itself on the number of its annual surprises, a Redskins playoff push at this point would likely rank among the biggest.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Santana Moss
Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRERedskins receiver Santana Moss has lost 16 pounds since last season.
OBSERVATION DECK
  • Moss' weight loss is striking. He's down 16 pounds and says he feels completely different. The Redskins' coaches called him in the offseason and told him they thought he was too big, and he agreed, so he got in shape and has come to camp determined to show the world he's still a top receiver.
  • The Redskins are converting Niles Paul, who last year was a rookie wide receiver, to tight end. He's 234 pounds and said his biggest concern when they asked him to make the change was that he wouldn't be able to block big pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul. But incumbent tight end Chris Cooley told him it was all about technique, and Cooley has been working with Paul to help refine that.
  • That's a pretty cool thing for Cooley to do for a player who may be about to take his job. Shows you what kind of guy and teammate Cooley is. He's got a chance to stick on the roster, but he has to show he's healthy and probably take a pay cut.
  • The Redskins' plan as of now for three-receiver sets is to use Garcon and Hankerson wide and Moss in the slot. But Moss could play well enough to see action outside in two-receiver sets, especially if Hankerson and Morgan have injury problems. Morgan, who has always had those, is being looked at as someone who can play any of the three receiver slots in Shanahan's offense.
  • Shanahan named defensive lineman Chris Baker as a player he thinks will surprise people. If that's true, the defensive line rotation looks formidable with Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who missed his rookie year with a knee injury but is back and looking good.
  • Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will switch up from time to time this year instead of staying pinned to specific sides of the field. Orakpo also says he's working on adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal in an effort to get his sack numbers up.
  • Neil Rackers has a chance to unseat Graham Gano as the kicker, but Gano held off a challenge from veteran Shayne Graham in preseason last year, so don't give up on him yet.
  • Brandon Banks has been told he has to make the team as a receiver, not just a return man. If he doesn't make it, look for Aldrick Robinson as a possible kick returner.
  • Somehow, we have reached this point in the Camp Confidential without mentioning the name of London Fletcher. But he's still very much in the middle of things at age 37. He ran an interception in for a touchdown during the first week of training camp. He's in the best shape of anyone in camp, as usual. They put Griffin's locker next to his because they felt Griffin could benefit from proximity to their best veteran leader, and Griffin said he knew right away the significance of the locker assignment. Fletcher said he wanted to come back to Washington in part because he wants to be there when they turn it around. If they do, his presence will of course be a big reason why.
ASHBURN, Va. -- You guys want to know who stood out in Washington Redskins practice today, and the easy answer for me is left tackle Trent Williams. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft, who missed the final four games of the 2011 season on a drug suspension, is impressing folks all over the building this month. Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are switching sides on certain plays this year, which means each is getting a turn trying to get past Williams. And they're not enjoying it very much.

"Trent's a beast," Kerrigan said. "I mean, we were just talking in the meeting room earlier today. He's having a phenomenal training camp and there's no reason why he can't be one of the top tackles in this league. He obviously has the talent, but I think this offseason he's really put his mind to it and gotten after it. What can you do against him? He's strong as an ox and quick as a cat. He's awesome."

The issue of Williams' potential awesomeness has never been in question. He was, after all, the No. 4 pick in the draft. He is strong, quick and athletic in ways that could make him one of the very best at his position. The only questions with Williams have been about focus and demeanor. And when he got popped for the drug suspension last year, those questions came into clear focus.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Trent Williams
Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRETrent Williams has impressed at Redskins training camp. "Trent's a beast," Ryan Kerrigan said.
But Williams now knows he can't mess up again, or he's going to forfeit more millions of dollars than most people can even imagine having in the first place. And it looks and sounds as though he's re-dedicated himself.

"He's different this year," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told me after practice. "There is a sense of urgency. Everybody can see it. I'm just hoping he keeps it on a straight line. I told him, 'I'm never going to compliment you again. You can make a great play, and I'm still going to be on your butt.'"

Sounds like a pretty good plan. And it sounds as though, so far, it's working.

Some other thoughts/observations/sights/sounds from my second and final day here:
  • Yes, in answer to a question I've received a few times, Orakpo and Kerrigan are switching sides of the field depending on the plays and the matchups. "We do it just to give different looks," Orakpo explained "We see a lot of teams around the league doing it, and we started doing it towards the end of the season last year and had a lot of success, and we're going to continue to do so. We're going to take the mismatches and continue to roll with that. If Kerrigan's better on my right side, we're going to put him on my right. If he's better on the left, we're going to put him on the left." It looked as though Orakpo spent more time over the left tackle in practice Tuesday, but Kerrigan was there toward the end.
  • Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III throws a very pretty deep pass and looks remarkably natural as a runner. He does take a little too long with some of his drops, though, and that's something that has to be worked out with more and more training camp reps. No one seems worried. Griffin is smart and talented enough that the expectation is that he'll iron it all out. It's just important for fans to remember that the ironing does need to be done.
  • Running back Tim Hightower still isn't participating in team drills. Shanahan said he decided not to put Hightower on the PUP list because he thought there'd be some benefit to having him do the individual drills so he could get more comfortable with making his cuts again after last season's knee surgery. It remains to be seen when Hightower will start to see more action. Meanwhile, Evan Royster seems to be getting the most first-team reps and impressing the coaching staff the most. Roy Helu looks fine, though he did drop one pass. And rookie Alfred Morris is someone to watch as well, though he had a fumble. I get the impression after talking with Shanahan in his office Tuesday night that he would be comfortable starting any of the four.
  • They're still going with Maurice Hurt at first-team left guard and Tyler Polumbus at first-team right tackle with starters Kory Lichtensteiger and Jammal Brown out with injuries.
  • Several different guys have played the slot position, but if I had to bet right now I'd bet on Santana Moss as the slot receiver with Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson as the starters outside. The Redskins believe Josh Morgan can play any of the three spots.
  • Orakpo had his battles with Williams, but he looked remarkably quick snuffing out a bubble screen to Hankerson during the outdoor portion of Tuesday afternoon's practice (before thunderstorms forced the second half of it indoors).
  • Strong safety Brandon Meriweather got to Griffin twice on safety blitzes. He didn't hit him, of course, but he let everybody know how excited he was. As he ran back to the huddle after the second, Meriweather could be heard crowing, "I got him again!" Madieu Williams continued to start at free safety, though once again Tanard Jackson wasn't allowed to practice since it was just his second day off of PUP. He'll be allowed to practice from now on.
  • Rex Grossman threw an interception, but you were probably already assuming that.
  • I am headed up the road now to Bethlehem, Pa., where I will be checking out the Philadelphia Eagles for the next two days. But I still have plenty more from Redskins camp that I'll roll out in the coming days. Our Redskins "Camp Confidential" is scheduled to run Thursday, so look for that. But beyond that, I'll have some more of my own reporting to share with you, including that Kerrigan interview that one guy keeps bugging me about.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Late in the Washington Redskins' afternoon practice, after catching a pass near the goal line, tight end Chris Cooley fumbled. Linebacker Bryan Kehl picked the ball up and ran the length of the field, fairly certain of a touchdown. Had you asked Kehl during that run what the likelihood was of the team's rookie starting quarterback running him down from 80 yards away and preventing that touchdown, he'd likely have laughed. But that's exactly what happened.

"I'm not going to let the guy have a free touchdown," Robert Griffin III explained through his famous smile at his news conference a few moments later. "So I ran him down, because I could. It's more of a thing to show the team not to give up on a play."

Coach Mike Shanahan was watching.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciRedskins quarterback Robert Griffin III made an impression with his hustle at Monday's practice.
"I was hoping he wasn't going to pull a hamstring," Shanahan said. "But yeah, that shows you the pride that he has."

Griffin's getting rave reviews around these parts for his attitude and the way in which he is balancing his dual responsibilities of fitting in with and taking charge of the team. After hearing a comment Griffin made about his ability to break arm tackles, cornerback DeAngelo Hall made him carry his pads Monday, telling him it would help him build up the strength to keep breaking those arm tackles. And Griffin is working on his rendition of "My Girl" for the team's rookie talent show, which begins Tuesday night. But he's also looking for opportunities to lead, and chasing after Kehl on a play that was basically over was one.

Of course, what you want to know is how he looked while actually practicing. My first impression was that he looked like a rookie -- a beat too slow with his decision-making in some key spots and a little bit off with throws in part as a result of that. This is what you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look like less than one week into his first training camp, and so there's no reason to be overly concerned about it. He throws a great-looking ball, obviously, and when he runs with it he looks fantastic. The issue is getting used to the speed of the NFL game. He's got plenty of time for that, and to hear him tell it, he's got help from his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

"Guys you go against every day in practice, they've seen this offense time and time again and they're good at stopping it," Griffin said. "Nobody will be as good at it as [Ryan] Kerrigan and [Brian] Orakpo, and that's just helping me get better."

Some other thoughts from my first day here at Redskins training camp:
  • The offensive line looks like a real problem area, and it's down two starters. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage in his surgically repaired knee. The scope showed no damage to knee ligaments, and Shanahan said he's hoping Lichtensteiger will be back by the first regular-season game. Right tackle Jammal Brown is still awaiting news on his recurring hip problem. So Maurice Hurt was starting at left guard and Tyler Polumbus at right tackle with the first-team offense Monday, and the line was overmatched, even against Washington's second-team defense. It needs to jell quickly. Griffin is, as you might have heard, a considerable investment for this organization. It'd be good to keep him upright if possible.
  • Veteran Santana Moss is the shrimp of a wide receiving corps that includes Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson, but he looks great and sounds motivated, and I wouldn't count him out as a starter opposite Garcon. The Redskins used Hankerson and Morgan in the slot, as well as Moss, during practice Monday.
  • Evan Royster looks very good in the competition at running back. Tim Hightower sat out team drills because of his recovery from his knee injury, so Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris got the reps. Royster made one excellent leaping one-handed catch, and skittered through the defense for a big gain on another play.
  • The defensive line rotation is very fluid on the first-team unit. There were plays on which Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen were the ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield, plays on which Adam Carriker and Bowen flanked Cofield, plays on which Carriker and Bowen played the ends with Jenkins in the middle ... That's the way they want to run it, to keep everyone fresh, if possible.
  • Madieu Williams was the first-team free safety with Brandon Meriweather playing strong safety. Tanard Jackson, who's a candidate for that starting free safety spot, isn't allowed to practice in pads for his first two days off the PUP list, so it remains to be seen where he fits into the depth chart.
  • DeAngelo Hall was used a great deal as the slot cornerback with either Kevin Barnes or Cedric Griffin on the outside opposite Josh Wilson. It looked like he was beaten a few times, though on those plays the ball was not thrown to his man.
  • London Fletcher intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Just the way he's done it since the time of leather helmets. Seriously, that guy doesn't age.
  • Former Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff tore the same ACL he tore in the preseason last year, and he will miss the entire season. The Redskins viewed him as a potentially valuable backup at inside linebacker.
After the Washington Redskins' first training camp practice, coach Mike Shanahan told reporters that right tackle Jammal Brown had been placed on the physically unable to perform list due to his recurring hip injury. Rich Campbell of the Washington Times reports via Twitter that Brown's hip tightened up on him Wednesday and that he will have an MRI.

Brown
This is distressing first-day news for the Redskins for a couple of reasons. First, an offseason of yoga and other new training was supposed to have resolved Brown's hip problems, and the Redskins were counting on him coming to camp healthy. And second, they really don't have any good options to replace him.

The Redskins looked at tackles during free agency, bringing in Demetress Bell when his name was Demetrius and before the Eagles signed him to be their left tackle in the wake of the Jason Peters injury. But they didn't sign anyone, and as of minicamp last month their hope was that Brown would be healthy enough to start for them.

What they do have going for them is that the season is still six weeks away, and this is a problem that could blow over. But because it's Brown, and because it's the hip, there's a here-we-go-again feel to it. The best thing they can say about potential replacements Willie Smith and Tyler Polumbus is that they got some experience late last year when Brown was hurt and left tackle Trent Williams was suspended, so they're a little more prepared to step into the zone-blocking scheme than they were a year ago. They also have former Buccaneers tackle James Lee, a five-year veteran, in camp, and they like sixth-round draft pick Tom Compton, though he's a rookie and likely a long-term project.

Basically, if Brown is hurt, the Redskins start the season with their offensive line a bigger question mark than it already was. And considering that they have a very pricey rookie quarterback to protect and that their run game depends on the cohesive blocking schemes of the line, this is no small issue.
South Dakota tackle Tom Compton was the 11th-rated offensive tackle in this draft, according to Scouts Inc. The Washington Redskins just took him with the 23rd pick in the sixth round (193rd overall) as they continue to use the latter part of this draft to added needed depth to their offensive line mix.

Compton is a tough player with good size for his position who was a durable and reliable performer in college, albeit not at a major program. The questions are mainly about the level of competition he faced while playing for South Dakota, so it remains to be seen if his physical traits and impressive tape can translate to the NFL level. If they can, he could be a candidate for immediate playing time at right tackle in Washington if Jammal Brown continues to have physical problems. If they can't, the Redskins will take a chance in the sixth round that they can develop him into a useful player.

The Redskins got this pick from the Steelers in exchange for moving back 10 spots in the fourth round earlier in the day Saturday.
Yeah, I know. You want to know when the Washington Redskins are going to re-sign London Fletcher. Don't have anything for you on that. All I can tell you is that they still plan to do it, he hasn't signed with anyone else yet and there are five months left before the season starts, so there's no real reason to worry that I can see.

In the meantime, though, they are still working. Mike Shanahan has said many times that the biggest thing the Redskins have lacked since he got there was depth. Having struck out in their pursuit of an upgrade at right tackle, they announced Monday that they have signed tackle James Lee, a former Buccaneer and Brown who will be thrown into the reserve tackle mix along with Willie Smith and Tyler Polumbus. He provides some level of veteran insurance in case Jammal Brown still can't shake his hip injury. At this point, with the top free-agent tackles all signed elsewhere and unless they can find a starter in the third round of the draft or later, the Redskins' best bet at right tackle is a healthy Brown. They just need to make sure they have some coverage in the somewhat likely event that Brown is not healthy.

Earlier in the day, ESPN 980 in Washington reported the Redskins had agreed to terms with defensive end Kedric Golston, who played for them last year and gets thrown into the defensive line mix. Having already re-signed Adam Carriker earlier in the offseason, and expecting Jarvis Jenkins back from the injury that cost him his rookie season, the Redskins believe their defensive line depth is a strength of the team. They signed defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in free agency last year, and both are back as projected starters in 2012.

Expect the Redskins to keep making depth moves in advance of the draft. They had defensive back Madieu Williams in for a free-agent visit last week, and they still intend to re-sign Fletcher and running back Tim Hightower.
Part of the fallout from the Philadelphia Eagles' signing of tackle Demetress (nee Demetrius) Bell is that the Washington Redskins, who'd wanted to sign Bell to fortify their offensive line, will not. The Redskins, as Mike Jones points out, have missed on a number of offensive line targets in free agency this year and right now would start the same five offensive linemen they started in Week 1 last year. That's okay from the standpoint that the line played very well in the first four games before injuries set in. But it's less okay from the standpoint of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger trying to recover from two torn knee ligaments and right tackle Jammal Brown dealing with a persistent hip problem.

So, while we know the Redskins' first pick in the draft three weeks from tonight will be a quarterback, and that they don't have a pick in the second round, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that, once they start picking again in Round 3, they start picking offensive linemen.

The aforementioned quarterback -- be he Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck -- is going to need help. As great as those guys project to be down the road, the Redskins' starting quarterback in 2012 is going to be a rookie, and he's going to need protection. The Redskins' offensive line last year, when fully healthy, played fairly well. It blocked for the running game and did a good job of protecting the passer. But the passer, in those first four games, was a veteran NFL quarterback somewhat used to the speed of the game and the complex looks he was seeing from opposing defenses. The offensive line in front of Griffin or Luck will have to be even better than it was in 2011.

The Redskins know this, and it's why they were looking at upgrades over Lichtensteiger and Brown. They wouldn't mind finding a new center, moving Will Montgomery out to guard and deepening their personnel across the whole line -- maybe even giving Lichtensteiger and Brown a little more time to get whole. Best available offensive lineman, regardless of position, looks like the way for Washington to go in the third round, and maybe even with one of their fourth-round picks as well. The only other area I think they'll specifically target is the secondary, but they actually had some success there in free agency, so it's less of a priority than the line.

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