NFL Nation: Jason Hatcher

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
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


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.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.
IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."
IRVING, Texas -- A year ago, Barry Church was something of a question mark.

He was coming off a torn Achilles and played in parts of only three games in 2012.

This year, the safety might be the Dallas Cowboys' most established defender.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church
AP Photo/James D SmithMore will be asked of Barry Church this season.
Anthony Spencer is the most tenured, but he might not play until the seventh game of the season. Orlando Scandrick has the most Dallas experience among the defensive backs, but he will be pushed for a starting job by Morris Claiborne. Bruce Carter has more career starts, but the linebacker is enigmatic to say the least.

That leaves Church, who led the Cowboys with 147 tackles from his safety spot. He also had five tackles for loss, an interception, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

“You never want to get too complacent or take things for granted,” Church said. “I feel like I have a role on this team now, especially at the safety crew because I’m one of the oldest guys out there in the secondary, me and Orlando and Brandon Carr. It’s a different role coming in being one of the old guys.”

Church came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He worked his way up from special-teamer to sub-package player to a starter.

This year he figures to add another role: leader.

With Sean Lee out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Cowboys are in need of a defensive leader. Church deferred to Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher last year, but now the younger players (as well as his peers) will look to him.

The coaches have asked him to be more vocal.

“I pretty much know the defense front and back, so the more I can communicate to the other guys and get people lined up, the better. I definitely feel like I can do it. I could’ve done it last year, but Sean was the designated leader and the vocal captain, so you roll with him. He was the guy. He proved himself. I was coming off an injury and had to re-prove myself.”

Church is a player coach Jason Garrett often cites as an example to younger players trying to figure it out.

“He loves to play,” Garrett said. “People respond to him. And he does a lot of positive things. He’s around the ball a lot. He makes a lot of plays. So he has that way about him where people kind of gravitate toward him because of his personality and because of his play. Just needs to play more and keep doing that. In regards to the absence of Sean, he absolutely needs to step up as a leader. Your best players need to do that. When you play a position like safety, you’re a big communicator back there with everybody else in the secondary. So being strong with his [voice] and being strong with his mannerisms and getting everybody squared away, I think that’s a big part of what his job is.”

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
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.
Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 

Jay Gruden energizes Redskins

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
12:45
PM ET
Jay Gruden AP Photo/Nick WassIn a short time, Jay Gruden has brought a more relaxed atmosphere to the Washington Redskins.
The energy is different, as it always is when there’s a new coach. New drills, new voices, a new vibe, new storylines that don’t involve backroom drama. The Washington Redskins needed it, badly, after a 3-13 season punctuated by anonymous swipes at star players and a few at the coaches. Reputations were altered; the direction of the franchise changed.

Life is calmer now for the Redskins. (Well, if you don’t count the storm over their nickname.) That’s the result of hiring Jay Gruden, whose candor, insight and friendliness provides the franchise a breath of fresh air. But also an unknown: Though opinion around the NFL was split on his hiring, Gruden has passed the first test of his tenure by laying a solid foundation. And the Redskins head into training camp next month energized.

It’s about a new trust, felt by players and coaches. Gruden has made it clear from the get-go: This is about the players. There’s a different level of ownership by the players and even some of the coaches. Maybe it helps that Gruden took a different path to reach this point, starring in the Arena League for many years, but he coaches without much of an ego, or at least not one that overwhelms him. He didn’t come to Washington with a system, he came with beliefs in what he wanted to run and fused them with what worked well here in the past. Not all coaches operate that way.

Any change after such a disastrous season feels like a good one. Any new voice feels like the right one, especially when the new guy is a lot different than the old one. Mike Shanahan loved having total control; Gruden favors delegating authority. Shanahan did not jump into drills to provide a look for the offense (others would); Gruden will do just that. Not that one way is the right way. And, of course, one of them won Super Bowls and the other hasn’t won an NFL game yet. That’s why, for now, all we know is that the offseason has been a mostly good one for the Redskins.

Griffin
The feel-good offseason started with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s work. He got the necessary work in that he could not get last season because of his knee. He worked hard on his mechanics and will continue to do so; he looked much more relaxed around Gruden than under Shanahan. He’s not wearing a brace; he can be more himself. He’s as confident as he’s been in a while.

However, Griffin also is still learning to be a pocket passer. That doesn’t just mean throwing a pass from the pocket, but also knowing when to run and where and how quickly to go from your first option to your second or third. It doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do it, but it does mean there’s an ongoing transition that will take time. Nor does it mean he won’t make plays in the process. If he’s more himself, why wouldn’t he? There are things he does well as a passer; the trick for Gruden is incorporating those while he improves in other areas. Knock the Shanahans all you want, they coaxed a terrific season from a rookie quarterback two years ago.

Jackson
DeSean Jackson’s arrival might not be the same feel-good story because there’s some risk involved, but it certainly can be cause for optimism. The guy is a playmaker; the Redskins needed a playmaker.

But Jackson is an emotional player, and the Redskins need to successfully harness that and know how to deal with him. The good news for Washington is that Griffin made it a point to learn what motivates Jackson and bond with him. That helps now; it needs to pay off during the season.

The defense can feel good, too. It added pass-rushers in Jason Hatcher and, the Redskins hope, Trent Murphy. They have a vocal leader at safety in Ryan Clark. They’ve added two outstanding linebacker coaches in Kirk Olivadotti (inside) and Brian Baker (outside), the latter of whom has focused heavily on pass rush techniques. They’ve talked a great game about a more aggressive pass rush.

Hatcher
Hatcher
But as the Redskins exit the spring, Hatcher is coming off knee surgery, joining two other key players along the defensive line in that regard. The defense might have five starters 30 years or older and there are questions about what certain players have left.

Then there’s Gruden. Players have talked about the new energy in practices, stemming from him and his new hires. Coaches like him because they have more freedom -- to hire, to implement ideas, to coach. It matters. It’s too early to say he changed the culture; Shanahan was said to have done the same thing. But Gruden has changed the mood. There’s a different level of passion, stemming from his energy and the coaches. It rubs off on players. Because of that, it (should) enable him to command the room, a pre-hire criticism. That is, as long as you bring in the right players who won’t abuse that trust. It’s a fine line.

Is he organized enough? That was a knock before he was hired. Then again, his offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, is ultra-organized. Can Gruden command the room? How will he handle it if the defense struggles and he feels they should tweak or change their coverages or philosophy? Or how will he handle in-game adjustments, clock management? Player discipline?

We’ve learned a lot about Gruden, but there’s so much more to learn -- questions that can’t be answered until the season begins. Until then, the Redskins can feel optimistic. They’ve been at this point before. The next step has always been the hardest.
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.
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."

Jason Hatcher to have MRI on knee

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
12:40
PM ET
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.

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
12:30
PM ET
Not a lot going on, so it's a good time to catch up on some salary-cap numbers and scenarios. All numbers are from ESPN Stats & Information:

Cap space available: The Redskins have $2,551,306 left against the salary cap. Only three teams have less room against the cap (Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego). The Giants have $6.9 million available, but both Dallas ($10.2 million) and Philadelphia ($20.2 million) are in strong shape. Don’t forget, teams can carry cap space into next season. Also, as of now only the top 51 players count against the cap in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins would save $5.5 million against the cap if they cut Stephen Bowen after this season.
Cap savings: If the Redskins really wanted to save a few extra dollars, they could always look at right guard Chris Chester. If they cut him, it would save $2.7 million against the cap. But, again, someone has to beat him out. If they felt that confident about someone else they likely would have made a move by now. But they do have some young options here between rookie Spencer Long and third-year players Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. However, while Long obviously has never played, the other two have limited experience. Tyler Polumbus' release would save $1.5 million, but that means that either rookie Morgan Moses or third-year Tom Compton is ready to start. It’s hard to imagine Moses being at that point and Compton was not there at the end of last season.

Another place that will be interesting is the defensive line. The Redskins kept six at this spot each of the past three seasons. If they only keep that many this year, it means a veteran could be in trouble. They clearly aren’t going to cut Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher or Chris Baker. Also, as long as Stephen Bowen is healthy he’ll stick around.

Yes, the Redskins could have re-worked his deal (which counts $7.02 million against the cap) but they have wisely been reluctant to spread money into the future for players who may only be around another year or so. That’s the case with Bowen. He has one year left on his contract and is coming off microfracture surgery. I don’t care how optimistic you are about him, can you trust he’ll be around and playing at a solid level in two years? No. The way they’ve done things in the past they could ask him to take a pay cut, but they typically did that before this point. Just so you know: Bowen would save $5.5 million against the cap if cut after this season.

So if Bowen sticks, that gives the Redskins four. If they keep six again, that means they’d have room for two among Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston and Clifton Geathers. Here’s the savings for each player: Geathers ($600,000), Golston ($1,005,000), Jenkins ($1,027,184). Nose tackle Chris Neild also would be in trouble. His savings would be $645,000.

Highest paid: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000) followed by Trent Williams ($10,980,393). By the way, both players will count more against the cap than all the players at five other positions: safeties ($5.1 million), tight ends ($4 million), running backs $5.6 million), quarterback ($7.1 million) and cornerback ($8.6 million).

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.

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