NFL Nation: Jim Haslett

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.
The Washington Redskins enter their final week of offseason work with a three-day minicamp. It'll look a lot like their OTA practices, but the difference is that this week is mandatory. With temperatures expected in the 90s, or near them, over the next three days, it'll be good preparation for Richmond later this summer.

Here are some things -- but certainly not all -- that I'll be looking for over the next three days:

Robert Griffin III's finish: It’s tough when you watch someone just once a week to accurately gauge their progress. Griffin has had some good moments and not-so-good ones, but watching over three days will reveal more about where he’s at in terms of his passing. Has he remained consistent with his fundamentals? Is the accuracy more consistent? What we still won’t see until games begin is the ability to extend plays, which is a huge part of his game. But a good week for Griffin would propel him into the final month before camp with a lot of momentum, capping what has been a productive offseason for him. Don't know what that will mean for the season, but he'll exit this offseason feeling much, much different than he did a year ago at this time for a variety of reasons.

Offensive design: During the OTAs, we saw a lot of situational football – red zone, third downs, two minutes, etc. Hoping we get to see even more, to get a better sense of who the Redskins might be this season. Thus far, Griffin has operated a lot under center and in shotgun during certain situations. Coach Jay Gruden sounds intent on developing him, so this helps. (Not that the other staff didn’t want to develop him; it had Griffin as a rookie and then with no offseason. Tough to develop a player who can’t practice. How it would have handled it I don’t know.)

Rookie improvement: Rookie tackle Morgan Moses knows the issue he has with staying low and has worked on it since the OTAs started. Over three days, how much improvement will he show? How about Trent Murphy? His spin move has been terrific (mostly against young players); how much else will he show? Bashaud Breeland seems to have improved and, with Tracy Porter’s durability an issue, he could be a plus for the Redskins. But is he still grabbing too much? It’s hard with the running backs to tell a whole lot, so Lache Seastrunk’s true impact won’t be known until the games start. Thus far he hasn’t stood out. Is guard Spencer Long looking more comfortable?

Defensive looks: How are they using their personnel? Will they really be doing a lot of different things this season? Or is it just offseason chatter? Won’t know for a while on that, but we’ll get to see more of what they plan to do. In some cases it’s not about having different looks, it’s about – they hope – having better rushers with the addition of Murphy and Jason Hatcher.

Offensive line: There will be an interesting battle along the line this summer, even if it’s just for one of the backup positions (especially at guard). If the Redskins keep nine offensive linemen, that means two players from this group might not make it: Mike McGlynn, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus, Maurice Hurt and Tom Compton. This assumes Chris Chester keeps his job (not a lock). And they’re not going to cut Long or Moses. Remember, they signed McGlynn in free agency and his ability to play center helps. The others have some work to do.

David Amerson’s progression: He’s had a quiet camp and I mean that in a good way. It’s not like he’s messing up or getting beat and looks lost. Does that continue this week? Amerson’s continued improvement (plus a lack of cap room) is among the reasons the Redskins are not one of the teams who have inquired about recently released corner Brandon Flowers, according to a source.

DeSean Jackson: Needs to make sure he exits these three days with a good hamstring. If he’s fully recovered, it’s always impressive to watch his speed. He’s not the fastest player I’ve ever covered (Darrell Green), but he is explosive.

Coordinator chatter: We should get our first chance to interview special teams coach Ben Kotwica this week, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Will be nice to finally hear more of what they think about their groups after the spring workouts end.
The wrinkles they added last year were, more or less, on their own faces. The season aged them all, from the owner down through the coaching staff.

Then came the changes in the staff. Then came, well, new wrinkles. This time in the form of the defensive playbook. The storyline this offseason for the defense: The Redskins will unleash the pass rush more, tinkering with the philosophy to generate more pressure. It’s not a 100 percent of the time issue; that would be a huge change.

But the opportunities will be more. Or so they hear.

“I can only hope so,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I feel that’s where we’re starting now. You can go into it with the best intentions, but if you don’t get it done and you’re hurting the team, you have to make changes to generate pressure. It will come down to execution. But I can genuinely say that’s the plan. We’ll do different things up front, not just the line, it’s linebackers included, that should allow us to play in the backfield more and make big, disruptive plays.”

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
AP Photo/Ben MargotBarry Cofield is excited about the changes coming to the Washington defense.
The Redskins have been a two-gap defense, with the line responsible for occupying blockers so the linebackers can make plays. They mirrored their 3-4 off of Pittsburgh, which also is two-gap. Some 3-4s are one-gap systems, like Arizona (which switched to this style last season).

Jason Hatcher, signed in free agency, fits the one-gap style well – it’s what he did last season in Dallas’ 4-3 front. The Redskins can use that style when they go to their nickel packages (as they have done in the past). Regardless, the players believe they’ll be doing different things to help this season. They need to as the pressure the past two years was inconsistent, especially when only rushing four. Hatcher’s ability to beat one-on-one blocking inside should make a difference – they hope. (More on him in another post.) And the secondary desperately needs the front to apply more heat.

It will help them that they’re facing a different level of quarterback in 2014. They will see Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick (in addition to Tony Romo and Eli Manning twice. Not to mention Nick Foles, if he can maintain his level of performance). Five teams have major questions at quarterback with a sixth (St. Louis) that has a big-money guy who has not performed at a high level at all (Sam Bradford).

Last season, they faced 10 of the top 14 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating. They’ll play six games in 2014 against quarterbacks who finished in the top 14 this past season (seven if Josh McCown starts in Tampa Bay). That doesn’t mean a whole lot right now because things change. But last season they faced a stronger group that included Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and even Matthew Stafford (who finished 20th in passer rating, but still threw 29 touchdowns to 19 interceptions).

The oft-repeated storyline this offseason has been that minus Mike Shanahan in charge, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett finally has all the say. We don’t know if Shanahan made positive suggestions defensively; that never gets leaked.

But, the point is, there’s a belief that things will be different. How much that plays out won't be known until September. For now, it's April and that means we're about to enter about four months' worth of stories saying how it could be different. The players are hearing the same things.

“We’re not in on all the meetings so I can’t sit here and tell you who is dictating what," Cofield said. "I just know Coach Haslett is very excited and he has a lot of new wrinkles for us and has different things we’re going to do. Whether that’s him being more himself or whatever may be, I’m not sure. All I can tell you is he’s excited, we’re excited and the new wrinkles will help.”
ORLANDO, Fla. -- He wasn't a Pro Bowler and didn't play every down. He also happened to be a guy Andy Reid liked having on the roster. Akeem Jordan played for him in Philadelphia, then followed him to Kansas City.

Jordan, though, signed with the Redskins in free agency to play linebacker for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and bolster the special teams. Jordan could end up serving in a similar role to the one he's had the past seven years: helping from scrimmage and on special teams. Last year, for example, he played 469 snaps from scrimmage (fourth most among Chiefs' linebackers) and 322 on special teams.

"They're getting a good, solid football player," Reid said. "He can play all the spots. Jim will love him, a smart guy. Tough. Great special-teams player -- one of the better special-teams players. He has a knack. He's not the biggest and he's not the fastest. He just knows how to do it. That held consistent in Philadelphia to Kansas City."

Reid didn't like him enough to pay him what the Redskins did. He brought him to Kansas City on a one-year deal worth $715,000 and only a $10,000 bonus. He started 44 games in seven seasons with Reid.

Jordan played inside in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.

"He made the calls, he's a smart kid," Reid said. "He's very football-savvy or whatever term you want to use, he's got that. Players respect him and like him for his toughness."

Jay Gruden: Meetings 'overwhelming'

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
ORLANDO, FL. -- New Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden emerged from another meeting, ready to hustle somewhere else, and sounding a bit drained from the experience. Six straight hours of meetings, he said. It's part of the gig for a head coach; it's also a new experience for him.

"I'm a little brain dead now," Gruden said. "Being a coordinator and being a head coach are totally different, and it's starting to sink in a little bit with all the things you're responsible for on and off the field. It's overwhelming now, but once I take time to go back and read through all my notes, hopefully I'll be better prepared for it."

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaWashington's Jay Gruden is attending his first owners meetings as an NFL head coach.
But, speaking at the owners meetings here, Gruden also said being around the other head coaches has been fun. It's also a bit daunting as well.

"[Bill] Belichick, Tom Coughlin, these guys have been great coaches for a long time," he said. "Now to be in the same group with them is exciting. I have a lot of work to do."

But it's work that will be a little on hiatus until he leaves Wednesday.

"I always feel like anytime I'm away from the office I'm missing out on doing something," he said. "It's very stressful, but I know we're coming along at the right pace. Our schedule is intact for OTAs... and the draft and all those things are ready to roll. I still feel like I need to be there doing something."

His big surprise thus far? How easy things have gone since he was hired.

"The communication with the staff and [owner] Dan Snyder, so far it's been a smooth process," he said. "We haven't played a game yet, obviously, haven't had a chance to meet all the players yet. But I'm very happy the way things are going."

He also likes having two former head coaches on his staff in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris.

"Having coaches who have been through it is very, very important," Gruden said. "I lean on them heavily."

The Redskins' players can start offseason workouts April 7, which is two weeks earlier than teams who do not have first-time head coaches. But it's still later than it used to be before the new CBA.

"We'll have plenty of time," Gruden said. "You'd like to have more time, you'd like to be able to meet with them now and go over the playbook. You'd like to go outside and play catch with them if you wanted to. Obviously the rules prohibit that. But we'll have plenty of time to get going mentally and physically. Sometimes it's good to get the player away from the building for some time so he can reflect and get ready on his own. A lot of these guys are self-starters anyway. They'll do a lot of work on their own. I know Robert [Griffin III] is working hard now. He has a bunch of guys in Arizona this week. It's exciting to see them work on their own and when they're here we'll help them along the way."
1. Yes, I’m surprised the Washington Redskins did not land one of the top safeties available. I’m not sure, however, that I would have paid Jairus Byrd what New Orleans did (yes, I know his first-year cap hit is only $4 million, but Year 3 will be a whopper of a figure). I wasn’t sold on Malcolm Jenkins as an option, either; certainly not at the price Philadelphia paid. That leaves Mike Mitchell, who signed with the Steelers. Nor would I have given Aqib Talib the deal he got from Denver ($26 million guaranteed). I like Talib; I also know he hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2009, and players don’t become healthier as they age. It’s a shame because he would have helped.

2. Byrd would have helped because of his deep middle skills. But the area that must be fixed is the pass rush. And people I trust who have played this game or coached in it all said the same: They would sign the expensive corner before the safety -- yes, even at a time where it seems the safety position has become a bigger deal. In other words, Talib over Byrd. But both received deals not recommended for a team that needs to fill so many holes.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Mike Mitchell
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins showed interest in Mike Mitchell, who landed with the Steelers.
3. Safeties often are a product of their front seven. Carolina had a terrific front. That’s the thing with Mitchell: Was last year the start of something for his career? He’s only 26 after all. Or was he the product of right place, right time? But his deal did not seem outlandish (five years, $25 million, but I have not yet seen the breakdown). This is the one that puzzles me a bit. No, I'm not sure what they will do here yet and, yes, they need to do something -- a few things. Still, the Redskins need to improve their pass rush; you can't rely on two outside linebackers anymore to generate all the heat, especially when they're good but not great 'backers.

4. The problem is, the Redskins didn’t temper expectations at all. We heard they would be active. We knew they made their first call of the legal tampering period to Mitchell. They clearly liked him (while he had a good year, I did hear mixed opinions from a couple people outside the organization when asking about him. Nobody hated his game, but there were some doubts). They also clearly set a price. I’m all for that; not doing so in the past has led to many, many bad deals -- for which they’re being knocked with the same intensity they are now. But they made it seem as if they would be in on these deals, setting up fans for disappointment. Heck, some of their own members of the organization, too.

5. By the way, it’s not that I endorse what the Redskins are doing, it’s that I refuse to get caught up in hysteria over the lack of certain moves. Have been around too long and seen too much to go that route. Have seen too many first-day splashy signings result in “Possible Super Bowl” talk only to lead to buyer’s remorse.

6. History shows that the Redskins and overspending do not mix. Or most teams for that matter. Free agency is a way to complete a team, not build one. The problem is, that means you must draft and develop well, and the Redskins haven’t done that either.

7. I seriously doubt there would be this much angst if this front office had a track record like, say, GM Ozzie Newsome and Baltimore. The Ravens could let players walk last year and even those who were baffled had to come back to this: “Well, Ozzie knows what he’s doing.” The Redskins haven’t done anything to warrant that sentiment. Maybe they will in time; they haven’t yet. With no trust built up, panic ensues when certain moves aren’t made. I get that aspect big time.

8. Is this a new approach they’re trying? Or did they fail to execute their plan? I’ve seen many plans over the past 15 years; all have pretty much failed. But there were some offseasons that stood out for their inactivity, like before Marty Schottenheimer’s first season. They signed nobodies. It was a reversal from the 2000 Deion Sanders-led offseason when they signed big names. Both teams went 8-8. Good coaching did the trick under Schottenheimer, but he obviously was a proven winner. Jay Gruden is just starting out.

9. The real problem is the years of failure that went into trying to build a secondary. It left the Redskins in an absolute state of dire need this offseason. And when the top safeties were signed (aside from Chris Clemons, who remains available), it led to many being up in arms. They also lack depth at linebacker and need someone to help rush the passer from the front (Antonio Smith is visiting Wednesday). This defense was poorly built, for whatever reason, and the Redskins are now paying for it, and the patience that is required will be difficult for some. And if I’m Jim Haslett, I’m thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before.” None of the first three signings went to defense (I’m considering Adam Hayward special teams help, which, as you might recall, is welcomed). Haslett can’t be pleased. But the offseason just started.

10. We were told the Redskins had built depth along the offensive line. If that’s the case, and you want to make a change at guard, then one of the three young guards you have should be ready. All have been around at least two years. Instead: They gave Shawn Lauvao a four-year deal worth $17 million. If you’re doing things right, one of those young players is ready and you fill from within -- and then you use that money for more pressing areas. Instead, the Redskins invested two to three years on backup linemen -- and then signed a player who struggled with his previous team.
The Redskins will use the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo, which makes it clear: The price of losing him outweighs the price of keeping him. It's the right move for this season. Whether it's good for the long term won't be decided until (or if) he signs a long-term contract.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsApplying a franchise tag on Brian Orakpo doesn't answer what his worth is to the Redskins.
It's not as if the Redskins have been sold on this idea from the get-go. It's been clear for a while that there's a division in the organization when it comes to Orakpo's value. Is a player who has never made All-Pro worth an eight-figure contract?

No player, including Orakpo, wants the franchise tag, knowing it does not provide the long-term security he desires. If Orakpo gets hurt this season, he would damage his ability to land a big contract -- especially considering he's had two torn pectorals, the second of which limited him to two games in 2012.

But it's not as if the tag is great for the Redskins, either. All it does is ensure they keep their best pass-rusher for another season at a high price, one that could impact their ability to make other moves. They'll now pay $11.455 million to a player with a career-high single-season sack total of 11. However, he is consistent and has averaged 9.6 sacks in his four full seasons (the Redskins do drop him into coverage more than other pass-rushers). That makes him worth it -- at the right price. If his deal averages $11.5 million a year, it's tough to think that's the right price. For one year? They can absorb it, with approximately $30 million in cap space.

Still, this will make it tougher to fill all the holes that exist -- of which there are many. The Redskins need two starting safeties. They need to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley as well as replace retired inside linebacker London Fletcher. They need more depth at corner. At receiver. Along the offensive line. The draft can provide help, but without a first-round pick, it'll be more difficult.

But the Redskins also knew they couldn't solve every issue in one offseason. Nor should they try to; that will only lead to forced (read: bad) decisions. And if they had let Orakpo leave, it would've created another large hole that would've require extra resources to fill. Maybe not $11.455 million, but certainly a good chunk of change. It's possible, too, that the Redskins have a sense of how it will play out with potential free-agent replacements and know their choices will be more limited than desired.

They don't have a young backup ready to ascend to a starter's role. Perhaps in 2015 Brandon Jenkins could be that guy. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who likes Jenkins, said at the end of the season he thought it could take Jenkins another year or so to be ready for a big role. It's not realistic now. They also haven't talked contract yet with another free-agent linebacker, Rob Jackson.

Why not the transition tag? Well, if you want Orakpo back, you're taking a chance someone might offer him a contract you don't want to match. Then Orakpo would leave without compensation. If you want him back, the franchise tag means he'll return. Yes, it costs more. But if the goal is to keep him here and keep negotiating a long-term deal, then don't mess around.

If the Redskins fail to build a good defense this year, I wouldn't blame it on Orakpo's contract. It's not as if free agency has been a panacea for the Redskins -- or any team -- in the past. It's taken them several years and a variety of reasons to reach this point of having to replace bad starters and having little depth. Sure, the Redskins could sign a few players for the $11.455 million they'd have to pay him this season. But that assumes all are productive. That's far from a guarantee, which anyone who has followed the Redskins since free agency began should know.

And keep in mind that even with the franchise, the process will not be over. The debate over Orakpo's worth will continue.

Allen: Still weighing tag for Orakpo

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
The debate will rage for a little while longer -- even within the Washington Redskins' organization. Should the Redskins use the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo? Even Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that they don’t know if that will happen.

Allen told reporters that they will meet with Orakpo’s agent, Ben Dogra, in Indianapolis this weekend to get a better feel for what it would take to complete a new contract.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has called re-signing Orakpo a top priority. Both he and outside linebackers coach Brian Baker in various interviews -- with ESPN980 and -- have talked about 2014 as if Orakpo will be on the roster.

If the Redskins view Orakpo’s demands as exorbitant, then they could opt for the franchise tag, guaranteeing his return for next season. But that will cost around $11 million. A new deal would lessen his cap impact in 2014, but obviously would increase in later years. They have until March 3 to decide. Free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET March 11.

“I’m going to have some more conversations with his representative here, and we’ll see where it goes,” Allen said. “We really haven’t gotten into those types of specifics yet. Really. His agent is supposed to have some ideas on what he would like to propose to us today or tomorrow.”

The Redskins have approximately $30 million in cap space this offseason, so it’s a good time to do a bigger deal for them. However, they also have multiple needs on defense. They already need one inside linebacker and need to re-sign Perry Riley there as well. They also have no starting safeties under contract. The Redskins re-signed DeAngelo Hall earlier this week, with only $5.25 million of guaranteed money.

“We like Brian. There’s no doubt we like Brian, as well as a number of other players,” Allen said. “If we were just one player short, that’d be an easy question. But we have several players that we’re looking to fill.”

Experts' take: Jim Haslett's return

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
The Redskins face numerous questions this offseason. Too many to mention, perhaps. But there are a number that can be addressed and answered -- with the help of people who know the game much better than me. So all week I'll pose a different question to two experts -- former NFL executive, player and scout Louis Riddick (now an ESPN NFL Insider) and former NFL and college scout Matt Williamson (now ESPN's NFL scout). Tuesday's question is one the Redskins already answered because it involves defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. But this topic remains a lightning rod for fans, so ...

There's been a lot of talk about Jim Haslett coming back and how the lack of interference from Mike Shanahan can help. How much do you think it can help that Haslett is more on his own -- and what did you think about the Redskins retaining him?

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Redskins decided to retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett even though Washington was tied for 30th in points allowed in 2013.
Matt Williamson: That's a good question. I don't think Haslett needs help. I'm not sure keeping him was the right move either. I'm not necessarily a fan of his, but I also don't think he's in over his head. He's been doing it long enough that he understands his job so it could be a good thing [without Mike Shanahan around]. Shanahan obviously was offensive-minded, but I'm sure he knows defense. But maybe he wasn't helping.

At the time, I did not understand [keeping Haslett]. But he does have ties to Jay Gruden so knowing that, it makes sense. But at the time I was wondering what Haslett has done to make the defense any better than it should be. They were really lacking in personnel so it's tough to kill a coordinator when you don't have the horses. But I don't think he got more out of anybody in particular.

Louis Riddick: Depending upon what the level of interference was and depending on how knowledgeable Shanahan is about teaching and scheming and calling defensive football given that his background is offense. It's hard to know how much it will affect it in a positive way. I will say this, knowing Jim like I do and having played for him back in the early '90s when I played for him in the World League, I know he knows defense and I know what he believes in philosophically. I know he likes to pressure and I know he understands good coverage guys and wants safeties with good range and has a good feel for down and distance tendencies. He's not a guy overwhelmed by the moment on game day. He's a very good teacher and motivator. So I would think if the interference was a negative then, yes, this could be a positive. … Sometimes the communication issues you have between a coordinator and head coach can cause things to go off the rails because people are grasping at straws. Everyone thinks they have an answer when the best answer is to let the people who you hired do their jobs. But the calls weren't the problem for Washington, the players were the problem.

Only because there was so much chatter around the fact that the defense has underperformed since he's been there and there seemed to be a desire to make a clean sweep and start over, I was surprised they were keeping him. But knowing him like I do and believing in how he approaches a game philosophically I think it's good that they did keep him. He's more than capable and deserving of leading that defense. I'm not with the public opinion that he needed to go based on where they finished statistically because there's more to it than that. If he can do it the way he wants and teach the way he wants and call it the way he wants on game day, I think you'll see a tremendous improvement in that defense from a statistical perspective, provided they address areas that need to be addressed.

In case you missed it:

Monday's question: What would you do with Brian Orakpo?
• The Redskins won't have a tough time replacing London Fletcher's 2013 production; he did not have a strong season. But replacing his leadership will be difficult and whoever the Redskins sign to take over his spot must have those skills. Fletcher's replacement probably won't be the same as his predecessor, but he does need to be a leader. The Redskins may re-sign Perry Riley who knows the defense, but he is a quiet guy better suited as a sidekick in this area.

[+] EnlargeLondon Fletcher
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIThe Redskins may need to look to free agency to replace London Fletcher's leadership.
• Here's what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said on ESPN980 last week in a conversation with Doc Walker and Brian Mitchell about Fletcher: "I don't think I've ever been around a guy in 35 years that has the qualities you look for like him. When he's on the field he's outstanding. He's the smartest guy I've ever been around. When he's in the meeting room he's the ultimate guy."

• One player who has those qualities and will be a free agent? Jon Beason. I once spoke with someone who had worked with both Fletcher and Beason (did not coach them) and he felt Beason rated higher in preparation than even Fletcher. The problem with Beason now is that there are questions about his coverage skills. But he was very good against the run with the Giants this past season.

• Here's what Haslett told 980 about new coach Jay Gruden, who was his offensive coordinator in the United Football League, "You'll see a level-headed guy. You'll love the offense. He does multiple different things every week. He'll use our quarterback to the best of his ability. He'll take whatever they do best and use it. He's not going to find fault, he'll find what they do best."

• The Redskins will be at the scouting combine this week. I know a lot is made of 40-yard dash times, but that should only be a metric to see if a player plays as fast as he timed. There's an issue if the player looks slow on film, but fast in the 40. In that case? Stay away. Football is won with quick decisions, not with 40-yard dash times. If you're fast but make slow decisions, you'll soon be out of the league.

• After watching Buffalo's Jairus Byrd (a potential free agent), I was surprised to learn that he ran a 4.68 in the 40. That's not fast, but he more than compensates with knowledge and quick decisions.

• Gruden used bigger offensive linemen in Cincinnati, but that does not mean he'll necessarily look for bigger guards in the draft. The Redskins will use the same run game zone-blocking principles, though I'm sure Gruden will incorporate some of his beliefs as well. I'm sure they'll still look for some help in the interior.

• But if they did want bigger and wanted to promote from within, then this is a huge offseason for Josh LeRibeus. As a former third-round pick, he should be challenging for a starting job by his third season. LeRibeus had a terrible offseason in 2013 and took much of the year to return to his end-of-rookie-season form. If a team is doing a good job developing talent, then a player such as LeRibeus should be ready to play a lot more now. Yes, a lot of that is on him. If he has a good offseason, he could be a factor.

• But the way you help yourself when you need to cut players is by bumping up a young player. Otherwise, they can cut, say, Chris Chester and then have to find a somewhat expensive replacement. You're just spinning wheels after a while, in terms of creating cap space (which has typically been the Redskins' problem). It also limits a team's ability to then address other more costly issues.

• And, to reiterate, I would not take a flier on guard Richie Incognito. Football isn't played by choir boys, but there's a difference between being nasty and being disruptive. Incognito clearly is -- and has been -- the latter and has consistently hurt his own team. When a player's positives don't outweigh their disruptions, you let them go elsewhere.

• In watching games again from this past season, it's shocking how many tackles this defense missed –- the safeties in particular. Every team operates under the same CBA guidelines limiting the amount of contact in practices, so you can't blame that. When you consistently try to shoulder tackle or tackle too high, it sort of gets you in trouble. Or when you're just not good enough.

Haslett on OLBs: We'll turn them loose

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has two desires for next season: More sacks and more turnovers. If that happens, he knows what the result will be: more wins.

Haslett, speaking on ESPN980 Thursday for the first time since he was retained by the Redskins, also told Doc Walker and Brian Mitchell that improving the pass rush is a primary goal.

Haslett said that is one reason he hired Brian Baker to coach the outside linebackers (where the bulk of the pressure comes from in a 3-4 defense). Haslett sounded like a coach anticipating Brian Orakpo's return, too. Orakpo can be a free agent next month.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Nick WassDefensive coordinator Jim Haslett is expecting an improved pass rush next season, led by pending free agent Brian Orakpo.
“Can we get better? No doubt about it. I think Rak can get much better, and I know Ryan [Kerrigan] can get a lot better,” Haslett said. “That’s why we hired a coach to coach them on the rush element. We’ll try to turn them loose more this year, do more with them game-wise. Don’t worry so much if they lose contain, because they’ll lose frickin contain half the time. Let’s roll and make sure the tackles cover for them. Different things like that.”

Orakpo and Kerrigan combined for 18.5 sacks this past season, which he pointed out was one less than Baltimore’s duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and 3.5 less than Kansas City’s tandem of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

Coaches often talk about pressures more than sacks (especially when the sack totals are low), but constant pressure also leads to more sacks. In 2011, with a healthy Orakpo, Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker, the Redskins tied for 10th in the NFL with 41 sacks.

But in 2012 they finished tied for 23rd with 32, and this past season they were tied for 21st with 36.

Haslett pointed to turnovers as an area that must change. The Redskins only caused five fewer than they did in 2012 (going from 31 to 26 this past season). He dismissed yardage as a stat to measure a defense -- “That’s kind of for losers,” he said. (As an aside, I’ll say this: Every coach I’ve covered will point to this stat when it suits them; every single coach. But I do agree that other stats matter, like points allowed and turnovers. They impact the game more. Yardage totals can be inflated by game situations).

“The object is to get the ball back from the offense and let them score points,” Haslett said. “The offense has to control the ball and keep us off the field. Don’t turn the ball over so we’re on the field for 15-18 possessions like the last game of the year. And you win games. That’s what we did down the stretch the year before; that’s why we won seven in a row. That’s our goal, we want to create more turnovers.”

Haslett also said that “you’ll see more of what we want to do from the standpoint of coverage.”

He did not expand on that statement, but it stemmed from being asked how much more his personality would be revealed in the defense now that he’s working for a coach who will stick to offense. Clearly, there was a difference of opinion in what previous head coach Mike Shanahan wanted and what Haslett wanted at times, whether it came from coverages or play calls.

“You’ve got to get these guys doing the same thing over and over and over to where they get good at what they do,” Haslett said. “We bounced around early in the season. We had a heck of a preseason. We thought we were good, but that’s preseason. It got your hopes up a little bit, but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do.

“I think you’ll see more of something we’ll be good at. Whatever we do, we’ll be good at. It doesn’t make a difference what you’re running ... We were in a four-man line 62 percent of the time last year anyway. But we’re going to be good at what we do, and we’re going to do it over and over and over until we get good at it.”

History provides hope for Redskins

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
The Redskins will have a tough time recovering from a 3-13 season, especially with a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden. But it’s one that a number of other teams have done, including five teams since the 2006 season.

Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
  • 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
  • 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
  • 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
  • 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
  • 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
  • 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
  • 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.
The numbers suggested a move could have been made. Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden looked beyond the numbers and decided he wanted to keep defensive coordinator Jim Haslett around.

In fact, Gruden said they will start talking Monday about a contract extension.

The Redskins announced Friday that Haslett will remain as the defensive coordinator, which was expected from the time Gruden was hired. The Redskins’ defense the past four years ranked 21st, 21st, 22nd and 30th in points per game. They were 31st, 13th, 28th, and 18th in yards per game.

“It was a lot of issues, and schematically it wasn’t the issue,” Gruden said. “It was special teams and depth issues. But to see them compete on a weekly basis ... They played well. I know a lot of offensive coaches that have a lot of respect for what coach Haslett brings, and how difficult it is to go against them. I’m one of those guys.”

The Redskins did much better in the second half of the season, ranking 10th in yards per game (25th in points).

Gruden also said he wanted to keep the staff intact to maintain continuity in their system.

“With another year coaching them up I think they’ll be fine,” Gruden said. “I’ve gone against his defense. I know what he’s about, and I know the scheme he plays is very difficult. He’s done great against Dallas, and he did well against Philadelphia the second time around, and in the second half of the year they played well. They were put in a lot of difficult situations.”

Gruden also is allowing Haslett to hire members of the staff, something he was unable to do under Mike Shanahan. And Gruden will not be as involved in the defense as his predecessor.

But he also liked the fact that Haslett is a former head coach (as is secondary coach Raheem Morris), which he said will benefit a first-time head coach like himself.

“I wanted someone with experience,” Gruden said. “I have Raheem also, and I know obviously Jim has great experience, not just the coaching part, but setting up schedules and practice schedules and dealing with players. And just to have another guy to bounce ideas off of. If I have a screwed-up idea, I know he’ll tell me this is not going to work. I need people like that, who will be loyal and work their tail off and come up with good ideas.”

Redskins Mailbag: Part 1

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
In Part 1 of the Redskins mailbag, the topics include the offensive line, Jim Haslett, Brian Orakpo and DeAngelo Hall's future. Also: Who was at fault for the last four years?

Sean McVay becomes new OC

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
It was expected and now it's done. The Washington Redskins have elevated Sean McVay to offensive coordinator for new coach Jay Gruden.

McVay signed his new contract, according to his agent, Bob LaMonte (who also represents Gruden). McVay and Gruden are tight, but general manager Bruce Allen wanted to keep McVay around regardless of who he hired as head coach. McVay, who was the Redskins' tight ends coach for the past three seasons, turns 28 on Jan. 24. But players have praised him the past couple seasons because of his knowledge of the offense and for the way he relates to players. McVay coached with Gruden for one season in Tampa Bay, and one in the United Football League.

Gruden has said he wants to call plays, so McVay's primary task could be to mostly help formulate the game plan and run meetings when Gruden is unavailable. There has been no official announcement about Gruden's new defensive coordinator, but it is widely expected to be Jim Haslett.

Also, ESPN980's Chris Russell reported that Cleveland's outside linebackers coach Brian Baker will be hired in the same capacity in Washington. Baker has coached since 1996 for seven different teams. Baker coached for three seasons with Haslett in St. Louis. If Baker indeed is hired, it would be only the second defensive position coach hired with ties to Haslett since he joined the Redskins in 2010.