NFL Nation: Nick Williams

Most significant move: The Steelers cut a pair of players who appeared in games for them last season. In the process, their plans along the defensive line came more into focus. The team released defensive end Brian Arnfelt, who appeared in two games at the end of last season, and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, who played in four games in 2013. Josh Mauro, an undrafted rookie, has the edge for the last defensive spot if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen, and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers, a sixth-round pick, is almost sure to stick on the 53-man roster. Defensive end Ethan Hemer may be the odd man out with defensive end Nick Williams and nose tackle Roy Philon likely grabbing spots on the practice squad. Arnfelt entered training camp with a good chance at making the team, but the second-year man fell out of favor with the coaches and Mauro passed him at defensive end. Williams still has a chance to unseat Mauro if he plays well in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.

Running back shuffle: The Steelers are down to five running backs after releasing three at that position Tuesday, including Tauren Poole, who got a long look from the coaches. A roster spot is there for the taking if either Josh Harris or Stephen Houston seizes the final opportunity against the Panthers. The Steelers may go with three running backs and fullback Will Johnson even given the uncertain status of starter Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Coach Mike Tomlin has said the team is considering all options as far as punishment following their arrest on marijuana possession charges. (Bell has also been charged with driving under the influence.) That includes a suspension -- and the Steelers can maneuver around the collective bargaining agreement by simply deactivating Bell, Blount or both for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Browns. I don’t expect the Steelers to sit either for an entire game, and a suspension from the NFL wouldn’t come until next season. That means Harris or Houston will have to play his way on to the 53-man roster, or the two could be vying for a spot on the practice squad. The Steelers will also keep an eye on the waiver wire to see which running backs become available at the end of the week.

Steelers’ moves: Arnfelt, S Jordan Dangerfield, C Chris Elkins, Fangupo, WR C.J. Goodwin, RB Jordan Hall, LS Luke Ingram, RB Miguel Maysonet, OT Emmanuel McCray, WR Kashif Moore, Poole, CB Devin Smith, OLB Vic So’oto, CB Lew Toler, TE Eric Waters
PHILADELPHIA -- A starting job awaited him in Arizona when he boarded a flight to Phoenix early Tuesday morning.

What brought him back to Pittsburgh, where there are no guarantees as far as starting, was a pull even stronger than Brett Keisel's desire to play his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was really my wife and kids,” Keisel said Thursday night before leaving the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. “They took me to the airport and my kids were looking at me with doe eyes and wondering what’s going on and where are you going and how long are you going to be gone.”

[+] EnlargeBrett Keisel
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrett Keisel hopes to provide a jolt to the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.
Keisel, as it turned out, was gone for less than a day. He immediately flew back to Pittsburgh after meeting with the Arizona Cardinals, and by Tuesday evening the veteran defensive end had agreed to a two-year, $3 million contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus.

Keisel traveled with the team to Philadelphia and dressed for the Steelers’ preseason game. He didn’t play against the Eagles but the game made clear why the Steelers brought back Keisel for a 13th season.

The Steelers were gashed repeatedly by the Eagles' running backs, even after LeSean McCoy left the game in the first quarter with a thumb injury. And they yielded 182 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry in a 31-21 loss to the Eagles.

Keisel had joked with coach Mike Tomlin before the game that he might try to sneak onto the field so he could play in his first game since late last December. The 6-foot-6, 285-pounder probably had to really restrain himself as he watched the Eagles go up and down the field against the Steelers’ first-team defense.

“I wish I could have helped. I never like watching,” Keisel said. “I’ll back go and look at [film] with them and try to correct some of the mistakes that were made.”

Keisel figures to be part of the solution if the Steelers are to fix a run defense that is allowing 4.8 yards per carry during the preseason. The question moving forward is where he will fit in after practicing with the Steelers on Wednesday.

The Steelers listed Keisel as the starting right defensive end on their depth chart after he signed with the team. They later put him fourth on the depth chart, behind rookie Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams and Ethan Hemer.

Tomlin did not commit to anything when asked about Keisel’s return to the Steelers.

“Obviously Brett is a capable NFL lineman and we’ve been in continual communication with him,” the eighth-year coach said. “I’m glad to have him back in the fold. He’s in great shape. We’ll see what the football looks like.”

Said Keisel, “I think I can still play.”

That Keisel, who turns 36 next month, is again playing for the Steelers can be traced -- at least from his part -- to the offseason he spent pondering his next move.

Keisel did not take part in offseason practices, and the five months he had off gave him more time to spend with his wife, Sarah, daughter, Grace, and sons Jacob and William. In the end, "Da Beard" could not leave them even if the Cardinals may have offered a better opportunity than the Steelers.

“[The offseason] really did bring us closer and going to the airport it just really put things into perspective for me,” Keisel said. “I’m just grateful that [the Steelers] helped work something out to where I could finish where I started.”
PITTSBURGH -- Well, that didn't take long.

The ink had barely dried on the two-year contract that Brett Keisel signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday when he vaulted to the top of the depth chart at right defensive end.

Keisel
Keisel
The signing of Keisel led to several changes on a depth chart that coach Mike Tomlin said he pays scant attention to during the preseason.

Keisel is back at the position where he has started since 2006 with Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams and Ethan Hemer listed behind him. Cameron Heyward is the starter at left defensive end with Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Josh Mauro listed behind him.

Prior to the re-signing of Keisel, Heyward had been the starter at right defensive end with Thomas the starter at left defensive end and Tuitt behind Thomas.

Keisel made the trip with the Steelers Wednesday afternoon to Philadelphia, but he is not expected to suit up for the Steelers' 7:30 p.m. ET game against the Eagles Thursday night.

What is clear is the Steelers did not bring back "Da Beard" to play a limited number of snaps and mentor their young defensive linemen.

Heyward has been practicing at right defensive end but he should be fine moving back to the position where he emerged as a starter last season. The fourth-year veteran has said there is not much difference in playing right and left defensive end.

Thomas appears to lose the most with Keisel back.

He is now relegated to the Al Woods role of swing defensive end/nose tackle. Thomas, however, also provides injury insurance at nose tackle and could push Steve McLendon there if the latter struggles this season.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

June, 21, 2014
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DeSean Jackson's impact compared to Santana Moss ... Has the defense really improved? ... Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen ... a comment or a question? It's all here. Enjoy.

John Keim: Great question. Man, it'll be tough to have a greater impact than Moss did in 2005 when he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch. I can't see Jackson matching that total simply because he'll have much more receiving talent around him. Moss had tight end Chris Cooley, but those two combined for 155 of the team's 278 receptions. No other player came within 40 of Cooley's total (71). Moss made the offense; Jackson will complete this one. He will have a big impact, but without Moss the Redskins had no passing game. Without Jackson the Redskins could still be fine. They're just better with him and he gives them the same level of playmaker Moss was in '05.

Keim: They hosted Owen Daniels early in free agency, but that was about it (and he eventually signed with Baltimore). But the drop-off from Reed to Paulsen is only when it comes to pass-catching. They like, and need, Paulsen as a blocker as Reed still needs to show he could handle that role consistently. Ted Bolser hasn't impressed me a whole lot this spring, but I always viewed him as a guy to groom for a year or two down the road. Not much of a blocker and his hands were too inconsistent this spring.

Keim: I assume you mean if whichever one doesn't start because there's no way all three will considering each plays on the inside. But the answer is yes ... probably. Hayward is a career backup, with 13 starts in his seven seasons. He's a special-teamer and was not brought in to start. Sharpton and Jordan both can help on special teams as well and have more starting experience. The decision will likely come down to this: Do you keep a fifth outside linebacker (Brandon Jenkins and/or Rob Jackson) or a fifth inside linebacker? The guys inside are stronger on special teams.

Keim: I have my doubts too, especially if you want significant improvement. There is reason to believe they'll be better because of the new pass-rushers, giving them a more diverse attack. With new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, there is an added emphasis on an aggressive rush. Too often in the past the outside linebackers rushed contain, as they had been taught. Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will have a key role in the game planning (like Bob Slowik did last year; I trust Olivadotti a lot more). Just remember: Everything sounds good in the spring. We have to see it on the field. But the defense is aging and will remain in transition for another year. There's a lot of age up front, too -- and guys coming off injuries. It's a tough mix. They'll be helped, however, by improved special-teams play and fewer turnovers by the offense.

Keim: You are right, he dropped too many passes last season. I don't think he's a lock, but the head coach certainly likes what he adds. Two weeks ago he talked about how Moss was going to help the team. In my experience, coaches don't talk about the season that way for players they don't think will make the roster. Moss also has looked good this spring. But the other reason is this: Who will beat him out? After the three starters, there's not a whole lot of proven talent. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready to open the season; Aldrick Robinson is still Aldrick Robinson and while they like Nick Williams, is he really better than Moss? No. Besides, Williams has practice-squad eligibility. Ryan Grant will be there too but he's only a rookie. Moss provides insurance and proven depth and Jay Gruden likes him around for his leadership.

Keim: This sounds more like a complaint than a question. I guess you missed the thousands of words I wrote about observations and more. The blog is full of the information you say wasn't said.

Keim: He had a good enough rookie minicamp to earn a contract. He's long, which always helps, but he has a ways to go before he can think about making the roster. Bridget has a number of players ahead of him.When training camp starts, and they start doing more one-on-ones with receivers, etc., then I'll get a better feel for him. During the spring I need to focus on the returning players, impact guys and newcomers of note. So... ask again in August.

Keim: Have not heard that, no. It's too expensive to change based on what team you have; could change on a yearly basis. They will be fast offensively on any surface. Keep in mind, too, that the defense is not considered fast. 

ASHBURN, Va. -- He’s not an old man, unless you count in football years. In that case Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss is approaching a territory that few at his position reach: still playing at age 35.

Last week, Moss said he didn’t worry about where he stood. This week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden gushed about Moss after Wednesday’s OTA workout, saying he’s had an excellent offseason.

[+] EnlargeSantana Moss
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsSantana Moss has 722 receptions for 10,167 yards and 66 TDs in 13 NFL seasons.
“He’s fun to be around, he’s fun to watch, he knows every position,” Gruden said. “He looks like a young kid. He’s got energy, he’s a great leader. If he drops a pass he holds himself accountable. If the quarterback misses him he’s like, ‘Let’s get onto the next one, man.’ He’s a great guy to have for these young guys to learn from. He’s working out hard. He’s the first one out there today again. I like having guys like that, veteran guys who are great examples for rookies and also can help you win in big games.”

Then he dropped a (strong?) hint as to Moss’ future: “He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”

No reason to say that if you don’t think the guy will make the roster. Still, I would never call Moss a lock at this point; the Redskins would only be on the hook for $65,000 against the salary cap if he’s cut. His age works against him. He did drop too many passes last season (a drop rate of 8.9 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information). But he has looked spry out there (he's at the age where the word spry gets used more); he's a professional route runner and good to have around.

Here is a quick look at the receivers:

Pierre Garcon: A lock. Next.

DeSean Jackson: Ditto. But perhaps you keep a guy like Moss around to serve as a mentor of sorts for Jackson.

Andre Roberts: Lock.

Leonard Hankerson: Health is an issue. The Redskins still don’t know if he will be ready for the season opener. If that’s the case, then it would be good to have veteran insurance with a guy like Moss.

Aldrick Robinson: He can play all three spots, though has primarily focused on the X receiver spot in the past (where Garcon starts). He improved last season, but we’re still talking about a guy who has 29 career receptions in two full seasons. He doesn’t help much on special teams either.

Nick Williams: Unless he’s a returner, you can’t keep him over a veteran such as Moss unless Williams shows a heck of a lot this summer.

Ryan Grant: The rookie fifth-round pick runs good routes and is a likely a slot receiver in the NFL. But he has a lot to learn and must get stronger. It’s tough to see him being much of a help on special teams or from scrimmage as a rookie. But the coaches like him, and you always favor guys you drafted over those from a previous regime (unless there is a dramatic difference). Moss is far better now, of course. But if Hankerson returns and Robinson shows improvement, you are keeping Grant on the roster for what you think he can do beyond this season. Still, the Redskins could go with seven and keep them all, including Moss.

There are also a number of undrafted free agents on the roster, but it’s tougher to analyze them. They are all considered longshots, or more so players to develop on the practice squad, and that won’t change until the games begin.

You can keep a guy like Moss around as valuable insurance; Roberts’ ability to play more than just the slot means if something happens to one of the starters, you can move him around and plug in Moss. He still has value, even if it’s not as high as it used to be.
PITTSBURGH -- Cameron Heyward may have provided a glimpse earlier this week into a subtle yet significant shift that appears to be taking place in the Steelers’ defensive philosophy.

McLendon
When asked if nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme has become devalued with teams playing more nickel or dime than their base defense, Heyward said, “The nose tackle position is vital. I think it’s the most critical position on our defense in the run.”

OK, no news flash there.

Then Heyward added this: “I think our nose tackles have to be ready to play in sub package this year.”

If that is the case then Steve McLendon is primed for a bigger role in 2014, not a reduced one.

And he could become a three-down player, staying in the game with Heyward when the Steelers replace a lineman with an extra defensive back.

The nose tackle has traditionally come off the field when the Steelers employ a fifth defensive back in their nickel defense. But it makes sense if the Steelers are planning to keep McLendon in the game on some passing downs for several reasons.

McLendon has shown flashes as far as putting pressure on the quarterback and the Steelers want to generate more of an inside pass rush in 2014. McLendon and Heyward, who tied for second on the Steelers with five sacks last season, could make a good pairing as the inside pass-rushers in the nickel defense.

Also, the Steelers don’t have a lot of options after McLendon.

There is no clear-cut starter at defensive end opposite Heyward and the plan – at least for now – may look something like this:
  • Play Cam Thomas at end when the Steelers are in their base defense and have him and McLendon rotate at tackle when the Steelers go to the nickel.
  • Find depth among second-year players Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams as well as the defensive ends that the Steelers draft next week and sign as undrafted free agents.

That, of course, is speculation at this point, and the Steelers’ plan could change depending on the players they add through the draft -- or in free agency by bringing back veteran defensive end Brett Keisel for one more season.

But one thing that seems clear is that the Steelers’ nose tackles won’t just be asked to stop the run in 2014.

“Steve can rush, Cam can rush,” Heyward said, “and we’re looking for them to add more to this defense.”

Looking at the Redskins' young players

December, 4, 2013
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The Washington Redskins should not start playing young guys just because they’re out of playoff contention. I’m with coach Mike Shanahan on this one: You can do more harm than good by taking that philosophy.

This isn’t baseball where you have September call-ups that you can give at-bats. If you play a guy, say, along the offensive line who isn’t ready, then your quarterback could be in jeopardy. It makes no sense. Not every young guy projects to being part of the roster in the future, either.

Some young guys are just on the roster because of injuries to others. And just because fans or media want to see a guy doesn’t matter; the coaches analyze every practice tape and have a good sense of what players can do or what they know. Others can see athleticism or talent, but it’s often what you know and are capable of learning that makes the difference.

Some young players -- I’m looking at guys who are rookies, first- or second-year players -- already are getting time: Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Jordan Reed, Chris Baker, Aldrick Robinson (technically his second year because he spent almost all of his rookie year on the practice squad), Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson.

Here’s a look at the young guys who aren’t getting a lot of time right now and whether or not they should:

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsKirk Cousins has attempted only nine passes this season.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins: The coaches like him a lot, but he should only play if Griffin gets hurt. That is, unless you don’t think Griffin is the future. I don’t think that’s the case. If they do play Cousins, then you'll get to enjoy an entire offseason of you know what. What about drumming up trade value? Personally, I'd hang onto him another year; keep him as long as possible for insurance purposes. If you like him, why rush a trade? I have a hard time seeing anyone trade a high pick for Cousins based on his first two years, but as they say, it only takes one.

Wide receiver Lance Lewis: He shouldn’t play more than he is; he’s still relatively raw and needs more time to develop in practice and in the offseason.

Wide receiver Josh Bellamy: Recently signed off the practice squad. Not ready.

Wide receiver Nick Williams: I could see him being a factor in the future, depending on who’s coaching. With Santana Moss likely in his final four games in Washington, I’d continue to work Williams into the lineup as the Redskins have been doing.

Left guard Josh LeRibeus: He’s a young lineman and former third-round draft pick. That should add up to playing time in a lost season. But after a disastrous offseason and poor showing in the preseason, there’s nothing to suggest he should be playing. Which is not a good sign. He needs a strong offseason.

Right guard Adam Gettis: I’d love to see him get some snaps. At 292 pounds, the undersized Gettis has excellent lower body strength, which somehow allows him to anchor despite getting moved back in protection. He was an improved run-blocker this summer. Chris Chester has not played as well as last season. Still, I'd be careful here. If there’s a coaching change, I’m not sure either player would return: Chester because he’ll turn 31 in January and Gettis because he’s smaller and would not fit every system.

Offensive tackle Tom Compton: Another guy I’d like to see get some snaps. Tyler Polumbus has been better than last year but has had issues recently and certainly shouldn’t have a stronghold on the position. Compton looked better this summer than as a rookie and, ideally, in Year 3 he’d be ready to become a contributor. Regardless, the Redskins need to upgrade the line.

Linebacker Brandon Jenkins: For now he’s just a pass-rusher and there are others clearly better than him. He has work to do in the offseason.

Safety Jose Gumbs: Future special-teamer. I don’t see any reason he should be playing right now.

Corner Chase Minnifield: He shouldn’t be playing ahead of the other corners and really needs to be better on special teams. Even if they clean house at this position, I wouldn’t see him as anything more than a guy fighting for a roster spot in 2014. I love his attitude and physical style, but he needs to show he can play a variety of coverages. He’s a smaller press corner. Another offseason of work with no knee issues should help him.

Safety Trenton Robinson: Special-teamer. He’s gotten some snaps, but there’s nothing to suggest he should be muscling his way into more time.
How well did the Pittsburgh Steelers draft last April? Ask me in three years.

I think it takes at least three years before you can accurately -- and fairly -- judge a draft class. That said, 12 games have provided enough of a sample size to assess how the Steelers’ rookies have fared in their first NFL season.

Here is a look at where the players in the Steelers’ most recent draft picks stand three-quarters of the way into the 2013 season.

1. Jarvis Jones, OLB: Jones has not made much of an impact as a pass-rusher, and the Steelers took the former Georgia star 17th overall to get after the quarterback. But it takes time for outside linebackers in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense to develop, so it’s way too early to read much into the fact that Jones has just one sack and 30 tackles. Just as paramount as the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder improving his grasp of the defense in the offseason is Jones adding bulk.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsLe'Veon Bell has been one of the bright spots from Pittsburgh's latest draft class.
2. Le'Veon Bell, RB: The early returns are good on this pick as Bell is almost a lock to win the Joe Greene Award, which is given to the team’s top rookie. The former Michigan State star is already a focal point of the offense, and he is the kind of all-around back around which the Steelers can build. Bell is nearing 1,000 yards of total offense -- he has 847 -- and he is only going to get better as a runner.

3. Markus Wheaton, WR: The Steelers have gotten minimal production from Wheaton, which has been surprising considering the praise he received from some of the veteran players before the start of the season. Wheaton, who has six catches for 64 yards, hasn’t gotten on the field much as a No. 4 wide receiver, and he missed four games after needing surgery to fix a broken right pinkie. His development is crucial, especially if Emmanuel Sanders signs elsewhere after the season as an unrestricted free agent.

4a. Shamarko Thomas, S: The former Syracuse star has played well enough to get on the field extensively as a third safety in the Steelers’ quarter package, though he missed two games recently with a high-ankle sprain. Thomas, who has 29 tackles, has to be a big part of the future with Ryan Clark unlikely to return after the season and Troy Polamalu also anything but guaranteed to be back in 2014 since he is set to make just over $8 million in the final year of his contract.

4b. Landry Jones, QB: Jones has not been on the active roster for any game this season. That is actually a good thing as it means Ben Roethlisberger has stayed healthy, and indeed the 10th-year veteran has avoided the kind of injuries that have sidelined him in past seasons. It’s too early to call this a wasted pick but it certainly looks like the Steelers could have gone in another direction with the second of their two fourth-round selections, especially since they had signed a proven backup in Bruce Gradkowski before they drafted Jones.

5. Terry Hawthorne, CB: The Illinois product did not show enough during offseason practices or training camp for the Steelers to even keep him on the practice squad after cutting Hawthorne at the end of August. Hawthorne couldn’t overcome offseason knee surgery, and he is currently a free agent.

6a. Justin Brown, WR: He lost the the battle for the final wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster to former Penn State teammate Derek Moye. Brown has been on the practice squad all season, and he will be given a chance to make the team next season. He also has potential as a punt returner.

6b. Vince Williams, LB: The former Florida State star has been thrust into the starting lineup due to a season-ending bicep injury sustained by Larry Foote. Williams has probably played as well as can be expected but it’s too early to tell whether he has a future with the Steelers as a starter or is more suited for a backup role. Williams has 40 tackles, but he has played sparingly in recent week as he comes off the field in the quarter package and has also lost some snaps to undrafted rookie Terence Garvin.

7. Nick Williams, DE: Another small-school project for Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell. The Steelers saw enough from Williams to place him on injured reserve instead of waiving him with an injury settlement in late August. Williams is working his way back from a knee injury, and the offseason will be a critical one for the Samford product.

Overall: Could have been better but could have been worse, too. And that assessment comes with the caveat that it’s way too early to label any of the rookies, which include Garvin, guard Chris Hubbard (practice squad), defensive end Brian Arnfelt (practice squad) and Devin Smith (practice squad) as anything but works in progress.

Stephen Bowen, Darrel Young out

November, 25, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins will try to snap a two-game losing streak without three starters, one of whom they already knew wouldn't play. But in addition to tight end Jordan Reed, the Redskins will be without starting defensive end Stephen Bowen and fullback Darrel Young because of injuries. Also, ESPN980 reported that Santana Moss would handle punt-return duties Monday night.

Bowen was not rushing as well as he has in previous seasons, but his play against the run has been solid. He re-injured his right knee last week against Philadelphia and did not practice all week. Chris Baker will replace him in the starting lineup. Though Baker can be disruptive at times, he also has a tendency to play undisciplined and leave gaps in the defense. Still, he can occasionally make plays in the backfield.

The Redskins don't have a backup fullback, but their tight ends are familiar with the position enough that they can fill in. Indeed, tight end Niles Paul will play fullback for Young. They'll also use tight end Fred Davis for the first time since an Oct. 13 game at Dallas. Davis, a pending free agent, is not as athletic as Reed but has been aching for another chance since losing his starting job earlier this season. The Redskins didn't sour on Davis as much as they liked others for what they needed, including Logan Paulsen as a blocker. But this will be a good chance for Davis to prove what he can still do.

As for Moss, he'll apparently take over for Nick Williams after a rough debut a week ago. Moss at least gives the Redskins an experienced returner, something they have not had all season in Josh Morgan and then Williams. It's surprising it took this long for them to go with Moss, but they've wanted to save him for slot duty and not wear out the 34-year-old.

San Francisco will be without starting guard Mike Iupati and starting defensive lineman Ray McDonald. Iupati does a good job pulling for the 49ers and will be replaced by Adam Snyder. Demarcus Dobbs will replace McDonald on the left side. They already were down starting corner Tarell Brown, who will be replaced by Tramaine Brock.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 11

November, 18, 2013
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A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Ref-gate: The NFL will look into left tackle Trent Williams' allegations that umpire Roy Ellison called him a "garbage-ass, disrepectful m-----f-----" Sunday, which teammates corroborated. If that’s indeed what Ellison said, it’s beyond uncalled for by someone in his position. But for the Redskins, the conversation should not shift away from why they’re 3-7 and where they might be headed. The problem with their season has not been officiating, it has been their own play. In fact, Washington had only four penalties Sunday compared to nine for the Eagles. And for the season, Washington is averaging 6.1 penalties per game compared to 7.2 in 2012. Some bad calls? Yes. Missed calls? Absolutely (See: Dallas). I’ve also seen David Amerson get away with what looked like holds or pass interference penalties. Williams' accusations are serious, but when adding up reasons for their bad record, officiating is far down on the list. Good teams overcome obstacles.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Michael Perez/AP PhotoRedskins QB Robert Griffin III is still maturing as a passer, even during a Week 11 loss at Philadelphia.
Return game: The Redskins used Nick Williams on punt returns Sunday and nothing changed. He muffed one punt and failed to field another that led to a 15-yard roll to the Washington 4-yard line. Williams was playing for a punt to the other side of the field, so he was aligned on his left hash (with the ball on the right hash). When the ball was snapped and as punter Donnie Jones started to angle the other way, Williams drifted to his left, anticipating a punt to that side. Williams said he handled it the right way, but it still begs the question: Would a more experienced returner have handled it differently -- not drift so soon -- and saved those 15 yards? Regardless, the return game looked a lot like it had all season. Williams will get more chances and you can't draw conclusions after his first game in the NFL; but at some point the return game needs to provide a spark.

Griffin’s passing: One week Robert Griffin III looks as if he's maturing as a passer (Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota). The next week he looks bad (Denver, Philadelphia). The reality is that Griffin is an inexperienced passer and any legitimate improvement won’t come until next season. It’s not just about making reads; it’s about going through progressions at a certain pace and maintaining your mechanics. Things that are tough to work on during the season. He was bad from the pocket Sunday and his big plays occurred when he could get outside of it -- the touchdown passes to Darrel Young and Aldrick Robinson.

Second chance: Former starters Josh Morgan and Fred Davis were inactive Sunday -- for Morgan it was the first time. Neither is happy with their situation, but both might get another opportunity because of injuries. Leonard Hankerson is undergoing an MRI Monday to determine the extent of a possible LCL injury to his left knee. If he has to miss time, then Morgan would return to the lineup at the Z position. But he needs to be a lot more productive than he had been in the first nine games (19 targets, 11 catches, 124 yards). Yes, he didn’t play as much, though he also didn’t do enough to maintain his grip on the starting job. Davis lost his job as much because of the emergence of rookie Jordan Reed as anything; a sprained ankle didn’t help, either. But Reed now has a concussion and his status for Monday’s game versus San Francisco won’t be known until later in the week. It could provide Davis an opportunity to remind everyone that only a year ago he was a good receiving tight end.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

November, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts after the Washington Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Redskins' season is over. The plug was pulled early Sunday afternoon courtesy of the Eagles. So one year after winning the division and then entering the season with plenty of optimism, the Redskins won’t even make it to the end of December in the hunt for a playoff spot. They can blame the cap issues and Robert Griffin III’s knee all they want, but this disaster goes beyond those issues. To think otherwise would be a failure to learn why this season unraveled. They recovered in the fourth quarter to make it a competitive score and even had the ball with a chance to drive for the tie. But they played so poorly for three quarters that they needed a miracle comeback. At 3-7, the Redskins have shown no ability to play well in consecutive weeks, and lately it’s been tough to even put one complete game together. For a while this was going to be perhaps the worst loss in the Mike Shanahan era when the game turned. Good to come back; but you can’t overlook why they dug themselves such a deep hole.

Red zone failures: The Redskins did not play well, but had they executed better in the red zone, they could have won this game. Griffin was hit and fumbled in the first half inside the Eagles' 10-yard line. He hung onto the ball, but Roy Helu failed to block the linebacker and it did not look like any receiver had won their one-on-one battle. Then, on the final drive of the game, he was under pressure and appeared to try to throw the ball away out of the end zone. But he left it about 5 yards short, leading to an easy interception.

Defensive doesn't get it done: The Redskins' defense said it’d be much improved from the opener, but the Eagles didn’t have a whole lot of trouble in building a 24-0 lead as Washington missed too many tackles and allowed 6.5 yards per play. It fared better in the last quarter and a half, especially on third down. But it wasn’t enough.

No happy returns: Nick Williams was active and replaced Josh Morgan as a punt returner, but he did not have a strong day in that department. He muffed one punt and failed to field another, forcing the Redskins to drive 96 yards. Williams did catch a two-point conversion, but he did not distinguish himself on returns.

Up next: The Redskins host San Francisco a week from Monday, the first of three straight home games.

Josh Morgan inactive for Redskins

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
11:40
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Redskins hoped wide receiver Josh Morgan could develop into a solid No. 2 receiver. Then they hoped he could fill in as a kick and punt returner. But Morgan hasn't accomplished any of that and, Sunday, he was made inactive.
Morgan
The Redskins placed Morgan on their seven-man inactive list for their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Morgan, in the final year of his contract, had not made an impact at receiver or as a returner. The latter isn't surprising because Morgan had not returned punts in the NFL -- and only returned seven while at Virginia Tech. Morgan was surpassed as the starting Z receiver by third-year Leonard Hankerson, who is not a big playmaker but has been more productive than Morgan.

This also means undrafted rookie free agent Nick Williams will return punts in his NFL debut. He was signed off the practice squad during the week. Williams returned four punts for a touchdown in college.

Also inactive for Washington: quarterback Rex Grossman, guard Josh LeRibeus, safety Jose Gumbs, linebacker Brandon Jenkins, tight end Fred Davis and nose tackle Chris Neild. Jenkins was active in the first game against Philadelphia as the Redskins wanted more speed in their rush

For the Eagles, the inactives are quarterback Michael Vick, safety Earl Wolff, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, linebacker Jake Knott, receiver Damaris Johnson and tackle Dennis Kelly. Banged-up left tackle Jason Peters will start.

Washington Redskins cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
6:43
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Most significant move: Keeping four quarterbacks with back-from-the-dead Pat White making the roster. Anyone who saw White throw early in spring workouts would not have predicted this scenario. But White, who has been out of the NFL the past three seasons, improved throughout the summer and the coaches genuinely liked what they saw. One coach predicted earlier in the week that he would be on someone’s roster. White showed he can still run and mastered the slant routes and digs. He still needs to work on finesse throws and prove he can make throws into tight windows over the middle, but his improvement was noticeable.

However, keeping four is still a lot. But with Kirk Cousins nursing a sprained right foot and with Robert Griffin III not having played in the preseason, the Redskins might just keep White around for the first couple of games. They have roster exemptions for end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson, both suspended for the first four games, so they could make this sort of move. If Griffin and Cousins both stay healthy, it’s hard to see this being a long-term situation. Still, White made big strides after a rough start.

The Redskins also opted to keep running back Evan Royster, who perhaps saved his job with a strong preseason finale at Tampa Bay. He's one of five running backs along with speedy rookie Chris Thompson.

Gone, but not yet forgotten: The Redskins would like to re-sign a number of their released players to the practice squad, including Chase Minnifield, Nick Williams, Tevita Stevens, Will Compton and tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, among others. Minnifield’s release was a surprise, given how the coaches talked about him during camp and his physical style in press coverage -- and with the loss of corner Richard Crawford. But the coaches liked corner Jerome Murphy’s physical style as well – and his special teams ability. Williams is an intriguing prospect as a slot receiver and punt returner. Ogbeuhi is a raw prospect who needs to spend a year or two on the practice squad.

Safety DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick in 2011 and opening day starter in 2012, did not progress in coverage. Though he was better in the box, the Redskins have Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty ahead of him at strong safety. And they opted for Jose Gumbs, signed right before camp, as a swing safety.

The Redskins also placed offensive lineman Maurice Hurt on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The tough cut? Receiver Dez Briscoe. According to a league source, Briscoe would have made the roster had he not injured his shoulder in the preseason finale.

What's next: The Redskins next big moves will occur after Week 4 when Jenkins and Jackson return from their four-game suspensions. At that point end Phillip Merling could be in trouble, along with, possibly White, simply because it would be unusual to keep four quarterbacks all season.

The Redskins lack experienced depth along the offensive line and could always use more help at safety. So if anyone intriguing clears waivers, the Redskins would be interested. They also retain the rights to suspended safety Tanard Jackson, who is now eligible for reinstatement. However, it could take a while for the NFL to grant his return -- if they give it to him at all.

Redskins cuts: RB: Keiland Williams, Jawan Jamison, RB Tristan Davis (from exempt/left squad list). WR: Skye Dawson, Nick Williams, Lance Lewis, Dez Briscoe (designated as injured). OL: Tevita Stevens, Tony Pashos, Kevin Matthews, Xavier Nixon. TE: Emmanuel Ogbuehi. DL: Chigo Anunoby, Dominique Hamilton, Ron Brace. DB: DeJon Gomes, Chase Minnifield LB: Vic So’oto, Will Compton, Marvin Burdette.

Baron Batch was bad fit for Steelers

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
4:34
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Le'Veon Bell’s foot injury probably cost third-year running back Baron Batch any chance of making the Steelers. Batch was among the players cut Sunday as the Steelers trimmed their roster to 75 players, and he was simply a luxury the team couldn’t afford with its running game in such flux.

You can win with players like Baron Batch. He is excellent on special teams and is a more than willing and able blocker, especially when it comes to blitzing linebackers. The former seventh-round pick does all of the little things well and has a heart the size of his native Texas.

Batch would be an ideal fourth running back on a team that has a feature back since he could play primarily on special teams and provide injury insurance. But he wasn’t a good fit on a team that will go with a running back by committee -– at least until Bell is healthy and able to fill the role of feature back.

Releasing Batch before the final cut might have come as a surprise to some Steelers fans. But it is probably a measure of how highly the Steelers think of Batch, as a person and a professional. The timing of his release gives Batch a chance to catch on somewhere else and get a couple of days to impress his new team.

The release of Stevenson Sylvester, the other veteran cut on Sunday, leaves the Steelers with very little experience behind Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote at inside linebacker.

It all but assures Marshall McFadden and rookie Vince Williams, a sixth-round pick last April, of making the 53-man roster.

The only draft pick right now that won’t make the 53-man roster is seventh-rounder Nick Williams, who has been shut down by a knee injury. The Steelers liked enough of what they saw from Williams, a defensive end, that they put him on the reserve/injured list instead of the waived/injured list.

Cornerback Terry Hawthorne (fifth round) and wide receiver Justin Brown (sixth round) are battling for roster spots, and I think Hawthorne makes the team, but Brown might have too much to overcome -- namely his former Penn State teammate Derek Moye and the real possibility that the Steelers only keep four wide receivers.

Moye appears to have separated himself among the wide receivers who aren't a lock to make the team. But he could get caught in a numbers cruch if the Steelers have to carry an extra tight end or running back because of injuries.

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