NFL Nation: Rob Jackson

The plan was to watch linebacker Trent Murphy before the draft, knowing that he would be a possibility with the second pick in the third round. But there were a handful of other pass rushers to get to before him. So I never made it. And then they drafted him. So now here’s a mini-scouting report on the Redskins second-round pick (47th overall).

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

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

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

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

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

Free-agency primer: Redskins

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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Brian Orakpo (franchise), LB Perry Riley, WR Josh Morgan, WR Santana Moss, S Brandon Meriweather, S Reed Doughty, LB Rob Jackson

Where they stand: The Redskins have about $30 million of cap space available, even with the franchise tender to Orakpo, so they will be able to upgrade defensively for the first time in a couple years. The problem is, Washington has so many holes to fill defensively. The Redskins need two starting safeties and must replace retired inside linebacker London Fletcher. If Riley leaves -- they would like him back, but they are not yet close to a deal -- then it creates another spot. They could use more help along the defensive line. Offensively, their holes are fewer, but they need another receiver -- or two -- and an interior lineman. Moss and Doughty -- as a backup -- could return at small deals; it’s tough to see Morgan coming back. He just wasn't productive enough. Meriweather wants to return, but the Redskins need an upgrade over his 2013 performance.

What to expect: A much more eventful period than last year, when the Redskins could only re-sign their own players and added no one of significance in free agency thanks to the second year of their $36-million cap penalty. But the question is, Can Washington pursue someone such as safety Jairus Byrd while having so many other needs? It will be difficult, but he would solidify the deep middle. They like safety Mike Mitchell as well. Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph is another possibility. Brandon Spikes, a liability in coverage, or Daryl Smith would fill a hole at inside linebacker. What the Redskins should not do is try and fill every need with a free agent and use up all their cap space. With several prominent players up for new deals in the next couple years, they need to also have an eye on the future.

Redskins free-agent scorecard

February, 28, 2014
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The free-agent period won’t begin until March 11, but the reality is that it’s already underway. At least when it comes to signing your own free agents, or looking at players cut from other teams. The Redskins have expressed interest in free-agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, but had yet to line up a visit with him as of late Thursday night, a team source said. The Browns released Jackson Wednesday (but the move was not submitted to the league until Thursday) and he already has visits lined up with Tennessee and Denver.

Other players will be released before March 11. Until more are free, the focus is on your own. Here’s a look at the Redskins' free agents, both those who are re-signed and still available.

They’re done:

CB DeAngelo Hall

Signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. His cap number is only $2.1 million this season, but jumps to $4.8 million in 2015 and $5.1 in 2016. Those are hefty sums for a 30-plus cornerback. If Hall regresses this season the Redskins could always cut him next year and save $2.4 million of cap space. They’d be wise to find another good young corner to groom just to be ready. Hall could always move to safety in a couple of years as well, but the safety position is a problem they must solve this year. If it’s still an issue in, say, two years? That’s a failure.

DL Chris Baker
Signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $4 million guaranteed. That sounds like starter-type money (albeit not a high level one), but it’s certainly not guaranteed starter money. He has $1 million in incentives that are not likely to be earned -- based on play time, sack totals and Pro Bowl appearances -- each of the three years and his cap number is only $2 million this year and tops out at $4 million in the final year of the contract. The deal averages $3 million per season. It allows the Redskins to keep a young, improving lineman who can help them at multiple spots: end, nose tackle and nickel rusher. Even if he doesn’t start he will play a lot.


Still waiting:

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are interested in bringing Brian Orakpo back, but he could test the market first.
LB Brian Orakpo
The Redskins want to re-sign him and Orakpo would like to come back. But he’s more than comfortable testing the market in order to get the sort of contract he wants. The Redskins could place the franchise tag on him (the deadline is Monday). That would leave him with a salary of approximately $11 million this year, but no long-term security if he gets injured. The Redskins could sign him to a back-loaded five-year contract that has a much lower cap figure for the first two years of the deal. But at some point he’ll count a great deal against the cap and not be cuttable, at least for a year. (For example, Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, in Year 3 of his deal, counts more against the cap if he’s released.)

LB Perry Riley
The Redskins don’t want to create another hole at inside linebacker with London Fletcher already retiring. But if Riley wants a big contract he’ll have to go elsewhere. They’d prefer to keep him; they know they can upgrade if necessary. A word of warning: It's not a deep group at inside linebacker so it could be tough to fill one spot let alone two.

S Brandon Meriweather
Haven’t heard a whole lot in regards to Meriweather. It’s hard to imagine they’d bring him back on anything other than a one-year deal, while hoping that Phillip Thomas eventually becomes the starter. The Redskins need to solve this position and Meriweather’s play did not warrant him being a strong solution.

CB Josh Wilson
He did a good job against the run while in the slot, which isn’t always easy. But his coverage skills aren’t what the Redskins need. Plus David Amerson, entering his second season, should be elevated to a starter. The Redskins will need more corners, however. But they also need more size at this position.

S Reed Doughty
Doughty is a capable backup who too often was pressed into a starting role. He’s a good special-teamer as well.

CB E.J. Biggers
He was their fourth corner and played some safety, though it’s doubtful he’d have played that spot for any team other than the safety-starved Redskins. But he adds depth and there’s a chance he’ll return.

LB Rob Jackson
The Redskins have yet to talk contract with Jackson. Obviously they have Orakpo to worry about and if he signs it’s tough to imagine Jackson returning as well. He’ll want to go somewhere he has a chance to start.

LB Darryl Tapp
Very strong against the run. Not bad to keep around at all.

LB Nick Barnett
He’s not a starting candidate and they need to find backups who are much better on special teams.

WR Josh Morgan
He failed to produce considering the contract he received. The Redskins need to upgrade.

WR Santana Moss
They can always use Leonard Hankerson in the slot, but he might not be healthy until the middle of August. They still think Moss can play. If they upgrade other receiver spots they don’t need to spend a lot for a dynamic slot receiver.

QB Rex Grossman
New coach Jay Gruden has typically kept two quarterbacks, which would leave no room for Grossman. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan will want him in Cleveland to help the other quarterbacks learn his offense.

TE Fred Davis
Davis has bigger issues to worry about.

C J.D. Walton
Signed late in the season. The former third-round pick was a starter in Denver until a bad ankle injury in 2012. The Broncos cut him in December. Washington could upgrade at center.

LB Bryan Kehl
A good special-teams player, but coming off a torn ACL in October.

WR Dez Briscoe
Spent the year on injured reserve; worked with current receivers coach Ike Hilliard two years ago. Has size, but you need more than just size. The Redskins have little depth at this position.

Brian Orakpo will play in Pro Bowl

January, 21, 2014
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Brian Orakpo's strong finish could result in a hefty contract this offseason. Turns out it also will result in a trip to Hawaii.

Orakpo was named to the Pro Bowl team as a replacement for San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who pulled out of the game Tuesday. The 49ers had eight players chosen for the Pro Bowl this season, but none of them will play in Sunday's game. The 49ers lost to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game this past weekend.

But that's beneficial to Orakpo, who will play in this game for the third time in his first five seasons and his first since 2010. Orakpo missed all but two games in 2012 because of a torn pectoral muscle and he admitted it impacted his play in 2013. Orakpo said it took him a while to trust his arm (he had torn his pectoral muscle at the end of the 2011 season as well). Though the coaches were pleased with his play, his sack total was down for the first half of the season with four in the first eight games. But he recorded six sacks in the next seven games and finished with 10 overall. It marked the second time in his career that he finished in double digits; he had 11 as a rookie in 2009 en route to a Pro Bowl berth.

Orakpo will be a free agent in March, but needs to be a priority for the Redskins to re-sign. The coaches like how he's developed in other areas as a 3-4 linebacker, but they also lack a strong option should he leave. Rob Jackson also is a free agent, but even if the Redskins re-sign him, he's not viewed the same as Orakpo in terms of his all-around game. And in the 3-4 played by Washington, the outside linebackers must do more than just rush the passer. But having a strong pass-rusher at both outside linebacker spots is imperative. With Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, they have two linebackers considered to be good pass-rushers.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins' defense hopes it receives a boost from the return of defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson. When that boost comes, however, remains to be seen.

Jackson
Jenkins
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he’s still not sure if those players, both of whom were suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, will even be active Sunday night at Dallas.

Jenkins started 15 games last season and opened camp as the starter until news broke of his suspension. Jackson was slated to be a backup behind Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.

“We’re still in the evaluation process with those two,” Haslett said. “They’re in pretty good shape based on what we saw in the two practices.”

Haslett said after seeing them in practice Thursday and Friday, he’ll then talk to coach Mike Shanahan about whether to activate them Sunday. They want to see how much they retained of the defense in their absence and make sure they’re in good enough shape to play in a game. It’s hard to imagine both being inactive.

While Jenkins will eventually return to the starting lineup, the future is more uncertain for Jackson, coming off a season in which he recorded 4.5 sacks and four interceptions in replacing the injured Orakpo.

Haslett said when Jackson is active, there will be times he can get all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time. For now? Haslett waits.

“I don’t even know if he’ll dress yet,” Haslett said.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 5

October, 7, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins coming out of their bye week.

Defensive breakdowns: It’s great for the Redskins defense that it entered the bye week after a strong performance; the unit needed confidence and a seven-sack game provided some. But the fact that Oakland’s Matt Flynn was demoted to third string after that game tells you a thing or two. The Redskins have not fared well against good quarterbacks and have three of them upcoming -- Dallas’ Tony Romo, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and then Denver’s Peyton Manning. The Redskins can’t expect a shutdown performance, but is it asking too much to tackle better? If they do that and provide a steady four-man rush, they can reduce their issues. Getting end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson back from suspensions will help, but neither has been an impact player.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Greg TrottSo far this season, Robert Griffin III has looked nothing like the dynamic rookie QB he was in 2012.
Not so special: Punter Sav Rocca has been too inconsistent. His hang time on some punts has been 3.0 seconds, a good second off the bottom of where it needs to be. Rocca’s untimely shanks aren’t what a struggling defense needs. But it’s not just Rocca. Washington’s longest kick return? Twenty-eight yards. The longest punt return? Eleven yards. There’s also hidden yardage in what is lost because of poor decisions on both returns. Chris Thompson handles both duties, but never returned punts in college and clearly is still learning to make decisions when to field them. He’s also adjusting to not having the same speed advantage he had in college. The blocking needs to be much better too.

Robert Griffin III's legs: The second-year quarterback used his legs a lot more in Week 4 than in previous games. Griffin does not need to be a running machine to be effective, but his legs remain a valuable weapon for him. He needs to combine his legs with his growing penchant for keeping his eyes downfield. It led to big plays against Oakland. It’s a way to make big plays with your legs and still reduce hits. This isn’t about the zone-read, but it is about not just sitting in the pocket. The Redskins aren’t built to have that sort of game.

Health issues: The biggest one involves running back Alfred Morris, who bruised his ribs in the Sept. 29 win over the Oakland Raiders. The key will be what he’s able to do later in the week and not Monday or even Wednesday. Morris is averaging 5.29 yards per carry and 2.30 yards after contact; both are stronger numbers than he posted a year ago. Tight end Jordan Reed’s quad contusion was still an issue in the Redskins’ last practice Oct. 1 before taking off for the rest of the week. Fred Davis should be healthy, so if Reed can’t play they’ll be fine. But Reed would help, too. Tight end Logan Paulsen's sprained left knee is an issue; losing him would hurt the blocking.

Redskins notes: Lots of work remains

September, 30, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- One win hasn’t changed the message Mike Shanahan has for the Washington Redskins as they enter the bye week. They have work to do.

“Our team is pretty realistic,” Shanahan said. “They know what type of effort we have to have to get to the next level, what type of play we have to do consistently to win the division.”

At 1-3, the Redskins aren’t in a position to relax even in a division having a down year. The players were upbeat after beating the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but they also don’t want to assume it’ll be the start of a turnaround.

Shanahan
Shanahan
That’s why Shanahan said they’ll talk with the players about ways they could have clinched Sunday’s win earlier. Or how they can put together a complete game on both sides of the ball.

“Once you get too carried away, to me that’s when a team goes one way or another,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes if you don’t do all the little things the right way you lose a game and all of a sudden the sky is falling. The sky’s not falling. You have got to go back and do the little things the right way.

“If you’ve got that mindset and your players believe in the work, then you have a chance to overcome anything. Even though we won, we know we didn’t play one of our better games, especially offensively. When that happens, then you have a football team that has a chance to get better.”

In other Redskins news:
  • Shanahan isn't sure yet how tight end Logan Paulsen's knee is doing. Paulsen hurt his left knee Sunday and exited the stadium in a brace. Paulsen is expected to get an MRI, but he told Shanahan on Sunday that he felt good. Shanahan also said if there is a chance that Paulsen’s injury is serious, then the trainers likely would have shared that information with him after the game.
  • Shanahan on the NFC East: “Remember, this is a long season. Don’t get carried away with things that happen very early or very late. Just stay the course. ... A lot of those games can go either way and people get healthy or they get injured and there’s a lot that goes into it.”
  • Receiver Leonard Hankerson has caught 15 passes for 185 yards, adding four for 49 against the Raiders in his second start of the season. “Hank is really playing well,” Shanahan said. “When he gets the opportunity to set guys up one-on-one, he usually wins. He’s becoming comfortable not only with the system, but with himself.” Hankerson’s routes have continued to improve; time and again he creates separation off his cut, though he’s not as much a threat downfield or after the catch. Still, he’s getting open underneath. Shanahan credits some of it to Hankerson being healthy. Last offseason Hankerson spent his time rehabbing surgically-repaired hip. “It’s nice to have a guy that’s healthy,” Shanahan said. “You can see the progress.”
  • The Redskins have an early bye this week; last year they had one after nine games. Not that any of this matters to Shanahan. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of the season, toward the end of the season or in the beginning,” he said. “You can use excuses that it’s the perfect time for a bye week. We have a couple guys banged up which is a positive for us to get these guys healthy. ... We can come back healthy and we know where we’re at in the NFC East and start the season all over again.”
  • Suspended players, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson, will return to practice Tuesday. They haven’t been able to practice for the past four weeks while serving their four-game suspensions. Jackson at least could be at the facility because the nature of his suspension and sit in on meetings. He just couldn’t practice. The Redskins have a one-week exemption before they need to make a move to free up two roster spots.

Brian Orakpo's impact is noticeable

September, 6, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- When Brian Orakpo was lost for the season in 2012, so was much of the Redskins' pass rush. They eventually generated enough pressure in the second half of the season to help mount a playoff run. But they had to be more creative to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

That much was obvious. And it was obvious watching the Redskins this summer that Orakpo makes a difference, even if he's not the one getting the sack. No pass-rusher in 2012 could set up anyone else the way Orakpo did the previous year. That will help the interior rushers, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in particular, as lines really can only double-team one of them. Otherwise, they risk leaving Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in one-on-one situations on the outside. Or they'll have to commit extra blockers. That means fewer receivers for the secondary to cover -- and, with more four-man rushes, more to help in coverage. It sounds good on paper, at least.

One number stands out from the past two seasons, with and without Orakpo: The Redskins had 41 sacks out of 509 pass attempts in 2011; they had 32 in 636 pass attempts in 2012. It should be noted, too, that losing Adam Carriker hurt after his 5.5-sack season of 2011, especially from the base package (his replacement, Jarvis Jenkins, had zero sacks). But the guy the coaches really missed in these situations was Orakpo.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsWith Brian Orakpo healthy, the Redskins should have a vastly improved pass rush in 2013.
After watching every sack the Redskins recorded the past two seasons, here are some takeaways and what that might mean for this season:

Base package: The Redskins recorded 15 sacks from their base package in 2011 but only seven from that look a year ago (all without Orakpo). And of those 15 sacks in 2011, Orakpo recorded one on his own but had a hand in six others, whether from drawing a double-team, applying pressure or by freeing up LaRon Landry on a blitz to his side. Orakpo dropped into coverage five times. So, of the 10 times they recorded a sack from the base package, he helped 70 percent of the time.

Four-man pressures: Once again, a substantial difference. In 2012, the Redskins recorded a sack from a four-man look 14 times, with two other sacks from a three-man rush. They did not get a sack from a three-man rush in 2011, but they did get 22 of their 41 sacks from a four-man rush.

Basic looks: I don't think this will be repeated in 2013, mainly because Kerrigan is more versatile, but: In 2011, of the 41 sacks, Kerrigan and Orakpo were aligned at their usual spots on 29 occasions. Orakpo lined up in a four-point stance on nine sacks and Kerrigan did so three times. Orakpo recorded six sacks when he was either in a four-point stance or aligned somewhere other than as a right outside linebacker. Last season Kerrigan had to move around more, playing Orakpo's role. It helped him because he could rush inside or at a guard. But now having two such players adds to the defensive package. Last year, the Redskins could move Kerrigan around, but having two such players makes the defense more versatile.

"It keeps offenses on their heels," Kerrigan said. "That allows us more versatility in our defense, and having Rak and I have the ability to play multiple positions is good because everything is so well-disguised."

Games: It also made a difference in how they got the sack. In 2011, the Redskins did not get many sacks off a stunt (I counted only four, in fact). In 2012, I counted at least 10 sacks that occurred on a play in which the Redskins stunted or used some sort of game. They were also forced to be more creative in where they placed guys, especially Kerrigan and inside linebacker Perry Riley. Both of them moved around a decent amount in 2012.

That’s not to say the Redskins did not have success running a game with Orakpo and Bowen. They did. One such action resulted in a sack by Bowen. On the play, against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, Orakpo was aligned over the center about three yards back with Bowen at right end. At the snap, Orakpo ran directly at the outside shoulder of the left guard as Bowen took two steps upfield. Orakpo also caught enough of the tackle to allow Bowen to head inside for a sack.

“When [Bowen] first got here, we used to always talk,” Orakpo said. “He worked with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and that made it easy with me. We have the same qualities as far as our get off and making things happen. Stephen was used to having a guy on the side like that. He used to tell me what DeMarcus would do to set stuff and I would tell him things. We meshed well together. That’s why he was able to have a great year and I had a good year as well.”

Ware and Orakpo don’t rush exactly the same. Orakpo said Ware has longer arms and uses that to his advantage, whereas Orakpo is more apt to use both hands. Still, he and Bowen clicked because their steps were in sync.

“I’ve been looking forward to Brian coming back,” Bowen said. “We developed a chemistry the year before so we’re trying to build off that.”

It was evident this summer how the two could help one another. On the first sack of the summer against Tennessee, Bowen initially drew the attention of the left guard and center. The guard quickly moved off to help the left tackle. But Orakpo had gone wide, leaving the guard blocking no one. Meanwhile, Bowen collapsed the middle and Kerrigan swooped in from the other side of a narrowing pocket for the sack.

On another rush this summer, Bowen slanted directly at the outside shoulder of the guard. Why is that important? It forced the guard to engage and left Orakpo with a one-on-one situation. More pressure -- and a way to do so minus always sending extra rushers.

They can do that by moving Kerrigan around, pairing him next to Orakpo, as they started to do two years ago and also tried this summer (though they had more success with Orakpo and Bowen on the same side).

“On third-and-long that tackle will be fixated on [Orakpo] so you might be able to accomplish a stunt inside that you wouldn’t be able to do without that edge presence,” Cofield said. “When you have outstanding edge guys, that makes the inside guys’ job better.”
RICHMOND, Va. -- They are used to this by now, the Washington Redskins, as they rank among the top teams in the league over the past couple of years in the dubious category of drug suspensions. The latest, announced Friday, is a four-game suspension for defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who becomes the eighth Redskins player to be suspended for a drug violation in the last three years.

The whys, the wherefores, the excuses and the denials are all a matter of public record. Jenkins said in a statement that he believes the banned substance was in a supplement he took that didn't list any banned substances on its label. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said in a post-practice news conference that each of the drug suspensions is different and that the team is "trying to do our due diligence to make it right." Whatever. A lot of guys cheat, on a lot of teams, in every sport. Some get caught while most don't. The Redskins are having a bad run with drug suspensions, some of which are for performance-enhancers (as Jenkins' is) and some of which are not. Make of that what you will.

What it means in this case is that they become even more short-handed in the pass rush for the first four games of the 2013 season. They're already without outside linebacker Rob Jackson for the first four games, due to Jackson's own drug suspension. Starting defensive end Adam Carriker, whose place Jenkins was supposed to take on the defensive line, is out four-to-five months following the latest surgery on his right leg. The return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is obviously a big boost to the pass rush, but he's not likely to solve all of the problems himself. While Jenkins may not yet have shown the impact-player ability the team believes he ultimately will, the Redskins were counting on him to make a big step forward and a contribution in 2013. He now will have to wait until at least their fifth game to do that.

In the meantime, Kedric Golston likely steps into a starting defensive end role, which is less than ideal, and Chris Baker can play some end as well as nose tackle. Those guys could hold it down against the Eagles, Packers, Lions and Raiders to start the season, but defensive line is an area at which depth is vital and teams like to rotate players to keep them as fresh as possible. With Carriker out and Jenkins now down for four games, that rotation gets a lot thinner.

Most of the question marks for the Redskins this season, at least if you subscribe to the belief that quarterback Robert Griffin III will be fine, are on the defensive side of the ball. The first couple of days of training camp have produced more defensive questions than answers.

Who may get squeezed out in Washington?

February, 26, 2013
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On Monday, we discussed the Washington Redskins' lingering fight to get back some of the salary-cap space that was taken from them last year as a penalty for the way they structured some contracts during the uncapped 2010 season. Specifically, that post cited a Washington Post story that said the Redskins were putting contract negotiations on hold until the matter was resolved. And since I continue to think it's unlikely that the Redskins get any relief here, it's worth discussing exactly which players and contracts are in question.

The Redskins currently project to be about $4 million over the expected salary cap, which means they could get under with just a couple of moves. Releasing cornerback DeAngelo Hall, for example, would save them $8 million and get them under. Cutting defensive lineman Adam Carriker would save $4 million, and it's likely they'll at least restructure Santana Moss, who's slated to count $6.2 million against the cap, if not cut him outright.

So yes, they could get under the cap today if they wanted to. The issue, of course, is that they'd have to replace those players. For all of Hall's flaws, he was one of their starting cornerbacks last year, and he had his moments. His performance against Dallas' Dez Bryant in the division championship game in Week 17 was a key factor in the Redskins' victory. And consider that fellow corner Cedric Griffin is an unrestricted free agent. It may seem easy to sit on the outside and say, "Cut Hall and save the money," but as with the Giants and Corey Webster, one must consider the matter of how to replace him.

Same goes for Moss, who was a valuable piece of the Redskins' passing game in Robert Griffin III's rookie season. They can't pay their 34-year-old slot receiver that much money, but Moss would have to agree to the restructure. And if he gives the team a hard time about it, they may have to part company, which would require them to find a reliable veteran slot receiver to replace him. With tight end Fred Davis also an unrestricted free agent, the Redskins are left to confront the question of how many of Griffin's short-range passing targets they're comfortable losing.

My guess at this point -- and that's all it is -- is that Hall and Moss take pay cuts to stay in Washington but that the cap crunch costs the Redskins Davis, Kory Lichtensteiger, Carriker and possibly valuable fullback Darrel Young, who's a restricted free agent. It's also possible they'll have to say goodbye to linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and/or Rob Jackson, who were important 2012 contributors. Regardless, they face many tough decisions. The potential for major personnel losses at key spots is exacerbated by the fact that Washington has no first-round draft pick and is hoping to upgrade in the secondary even if it keeps its corners.

This isn't going to be a fun offseason for Redskins fans, and the team knows it, which is why it's trying this Hail Mary effort to get the cap space back. Without it, things could get ugly in Washington.

Jim Haslett as Redskins' 'mad scientist'

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
11:50
AM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- Regular readers know I have this theory that Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been devising completely new schemes every week -- sometimes every half -- to overcome the team's injury and personnel issues on defense, and that the extent to which the players are buying into the ever-changing schemes is part of the reason for the team's success. After Sunday night's division-clinching victory over the Dallas Cowboys, I ran my theory past Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield, who said I was right.

"A great defensive coordinator is kind of a mad scientist," Cofield said. "And I think guys are energized when they come to work every Wednesday thinking, 'What's he got for us this week?' I think you definitely see that."

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has kept opposing offenses guessing with scheme changes.
The Redskins finished the season ranked 28th in the NFL in total defense, allowing more yards than every team but the Buccaneers, Jaguars, Giants and Saints. But somehow, that didn't sink them the way it did those other teams.

"We're good enough, right?" Cofield said. "Good enough to get to the playoffs. Good enough to win seven games in a row. We definitely want to play better. We hear 'bend, don't break,' but we don't want to bend or break. But we've been good enough to win."

Sunday's fresh new plan was a blitz-heavy scheme that saw the Redskins confuse and pressure Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo into three interceptions. There was nothing on any 2012 Redskins film to make Romo or the Cowboys believe they'd see London Fletcher blitzing inside, Rob Jackson blitzing outside and Cofield basically trying to occupy blockers and clear room. That wasn't the way the Redskins played defense this year, but it was the way they practiced it all last week because they wanted to show Romo something different.

"Defensively, we did something that we haven't done, and we thought we'd have a chance to keep them a little off-balance," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "If Tony knows what you're going to do, he's going to tear you apart."

Haslett and Shanahan flat out-coached the Cowboys' Jason Garrett, who was unable to make the adjustments in-game to the Redskins' blitzes. But part of the reason it worked was the surprising ability of cornerback DeAngelo Hall to handle red-hot Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant before Bryant had to leave the game with back spasms.

"Dez has been on a tear these last couple of weeks," Hall said. "I knew they were going to put me out there with him and I was going to have to play my best game."

Which he did, and the big guys up front kept Romo so flustered that he never adjusted away from those low-percentage sideline routes to screen plays or to Jason Witten over the middle.

"Still comes down to execution," Cofield said. "But it's a beautiful thing when it works."

So what do they have in store in this week's playoff game for the Seattle Seahawks, who scored 150 points in a three-week stretch from Weeks 14-16 before coming back to beat the Rams 20-13 on Sunday?

"We'll find out Wednesday," Cofield said. "It was good to see them look human today for a change, like a normal team that has to fight like everybody else."

The Seahawks present a fresh challenge for the Redskins -- one that demands a fresh look. Anybody who's been following this Redskins defense for the past couple of months knows to expect the unexpected.

Shanahan's stunning Redskins turnaround

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
2:27
AM ET
Mike ShanahanAP Photo/Nick WassMike Shanahan has turned around a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2007.
LANDOVER, Md. -- He is 60 years old, with 19 years of NFL head coaching experience, seven (now eight) playoff appearances and two Super Bowl titles. His whole act is rooted in the concept of having been there, done that and proven all he needs to prove to anyone. And yet, after his Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-18 on Sunday night to win the NFC East title in his third year as their coach, Mike Shanahan allowed this:

"No," he said, "I don't think I've ever been 3-6 before and won seven in a row."

Few have, but that is the achievement of Shanahan and the 2012 Redskins, who entered their bye week with a record of 3-6 but wake this morning as 10-6 champions of their division. The Redskins will, if you can believe it, host the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET. That fact is a testament to the way Shanahan and his coaching staff have brought this team together during the second half of the season behind a brilliant rookie quarterback, an unstoppable skee-ball of a running back, and a defense that's buying in weekly to the belief that it can be better than its résumé.

"The credit goes to our head coach," said Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, echoing a sentiment seldom heard in NFL locker rooms but common in that of the Redskins over the past month. "Coach Shanahan, the way he laid out the plan for us, told us what we had to do, got us ready each and every week, this is a tribute to him. Our mentality was no different at 3-6 than it was at 9-6."

Back on June 13, Shanahan sat in his office in Ashburn, Va., and pointed to a spot on the wall near his office door. It's a spot that is concealed when the door is open, but with the door closed you can see the names of dozens of players no longer on the team. The names are on the same kinds of labels Shanahan uses to arrange the neatly organized depth chart he keeps on the same wall on the other side of a mahogany bookcase and much closer to his desk. But these names of former Redskins are thrown up there haphazardly, as though he just wanted them gone but didn't have the time to dispose of them properly.

"Just look," he said, pointing to the labels. "We've cut 150 players since I got here and only one of them is starting for another team -- Carlos Rogers in San Francisco. We've got a whole new team."

It was, for the first time since he took the job in 2010, a team Shanahan truly believed could compete. It was built around the quarterback, Robert Griffin III, for whom he traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick in April's draft. It featured Pierre Garcon, the wide receiver at whom they'd thrown big free-agent money in March because they thought he could grow into a true No. 1 wide receiver. It included the franchise left tackle, Trent Williams, who'd been Shanahan's first Redskins draft pick but was still a question mark after the drug suspension that ended his 2011 season early. That day, a sixth-round rookie running back named Alfred Morris was fourth on the depth chart, because Shanahan didn't know much about him yet. The defense had Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as its bookend pass rushers, and Brandon Meriweather as its starting strong safety.

That team didn't exactly hold together all year. Injuries took some of the key pieces, including a number of the running backs that were listed ahead of Morris. On the defensive side, Orakpo and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker got hurt early. Meriweather hardly played at all. At 3-6 following the Week 9 loss to Carolina and Shanahan's widely debated "evaluation" news conference, the Redskins were reeling.

"We didn't have all the horses we expected to have coming into the season," nose tackle Barry Cofield said Sunday night. "And I think that shocked us a little bit."

"I thought we just had a lot of unfortunate bad luck in the first half of the season," center Will Montgomery said. "I was sitting there at 3-6 and thinking, 'Let's just rip off three in a row here and see what happens.'"

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassWashington will need quarterback Robert Griffin III to stay healthy if they want to celebrate another NFC East title.
What happened was that they all came back fired up -- players and coaches alike. Griffin went into the bye week angry and promised things would get better. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett returned from the bye determined to start challenging his charges to learn something new and fairly complicated every week. The players started buying in, and Montgomery's three in a row turned into four and five and six and now seven as on-field evidence mounted that they could do amazing things.

Sunday night was the culmination, as the Cowboys were caught off guard by a Redskins defense blitzing more than it had all year, and forgotten cornerback DeAngelo Hall handled one of the hottest receivers in the league in Dez Bryant one on one. They forced three Tony Romo interceptions, and a Redskins offense that turned the ball over less than any team in the league this year just kept feeding Morris to the tune of 200 yards and three touchdowns.

"Defensively, we did something that we haven't done, and we thought we'd have a chance to keep them a little off-balance," Shanahan said. "If Tony knows what you're going to do, he's going to tear you apart."

Romo played like a guy who was caught off guard, and Jason Garrett got outcoached by a man with 16 years more experience. While Fletcher blitzed the A-gap and Rob Jackson blitzed from the outside and Cofield ate up blockers, the Cowboys fired off low-percentage sideline throws all game instead of picking apart the Redskins over the middle of the field. The Redskins flustered Romo into just enough bad throws and mistakes to keep their offense on the field churning out those rushing yards.

"Anytime our offense is on the field," said Jackson, who made the third and final Romo interception of the night, "I'm confident."

These Redskins are one seriously confident bunch, rolling into the playoffs on the longest winning streak of any NFC team and determined to maintain the same cool focus that has run that streak to seven.

"It's a four-game season," Shanahan told his team when this game was over and they all put on their black NFC East champion caps. "We worked hard to get here, but now there's only one team that's happy at the end of the season. And we want to be that team."

It is an accomplishment of coaching that these Redskins, who were 14-27 in Shanahan's first 41 games as their coach, are 7-0 in the past seven. It is an accomplishment of coaching that they believe him when he tells them they can be the only team that's happy at the end of this season, hoisting a Super Bowl trophy a little more than a month from now in New Orleans.

"We'll just keep taking them one at a time," Hall said. "And hopefully we can get to 11 straight."

Doubt them if you want, but here at the tail end of Mike Shanahan's third year in Washington, he has his Redskins buying into the idea that they're capable of anything.

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 28, Cowboys 18

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
11:37
PM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East title game Sunday night at FedEx Field.

What it means: The Redskins are champions of the NFC East for the first time since 1999, when their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, was nine years old and Bill Clinton was President of the United States. The Cowboys are 8-8 and for the second year in a row were unable to win a Week 17 game that would have won them the division. The Redskins enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFC, having won seven games in a row to finish at 10-6 after a 3-6 start. Denver's 11-game winning streak is the only longer current win streak in the NFL.

Record breaker: Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris reached the 100-yard mark for the game in the third quarter. In that same quarter, he also broke Clinton Portis' team record of 1,516 rushing yards in a season, set in 2005. Morris basically was the Redskins' game plan for this one, as they fed him repeatedly against a Dallas defense that was missing six starters and was trying to get by with a clearly limited DeMarcus Ware. Morris got big chunks of yardage up the middle all night, and the coup de grace was his 32-yard touchdown run that put the Redskins up 21-10 with 10:41 left in the game. He finished the game with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries and the regular season with 1,613 rushing yards.

Well covered: Going into the game, one of the key mismatches looked to be Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant against Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If you'd been told Hall would be in one-on-one coverage against Bryant all night with Miles Austin injured and out of the game early, you'd have expected the red-hot wideout to roast the declining veteran cornerback. But Hall played his best game of the season, handling the much bigger Bryant in coverage, bumping him off of routes, and breaking up a couple of critical passes. The Redskins have been getting by defensively on schemes and adjustments during their hot second half, but sometimes to win championships you need individual players to deliver their best individual efforts and win their matchups. Hall was the perfect example of that Sunday night. Bryant had four catches for 71 yards and failed to catch a touchdown pass for the first time in eight games before he left with a back injury in the fourth quarter.

Romo Flops: Tony Romo's three interceptions will long be cited as a reason the Cowboys lost this game, and that's fair. The two he threw in the first quarter may well have robbed the Cowboys of a chance to get off to a fast start before their wide receivers started dropping like flies. Romo settled in after a rough first quarter and led the Cowboys on a late touchdown drive that cut the lead to three points, but his third interception of the game -- by Washington linebacker Rob Jackson -- set up Morris' third touchdown and sealed the victory for the Redskins. Those who want to poke holes in Romo's ability to come up big in the big spots have three more interceptions to use in their arguments from now on. Romo threw 13 interceptions in his first seven games of this season and only six in his final nine, but of those six, five came in his two losses to the Redskins.

Super Sub: Jackson emerged midseason as the replacement for injured Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and has had a major impact on the defense as a coverage linebacker as well as a pass rusher. This was his fourth interception of the season. He's one of the surprise heroes of the Redskins' surprise 10-win season.

Parity: Each of the four NFC East teams has won the division once in the last four years.

What's next: The Redskins will host the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card-round playoff game at 4:30 p.m/ ET on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field. The Cowboys' season is over. They will pick either 17th or 18th in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 28, Cowboys 18

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
11:37
PM ET

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East title game Sunday night at FedEx Field.

What it means: The Redskins are champions of the NFC East for the first time since 1999, when their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, was nine years old and Bill Clinton was President of the United States. The Cowboys are 8-8 and for the second year in a row were unable to win a Week 17 game that would have won them the division. The Redskins enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFC, having won seven games in a row to finish at 10-6 after a 3-6 start. Denver's 11-game winning streak is the only longer current win streak in the NFL.

Record breaker: Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris reached the 100-yard mark for the game in the third quarter. In that same quarter, he also broke Clinton Portis' team record of 1,516 rushing yards in a season, set in 2005. Morris basically was the Redskins' game plan for this one, as they fed him repeatedly against a Dallas defense that was missing six starters and was trying to get by with a clearly limited DeMarcus Ware. Morris got big chunks of yardage up the middle all night, and the coup de grace was his 32-yard touchdown run that put the Redskins up 21-10 with 10:41 left in the game. He finished the game with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries and the regular season with 1,613 rushing yards.

Well covered: Going into the game, one of the key mismatches looked to be Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant against Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If you'd been told Hall would be in one-on-one coverage against Bryant all night with Miles Austin injured and out of the game early, you'd have expected the red-hot wideout to roast the declining veteran cornerback. But Hall played his best game of the season, handling the much bigger Bryant in coverage, bumping him off of routes, and breaking up a couple of critical passes. The Redskins have been getting by defensively on schemes and adjustments during their hot second half, but sometimes to win championships you need individual players to deliver their best individual efforts and win their matchups. Hall was the perfect example of that Sunday night. Bryant had four catches for 71 yards and failed to catch a touchdown pass for the first time in eight games before he left with a back injury in the fourth quarter.

Romo Flops: Tony Romo's three interceptions will long be cited as a reason the Cowboys lost this game, and that's fair. The two he threw in the first quarter may well have robbed the Cowboys of a chance to get off to a fast start before their wide receivers started dropping like flies. Romo settled in after a rough first quarter and led the Cowboys on a late touchdown drive that cut the lead to three points, but his third interception of the game -- by Washington linebacker Rob Jackson -- set up Morris' third touchdown and sealed the victory for the Redskins. Those who want to poke holes in Romo's ability to come up big in the big spots have three more interceptions to use in their arguments from now on. Romo threw 13 interceptions in his first seven games of this season and only six in his final nine, but of those six, five came in his two losses to the Redskins.

Super Sub: Jackson emerged midseason as the replacement for injured Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and has had a major impact on the defense as a coverage linebacker as well as a pass-rusher. This was his fourth interception of the season. He's one of the surprise heroes of the Redskins' surprise 10-win season.

Parity: Each of the four NFC East teams has won the division once in the last four years.

What's next: The Redskins will host the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card-round playoff game at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field. The Cowboys' season is over. They will pick either 17th or 18th in the first round of the NFL Draft.
This is the second in a three-part series that will look at each of the three teams tied for first place in the NFC East with two weeks to play and make the case for why that team will win the division. The case for the New York Giants appeared here Wednesday, and the case for the Dallas Cowboys will appear Friday. But today we look at the Washington Redskins, who have won five games in a row, and the reasons to believe they will keep it going and win the division.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsMike Shanahan and his staff have the Redskins in a groove offensively.
The coaching that is going on in Washington right now is high-level stuff. We've read much this week about offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the ways in which he's adapted his head-coach father's offense to electric rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the fact that they were able to produce at a high level offensively last week with Kirk Cousins making his first NFL start shows that this is a nimble scheme being run by talented, intelligent coaches who right now appear to have an answer for everything.

The Redskins lead the league in rushing at 164.8 yards per game. And while rookie Alfred Morris looks like a back who was too good to last until the sixth round, even he'd tell you that a big reason for his success is the perfect way in which he fits the zone-blocking run-game scheme Mike Shanahan's been running since his Denver days. The offensive line has performed well, fullback Darrel Young is playing at a high level, the receivers all block, and as a result the Washington run game stands as a legitimate threat on each and every down. But what heightens the threat is Griffin, who's a threat in and of himself to run at any time, and forces the defense to account for possibilities that just don't exist when you're defending a more traditional offense.

There have been many questions about whether the Washington offense is sustainable long-term, but it's clear that the players are buying in completely and learning more and more as the weeks go along. It's an evolving offense, and some of this coaching staff's greatest accomplishments are establishing the players' belief in the coaches and making the players feel invested in that evolution. The Redskins right now look like a mature team that smells an opportunity and knows what to do with it. And with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back and an offensive line about which there were preseason questions, that demonstrates a coaching staff that's earning its money.

I think you see the result of excellent game-to-game coaching on the defensive side of the ball as well. This is a Redskins team that has played basically the whole season without its two starting safeties, lost its best pass-rusher and a starting defensive lineman to injuries early in the season, and is even more shorthanded in the secondary lately because of the drug suspension of cornerback Cedric Griffin.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been able to scheme each of the past five weeks around the personnel shortages, often making in-game adjustments that have made the defense look totally different in the second halves of games. He's deployed linebacker Rob Jackson strategically, correctly deciding when he's best used as a pass-rusher and when he's more useful in coverage. He's managed to move cornerback DeAngelo Hall around in different coverages and even some blitz packages designed to help hide Hall's one-on-one weaknesses. The line has toughened up around nose tackle Barry Cofield as the season has gone on, and while this defense will never be confused with the 1985 Bears, the Redskins have shown an ability to scheme and adjust enough to win. The way the offense functions most weeks, they don't always need to do that much.

Griffin is obviously the wild-card here, and the element the Redskins have that sets them apart once the game begins. But the remaining two teams on the Redskins' schedule -- the Eagles and the Cowboys -- are teams that have already seen him once. That didn't necessarily help the Giants the second time they saw him, but the point is Washington can't rely on Griffin himself as the element of surprise in either of these two games. They're going to need to come up with something new to show the Philadelphia and Dallas defenses if they're going to win both games and take the division. But the reason to like their chances is that the coaching staff is showing a deft week-to-week ability to do just that, and the players are buying in and executing the plan extremely well.

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