What I like ... and have concerns about

September, 2, 2014
9/02/14
5:00
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I'll make this clear: Predictions are a pain in the rear. Unless of course you nail it and everyone reminds you how smart you are. Otherwise, a pain.

Anyway, I predicted the Redskins would go 7-9. Typically, that means you can make a case for winning nine games. Can I see them winning more? Sure. If they stay healthy… if Robert Griffin III matures as a passer … if the defense not only applies pressure but stops big plays. Then, yes. There's also a better vibe this year. However, I saw enough issues to put on the brakes, especially after being burned last year (10-6, NFC championship; ugh).

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Jay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassRobert Griffin III seems comfortable with new coach Jay Gruden, but he still needs to make strides in the passing game.
What I like

Robert Griffin III. He's not close to a finished product as a passer, but he's running well and feeling good. That's a good start. He can, and will, continue to make plays with his legs while growing as a passer. Griffin likes the coaching dynamic a whole lot more.

The defense is playing faster. I’ll have more on this in another post, but as a group the Redskins have looked faster this summer for a variety of reasons. It results in more players around the ball, mitigating the damage done by a missed tackle.

Offensive talent. There will be growing pains -- are you tired of that phrase yet? -- but they will make big plays in the meantime. DeSean Jackson is a big-play machine and Griffin can be as well. Andre Roberts is fast; Pierre Garcon is fast and strong; tight end Jordan Reed is a playmaker; Alfred Morris is a legit back with good vision and lower-body power.

Special teams focus. It didn’t always seem like it this summer, but the coverage should be better. It won’t be perfect, but the Redskins added special-teams depth in two areas they had none last year: safeties and linebackers. The return game should be better, but it’s not as if Roberts, who will handle both roles, was dynamic in this role in the past.

Keenan Robinson. Curious to see how he’ll react to more complex plays once the season begins. But he looked good this summer. Also like how Chris Baker played this summer; stronger recognition.

Pass rush. Jim Haslett loves sending the safeties and with more speed at linebacker they can do so from either side – and mask it well. He can be creative up front, and the addition of Jason Hatcher definitely helps. Hatcher creates opportunities for others.

The atmosphere. Liked this from the beginning and it definitely helps. The tension has evaporated; more passionate coaching and more energy. That matters.

Quarterbacks on the schedule. The Redskins play some good quarterbacks, but it’s nothing like last season. The defense should benefit. Or, rather, they'd better.

What concerns me

Griffin’s growth as a passer. It’s silly to write him off already, but it’s not wrong to expect some stumbles as he develops in the pocket. This summer he was good one day and struggled the next (not always his fault, but inconsistency in the passing game was real). He must become a money passer on third downs and in the red zone. He can improve and he can still make plays while doing so. But … time and patience required here.

Protection issues. If the Redskins use a lot of straight dropback passes then life will be interesting in the pocket. I’m not sold this is the best course of action.

Durability. It’s wrong to predict injuries. But when you have older players at key spots who are coming off procedures, it’s not wrong to wonder how long they’ll last. That’s true of Jason Hatcher (knee) and Barry Cofield (hernia). I also wonder about Ryan Clark. His wisdom helps the secondary, but he turns 35 soon and it’s fair to wonder how he’ll hold up over 16 games. And it’s tough to imagine Brandon Meriweather getting through the final 14 games without another illegal hit issue.

Big plays allowed. Too many each of the past couple seasons. They allowed more to Baltimore and against New England in practices (when facing Tom Brady).

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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