Washington Redskins: alfred morris

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. If something happened to him, they woulld still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.

Running backs (4)

The Redskins could also stash Chris Thompson on the practice squad as further insurance. Thompson can easily bump himself onto the roster with a good summer; he’s a good fit in Gruden’s offense and the new coach liked Thompson coming out of college. But durability is an issue. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.

Receivers (6)

I am not cutting Leonard Hankerson, rather I’m just not sold that he will be on the active roster at the start of the season. If he shows this summer that he can play, then, yes, I would have him on the 53-man roster. But the Redskins were not sure what to expect from him and when he might be healthy. Therefore, I can see him taking a little longer to return. Gruden likes Moss and they drafted Grant. Robinson needs to take a step.

Tight ends (3)

Rookie tight end Ted Bolser would head to the practice squad, where he can develop. He didn’t look close to a roster spot just based on how he looked this spring. Reed is firmly entrenched as the starter with Paulsen their top blocker and Paul a special teams ace.

Offensive line (10)

In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. It all depends on how Long and/or LeRibeus looks at guard. They love Long -- Gruden has said he could compete immediately -- so if he shows he can play, then they could cut Chester (which I don't think will happen; I think he'll start). Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well. This position will be fluid and I’m not sold on the 10 I have listed.

Defensive line (6)

This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger at some point. But he still helps in too many ways.

Linebackers (9)

As of now I’d have Rob Jackson out, especially if Jenkins develops as a pass-rusher. But this will be a close race. And I have them keeping an extra guy inside in Hayward because of his special teams ability.

Cornerbacks (5)
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and it’s hard to place him on here without seeing him play. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot.

Safeties (4)

I really don’t feel good about this position and am not confident that I have this one right, at least for that final spot. Robinson’s special teams ability gives him the edge over Bacarri Rambo, who must have a strong camp. Akeem Davis can help on special teams, but with no NFL experience he will be stashed on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.
Two years ago the Washington Redskins had one of the most potent running games in the NFL, a mix of conventional and new school with the zone read option. It worked. They led the NFL in rushing yards, were second in yards per carry and gained more first downs than any team courtesy of the run.

It wasn’t just the zone read. While the Redskins averaged 6.18 yards per carry with that tactic, they still averaged 4.94 yards on their 401 traditional runs. That average alone was topped by only three other teams. The zone read helped, but so, too, did Alfred Morris being an excellent fit in the outside zone running scheme.

As he improved his tracks on runs, the Redskins’ run game flourished even more. Morris’ ability to plant and cut and make the first defender miss meant the run game would work even minus the zone read aspect.

Last season, the Redskins ranked third in the NFL in yards per rush (4.78). They averaged 5.33 yards on zone read carries and 4.65 on traditional runs; the latter number would have left them tied for third.

Here’s the point: The run game has worked the past two years, with or without the zone read option. That’s a big reason why offensive coordinator Sean McVay said shortly after getting his new position that “the run game will be very similar.”

The offseason moves suggest that’s the case. The Redskins added a bigger player at left guard in Shawn Lauvao, but he moves well -- after the Redskins signed him, multiple Browns sources said he’d be a good fit in the outside zone game. Lauvao might not be a great guard, but he’s bigger than Kory Lichtensteiger, now at center, by a good 20 pounds. Lichtensteiger moves better than former center Will Montgomery but is not as strong.

Meanwhile, the two linemen they drafted, guard Spencer Long and tackle Morgan Moses, both can move. The problem for Moses is that in college he was inconsistent getting to linebackers in the run game. It’s yet another area he must improve before he’s truly ready to start. Long, nearly 10 pounds heavier than starting right guard Chris Chester, spent a lot of time pulling at Nebraska but he also plays with strength. The Redskins definitely left yards on the field in the run game last season, sometimes because the backside blockers failed to get their men and other times because Morris needed to make a stronger cut down the field.

On paper, bigger should also equal more ability to play smash mouth when needed, adding more versatility to the ground game. But I’m not sold that Lauvao, for example, is as strong in that sort of situation. That’s not what he showed in Cleveland (whether at the line or when reaching linebackers).

Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not have the run game in Cincinnati that he’ll have in Washington. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a bubble player for the Bengals this season; he carried the ball a combined 498 times the past two seasons. Gruden opted for a mix, with Giovani Bernard receiving 170 carries in 2013, in part because he had no one such as Morris.

Meanwhile, the Redskins actually led the NFL in rushing versus seven-man fronts (275 times for an NFL-best 1,332 yards).

Perhaps Gruden’s influence will result in more carries against five- and six-man fronts. The Bengals had 51 more such plays than Washington a year ago, a function of formation and likely also game situations. Then again, two years ago the Redskins had more runs against those fronts than Cincinnati.

But with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed, Gruden has more weapons in the pass game as well. Which, of course, could lead to more spread formations -- and runs against even more favorable fronts.

Meanwhile, Roy Helu can catch the ball and perhaps he’ll run better out of a shotgun spread formation than in the outside zone. But I can’t imagine him in a Giovani Bernard role; the Bengals’ back had 226 touches from scrimmage last season. Though Helu averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he’s not a move-the-chains runner (eight carries against an eight-man front resulted in a total of 14 yards). Even against seven-man fronts Helu averaged 4.06 yards, which is fine but is much less than Morris (4.96, with an NFL-best 937 rushing yards against that type of front).

The point? Helu will be able to handle the third-down duties again, but there’s little reason to take a whole lot away from Morris. And rookie Lache Seastrunk has a lot to prove -- as a third-down back in particular -- before being ready for anything other than pinch-hitting duty as a runner. But he’s a potentially good fit in the spread. Chris Thompson is, too, but size and durability remain two big issues for him.

Do not assume the Redskins will see fewer eight-man boxes compared to last season. In 2013, Morris only ran 44 times against an eight-man box, which was six fewer times than he did so as a rookie. So it’s not a given he’ll pile up more yards because of fewer eight-man boxes. But given the success of the past two years and that Gruden wants to keep it mostly the same, there’s also no reason to think Morris or the Redskins’ run game will suddenly drop off. That is, unless Gruden falls too much in love with the weapons at receiver.
The Washington Redskins' passing game struggled last season and not just because the starting quarterback was coming off knee surgery. The protection failed; the receivers didn’t get open; the coaches could not add as much to the offense as desired.

But with a new staff, a quarterback more like himself and with a full offseason and better receivers, the Redskins’ passing attack should improve. Of course, there have been many times in the past that an aspect of the Redskins should have improved and did not. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has maintained all along that nothing has yet been accomplished. He is absolutely right.

One veteran offensive player said what helps is that Jay Gruden’s passing game is similar to what Washington ran under Kyle Shanahan. It also helps that the coaches say the run game will be the same. Still, it’s a new offense that Griffin and the others must learn.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiLook for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to be more effective throwing deep with improved receivers led by offseason addition DeSean Jackson.
I know that Gruden’s favored alignment on first-and-10 was two tight ends and two receivers last season in Cincinnati. I don’t know how often he will use what alignment, but the Redskins did invest in the passing game -- DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts to pair with Pierre Garcon, all of whom can win downfield -- and you don’t do so without the intent to maximize that talent.

The Redskins have devoted 15.57 percent of their cap space to receiver -- that’s 36.05 percent more than the average NFL team.

Also, the feeling, for now at least, is that the Redskins will rely less on play-action passes than they did in the past. The Redskins averaged an NFL-best 11.85 yards per pass attempt from play-action in 2012; they averaged 6.97 yards per attempt last season, 26th in the NFL. By comparison, Cincinnati ranked 12th last season at 8.22 yards per pass attempt from play-action (all statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information).

However, the Bengals definitely ran it less: they ranked 19th in the NFL with only 47.6 yards per game out of play-action looks. The Redskins, meanwhile, were ninth at 70.3 yards per game.

The sense is that the Redskins won’t need to use it as much because of an improved receiving corps, one that is much more capable of winning one-on-one battles at the line (unlike last season). Therefore, in theory, it should result in quicker opportunities for Griffin. That will allow the Redskins to use less complicated reads until Griffin and the receivers grow in the offense. Without the benefit of a regular offseason a year ago, the Redskins could not expand the offense under Griffin the way they would have liked. When they tried to, it did not work for a variety of reasons.

Griffin has had a good offseason and, the veteran said, has done a good job of picking up the offense. But the fact remains that this is his first legitimate NFL offseason and he’s learning a second offense. Don’t complicate matters (even if every NFL offense is complex). This should allow him to be more decisive and play to his strengths, which should include throwing the deep ball.

A lot of this depends on how well the protection holds up. If it doesn't, then play-action can be used more often.

Gruden inherited different talent offensively than he had in Cincinnati. The Bengals did not have a workhorse runner as good as Alfred Morris. They did not have the depth among the receiving talent Washington now appears to have (including tight end Jordan Reed). Of course, the Bengals did have other weapons: receiver A.J. Green, one of the game’s best; running back Giovani Bernard, good at running from the spread and catching passes out of the backfield.

Griffin is a different threat than Andy Dalton. Griffin, obviously, is more mobile but he also has a stronger arm and should be more dangerous throwing downfield. But keep in mind that Cincinnati led the NFL with 83 pass attempts on passes that traveled at least 20 yards or more (the Redskins had 60 such attempts) but were 16th in completion percentage (37.3 percent) and 13th in yards per attempt (12.83). Again, if Griffin is sharper, then it would help here: The Redskins ranked second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt on these plays in 2012 (though they were 31st in number of passes attempted). Last season, the Redskins ranked 26th in completion percentage (28.3) and 25th in yards per attempt (9.92). With Jackson, a healthy Reed and an improved Griffin, I would expect both numbers to improve by a decent amount.

Also, what we have learned thus far about Gruden is that he will adjust. Well, actually, all we know is that he says he will adapt. That is why he is leaving the same run game in place, knowing it has been effective. Though some aspects of his offense have to remain the same -- you need core beliefs -- he can’t, and shouldn’t, ask Griffin to be Dalton.

The Redskins need Griffin to be Griffin again. They have the receivers to help him get there; they definitely need the line to help as well. Otherwise, a lot of what the Redskins hope to do -- and want to do -- will have to change.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

June, 28, 2014
Jun 28
The second round of mail focused on Alfred Morris' role, Jay Gruden's AFL days, Tanard Jackson's future and more. Enjoy.

John Keim: Well, he's better than BenJarvus Green-Ellis so I would expect Alfred Morris to get a lot more carries. Plus I'm not sold that the Redskins have their Giovani Bernard type to take away that many carries from Morris. Roy Helu will get some and perhaps Lache Seastrunk, especially in the spread. But I would expect Morris to still be a factor. But how much of one? Honestly don't know yet. I know the Redskins will keep the same run game, but I also know Jay Gruden's reputation is that he likes to throw the ball (it was also Kyle Shanahan's, too, until he landed Morris and Robert Griffin III). Morris "only" had 276 carries last season compared to 335 as a rookie (losing so often last year didn't help). I could see his totals being closer to last year than his rookie year, just because of the added weapons in the pass game. Green-Ellis, by the way, carried 278 times two years ago but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Morris averaged 4.6 yards last year and 4.8 as a rookie. Big difference.

Keim: If I had to guess right now I'd say yes, but there's so much more that needs to be seen -- and not just with Jackson. There's no way to fully know where his game is at based off the spring. Heck, he admitted he wasn't able to stay in the best shape during his suspension because he also had to work. Understandable. But now you have someone who needs to get back into NFL shape and then prove he can still play after missing two years. Maybe he'll get there; too early to know. Then it also depends on how others are doing as well. Has Bacarri Rambo improved at all? How does Akeem Davis look? Davis could sneak his way onto the roster. Jackson was a talented player once upon a time. He just needs to prove he still is one this summer. If so, he'll be fine.

Keim: Not a whole lot. Maybe others do, especially if they're trying to paint a certain picture, but I don't. Then again, had he been a losing coach there ... Steve Spurrier had a winning pedigree in college, as did many others who tried to make that leap. It does help that Gruden has been in charge, but it's such a different game and level. I'm sure certain aspects translate, but I'm not about to go overboard with that experience. What helps is that he's been immersed in the pro culture since he was a kid because of his father and brother. What also helps is that he's been exposed to good coaches throughout his career, from Howard Schnellenberger to his brother Jon to Marvin Lewis.

Keim: I really like what they've done on special teams this offseason and it's sort of gotten lost at times with all the other storylines. But they bolstered the unit by adding linebackers who can help here -- not just the veterans in Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, but also drafting Trent Murphy. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland will help, too. The Redskins kept too many players last year who were low on their position totem pole, yet provided poor help on special teams. Those days must be over if they want to build anything right. Not sure yet about the kicker Zach Hocker and if he's an improvement. Still concerned about punter. As for the secondary, they improved the leadership by adding Ryan Clark and they need David Amerson to play well. The biggest way they can help this group is by applying more pressure with their front seven. If that happens, then the secondary will benefit.

Keim: Easier to just link to the story I wrote on that earlier this week. It's how the starting lineup looks entering training camp. The only position I can see changing is right guard. Otherwise, things are pretty well set.

Keim: Well, the one thing I liked that Gruden did with Dalton is played to his strength as a passer, which is why he incorporated Giovani Bernard into the game plan. Dalton was not a strong-armed passer so he gave him a good option underneath. Obviously Griffin has a stronger arm so he can do different things. But the point is that it seems like he'll focus more on what his quarterbacks can do and then build his offense. At least I think that's the case. Until we see him with a different quarterback we really won't know how much he'll adapt. Gruden also had a strong relationship with Dalton, which if he builds the same with Griffin will help. But one knock against him in Cincinnati is that perhaps he got too close. So it's the opposite of what happened in Washington. 

The Redskins could end up with at least three starters and perhaps four from the 2012 class. That would be considered a good haul by any measure (if they play well especially). Of course, this draft always will be measured by Robert Griffin III’s performance because of what they surrendered and the position he plays. Still, there’s a chance for the overall group to be productive.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III, the cornerstone of the 2012 draft class, is looking to bounce back after a rough second season.
QB Robert Griffin III (first round): He’ll enter his third season as the Redskins’ starter, coming off a tough season for a variety of reasons. He has had a productive offseason, and though he had some tough days throwing the ball in practice, he’s in a better place than he was a year ago -- mentally and physically. It’s hard to imagine him repeating his 2013 season -- no knee issues; more weapons will help. Griffin wants to re-establish the career path he was on pre-knee injury. He needs to improve as a pocket passer -- not just in terms of throwing from there but in knowing when to flee, etc. -- but he also needs more help from his protection and receivers.

OL Josh LeRibeus (third round): He’s been one of the most disappointing picks in recent years because of how he handled last offseason, which led to him being inactive every game last season. But LeRibeus has had a strong offseason. This is most definitely when he should be ready to challenge for a starting job. The coaches have been pleased with him, but is he ready to unseat Chris Chester at right guard? If he’s not, then LeRibeus was way overdrafted (as some contended at the time). If you can’t unseat a struggling veteran who would save a team $2.7 million in cap space by your third year then what are you doing? Also, they drafted guard Spencer Long and signed free-agent guard Shawn Lauvao so they're clearly not sold on LeRibeus long term.

QB Kirk Cousins (fourth round): Trading him was never a legitimate option because the Redskins never received a tempting offer. Even the Browns, who had multiple people there who liked him, offered only a fourth-round pick (Kyle Shanahan can fight for him; he had zero authority over what the Browns could offer). Cousins still offers the Redskins good insurance if Griffin doesn’t hold up or if he struggles. Cousins still has to cut down on his turnovers, but there is confidence in what he can do. I do not expect him to pout about his situation. It’s not what Cousins is about. His only point all along is that he knows Griffin is the guy in Washington, and he wants a chance at some point to be that guy somewhere else.

LB Keenan Robinson (fourth round): Has a chance to start next to Perry Riley on the inside. Robinson looked good this spring, but these sort of workouts were made for him: He could showcase his ability to run and cover sideline to sideline and down the middle. But the key here always will be his ability to play the run. Still no idea how he’ll do in that role after two straight seasons that ended with torn pectoral muscles. Washington envisioned him one day taking over for London Fletcher, but the coaches figured he’d have a lot more experience behind him when doing so. Robinson has 11 career tackles. It’s fine to be excited about his potential, but no one really knows yet how he’ll handle this job. Washington has veteran depth with Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan.

OG Adam Gettis (fifth round): Has a fight on his hands. LeRibeus’ strong spring plus the drafting of Long means the Redskins might not have a spot for Gettis. Remember, too, that veteran Mike McGlynn can play guard and center. Gettis improved as a run blocker in space last summer and must continue to do so. He still has a tendency to get driven back, though still anchoring, in pass protection. The numbers might not add up for him.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris has rushed for 2,888 yards and 20 touchdowns in his two seasons.
RB Alfred Morris (sixth round): He’s their guy and a terrific fit in this run game. Jay Gruden was smart not to change much from a ground game that works, especially with Morris in the game. He can improve as a pass-catcher (both with his hands and his routes) and he can get extra yards downfield. But he has rushed for 2,888 yards combined in his first two seasons, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be anything but productive again. I do wonder how many carries he’ll get; the knock on Gruden in Cincinnati was that he’d consistently get away from the run. With the weapons Washington has in the pass game, will that happen here?

OT Tom Compton (sixth round): Another young player in a tough spot. The Redskins drafted Morgan Moses for a reason, to ultimately start at right tackle. I’m really curious to see what happens with Compton because they do like him -- Gruden praised him without prompting at the end of minicamp. Also, if he shows improvement this summer -- he had a good camp in 2013 because he added strength, allowing him to handle counter moves better. As a rookie he struggled there because when he’d jab a defender it wouldn’t budge him. So when they’d counter or duck inside, Compton would get beat. He improved there last summer and needs to keep doing so. But, again, the numbers. Would they really keep four tackles?

CB Richard Crawford (seventh round): Still not fully recovered from his torn ACL suffered last summer. Crawford worked off to the side throughout spring workouts and feels good about his progress. He improved in the slot last summer and would have been the starting punt returner. But Washington has Andre Roberts to handle the return duties if necessary. If the Redskins keep five corners Crawford would need a lot of help to make the roster. If they keep six then he’ll have to fight Chase Minnifield. Crawford is a smart player and would make a good coach someday. But he’ll have to show a lot this summer.

S Jordan Bernstine (seventh round): He suffered a brutal knee injury in his rookie year and was only recently cleared, at least according to what he said on Twitter. He remains unsigned.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
Taking a look at offensive formations, Tanard Jackson predictions, David Amerson and more in part 1 of the Redskins mailbag. Enjoy. John Keim: I don't know if there's a formation I've been more impressed with, though I think there will be some that are more dangerous -- like the three-receiver set plus tight end Jordan Reed. They can spread the field, create a mismatch or hit the defense with a draw. If Chris Thompson or Lache Seastrunk comes through, they have a back who would fit that part-time role nicely (Roy Helu is the No. 2 back behind Alfred Morris; Seastrunk in particular ran well from this set in college).
Keim: There has been no reason throughout the spring to think that's the case. Not saying he won't end up being in the lineup, but there's no proof yet. I can only go by what I see and know. They really like Ryan Clark and what he adds in terms of leadership, as do I. There is a pronounced difference when Clark is on the field and when Jackson is in terms of communication. Heck of a lot quieter. The question is, can Clark still play? Don't know. But the same must be said about Jackson. To think he would be some standout now, knowing he hasn't played in a game for two years and having watched him only in shorts, requires a massive leap of faith. Before anyone goes making any legitimate predictions about him, sort of need to see him in game action first. The coaches aren't even sure yet. Jackson also admitted when he returned he had not spent a great deal of time working out. I do know Jackson was starting to play well when suspended. Can he get back to that level?
Keim: No. Maybe with the Cleveland Indians a logo change would suffice, but in this case it's more about the nickname. The Indians' Chief Wahoo is more of a caricature (I grew up there by the way and am a fan of the team) whereas the Redskins' logo was designed by a native American and is not a caricature. I don't know what the people protesting think of the logo, though, to be honest. But I do know this fight is about the nickname.
Keim: Well, I guess you missed the few reports I had this week that talked about him. You can read them here and here. I'll have more on him at some point in the next few weeks. Don't want to repeat myself a whole lot, but I like where Amerson is entering his second year. Still need to see stronger run support, especially now that he'll be an every-down corner. Need to see more consistency with his eyes (mostly fine this spring, it seemed). He's added around six or seven pounds of bulk. Teammates prodded him to increase his work. I think having Ryan Clark behind him, in terms of communication, will help. Keep in mind, this only means Amerson has had a good offseason. Now he must show it on the field this season.
Keim: You won't hear much on that front until we start seeing them in games. It's way too hard to say how well a safety is playing in shorts and no pads. Last summer Rambo made few plays in practice, but he didn't give up many. So you thought: Maybe he'll be OK. When games started we saw that he wasn't. The same is true for all of them. Rambo does need to worry about winning a roster spot and becoming much better on special teams. If he doesn't do the latter, he will be in trouble.
Keim: That's hard to say because they're working on different aspects of his game than two years ago -- and probably more advanced. They kept him more in the pocket this spring. But I can't say that he's been throwing with pinpoint accuracy -- nor was he two years ago -- especially on intermediate routes. Even when throwing with no defense on him as a rookie, Griffin sometimes would just be off. He still had a good year. He has other ways to hurt defenses so I don't overreact when he's only showing part of his game. I saw more consistent mechanics compared to last season and they're probably better than two years ago. They should be. I think we'll get a better feel for him in games and how he does with checkdowns, how quickly he goes through his progressions, etc. That will help him improve as a passer.
Keim: I didn't focus that closely on him to say I saw a lot of improvement. Grant had a good day earlier in the week, though mostly on comebacks or hitches where he could drive off a defender. Nothing where he threatened a defense. Grant needs to get stronger to help not only get off press coverage (it would be an issue) but also as a blocker. He's worth developing, but his speed will limit him..

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.
Andre Roberts admitted it was frustrating, his reduced role leading to fewer opportunities. So he left Arizona seeking more chances, which the Redskins would give him. And then the Redskins signed DeSean Jackson, which would cut into Roberts' opportunities.

But Roberts said the situations aren’t comparable, partly because of one distinct difference.

“In Arizona it was a new staff and they didn’t know me,” Roberts said. “The Redskins brought me here because they want me to make plays on special teams and offense. So it’s a different dynamic.”

Besides, he knows that having three receivers such as Roberts, Pierre Garcon and Jackson means the Redskins will result in a more pass-centered offense. Redskins first-year coach Jay Gruden was knocked in Cincinnati for abandoning the run at times. He has greater receiver depth in Washington than he did in Cincinnati, including tight end Jordan Reed.

“We’ll do a lot of three-receiver stuff,” Roberts said. “We can run well out of the three-receiver sets. Obviously you have to do the two tight end and fullback out there. You have to have a running game and we have a great back in Alfred [Morris]. We’ll definitely do both, but I think our best personnel will be three receivers and one tight end.”

Roberts’ offensive snaps went from 837 in 2012 to 605 last year under first-year coach Bruce Arians (the Cards drafted Michael Floyd in 2012 and he became the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald). While perhaps he’ll play more, the Redskins do have more options than what he played with in Arizona, with Reed another strong target for quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Earlier this offseason, Gruden said they plan to use Roberts in multiple roles because he can play both the slot and outside.

“Very versatile. You can tell he’s a smart player because he lines up everywhere. He runs every type of route,” Gruden said of Roberts.

In 2012, Roberts was targeted 114 times (with 64 receptions) compared to 76 and 43, respectively, a year ago. But, still, Roberts anticipates a bigger role. Part of that includes special teams where he’s working as a returner for both punts and kickoffs. He hasn’t handled those jobs full time since 2010, but says it’s something that he wants in Washington. In 2010, Roberts averaged 7.5 yards on 35 punt returns and 23.3 yards on 14 kick returns. He returned five punts and two kickoffs combined in the next three seasons.

“After my first year I started to get used to it and I started my second year so they don’t want the starters doing it too much,” he said. “I never had the opportunity to get in there and do it like I wanted to. Being here and having the opportunity is big and I would love to do it.”

Roberts still has belief in what he can do. Last season he had only three pass plays for 20 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information; he had 10 such plays in 2012. That’s what he wants to do here – not just from scrimmage. He’ll have to improve on his yards after the catch average of the past two years (3.52 in 2012; 2.53 last year).

“I’m one of those players when he gets the ball in his hands he can make a big play,” Roberts said. “That’s what I want to bring to this team as well, not just as a receiver but on special teams.”
ESPN's fantasy sports writer Eric Karabell is taking a look at every NFL team for the Insiders page , checking out the storylines fantasy league players need to follow this summer.

Among this thoughts on the Redskins:

“Pierre Garcon should still be the first Redskins wide receiver off the board.”

My take: Garcon, not DeSean Jackson, will be the primary receiving target this season. No one has said that to me because until we get closer to the season – and probably into the season – no one really knows how things will unfold. But Garcon is a sturdier player, capable of running a greater variety of routes. Jackson caught 82 passes last season, but his previous high was 62. He can be dangerous to defend even when grabbing around 60 passes. In fact, it wouldn't stun me at all to see Jackson as the third leading receiver in terms of total catches behind Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Durability plays into this as well (though Jackson has missed fewer games than Garcon in his career; both have played six seasons).

“Running back Alfred Morris will simply be underrated.”

My take: From the time coach Jay Gruden was hired, the word has been clear: They will continue to use the same run game as under former coach Mike Shanahan. That's among the reasons they kept offensive line coach Chris Foerster. While they have added size along the offensive line, the players they added all can block in the outside zone -- where Morris excels. So he'll continue to put up good numbers. I do wonder how many carries he'll get after receiving 611 combined his first two seasons. Remember, one knock on Gruden in Cincinnati: He abandoned the run too often. He also didn't have the depth at receiver he now has in Washington.

The Redskins will spread the field and I can see them throwing more, or at least wanting to. Or they'll spread the field and run the draw; will Morris be the guy they want in that situation? Or someone with a little more burst (or a threat in the pass game) such as Roy Helu or even rookie Lache Seastrunk, who was perfect for this sort of setup at Baylor. The Redskins would like Morris to catch 20-25 passes; he's working on his route running this offseason. He's still their best running back, but if they want to diversify I can see others chipping away a little at his work. Or because they want to throw more.

“It all should come down to [Robert Griffin III]. A standout summer could, in theory, push him into the draft day quarterback class where Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton reside, in the 4-to-7 range. A poor one and he's out of the top 10. That seems unlikely.”

My take: If Griffin shows improvement this summer -- and his old burst -- then he will be dangerous, just as he was in 2012. That season, he definitely missed plays in the pass game but he made quite a few and he should be further ahead now thanks to a good offseason. Just know that Griffin's mobility looks good this spring. Add to it the extra talent around him with Jackson, Andre Roberts and a healthy Reed and Griffin will have plenty of reasons to post good numbers. It's not a stretch. But keep in mind that Griffin is learning a new passing attack. He also still has to show he can be a consistent pocket passer. But if he can extend plays better, he should hurt defenses with this receiving corps.

Will defenses blitz him as much if they see him hurting them with his legs again? Teams blitzed him on 33.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2013 compared to 21.1 percent as a rookie, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Do you want to blitz as much knowing a short pass could quickly turn into a long gain? Griffin has to improve his downfield accuracy. He went from completing 55.7 percent of his throws on routes 15 yards or more downfield as a rookie to 40.7 last season. One note: I remember one talk with a general manager before the 2012 draft who was worried about Griffin's accuracy on intermediate routes. Still, that's a big drop-off. Griffin's mechanics were off after missing a full offseason, leading to errant throws. Was that the only reason for the fall? Regardless, I'd expect that number to improve. How much? We'll find out this season.
Some thoughts after watching the Redskins OTA practice Wednesday:
  1. Robert Griffin III did not have his best day throwing the ball and was high on some throws, including one to Andre Roberts in the corner of the end zone. His fundamentals were relatively consistent and on shorter routes he was fine, but his throws downfield were not always on target.
  2. I’ve said this before: Griffin was not always sharp in practice as a rookie, yet threw rather well in games. So take these showings for what they’re worth (the ability to extend plays obviously is huge).
  3. Griffin did work a lot on dumping the ball to tight ends and backs, Roy Helu in particular. Griffin had a nice throw to Santana Moss in the front corner of the end zone, throwing a bullet on the move to his right. Another time, Griffin kept the play alive to his left with linebacker Keenan Robinson in pursuit. Safety Ryan Clark was laying back, then stormed up. As soon as he did, Griffin dumped it over his head to tight end Jordan Reed.
  4. It was celebrity day on the sidelines as actor Matthew McConaughey stood with owner Daniel Snyder. I’ll have some reaction from players later. We did not get a chance to talk to him; McConaughey is in town to attend the movies with Alfred Morris Wednesday night. As I’m sure you’re aware, he’s a Redskins fan.
  5. Did not see Bashaud Breeland grab as much as he had the first couple times I watched him. Breeland made an excellent play downfield against receiver Aldrick Robinson. My attention was focused elsewhere at the start of the play, but Breeland was right on Robinson’s hip down the middle and knocked away a deep ball from Kirk Cousins. A well-played ball that earned plenty of slaps on the back from teammates and praise from coaches.
  6. Best moment of Jay Gruden's news conference: When he said of the press room (housed in a garage-like setting): "It's hot in here. You guys can't afford air conditioning?" It was met with laughter and applause from the, uh, sweaty media.
  7. Earlier, Robinson caught a ball over Breeland. However, secondary coach Raheem Morris was thrilled with Breeland’s coverage. His point: With a rush, the quarterback might not have had the time to make that throw. Morris loved how Breeland reacted to Robinson’s double move (kept his eyes on his work, as they like to say) in a cover zero call.
  8. That also led to a funny exchange. While Morris shouted, “Hell of a job!” Robinson yelled back, “Don’t tell him that!”
  9. Another time, a ball skidded off Robinson’s hands, leading Morris to yell, “That’s the Al we know!” Yes, Morris was kidding. Though they’re not goofing around, players and coaches are more relaxed.
  10. Griffin also made a nice throw to tight end Jordan Reed from the 5-yard line. Griffin had to slightly alter his release, but did what he did two years ago: avoided trouble and completed the pass. Reed was on his knees in the end zone and the throw hit him right in the numbers, away from danger.
  11. The Redskins worked a lot in the red zone, with quarterbacks throwing fades and back-shoulder passes during individual work. Washington did not run a lot of fades in the red zone under coach Mike Shanahan.
  12. Morgan Moses worked at left tackle, the position he played last season at Virginia. Moses eventually will contend for the starting job at right tackle. It's unclear if it will be this year, but that’s why they drafted him in the third round. The Redskins want him to learn both tackle spots, otherwise, they’d have no backup for Trent Williams (unless they keep both Moses and Tom Compton).
  13. Anyway, Moses was OK here. But I did see rookie Trent Murphy beat him inside with a quick spin move (it’s a good one; curious to see how Murphy fares with this against veterans). The Redskins completed a screen pass on the play, but if there had been referees it would have come back. Moses grabbed a whole lot of Murphy’s jersey trying to stop him. Murphy got his hands right into Moses’ chest on another rush, but didn’t have an impact on the play.
  14. The last player working on the field? Tight end Jordan Reed. As teammates exited, getting stopped for interviews, Reed ran routes against an imaginary defender.
  15. Receiver Pierre Garcon spent every available minute during training camp last season catching passes on the side. So if there was a special teams drill going on, he’d be catching passes. Or if it wasn’t his turn in a drill, he’d be catching passes. Naturally, during a special teams drill, Garcon spent it catching more passes.
  16. Your punt returners Wednesday: Andre Roberts, Nick Willliams, Rashad Ross, Lache Seastrunk and Santana Moss. The kickoff returners: Ross, Seastrunk, Williams and Roberts. Chris Thompson did not practice, but was on the side doing agility work with end Stephen Bowen. End Jason Hatcher also wasn’t at practice for personal reasons.
  17. Linebacker Keenan Robinson showed, once more, the ability to run by staying with Reed on a downfield pass. That should not be a surprise; Robinson’s strength is his ability to run. What the Redskins will need to see is how he fits against the run when the games begin.
  18. I will have more on this at a later date, but linebacker Brian Orakpo said he’s worked a lot on using his hands better as a pass-rusher, thanks to outside linebackers coach Brian Baker. He’s having Orakpo do drills to emphasize this, something that has not been done in the past.
  19. With Hatcher out, Jarvis Jenkins worked at right end (Chris Baker stayed on the left side).
  20. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy had a nice toss to rookie tight end Ted Bolser in the end zone and also threw a perfect fade to Aldrick Robinson.
All three can help the Washington Redskins, forming a group that could be one of the NFL's most dangerous. All three also want the ball. The trick for the Redskins and quarterback Robert Griffin III is making sure that happens -- and keeping them happy.

It's a good thing for any team to have receivers such as Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. Throw in tight end Jordan Reed and that's four legitimate targets. But that's also four players who want action. Garcon set a franchise record a year ago; Jackson established career bests and Roberts signed here thinking he'd be the No. 2 receiver.

All of that means Griffin must act like an NBA point guard, distributing the ball and keeping guys happy. It's not easy. But there's a way to make it work; it involves something the Redskins did a lot when he was a rookie and very little a year ago.

"As long as you win everyone's happy," Griffin said last month. "That's what it comes down to. Everyone understands that not everyone will catch 100 balls. That's the way it goes unless we throw a ton, which is possible. And [Alfred Morris is] a great running back. And not everyone will catch as many touchdowns as they like."

Griffin then emphasized his main point, tapping the table and slowing his delivery.

"But if we win, everyone will be happy," he said.

For now, the spring workouts give the Redskins a chance to see how it might fit during the season. They can dream of the possibilities with Garcon, Jackson and Roberts -- with Reed possibly being one of the leading pass-catchers on the team.

"I'm eager to see how we mesh together," Griffin said. "That's exciting for a quarterback. We can work matchups. We will have definite mismatches and then it will be good to distribute the ball around."

What excites Griffin, and the Redskins, is the variety of routes that can be run by these four targets in particular. Roberts can play both the slot or outside; Jackson can run routes out of the backfield, wide or in tight. Garcon excels on bubble screens because of his ability to break tackles and on intermediate routes.

Both Garcon and Jackson are threats on underneath crossing routes.

"All those guys can run," Griffin said. "None of them are limited to routes. It's not a limited route tree, which is exciting for a quarterback and exciting for an offensive coordinator calling plays. Now you know I can put these guys in any position and they can all run the routes."
The Washington Redskins knew they couldn't count on a draft pick starting immediately, not without a first-round pick. If it happened? Great. So they filled their perceived immediate needs in free agency and hoped several in the draft class could fill roles, some more prominent.

Coach Jay Gruden said the Redskins' free-agency signings should allow the rookies to develop without needing to start immediately. I'll take a look at how the rookies fit in and when they might be needed to play bigger roles.

Player: RB Lache Seastrunk

Why they don’t need him as a starter: Well, they still have Alfred Morris who has rushed for 2,888 yards in his first two seasons. Yes, he needs to improve in the pass game but Morris is adept at constantly getting extra yards – taking what’s available and then some. They also have Roy Helu as a third-down back and backup so Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick, would not be needed for anything other than pinch-hitting duty this year.

Future role: Change-of-pace back/third downs. There was concern among analysts before the draft that Seastrunk would not be durable enough for a full-time role. Seastrunk missed a couple games in two seasons because of groin and hamstring issues. He's only 5-foot-9 and 201 pounds, but Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard is the same height and seven pounds heavier. So he’s probably a good model for Seastrunk in the future. Last season, under then-offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Bernard ran the ball 170 times and caught 56 passes.

When he might need to be ready: 2015. That is, for a bigger role. Helu is a free agent after next season so if Seastrunk develops then the Redskins can move on from Helu if so desired. Morris remains under contract for two more seasons and, barring injury, he remains a good fit in the run game (considering the Redskins won’t be changing a whole lot in this area). The Redskins also have Evan Royster and second-year back Chris Thompson, though it's hard to imagine a new coach cutting one of his draft picks to keep someone else's. Besides, Seastrunk was effective at making defenders miss in college, especially in a spread situation. It would work well under Gruden.

What he must work on: Everything that pertains to third downs. He will have to show in a game that his hands aren't an issue, either -- in the pass game or when it comes to fumbling. But this is not just about can he catch the ball; with work I’m sure he can improve if it is indeed an issue. But he needs to learn how to run routes out of the backfield, not just going to the flat but learning how to set up a linebacker and break free. Morris is still learning this. Seastrunk also has to improve in protection; in college he would do it but not with the fire of, say, Clinton Portis (who was unusual in this regard). But Seastrunk will have to learn how not only to block, but who is coming and from where. It takes time. Seastrunk also has to learn how to run out of an I-formation, among other things. He's a good one-cut runner especially when he doesn't try to hit a homer each time. He'll need to learn when to bounce against NFL defenders, but he showed in college he could be an exciting runner.
Lache Seastrunk dodges defenders, planting his leg one way and cutting the other as the would-be tackler reaches another way to grab air. It’s what got him noticed in college. And it’s a style the Redskins hope translates into big plays.

When it comes to talking about his game, the former Baylor running back doesn’t try to be elusive. Rather, he’s direct and it shows in his confidence. He doesn’t dodge critics; he just ignores them and keeps moving forward.

“I feel I don’t have any weaknesses,” he said.

Seastrunk lasted until the sixth round of the draft, which means others saw some weaknesses. But you need confidence to survive in the NFL and there’s no doubt he has it. However, he didn’t come to Washington making grand predictions about what he’d do this fall. Rather, it was about how he felt about his ability. Or, maybe, it was more that he wasn’t worried how others perceived his game (which isn’t bad as well).

That’s why he said his hands aren’t a concern. He caught just nine passes at Baylor -- the Bears rarely threw to their backs.

“Everybody’s gonna have an opinion on what I can do and what my weaknesses are,” he said. “They really don’t know. I feel I can catch the ball well. I feel I can do anything they ask me to….Everyone drops balls. Calvin Johnson drops balls so I’m not worried about that.”

And this: “I felt it was always there. They just never threw me the ball and I continued to work on it when I didn’t get the ball because I felt the opportunity would present itself… Nothing against [Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty] he wanted the home run ball. Who doesn’t?”

Another knock on Seastrunk from critics: he bounced his runs to the outside too early. There were times it worked -- quite well, too -- and other times it did not. But Seastrunk said, “It was just a part of the offense. People have their opinions on what I run. They can’t question what I see. They haven’t played the sport before.”

The Redskins hope Seastrunk gives them a player capable of scoring at any time after rushing for 2,189 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons at Baylor. But there are questions about his durability. All of this was said about Chris Thompson the previous summer. But Thompson had consecutive seasons of bad injuries (back and knee) and is smaller (by two inches and 18 pounds). The Redskins, for now, do not view Seastrunk as a full-time player -- not with Alfred Morris on the roster. They’re not even counting on Seastrunk as a third-down back with so much to learn in that area.

“The major reach for him would be picking up blitzes and running routes out of the backfield,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “No knock on him, but it might take him time. He has a long way to go, but he’ll get there.”

Seastrunk said he told the coaches he’d like an opportunity to return kicks as well, though it’s something he only did sparingly at Baylor. But what he wants to do most is more of what he did at Baylor: making defenders miss and scoring on long runs.

He does it with a style that he says is based on natural ability and instincts.

“I’ve been playing this game for so long I know how to read people’s bodies. If they give you one direction, just give them a move and go about your way,” he said. “I’m going to try and take it to the house.”

Andrew Luck tops Alfred Morris

May, 16, 2014
May 16
Redskins running back Alfred Morris made a hard push -- using a funny commercial and his underdog status. He still didn’t come close to beating out Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck.

Morris was eliminated from the competition to be on the "Madden NFL 15" cover, losing out to Luck in a fan vote. Luck received 76 percent of the vote against Morris. Yes, it was broken down by seeding as Luck was a two and Morris a seven.

Morris was all-in when it came to trying to defeat Luck, knowing that a former sixth-round running back was considered a heavy underdog against the top pick in the 2012 draft -- and a player who has led his team to consecutive playoff berths.

On Tuesday, Morris said, “He has to go down … I grew up playing the game and to be in the game is like, wow, mind-blowing. Now to have an opportunity to be on the cover is like, mind explodes.”

He’ll now have to settle for a possible third-straight 1,000-yard season.

Luck will now face Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy in the next round. And my days as a writer about a video game are now over -- for this year anyway.
Alfred Morris will welcome the same attention he received last season. With quarterback Robert Griffin III not quite himself, and the team missing a second threat at receiver, defenses knew they had to stop one player: Morris.

He hopes they take the same approach.

“If they do, we’ll make them pay,” the Redskins' third-year running back said.

And that’s why Morris isn’t worried about whether the added talent at receiver will result in fewer carries for him. He has never expressed concern in his first two seasons about how much work he receives.

He also knows the addition of receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts will help him more than anything.

“Last year, especially with Robert being nicked-up and a couple other things,” Morris said by phone, “defenses were able to sit on their toes and stack the box more at certain times and were able to bring more pressure because we didn’t have the same threats. But now, having DeSean and Andre in the slot, there’s no way to stack that box. Having Robert back healthy, there’s no way defenses can do the same things they did against us last year.”

And the memory of last season, he said, is one reason he’s not worried if he has fewer carries. Of course, if the Redskins win more, then those carries won’t decrease much. Last season, for example, he had only four games with 20 or more carries -- and just 276 carries overall. As a rookie he had 10 games of 20-plus carries and 335 overall. If the Redskins rebound from a 3-13 season, it’s hard to imagine his carries going down from 2013's total.

His mindset: Whatever.

“The only thing I care about is winning,” Morris said. “If they want to give me the ball a bunch that’s fine. If they want to pass more, that’s fine. Coming off 3-13, that was just terrible and left a bad taste in our mouths. We want to do better than that. How they’ll use me, I don’t know. How much I get used, I don’t know. I’m keeping a positive attitude.”

Morris also is positive about what he has seen this offseason from the brace-less Griffin, who had extensive knee surgery in January 2013.

“I see a huge difference,” Morris said. “He’s so much more comfortable and so happy not to have the brace on. He’s running around, looking good. No limping, no anything. He has a great attitude and his work ethic has always been there. He’s always a hard worker. ... Things will go back up this year.”

As for drafting running back Lache Seastrunk in the sixth round (the same round that produced Morris in 2012), there’s no worry here. Morris, of course, isn’t about to be budged as the starter; others will be much more threatened by Seastrunk.

“It’s almost expected now to get another running back,” said Morris, who has two years remaining on his contract. “If you bring more guys in, it’s more competition and that makes us all better. When you have good young guys coming in, it pushes everyone that much harder. When there’s that much competition, the team will be better.”