Washington Redskins: Darryl Sharpton

When you're coming off a 3-13 season, any stretch on the schedule is pivotal. The Redskins do have a chance for a 2-0 start with games against Houston and Jacksonville to open the season. And then it gets interesting with four tough games: at Philadelphia, New York Giants, Seattle, at Arizona. That's two divisional games followed by two tough defenses, which makes the three games after that as pivotal a stretch as any. After that four-game stretch, the Washington Redskins host Tennessee before road games at Dallas and Minnesota. But those are three winnable games. If the Redskins struggle before this point, it's a chance for them to reach the bye with momentum for a second-half push.

Complete Redskins season preview.
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.
We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: linebacker Perry Riley.

Riley
Why he has something to prove: The Redskins re-signed Riley after a sluggish season in which they weren’t pleased with the production from their inside linebackers. They weren’t big enough factors in either the run or pass game, and the Redskins were content with letting Riley walk if the price was too high. But at this point last season Riley was coming off a solid year and some wondered if he could become a Pro Bowler. That felt like a stretch then -- he’s not a playmaker -- though it wasn’t wrong to view him as a solid player. Riley still has lapses in coverage, particularly in zone. He admitted last year that, because he played so much man coverage at LSU, he took a while to feel comfortable playing zones. But he still has flaws in that area, from a recognition standpoint, that must be corrected. It leads to big enough gaps and that leads to plays. The Redskins have insurance at inside linebacker, having signed two veteran starters in Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. But they gave Riley a bigger contract for a reason: He is the likely starter. However, it would not stun me to see someone bump Riley from the spot if he repeats his 2013 performance. He hasn’t been a playmaker at all, with only one forced fumble and one interception in his career.

What he must do: Make some plays and be solid in the run game, which is the point of emphasis at this position. Riley does not miss a lot of tackles, so that is a good start. It’s nice that he has recorded 6.5 sacks the past two seasons combined, but if the Redskins do a better job in their four-man rushes, then Riley’s blitzing won’t be needed as much (though it’s a nice curve to throw). The Redskins did a good job in 2012 of moving him around, letting him rush off the edge on occasion, in their nickel packages. Riley is fast enough to then cause some problems, especially when the offense is fooled. But he has to be more sound in the pass game and be strong against the run. With a possible first-year starter next to him in Keenan Robinson, Riley’s knowledge of the defense will be counted upon. He knows the calls, but Robinson’s position is the one that makes them in games. Riley can help with them however. When you see the elite linebackers play, they move fast enough to the ball that offensive linemen can’t hold double-teams. So either the defensive lineman gets a one-on-one or the linebacker gets to the ball. London Fletcher's ability to diagnose plays was vital and it’s why he lasted so long (too many missed tackles last year however). Riley is not elite, but he’s now entering his third full season as a starter (he started half a year in 2011). He can give the Redskins more consistency, stemming from stronger recognition. It helps that he will now have Kirk Olivadotti coaching him; he focuses more on techniques and helping players improve than previous coaches (who focused more on assignments). That will help.

Projection: Starter. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a change at some point -- the defense ranked 31st in points allowed last season and hasn’t been a strong one for a while, so should anyone feel that safe? -- though it’s not as if a Pro Bowler is sitting behind Riley. Or a young hotshot rookie for that matter. If Riley doesn’t get it done this season they can always move on in 2015 and save $2 million on the salary cap. Riley can help them as he did in 2012.
The position isn’t filled -- yet -- but linebacker Keenan Robinson has a lot of what the Washington Redskins want. He’s a big guy who can run, giving the defense a needed jolt of youth and speed. What they don’t know, and won’t know for a couple of months, is whether he can be an effective starter.

For now, though, Robinson works alongside Perry Riley at the spot once manned by London Fletcher.

“It’s not second nature, I’m still learning,” Robinson said. “But it’s becoming more natural every day. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I become in the scheme.”

Robinson
Robinson
The plan last season was for Robinson to back up Fletcher, learn the position more, and then take over as the starter in 2014. But Robinson, for the second consecutive year, tore a pectoral muscle. He never played a down.

What helps him is that Washington did not change defenses after firing coach Mike Shanahan.

“I’m becoming more comfortable and familiar with things that I did my rookie year [in 2012],” Robinson said. “I’m drawing back to those experiences and taking what I learned then and adding it to what I’ve learned now.”

Robinson has been calling plays during organized team activities (OTAs). But that’s part of the job requirement at this position. Plus, if the Redskins didn’t have him do it during the offseason when would he learn to call the signals?

With Robinson, the focus typically centers on his speed and ability to cover. It’s important, especially with more teams having athletic tight ends. Last week, Robinson ran stride for stride downfield with Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. At 6-foot-3, Robinson can match -- or at least come close to matching -- the height of many tight ends.

“Tight ends have become game-changers,” Robinson said. “In order for a linebacker to be successful and every-down players, they have to cover guys like that.”

But stopping the run remains the primary job of this position. The Redskins added pass-rushers this offseason in Jason Hatcher and Trent Murphy to pair with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. But for the pass rush to work, the Redskins must get offenses in obvious passing situations. And that starts by stopping the run.

“Run fits are very important,” Robinson said. “I feel OK in my run fits. As the Mike [linebacker], You have to stop the run. If I’m getting to where I need to get to every play, that can allow everyone else to do their job.”

It also would allow him to win the job. But there’s a big difference between looking good in the spring and doing so in the summer and fall. Robinson, who has 11 career tackles, will still have to prove he’s better than veterans Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton.

"He's a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around, he's a very fluid athlete. He’s active in the passing game and his run fits have been outstanding. It’s going to be a great competition come training camp. We're pleased with where all those linebackers are, especially Keenan’s progress."

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

May, 30, 2014
May 30
2:15
PM ET
Perry Riley's hold on one of the two inside linebacker jobs ... Thoughts on a one-game return to RFK ... and more on the read option. It's all here. Enjoy.
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ASHBURN, Va. -- For the past two years, his name would come up -- whether prompted or not. Teammates liked what they saw of LB Keenan Robinson; coaches loved what they thought he could become.

Two injuries forced the word "cautious" to be placed in front of their optimism.

Robinson
Robinson
Now, coming off two torn pectoral muscles in each of his first two years, Robinson is working with the starters. Keep this in mind: It’s still the spring. He knows the defense and is fast, so he’s able to play fast during the OTA workouts. The real test for Robinson will come in the preseason when he must prove he can stay healthy and that he can play fast in games that count.

That test will come soon enough. For now, he’s once more getting the coaches anxious to see more -- with fingers crossed.

“He’s one of the guys on the field that stands out. ‘Is that Keenan again?’ ” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s doing a great job, so the big thing is to keep him healthy. We’re hoping he has no drawbacks from his injury.”

If that happens, the Redskins have veteran insurance with Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. They also have Adam Hayward, though he’s mostly a special-teams player. It also helps that they have stronger coaching at the position with inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti.

But Robinson gives the Redskins’ defense something in one package the others do not: A bigger guy who is young and can run. He played in the nickel package as a rookie before tearing his first pec, but will have to learn to play the run as well -- the primary function of this position. That means diagnosing plays and shedding blocks and, yes, using his speed.

“Mentally he’s in good shape,” Gruden said. “Physically he looks excellent to me. He’s running, he’s long and he can run sideline to sideline in pass coverage. He’s disruptive. He gets into zones and is a big guy to throw over. He can cover tight ends, he can cover backs. We have high hopes for Keenan and love the progress he’s making.”

Here's what Robinson had to say about missing so much time.
 

Thoughts and observations from the Redskins OTA session Thursday (taking a look at big picture things here rather than practice plays made in the spring):

  1. Robert Griffin III worked on being more consistent with his mechanics in the offseason and there was a difference. The past two years his base was wider as the Redskins wanted to shorten the stride. He also got into a habit of holding the ball lower, leading to a longer windup when he threw.
  2. But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher – at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
    AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III showed off his new throwing mechanics during practice on Thursday.
    Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
  4. Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season. The key will be transferring it to the season when it gets chaotic in the pocket.
  5. His weight transfer was different as well; much more quiet but a definite transfer. Saw it on a deep ball to receiver DeSean Jackson.
  6. Griffin escaped the pocket on one play and looked like he was going to tuck and run. But he pulled up before he crossed the line and hit Pierre Garcon along the sidelines.
  7. Keenan Robinson lined up next to Perry Riley with the No. 1 defense. It’s only May, but it’s still telling when considering that he missed all of last season and part of his rookie year. They also signed Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, who worked with the second team. Adam Hayward also worked some with the second team at inside linebacker.
  8. The linebackers’ versatility will be a huge part of the defense this season, as you would expect. The key is that they now have three outside linebackers – Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy -- who are comfortable with their hands in the dirt, rushing from a two-point stance or dropping into coverage.
  9. Murphy beat Tom Compton during 11-on-11 work with a quick spin move to the inside. For a tall guy, Murphy does a nice job staying low on his spin.
  10. Second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins was mostly limited to rushing the passer last season, but saw him in coverage some Thursday.
  11. Here are the players I saw returning kicks Thursday: Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross.
  12. Chris Baker lined up at left end with the starting defense (keep in mind Stephen Bowen can’t work). Chris Neild was in the middle with Barry Cofield sidelined (hernia surgery) and Jason Hatcher was on the right side.
  13. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland still needs to be less grabby. Saw him tugging Santana Moss’ jersey downfield before the veteran caught the ball. Saw Breeland tugging other jerseys as they broke on a route (after the allotted five yards of contact). Not sure all the receivers quite appreciated his hands.
  14. Breeland was beaten on a double move by receiver Pierre Garcon. One thing Breeland said he needed to do was to keep his eyes on his man. He lost him this time, peeking too long into the backfield and awaiting a throw that wasn’t coming. Instead, it turned into an easy deep completion.
  15. Maurice Hurt worked at right tackle with the third unit. Josh LeRibeus worked at left guard with the second unit.
  16. Jackson’s speed was evident, especially on an end around. He was in traffic as he ran around the end, on the side opposite the media so it was hard to tell who it was at first. But he was moving at a different speed, which was the first clue as to who it was.
  17. Corner Chase Minnifield will get into a lot of tussles this camp – a safe prediction. He nearly got into one with tight end Niles Paul Thursday. Minnifield is physical and feisty and that will never please those running routes in practice. This time, Minnifield was grabbing Paul on the entire route and at the end Paul shoved him. Minnifield bounced up and shoved him back. It didn’t escalate.
  18. Minnifield did pick off a Kirk Cousins pass in zone coverage. Minnifield sank deep on the route and grabbed a pass that was intended for Williams.
  19. It was tough to see running back Chris Thompson’s speed last season, whether in spring, summer or before he was shut down during the season. He was coming off a knee injury. But he’s a year removed from that injury and the speed was more evident. Still worry about his durability, but he looked fast after running with a pass in the open field (during a spring practice).
  20. Safety Tanard Jackson ran with the third defense.
  21. Corner David Amerson looks more comfortable in press coverage and is using his long arms to his advantage when jamming receivers. Saw him do this a couple times, showing good technique and not getting beat in this look. It’s something he needed to work on as a rookie and I’m sure the learning curve will continue. But with his length and speed it’s a necessary tactic for him to learn.

 
A little this and that for a Thursday morning:
  • In case you missed it, here are the rookies I took a look at in terms of how they fit with Washington now and in the future: Trent Murphy, Morgan Moses, Spencer Long, Bashaud Breeland, Ryan Grant, Lache Seastrunk and Ted Bolser.
  • The one rookie I did not go over in-depth is kicker Zach Hocker. It’s simple: He might not be needed now because they already have a place-kicker in Kai Forbath. It’s not like you typically groom kickers to replace a guy when he becomes a free agent. Yes, coach Jay Gruden said he’d consider keeping two kickers, but that means cutting from another position. So it’s usually simple in these situations: If Hocker outperforms Forbath, he’ll win the job. Practice will matter -- if a guy looks as bad as Shayne Graham did in practice a few years ago, they'll matter quite a bit -- but the games count more. Every single coach I've covered has looked at it that way.
  • I’d be more concerned about the punting situation considering the Redskins lack a proven punter. It’s an issue. Robert Malone has experience (157 punts), but was sporadic; too many line drive returnable punts that offset booming ones. For a team desperate to fix special teams, the lack of action here has been curious.
  • With the media allowed to watch our first OTA session today, here’s a primer I wrote on what I’ll be looking for. It’s a long list, so it’s really something to watch over the course of the next few weeks and in minicamp. My main focus Thursday: Robert Griffin III. His progress is sort of important to the season, don’t you think?
  • Another area to watch: inside linebacker. If Keenan Robinson is healthy and knows the defense, he’s definitely a strong candidate to start. Teammates and coaches have always praised his talent, but those torn pecs keep sidelining him. However, he can move and if he proves he can play the run well, then they have an every-down linebacker.
  • If Perry Riley doesn’t rebound with a better season, the Redskins do have more options between Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. But if the Redskins didn’t value Riley, they wouldn’t have signed him to a decent contract. (He’ll count $3 million against the cap this season; not prohibitive, but the most expensive inside linebacker they have.) They should not make decisions on starters based on contracts, but it is an indication of their thoughts on a player (not to mention the market). But there’s no doubt they want more from him than he delivered last season.
  • One name I left off the list the other day: safety Tanard Jackson. It’s really hard to measure a safety until the games begin, but it’ll be interesting to see how he’s moving around after two seasons away from the game. ESPN980’s Chris Russell tweeted last night that a source told him that Jackson has been “awesome.”
  • Veterans, if they’re trying hard, should stand out at this time of the year. (I always go back to receiver James Thrash; used to look great in the spring and then in training camp and we’d hear about a possible big role. Then he’d go back to his usual role.)
  • The point is, we need to see the safeties come up against the run and tackle; see their recognition at game speed. But if Jackson moves around well, that’s a good start. Jackson was starting to play well when suspended in 2012. It would still be hard to rely on him, but if he gets close to what he was then if nothing else he’s a better backup than what they currently have.
  • Another point to make: For all that will be written and said during the spring, nothing really matters until August and they’re in full pads. But this is also the time of year when players are optimistic, having worked on some aspect of their game in the offseason that provides them – and the team – some level of hope.
  • Off topic, but it’s noteworthy because it involves an NFC East rival. Sean Lee has missed a lot of time for the Cowboys – a combined 15 games the past two seasons. So they’re used to playing without him. However, I wonder if they needed to rely on him more this season because of what else they lost. Here’s a look at their situation.

Redskins offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Washington Redskins’ offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins hope Trent Murphy, who had 15 sacks in 2013, can breathe life into the pass rush.
Best move: Improving the pass rush. Washington's rush the past two seasons was too inconsistent and lacked variety. Signing Jason Hatcher to provide an interior push and drafting Trent Murphy to add to the creativity part -- it gives the Redskins potentially three outside linebackers who can rush -- should make a difference. Murphy, obviously, has to prove his worth but the fact that they continued to address the rush is pivotal and telling. They also helped here by adding linebackers coach Brian Baker, a pass-rush specialist.

Riskiest move: Signing receiver DeSean Jackson. His reputation took a big hit after his release in Philadelphia, but the Redskins knew he was risky before certain stories were written. Jackson has major playmaking potential, but he also must prove the stories about his work ethic and approach aren't true. If so, he'll provide a big boost. The Redskins did mitigate the risk by giving him a contract that would provide cap savings after only two years if they cut him.

Most surprising move: Not doing more at safety. The Redskins signed veteran Ryan Clark to start at free and mentor young players, re-signed Brandon Meriweather and returned once-suspended Tanard Jackson. They did not draft a safety. They need the young players to develop or they'll be trying to stock this position again.

Under the radar move: Bolstering special teams. The Redskins signed a handful of quality special-teamers and found players in the draft who could provide immediate help in this area. They brought in linebackers Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, who can provide help. They drafted Murphy and Bashaud Breeland, who should provide more. It wasn't talked about enough, but it's an important development.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

May, 16, 2014
May 16
2:00
PM ET
The mailbag is back, after a one-week hiatus because of a little event last weekend. So we're back to a range of questions: Keenan Robinson, how rookies such as Lache Seastrunk fit in -- and who might he bump off the roster. Should they switch to a 4-3 (it's been a couple months since I was asked this one) after drafting Trent Murphy? All this and more.
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  • It jumped out at me that the Washington Redskins only drafted two defensive players out of eight selections. The Redskins have done a good job of building an offense, one that could (potentially) be very good for a few years, especially if quarterback Robert Griffin III develops.
  • But the Redskins' defense is still building and of their nine players 30 years or older, seven play on defense. At least five will likely be starters -- maybe even six.
  • Redskins coach Jay Gruden really likes running back Lache Seastrunk. Though he only caught nine passes in college, Baylor's scheme does not call for many throws to the running backs (I think there were a combined five receptions by backs last season).
  • [+] EnlargeBashaud Breeland
    Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsCornerback Bashaud Breeland should find he fits in well with all of the Redskins' zone coverages.
    Though Seastrunk apparently showed at the combine and his pro day that he has good hands (he did have 10 drops in college), there is an adjustment to becoming a third-down back. He’ll have to learn to run routes, read coverages (though you can ease him in with easy routes, etc.). But it's also about pass protection: recognizing blitzes, knowing where you need to go. That takes time.
  • But until Seastrunk reaches that point, Gruden said he could become a backup to Alfred Morris, capable of being a home-run hitting type of back. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the combine, so he has good speed. Haven’t seen a lot of him, but Seastrunk is an intriguing pick.
  • The Redskins didn’t absolutely need a pass-catching back because they do have Roy Helu. But Gruden made it clear at the NFL owners meetings that he would like more from this role.
  • The guy I’m really looking forward to seeing is corner Bashaud Breeland. I liked what I saw of him on film, but there will be questions about his speed. However, for those wanting a safety, he’s a guy who could play there at some point if they wanted. Gruden said that was a possibility, but if nothing else, he’ll be a versatile corner for them.
  • I know a lot of people think the Redskins reached on a lot of picks. I don’t know if that’s the case or not because it really depends on how their draft board was aligned. I also know that you can’t go by certain projections because if that’s the case many were very wrong on a number of players (look at quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Tom Savage, whom some thought might go late one or early two). Point is, every team rates guys differently, so a reach for one is not for another.
  • Heck, some pegged Morgan Moses as a first-round pick. Sorry, but while he's talented, his play did not warrant that sort of projection. He went in the third round. So is that good value or some analysts just being way off?
  • As for Trent Murphy, the Redskins probably could have waited at 47 and drafted someone else. But this was the pass-rusher they wanted because they had missed on two others they liked (Marcus Smith, Kyle Van Noy -- the latter of whom they were not going to take at 34). If they had waited, maybe they get him at 66 and maybe they don’t. They liked him; they took him.
  • And, as some Twitter followers mentioned, would anyone have been disappointed to get Moses at 47 and Murphy at 66? Still, you can argue Murphy was a reach but the Redskins liked him. We’ll find out in a couple years who’s right.
  • Wrote this in other places, but I did hear good things about guard Spencer Long. I listed him as a risky pick because, well, I had to list someone. And his knee makes him riskier than the others. But one scout I trust liked him a lot.
  • I know there was angst about the Redskins not drafting an inside linebacker, but I never really thought they would. They liked Ryan Shazier and they felt Van Noy could play inside (full-time, not sure). But C.J. Mosley and Shazier, there was a big drop-off inside. If that’s the case, anyone they were going to draft would have had an uphill battle just to make the roster. And if that’s the case, there was no reason to draft them.
  • Not only do they like Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, they also like how Keenan Robinson has (thus far) progressed. They have a special teams guy in Adam Hayward and a young guy they can still develop in Will Compton, who showed some toughness last summer.
  • They also felt there wasn’t much room at safety. You can debate that one -- I think they’ll still be looking for guys next offseason. I loved Deone Bucannon and liked Jimmie Ward, but both went in the first round. This was not a deep class at safety, but I am a little surprised they didn’t draft at least one.
  • The Redskins will add some defensive lineman, most likely, as undrafted free agents. Be wary of all the news regarding the UDFA’s, by the way. There have been plenty of times in the past players say they’ve signed with someone when they might just be attending as a tryout guy. Or they agree with one team then change their minds and sign with another.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Bruce Allen opened his news conference stating that he would do his best not to lie to anyone. With only two days before the NFL draft begins, that line drew a chuckle. And even Allen laughed.

He then added this line: “If we mislead 31 other teams then it’s successful."

But Allen also said after free agency, “There’s no gaping holes on the roster.” The Redskins added potential starters at inside linebacker (Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan), an interior pass-rusher (Jason Hatcher), receiving help (DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts), a starting guard (Shawn Lauvao) and a nickel corner (Tracy Porter).

Among the highlights:
  • They’re more apt to trade down than up. Washington lacks the ammunition to trade too high in the first round, but trading back is a distinct possibility. The Redskins have only six picks and have done a good job in recent years of acquiring more. “If we have a player that has a first-round grade that falls to us it will make us less likely to trade out of there,” Allen said. “But we have several players who have about the same grade on them and if that’s the case and we get the opportunity, we would move.”
  • As for moving up, Allen said, “I can’t imagine there won’t be other teams that have more picks that aren’t trying to get into the bottom of the first round. I think it’s unlikely, but we’ll listen to other people’s offers.”
  • Allen said he’s had no conversations with other teams about trading for quarterback Kirk Cousins. “We have three quarterbacks who can win for us,” Allen said.
  • The Redskins’ new coaches were helped by seeing their players in a voluntary minicamp last week, but it won’t necessarily impact the draft (though coach Jay Gruden said last week that it helped). Allen said nothing they saw last week resulted in any grades being changed on players in the draft. “It’s allowed us to maybe do some doubling and tripling and quadruple checking of the talent,” Allen said.
  • The Redskins won’t target one position at No. 34; the draft is too unpredictable to do so. They also won’t shy away from a lot of positions just because there’s not an immediate need. “We feel we can follow the draft board and go with the highest-ranked player we have. Obviously if there are ties, then we lean toward a position that we don’t have depth on for 2015 or ’16,” Allen said.
  • In other words, the Redskins aren’t just eyeing how a player will fit in for this season. Like Allen said, “You’re an injury away from having a need.”
  • The tough part comes when the staff has to separate players who have the same grade. That’s where the real debate enters. “All the position coaches are great agents for their position," Allen said. "Raheem [Morris] is famous for campaigning. He might put a bumper sticker on my car in the mornings. But the debates have already taken place.”
With the NFL schedule (times and dates) being released Wednesday night, here's a refresher course on what we already know about their 2014 games:
  • Home opponents: Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Tennessee.
  • Road opponents: Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Arizona, Houston, Indianapolis and Minnesota.
  • The Redskins play two games against a team that finished with a top-10 offense in terms of total yards (Philadelphia) and five games against teams that finished in the bottom five (Giants, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Houston). All of those teams finished in the bottom five in points per game as well. They play three games against teams that finished in the top 10 in points per game (Philadelphia, Dallas and Seattle).
  • They’ll get to play in the 49ers’ new stadium (Yea! The old one was horrible) in Santa Clara (Boo! It's 38 miles from my favorite city in the country. But I’ll still be staying in San Francisco, so don’t worry your pretty little heads.) and also play in a college stadium at Minnesota. The Metrodome is done -- thank goodness -- so the Vikings will play at the University of Minnesota’s stadium this season. It’s outdoors; I hope this game is early in the year. The NFL had to work around restrictions placed on the Vikings’ schedule by the university.
  • DeSean Jackson can’t wait to face the Eagles twice and obviously will get that opportunity for the next few years. Will one be in prime time? Tough to see how it won’t.
  • Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck will meet in a real game for the first time. Griffin had the more dynamic rookie season; Luck was better in the second year. Given Griffin’s knee injury, there’s more uncertainty surrounding his future than Luck’s. But we’ll have a much stronger feel for Griffin’s future, perhaps, by the time they meet in the regular season (unless it’s the first game). A year ago this would have been a lock for prime time. Now? Still might be.
  • Trent Williams versus Colts linebacker Robert Mathis? Fun matchup.
  • Four other free-agent pickups will face their former teams: Jason Hatcher (Dallas), Andre Roberts (Arizona), Darryl Sharpton (Houston) and Mike McGlynn (Indianapolis). A backup lineman (most likely) facing his former team? Shivers. But the other three are expected to play key roles, so facing their former team will be interesting. And, yes, the Arizona matchup will be Lorenzo Alexander’s first game against his former team.
  • The Redskins will play two home games against teams that made the postseason in 2013: Philadelphia and Seattle. They’ll play three games on the road against playoff teams: Philadelphia, San Francisco and Indianapolis.
  • The Redskins have the 17th-toughest strength of schedule as their opponents had a .490 winning percentage in 2013. Of course, we saw last season how much things can change for a team in one year. Keep in mind: Detroit entered last season with the NFL’s second-hardest schedule, based on 2012 records. It ended up that the Lions played the fourth easiest schedule, based on 2013 finishes.
  • For those wondering why the Redskins’ schedule isn’t easier after a 3-13 year, remember, 14 of their opponents were pre-determined (it's been this way for a while). The only two games based on their finish? Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
  • The Colts have the easiest schedule (.430). Why? Look at the other teams in their division: Tennessee (7-9), Jacksonville (4-12) and Houston (2-14). And they have two pre-determined games against Washington (3-13) and Cleveland (4-12). So half of their games are against teams that finished a combined 40 games under .500.
  • Oakland has the toughest schedule (.578), which, of course is due to the fact it plays in the AFC West where the other three teams made the playoffs.
The Redskins entered the offseason with plenty of needs, which is why this feature spilled into a sixth day. The first five: safety, receiver, pass rusher, offensive line and cornerback. Next up: inside linebacker.

What they’ve done: Signed Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan, Adam Hayward and re-signed Perry Riley.
Problem solved: Can’t say that yet because neither Sharpton nor Jordan are signed for more than one season and they’re the ones competing for the job next to Riley. Hayward is a special teamer. So we don’t know who will be starting next to Riley, though Sharpton received an $820,000 bonus compared to $65,000 for Jordan. The math adds up for Sharpton. Nor do we know how they’ll fare in this defense. They have OK track records. However, I like the depth at this spot, especially when it comes to special teams.

Projected starters: Riley and Sharpton.
What needs to happen: Sharpton and/or Jordan have to tackle consistently and be productive against the run. That's the No. 1 job at this position in the coach's eyes. They don’t need to be playmakers -- it would be nice, but it's not who they have been. But the missed tackles hurt Washington last season. Jordan was a two-down player with Kansas City last season; Sharpton stayed in on passing downs, but it was not a strength. But both were fine against the run. Jordan showed good vision in tracking the ball, enabling him to make stops and his hand placement allowed him to shed blocks quickly. Sharpton was decisive and a couple times in games I watched beat blockers to the spot, or forced them to abandon double teams early. I didn't see any missed tackles, but the sample size was small. If the line does its job, these two will be fine. However, Sharpton has never played all 16 games and, in his four seasons, has played 12 or less three times because of various health issues. The Redskins also need Keenan Robinson to A) stay healthy and B) show he can be the player many anticipated before last training camp. No idea what to expect from him and I know the coaches have fingers crossed. He can help on pass downs, or the Redskins can use a variety of looks in their nickel packages, with either an extra corner or safety. Riley needs to return to his 2012 form and take a strong role in helping whoever is next to him call plays. He’s the experienced voice at this position and started expanding his role when London Fletcher could rarely practice late in the 2012 season.

Address in the draft: Sure. I wouldn’t be stunned if they opted for more help here, but I’m not sure they absolutely have to add someone, at least not in the second round. It could give them their long-term solution, which would be good, but I don’t know if they value this position enough over other positions they might seek more immediate help (like pass rusher or offensive tackle). They could always cut Jordan and only be out the bonus, so it’s not like they’re in love with his potential (but they do like him). Besides, even if he doesn’t start, his special teams play is needed. And Sharpton is only 26, so if he has a good year, then they can re-sign him. They also have Robinson as a potential long-term answer (albeit one with questions).

The last word: I’m really anxious to see Robinson this spring and summer. I know I’ve said this before, but several players in the past year have gushed about his potential. He’s an athletic player who was improving when he was hurt as a rookie. The problem is, after two pectoral injuries, there’s no way to know how that will impact his game. If he develops -- and he has the right coach for him in Kirk Olivadotti -- then the Redskins might have their guy for the future. It’s just too early to say if that’s the case.
The Redskins have fixed their offense, or so they hope. They added a dynamic, playmaking receiver and now should -- I emphasize should because expectations have been dashed here before -- have an explosive offense.

A lot also depends on the development of quarterback Robert Griffin III. But this offseason has set up well for him: The Redskins hired a quarterback-friendly coach; he’s not rehabbing his knee; and he’s exerting more leadership in the offseason than he could last year, organizing a gathering in Arizona and helping recruit free agents. And now they've handed him an explosive receiver in DeSean Jackson.

And when you look at the offense, you have to look at the age of the nucleus: Griffin is 24, Jackson is 27, running back Alfred Morris is 25, receiver Pierre Garcon is 27, receiver Andre Roberts is 26, left tackle Trent Williams is 25, tight end Jordan Reed is 23.

It’s a nucleus that can grow -- and grow some more. Each of those players is either entering his prime or a couple of years away. Yes, the Redskins could find a right tackle to groom in the draft, if they don’t like Tom Compton’s potential should Tyler Polumbus falter. Yes, they could add a young, speedy back if they’re not sold on Chris Thompson’s durability.

But Jackson’s arrival enables the Redskins to focus hard on defense in the draft. The players they signed in free agency -- lineman Jason Hatcher, linebackers Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton and safety Ryan Clark -- are all designed to help right now more than in the future. Only Hatcher has signed for more than one season -- and he’ll turn 32 in July.

Now, however, the Redskins can -- need to -- use the draft to fill in the gaps and plan for the future defensively. The offense may be young, but the defense has five potential starters age 30 or over. It also has four 25 or younger. The defense is in transition, but the draft must be a way to serve as a bridge.

The Redskins need to find another young safety to develop. They could always add another linebacker, especially with questions about Keenan Robinson after torn pectoral muscles his first two seasons. He could be a future starter, but it’s tough to predict (though every player I’ve spoken with about him in the last year raves about his ability). He might also be limited to third-down and special-teams duty. If Jordan, 28, or Sharpton, 26, wins the starting job and shows something -- and Robinson doesn’t project as a starter -- then he could be re-signed. Point is, the Redskins have options here, but these players must prove themselves as starters.

But Washington can address this spot in the draft if it wants. There are potential safety targets in the second and third rounds; it’s a good draft for corners. And the Redskins could use more depth at safety -- they need backups who contribute more on special teams. Get younger on defense; develop better: That should be the mantra next month.

They can start grooming more players now to make sure they don’t face another defensive overhaul in a year or two. They have a chance to begin that process in May. They need to make it work. If they do, this will have been a productive offseason.

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