Washington Redskins: Keenan Robinson

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.

Camp preview: Washington Redskins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


NFL Nation's John Keim examines the three biggest issues facing the Washington Redskins heading into training camp.

A rookie coach: Jay Gruden showed during the spring that he’ll coach with energy, creating a different vibe at Redskins Park. He’ll catch passes, defend receivers, throw a pass or two. And he looked for coaches who bring a similar energy. The difference was noticeable throughout the spring workouts open to the media.

Gruden, too, is a players’ coach, which can be viewed as positive or negative (all related to wins and losses).

Thus far, his relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III has been all positive. If that continues, it’s a major boost to the organization after the toxicity of last season, regardless of who was at fault. It helps that Gruden is able to keep his ego in check; you don’t get the sense that there are any ulterior motives with him.

Having said all that, we have no idea how Gruden will handle a season in charge. What if there’s an issue with Griffin? What if the defense doesn’t produce and he thinks the Skins need to tweak their scheme? Will Gruden be able to make those hard decisions when necessary? In-game and in-season adjustments matter greatly, and Gruden has to prove himself in this area. He was not a unanimous hotshot choice to be a head coach, but the Redskins believed in him and thought he could handle the job. But now a first-time head coach has to do what established coaches such as Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan failed to do: lead a consistent winner. And he has to do that with general manager Bruce Allen, who has all the football power for the first time in his career.

Robert Griffin III’s rise: Griffin was viewed as a savior in 2012, setting records as a rookie and helping the Redskins win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999. His future, and that of the organization, looked tremendous -- even though when they were 3-6 it appeared they had the right quarterback, but not the right team.

Then came last season. And harsh judgment on Griffin and his future. Even as a rookie there was skepticism about whether Griffin’s career could last given all the running he did (sometimes by design, other times by necessity and other times because of poor decision-making). But last season, his mechanical flaws were critiqued more harshly, and his ability to develop as a pocket passer was questioned. Meanwhile, anonymous-sourced stories abounded about his ability to lead the right way and develop as a passer.

Griffin went from a beloved figure two years ago to one who now engenders sharp opinions one way or another. Now his personality is even questioned. Griffin can regain the love, but he’ll have to turn a strong offseason into an even better regular season. His road to redemption is not a long one, but he just has to get it done. Considering this is the first real NFL offseason he’s had, it’s not a big leap to think he’ll play better than in ’13 – even in a new offense. The Redskins’ ability to give him quicker reads with receivers more capable of winning at the line will help.

Where's the D? Washington improved its pass rush by adding a coach devoted to it (Brian Baker), signing a free agent (Jason Hatcher) and drafting another outside linebacker (Trent Murphy). That, combined with holdovers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, should give the rush a boost. Corner David Amerson gives the Redskins a young player, whom they love, to build around in the secondary.

But will that be enough to improve the defense? There are plenty of other question marks on a defense that remains in transition. Washington might have as many as five starters age 30 or older; this is not a once-great defense hanging on, it’s a once-struggling defense trying to get better. The D will receive a boost from the above additions, but still needs more.

The Redskins have to prove they are not a boom-or-bust defense. They tackled poorly in the back end last year, one reason they ranked 32nd in yards per pass attempt at 7.58. They have a new starting inside linebacker, Keenan Robinson; since being drafted in 2012, he has 11 career tackles, two torn pectoral muscles and zero starts. Safety Ryan Clark has been a solid player and is a terrific leader, but he needs to show he can still play at age 34. If a defense needs to be strong up the middle to win, the Redskins have this: a solid nose tackle in Barry Cofield, question marks at inside linebacker, and question marks at safety. While Griffin’s play garners the headlines, the defense holds a major key to success.
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 Washington Redskins didn't ditch their defensive boss, even after a rough year and a coaching change. But they did tweak the lineup and it's possible that nearly half of the players who start this season will be new to the lineup, though only two would have been added in the offseason (Jason Hatcher, Ryan Clark). Washington's biggest change is that it plans to alter the pass rush, which is one reason the Redskins hired outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, a pass-rush specialist. The Redskins also added linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will also be a big help.

Here's a look at the Redskins' starting defense and special teams at the end of the offseason:

Defense

Left end: Chris Baker
Nose tackle: Barry Cofield
Right end: Jason Hatcher
Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan
Inside linebacker: Perry Riley
Inside linebacker: Keenan Robinson
Outside linebacker: Brian Orakpo
Cornerback: DeAngelo Hall
Cornerback: David Amerson
Safety: Brandon Meriweather
Safety: Ryan Clark

Change from 2013: Clark, Robinson and Hatcher are newcomers. Amerson was the third corner last year and takes over for Josh Wilson. Baker started three games last year because of injuries to others, but enters with the job now because of his performance.

Note: There is more uncertainty with this group than on offense. Because of Hatcher’s knee, the Redskins could limit his participation early in camp; they used Jarvis Jenkins at this spot during the spring. And what about Stephen Bowen? He, too, has a knee issue and after not taking part in practices during the spring it’s hard to imagine him being ready for a big role early in camp. Also, while Robinson looked good this spring, he’s never started an NFL game and has to show he can handle the run game as well as the responsibilities of the position. He’ll need to hold off veterans Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan for the job. The secondary is pretty well set. They love Clark’s leadership and communication and, yes, he has to show he can still play. He’s firmly ahead entering camp. Meriweather is ahead as well, as backup Phillip Thomas must still show a lot. The coaches liked his progress last summer before he got hurt, but the bottom line is he’s inexperienced and coming off a tough Lisfranc injury.

Spring standout: Probably Robinson. His ability to play on the move was evident, but considering that was his strength before the two torn pectoral muscles, that's not a surprise. Training camp, and preseason games, will reveal a lot more, but he had a good offseason.

Average age at start of camp: 28.18

Combined Pro Bowls: 11 (Orakpo, 3; Hall, 3; Meriweather, 2; Hatcher, Kerrigan and Clark, 1)

Starters 30 or older: 5 (Clark, Meriweather, Hall, Hatcher, Cofield).



Special teams

Kicker: Kai Forbath
Punter: Robert Malone
Long snapper: Nick Sundberg
Returner: Andre Roberts

Change from 2013: Malone and Roberts are new.

Note: Malone had some booming punts during the spring, but he was known for his inconsistency in previous stops. Too many punts with bad hangtime leading to long returns. He must fix that. But his competition, Blake Clingan, has no career punts. Forbath has a slight edge because of experience, but Zach Hocker has a legitimate chance to win the job. You do not base the competition on how they looked in the spring – no coach ever would -- but Hocker is off to a good start. So that battle will be interesting. You don’t draft a kicker unless you like his chances of winning the job. Unless a kicker looks terrible in practice, then the games matter most. The Redskins do have another long snapper on the roster in Kyle Nelson, who took over for an injured Sundberg last year. But the latter has been consistent since joining the Redskins. And Roberts is the best one to handle both return duties. DeSean Jackson should not be used as anything other than a pinch-hitter on punt returns; he’s far more valuable from scrimmage, so don’t wear him down. I’ll be curious to see how Richard Crawford looks returning punts this summer, but he’ll be in a real fight for a roster spot. If they can’t keep six corners then he’ll be in big trouble. The Redskins want Roberts to get as many touches as possible and, with Jackson and Pierre Garcon ahead of him at receiver, having him return punts and kicks is a good way for this to happen.
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."
London Fletcher’s play wasn’t the same a year ago, his run as a Pro Bowl linebacker over. Fletcher, though, remained a presence on the field and in the meeting room for the Redskins’ defense.

So the Redskins can replace the production of a player since retired. Finding someone who led the way he did will be a little tougher.

“Just as far as lining up, getting everyone right and making sure everyone comes to practice in the right attitude,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.

They can survive without such a strong leader, but it’s nice to have. Fletcher provided a veteran voice the players could trust. Who might take his place? Here are some players who can help:

Clark
Safety Ryan Clark: The leader in the clubhouse (there wasn’t a pun intended, but after writing it maybe there was). Clark is the most natural leader on the defense and he plays a position where he must communicate every play. So it enhances that leadership role. He’s someone who can get players lined up right, guide them in the meeting rooms and serve as a strong mentor. He has the reputation for telling players what others might shy away from saying. He has the credentials, playing a key role on two Super Bowl championship teams, and he carved a career, like Fletcher did, as an undrafted free agent. Players like that, who last this long, have a different quality about them and others take notice.

The question is, what does Clark have left on the field? It’s tough to be the same leader if you’re struggling. Pittsburgh felt he was done. Of course, the Steelers didn’t suffer through what the Redskins did with their safeties last year (and the past few). I also wonder if it matters to players that Clark spends a lot of time on TV, his transition to post-NFL life having (smartly) begun. During the season his focus will be on the team so it might not matter at all. Still, Clark is the most natural in this role.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall: He’s matured over the years and has been a captain. The Redskins used him to help recruit potential free agents, DeSean Jackson in particular. Money always wins out, but the fact that the Redskins wanted him as one of the players to help in this area says a lot about Hall. He seems to like this role. While it helps Clark to have played for a top franchise in Pittsburgh, does it hurt that Hall has played two seasons in which his team finished with a winning record? Don't know; Hall has lasted a long time in the NFL and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. But it’s difficult for corners to be the primary leaders on a defense, in part because their jobs require them to have less of a big-picture look than other positions. The best leaders that I’ve seen in Washington have been linebackers, safeties and the occasional defensive lineman (Marco Coleman).

Riley
Linebacker Perry Riley: It’s not in his personality to be that sort of guy. Riley is smart, but doesn’t like the spotlight – a leader has to also serve as a mouthpiece for the defense. He’s better as a complementary guy.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson: Tough to be a leader when you’ve played in only 11 games, started none and missed the past year with a second injury. There’s a chance he’ll end up replacing Fletcher in the lineup and this position demands he be a good communicator. But he still has to prove he's better than Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. Whoever is in this role must call out the defensive signals, get guys lined up, call out changes. A leadership role is a natural outbreak of this, but Robinson is not close to being that sort of guy. He needs to win the job, prove his value in games and then perhaps he’ll grow into a leadership role.

Nose tackle Barry Cofield: He’s comfortable in a leadership role. He’s not the same sort of presence as Fletcher in terms of being a coach on the field, but he was a leader with the Giants and has been one in Washington. He understands what comes with that: always being available, especially during the hard times. Hall typically is, but there have been times in the past when the losses pile up that he stays away from the media for a couple weeks (except for after games). Regardless of who emerges as the defensive voice, Cofield will provide leadership.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo: When Orakpo was injured two years ago, one former Redskins coach felt the team had lost one of its most passionate players. His value comes more in that than in being a guy who will replace Fletcher as The Leader on defense.
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.

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.

 

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.
Redskins general manager Bruce Allen stressed this point a couple times Tuesday: When making decisions in the draft, they're looking as much at the roster in 2015 and '16 as they are this season.

Chances are, that's when most of the players they pick this weekend will be ready for bigger roles. With that in mind, here's how the roster shapes up in '15 and '16:

Quarterbacks

Griffin
2015 roster: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins.

2016 roster: Griffin (if the team picks up his option. Note: Initially said it was for 2017, it's for '16).

Conclusion: They don’t need a starter, but, perhaps next year, they’ll have to start finding another player to groom as a backup assuming Griffin re-emerges.

Running backs

2015 roster: Alfred Morris, Darrel Young and Chris Thompson.

2016 roster: Thompson.

Conclusion: It’s not a pressing need because they could always re-sign Morris or find another back next year in the draft. However, they have checked out some backs such as West Virginia’s Charles Sims and Notre Dame’s George Atkinson III. There is a need to find someone else; Thompson is not a full-time option.

Wide receivers

Garcon
Garcon
2015 roster: Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Nick Williams

2016 roster: Roberts, Garcon, Jackson.

Conclusion: Still a need for depth, but finding another quality starter – right now – is not a must. However, it would be wise to find someone in a receiver-heavy draft who can be developed. They’ll have to make a decision after this year on Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson. Also, Garcon and Jackson’s contracts are up after the ’16 season.

Offensive line

2015 roster: Trent Williams, Chris Chester, Kory Lichtensteiger, Shawn Lauvao, Mike McGlynn, Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis, Tevita Stevens, Kevin Kowalski.

2016 roster: Lauvao, Lichtensteiger, Stevens.

Conclusion: I think we all know a right tackle is a strong possibility. Polumbus is not under contract after this season and neither is Tom Compton. Do the math; the Redskins have to find someone here at some point. And look at the ’16 roster; you don’t want to be in a position where you have to re-sign or sign that many players in one spot.

Tight ends

Reed
2015 roster: Logan Paulsen, Jordan Reed.

2016 roster: Reed.

Conclusion: Paulsen could always be re-signed, but regardless the Redskins could use a little more help here in the future. It’s a definite possibility as the Redskins look to bolster their weapons – and guard against Reed’s durability issues.

Defensive line

2015 roster: Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, Clifton Geathers, Jason Hatcher, Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, Gabe Miller.

2016 roster: Hatcher, Cofield, Miller, Baker.

Conclusion: Only Hatcher is signed beyond 2016. There’s depth here for the next two seasons, but in 2016 if Hatcher and Cofield are still viable both will be past their prime.

Linebackers

Hayward
2015 roster: Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, Adam Hayward, Keenan Robinson, Adrian Robinson, Brandon Jenkins, Will Compton, Jeremy Kimbrough.

2016: Riley, Hayward, Jenkins.

Conclusion: This is one reason the Redskins have looked at a number of outside linebackers during the draft process. Also, thinking long-term, they might not want to pay both Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo big money. But there's also a need to find and develop an inside 'backer, unless they're confident Keenan Robinson could be that guy. Too early to say that's the case given his injury history.

Cornerback

2015 roster: DeAngelo Hall, Tracy Porter, David Amerson, Chase Minnifield, Richard Crawford, Peyton Thompson.

2016 roster: Hall, Amerson, Thompson.

Conclusion: There’s not an immediate need, but there’s little doubt this position could still be fortified. Also, though Hall is under contract through 2016, where will his game be after the ’15 season? Still, if need be, they could get by with adding a late-round corner this year and seeing if he develops.

Safety

2015 roster: Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo.

2016 roster: Thomas, Rambo.

Conclusion: They need more bodies here. This is not a deep draft for safeties but it would be wise to grab one, especially when you see how it breaks down after this season. There’s a strong need – even if Thomas or Rambo develops into a starter.
The company they keep suggests they have done it right. Washington is right there with the best teams in the NFL when it comes to holding on to its draft picks. Look at the top six teams when it comes to keeping their own draft picks. You have perennial playoff contenders, Super Bowl participants and league heavyweights.

And then the Redskins.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaDan Snyder and the Redskins' coaching staff need to focus more on developing the team's draft picks in the future.
It's strange company, indeed. But there they are, right behind Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New England. For the most part, it's a who's who of organizations that have done it right.

And then there are the Redskins.

"I don't think we can say we've done well because of our record," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said.

The numbers spell it out. Washington ranks seventh in the NFL with 28 former draft picks on its roster. In the free-agency era, that has to register as a surprise given the Redskins' reputation. Of course, the salary-cap penalties of the past two offseasons forced them to do business another way.

It's sort of like the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry tells a rental car clerk, "See, you know how to take the reservation. You just don't know how to hold the reservation, and that's really the most important part of the reservation."

If the Redskins want to sustain success, they will do more than just draft and retain players; they will improve at developing them.

It's not as if they haven't had success stories. In 2012, they rode two rookies to the playoffs: quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick. Griffin extended plays and ran well, so the Redskins incorporated that into their offense. Morris could plant and cut, so that's what they asked him to do. They've had other success stories, just not enough of them.

Too often the Redskins have relied on outside help to fill holes. This past offseason they needed offensive line help, so they signed a starting guard and added a veteran backup. Two years ago they drafted three linemen, yet none of them project to be in the starting lineup. One of those three, guard Josh LeRibeus, was a third-round pick who was inactive in every game last season.

Washington's director of player personnel Scott Campbell said Tuesday that to find players worth developing, you see how much they love football. If a guy struggles with weight issues, that's a concern. LeRibeus had those issues in college and again after his rookie season. He is young, so perhaps he still develops, but he'll do so with constant pressure behind him.

"If you can't develop and want to build through the draft, then you're just sitting there with guys that can't play and they're young," one former Redskins coach said. "It becomes a double-edged sword and you're headed nowhere fast. Then you have to roll the dice in free agency and find a veteran player you hope can bail you out of that situation."

As Allen pointed out Tuesday, the Redskins have won titles multiple ways: from his father's ability to trade draft picks in the 1970s to finding bargain Plan B free agents in the 1980s. But owner Dan Snyder's era has produced seven double-digit loss seasons in the last 11.

The Redskins have drafted 34 players in the past four years: 14 on defense, 20 on offense. Of that group, eight project to be starters in 2014. Another player, tight end Logan Paulsen, went from undrafted in 2011 to starting tight end last year. Fullback Darrel Young switched positions and now is a starter.

The defense really needs to develop its own (the offense is much younger). Washington's D is in transition, with three starters in the secondary 30 or older and four top linemen in that same category. That means, if they want to build success, and then sustain it, they must hope that some of these players develop: Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas at safety and linebacker Keenan Robinson, as a long-term replacement for the retired London Fletcher. They need more youth along the front or for Jarvis Jenkins to blossom in his third playing season.

Two offseason moves could help: the hiring of inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and signing safety Ryan Clark. Olivadotti had a terrific reputation for working with young players in his first go-round with Washington, helping Brian Orakpo as a rookie. If Robinson is healthy -- after tearing a different pectoral muscle in each of his first two seasons -- then he has a shot because of Olivadotti.

As for Clark, maybe at 34 he has nothing left. Pittsburgh didn't think so. But he can still add value in Washington, desperate to solve a longtime hole at safety. Clark, who almost always has been a part of a good secondary, starting in college, can provide more help in getting players from one point in their career to another. He's not afraid to call out players -- star players too -- and let them know what's not acceptable. He'll also guide them just as much. Clark will be as much a coach on the field as anyone.

The Redskins don't have a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, so a lot of their selections this weekend won't provide immediate help. But if the Redskins develop their own, they will build a foundation that they've too often lacked.
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.

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