Washington Redskins: Pat White

Meriweather among Redskins inactives

September, 9, 2013
Washington Redskins strong safety Brandon Meriweather, limited all summer because of his knee and lately by a groin injury, won't play Monday night against Philadelphia. Meriweather was among the Redskins' seven inactives for the season opener versus Philadelphia.

It's not a big surprise considering Meriweather was limited in practice all week. And, because he's struggled to stay healthy, he's not a player the Redskins want to rush back. Veteran Reed Doughty will start in his place. Doughty gives the Redskins a knowledgable player who tackles well in the box.

But the Redskins are more limited in coverage with Doughty. Last year in Meriweather's one game, for example, the Redskins ran a corner blitz with Josh Wilson that they had not run in previous games. It was done because of Meriweather's speed and ability to rotate onto receiver DeSean Jackson.

The other inactives: Rex Grossman, Pat White, Evan Royster, Jose Gumbs, Josh LeRibeus and Chris Neild.

Again, there are no real surprises here. LeRibeus is third among their backup lineman after a poor spring and inconsistent summer. Adam Gettis can play both guard spots, even though he's only played right guard in games. Neild is the No. 1 backup at nose tackle but with the Redskins expected to play a lot of nickel packages tonight, there's not much need for a backup nose. If starter Barry Cofield was injured, then Chris Baker could play nose.

Royster is more of an insurance policy and might not be active unless either Alfred Morris or Roy Helu aren't going to play that game. Chris Thompson can be worked into various packages and likely will return the ball Monday.

Philadelphia's inactives: quarterback Matt Barkley, cornerback Shaun Prater, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, offensive lineman Matt Tobin, tight end Emil Igwenagu and defensive lineman Vinny Curry. The Eagles only needed to have six inactive because they had an open spot on the roster after releasing Brandon Hughes. Curry's inclusion on this list was a bit of a surprise.

Redskins notes: Return duties unsettled

September, 5, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- Strong safety Brandon Meriweather was limited in practice because of his groin injury, though his knee is not an issue, coach Mike Shanahan said.

“Hopefully he’s full speed tomorrow,” Shanahan said.

Every other Redskins player was full-go, including nose tackle Barry Cofield and his club-enclosed right hand.

QB watch: Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said there was a simple explanation for having Pat White stay on the roster, even with three quarterbacks ahead of him.

“When you think a guy does have a future and he’s part of your best 53, then I think it makes it easy,” Shanahan said.

The question is: how long will they carry four quarterbacks? The Redskins have a few weeks in which they could afford to keep an extra player at this position, with roster exemptions for suspended defensive end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson. But when those two return after four weeks, two roster moves must be made.

“I don’t think it’s something you’re going to do year in and year out, but when the roster shakes up that way that your fourth guy is one of your best 53, then we will do it,” Shanahan said. “We’ll see what that case is next year. We’ll see if that continues throughout the whole year, but it’s a week-by-week thing. We’ve always got to keep our best 53 and he’s definitely one of those right now.”

Surprising safety: Another player few would have projected on the roster at the start of training camp, safety Jose Gumbs, earned a spot last week. He was signed right before camp started but impressed the coaches with his raw ability.

Here's what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said about him: “He’s a guy that doesn’t even fully understand the defense yet, but he’s a guy that we thought was flying around, would make tackles, had good cover ability, was fearless, had pretty good football instinct -- things that you don’t have, and we think he will get better and better once he gets within the scheme. He came in late and I was really impressed with what he did the last couple of games. We kept all those guys based off their production in the preseason games. That’s why those games are important.”

Return duty: The Redskins still aren’t sure who will return punts Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Rookie Chris Thompson has fielded more punts in practice than the other candidates, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan, but only because he’s by far the least experienced in this area.

Thompson said catching punts off the Jugs machine in practice is good, but it’s not the same as fielding live punts. The ball is easy to read off the machine, but not off a punter’s foot and that’s been his biggest adjustment.

“We’ll see how he does this week and get a gut feel before the Monday night game and then make a decision,” Mike Shanahan said.

Redskins mailbag, part 2

September, 4, 2013
Part II of my Redskins mailbag, pulling questions off my Twitter feed. This time the questions focus on Josh Morgan, Pat White, why are there inactives for games and Roy Helu's impact on third downs. So here you go.

@DaSkins804 asks: How much rope does Morgan have with Hankerson looming?

John Keim: Good question. I think Morgan will need to show that he indeed has more explosiveness than he did last season while playing with seven screws in his ankle. At times he looked more spry and I saw quicker cuts. But to me what separates him from Hankerson is his blocking and toughness over the middle. Morgan is willing to make catches between the hashes knowing he’s about to be creamed. I have not seen that from Hankerson, who still drops too many passes. But Hankerson offers more downfield explosiveness. He’s improved as a route runner, too. Both will play a lot and their skills are different enough that the Redskins can rotate them depending on the game or situation.

@chadwiko asks: Skins had big probs on 3rd down last year. How much does a fit Helu solve that problem?

Keim: He helps and gives them a chance for bigger plays, but the third-down issues were not related to the third-down backs. Early in the season it seemed like there were a lot of third-and-longs; Griffin was not equipped to handle those just yet. But he did well in not forcing passes or turning it over. Also, the Redskins were much more effective using play-action passes -- it created numerous openings because of the misdirection nature of the play -- and more often than not they could not do so on third downs because they were obvious pass situations. Teams would rush four and cover with seven and it was effective. A healthy Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis will help; Griffin’s evolution as a passer will as well. And, yes, Helu will help.

@CJCranford asks: how much better do you think RG3 has gotten as a pocket (more rounded) passer this offseason? With inj keeping him from practice?

Keim: There’s no way to fully know given how little we’ve seen of him this summer in those situations. I think there’s a natural growth after your first year as a starter. I’ve seen a difference in guys like Alfred Morris and even Niles Paul just because they now have experience. The area I’d expect Griffin to show growth would be in his ability to quickly know, based on pre-snap reads, whether or not his first target will be free. Little things like that, which can make a big deal. Griffin is a smart kid and the one thing he could do this offseason is study – a lot. I also think he’ll be better at keeping plays alive when he scrambles and not being so quick to tuck and run. I would never just turn him into a pocket passer (I know you’re not suggesting that); the line is built to block on the move and it also would change their offense. But I do expect improvement. And the smarter and more developed he gets in this area, the more route concepts they can run.

@Stew_PDM asks: Who is the odd man out when Jarvis Jenkins comes back? Neild, C.Baker, or P.Merling? Can't they all play the Nose?

Keim: My guess is Merling. They really like Neild, who is the primary backup at nose, and Baker can play both nose and end. Merling is an end. But much can happen in four weeks in terms of injuries or, perhaps, performance. Merling was solid during the preseason (as was Baker).

@BittnerJohn asks: how much will COFIELD disrupt the Eagles scheme on 1st & 2d down leaving them w/ 3d & long and will Has use his Swift Six package?

Keim: This question incorporates one asked by several readers. So here goes. Cofield will be a problem for every team they face this season. He was excellent against the Eagles last season as well. A big key will be occupying blockers and allowing the linebackers to get to the ball. That’s big every game, but it’s especially true with the potential cutbacks of McCoy. So it’s not just about being disruptive; it’s about not leaving gaps in the defense or in allowing a guard to reach the second level to block. But you are right: leaving the Eagles in third and long is a key. As for the Swift Six, I’d imagine they’ll use it in passing situations. Someone else wanted to know: Wouldn’t teams just audible to a run against this look? Possibly. It just depends on how many yards they have to go for a first down. The tough part for this package is that Philly will provide a headache with its up-tempo approach. The Redskins will have to be quick with their substitutions and wise about where they use the Swift Six or else they could get caught with that look on a first down. The red zone, for example, would be a tougher place to use it. At Oregon, Kelly’s offense seemed to go much faster here.

@LimaContreras asks: Do you envision Pat White being active for any regular season games and if so being used in trick plays?

Keim: Had a number of Pat White questions, so figured I’d take one and try to answer them all. I didn’t think he’d be on the roster, so what do I know? But active? Tough to see. If so, it would only be for trick plays. I do not think he’s ready to effectively play in an NFL game against a starting defense; he just needs more work as a passer. As for trick plays, if they have one or two for him we haven’t seen it (and could not say even if they did). I guess anything’s a possibility, but they have better runners than White. He’s a good runner, but I think it would be real hard to keep a guy active for perhaps one trick play (Brandon Banks could do them because he already was a returner). As for how long White will be on the roster (as others have asked), I have a hard time seeing it last more than a few games. He’s a luxury at this point. When Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins return roster moves will have to be made. I can’t imagine four QBs on the roster at this point. I don’t know if someone would trade for him; I’m not sure he did so great and showed so much as a passer that someone would surrender a draft choice, but it only takes one team. Another angle to this: Would they want to groom him as Robert Griffin III’s backup and trade Kirk Cousins in the offseason? I’d be reluctant to keep him around all season just for that point just because you never know how things break. What if Griffin gets hurt again? There’s no way I’d trade Cousins at that point. Yes, I know, White can run the zone read. Big deal. The Redskins run so much more than that play that you’d better be able to do more – and you absolutely need to be able to pass from this look; we did not see White do so in the preseason. Again: Griffin makes the zone read and not vice versa; quarterbacks who are effective in this are considered passing threats first and foremost. The one caveat in all this is that Mike Shanahan has gone with two quarterbacks in the past. I don’t know whether Grossman would have returned had Griffin not suffered the knee injury. I say that knowing Grossman provides a value, both as a third QB and in the meeting rooms. He’s a smart guy. But at this point I don’t know how you can trust Griffin’s health and why leave yourself short at the most important position?

@fifty6CPT asks: with Orakpo back and healthy, do you think this is going to be Kerrigan's comimg out party? Can see him being DPOY. Thoughts

Keim: Good question. I think if Kerrigan has a big year it will stem from a few reasons, with Orakpo’s return being high on the list. But Kerrigan’s versatility makes a difference, too. He can rush inside standing up and, now, with his hands in the dirt. He can rush from either side; paired next to Orakpo it should provide headaches for an offense. Also, Kerrigan has worked on some inside moves versus right tackles; not having one last year hurt him as they played him for a wide rush and rip move all day. The trickle down from Orakpo’s return is tremendous: Stephen Bowen should be freed up of many of the double teams he faced last year, which will allow him to collapse the pocket. When the outside ‘backers pinch the outside, it will give them a better chance to get the QB. I don’t want to go overboard in saying how good this rush could be, but my main point is this: It’ll be more consistent than last year. As for defensive player of the year, are you talking about on the Redskins? The guy I really like for that, right now, is Cofield. But it might be in a more understated way.

@Robertgittleson asks: will the #skins secondary be any good? Seems like nobody is very impressive back there.

Keim: Work in progress. There’s hope because of corner David Amerson and safety Bacarri Rambo that they at least have two young players who can improve. We’ll learn a lot more about them Monday night, though in reality there will be highs and lows as is the case for every rookie. They just need them to develop over the course of the season. Also, there’s hope because they won’t have to blitz nearly as much as they did in 2012 (they believe) because the pass rush should be better. The more they pressure with four, the more times they can use seven defenders in coverage. It makes a huge difference; do not underestimate it. Clearly, the secondary is one of the big question marks entering the season. They just can’t allow the big play as happened last year. I also have concerns or questions about O-line depth (it was barely tested last year), the linebackers in coverage and, obviously, Griffin’s durability – whether scrambling or in the pocket.

@Curzon417 asks: What is the purpose of only dressing 46 players instead of allowing all 53 players to be dressed?

Keim: Actually received a couple questions about this. In a nutshell, it’s to guard against teams being banged up not having the same number of players available as the opposition. In other words, if, say, the Redskins had four players who couldn’t play Monday but the Eagles had everyone healthy then the Eagles would have an advantage just by player availability.

Redskins practice notes: Meriweather sits

September, 2, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- News and notes after Monday's practice:

• Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, trying to return for the opener after ACL surgery on Dec. 15, now has another issue. Meriweather did not practice Monday because of a sore groin, though it's uncertain if this will keep him out of practice when they return Wednesday. If Meriweather cannot play in the opener versus Philadelphia, then veteran Reed Doughty would get the start. Doughty, entering his eight season, is a coach's favorite because of his preparation, understanding of the defense, and consistent tackling. A healthy Meriweather gives them more speed at the position, but he hasn't been healthy in a long time.

• The Redskins named their captains Monday, with two each on offense and defense. The offensive captains: quarterback Robert Griffin III and left tackle Trent Williams. The defensive captains: linebacker London Fletcher and nose tackle Barry Cofield. Also, they named Doughty as the special teams captain Monday. After eight games, they will add a third captain to both the offense and defense and will name a permanent special teams captain.

My take: These were good, obvious choices. I like that Cofield is on the list; he entered with the reputation as a leader but one who lets it happen over time. Cofield has established himself as a strong voice in the locker room and a stand-up guy. Doughty, too, deserves praise. He's become a leader as much by example -- he's in the eighth season of a career many thought might not last one. His approach makes him invaluable.

• There's still no word on who will return punts and kickoffs against the Eagles. Rookie Chris Thompson worked at both spots this summer and returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in the preseason finale at Tampa Bay. But Thompson said he's not sure if he'll handle this job in the opener. Coach Mike Shanahan said his three potential choices for punt returner are Thompson, Santana Moss or Josh Morgan. The latter has returned one NFL punt, though he did that duty at Virginia Tech.

• Shanahan said the thinking behind keeping four quarterbacks was simple. Pat White was one of their top 53 players, therefore he deserved a spot. How long he lasts on the roster remains to be seen, but just reaching this point after a three-year layoff is good.

A bonus for this week: White can simulate Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in practice.

"He's going to give us a great look," Shanahan said. "He's amazing at what he can do with the zone read. He's been out for a while and for him to execute like he did, as quick as he did, tells me a lot about Pat."

• Shanahan on keeping corner Jerome Murphy and safety Jose Gumbs: "That was pretty easy. Murphy is one heck of a special teams player. When he has played corner, he's played it well. He's got speed, he's got size and he's been dominating on special teams. And Gumbs came in and competed. That's what we tell these players. We don't care if you're a first-round draft choice or a free agent, we're going to play the best players. And Gumbs came in and played well."

Washington Redskins cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
Most significant move: Keeping four quarterbacks with back-from-the-dead Pat White making the roster. Anyone who saw White throw early in spring workouts would not have predicted this scenario. But White, who has been out of the NFL the past three seasons, improved throughout the summer and the coaches genuinely liked what they saw. One coach predicted earlier in the week that he would be on someone’s roster. White showed he can still run and mastered the slant routes and digs. He still needs to work on finesse throws and prove he can make throws into tight windows over the middle, but his improvement was noticeable.

However, keeping four is still a lot. But with Kirk Cousins nursing a sprained right foot and with Robert Griffin III not having played in the preseason, the Redskins might just keep White around for the first couple of games. They have roster exemptions for end Jarvis Jenkins and linebacker Rob Jackson, both suspended for the first four games, so they could make this sort of move. If Griffin and Cousins both stay healthy, it’s hard to see this being a long-term situation. Still, White made big strides after a rough start.

The Redskins also opted to keep running back Evan Royster, who perhaps saved his job with a strong preseason finale at Tampa Bay. He's one of five running backs along with speedy rookie Chris Thompson.

Gone, but not yet forgotten: The Redskins would like to re-sign a number of their released players to the practice squad, including Chase Minnifield, Nick Williams, Tevita Stevens, Will Compton and tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, among others. Minnifield’s release was a surprise, given how the coaches talked about him during camp and his physical style in press coverage -- and with the loss of corner Richard Crawford. But the coaches liked corner Jerome Murphy’s physical style as well – and his special teams ability. Williams is an intriguing prospect as a slot receiver and punt returner. Ogbeuhi is a raw prospect who needs to spend a year or two on the practice squad.

Safety DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick in 2011 and opening day starter in 2012, did not progress in coverage. Though he was better in the box, the Redskins have Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty ahead of him at strong safety. And they opted for Jose Gumbs, signed right before camp, as a swing safety.

The Redskins also placed offensive lineman Maurice Hurt on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The tough cut? Receiver Dez Briscoe. According to a league source, Briscoe would have made the roster had he not injured his shoulder in the preseason finale.

What's next: The Redskins next big moves will occur after Week 4 when Jenkins and Jackson return from their four-game suspensions. At that point end Phillip Merling could be in trouble, along with, possibly White, simply because it would be unusual to keep four quarterbacks all season.

The Redskins lack experienced depth along the offensive line and could always use more help at safety. So if anyone intriguing clears waivers, the Redskins would be interested. They also retain the rights to suspended safety Tanard Jackson, who is now eligible for reinstatement. However, it could take a while for the NFL to grant his return -- if they give it to him at all.

Redskins cuts: RB: Keiland Williams, Jawan Jamison, RB Tristan Davis (from exempt/left squad list). WR: Skye Dawson, Nick Williams, Lance Lewis, Dez Briscoe (designated as injured). OL: Tevita Stevens, Tony Pashos, Kevin Matthews, Xavier Nixon. TE: Emmanuel Ogbuehi. DL: Chigo Anunoby, Dominique Hamilton, Ron Brace. DB: DeJon Gomes, Chase Minnifield LB: Vic So’oto, Will Compton, Marvin Burdette.

Washington Redskins cut update

August, 31, 2013
The Redskins haven’t made their cuts official, but here’s an unofficial list based on reporting by ESPN.com, The Washington Post, ESPN 980, WJFK 106.7 The Fan, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and CSNWashington.

Running back Evan Royster will make the final roster, per The Washington Post. Quarterback Pat White remains on the roster as the Redskins head into practice at 1 p.m. There's talk they're trying to find a way to either trade him or keep four quarterbacks. They only need to release two more with exemptions for suspended players Jarvis Jenkins and Rob Jackson and with lineman Maurice Hurt likely headed to the PUP list. Receiver Dez Briscoe needs a second opinion on his injured shoulder and could be a waived/injured or injured reserve candidate.

A number of the players released will be signed to the practice squad if they clear waivers, notably Chase Minnifield, Nick Williams and Emmanuel Ogbuehi.

Here’s the list so far:

Predicting the Redskins' final 53

August, 30, 2013
This is like picking the NCAA basketball tournament. Most teams are very easy to pick -- going out on a limb and projecting Robert Griffin III on the roster, barring conflicting statements of course. And there are few things I dislike more than picking the final 53. Why? Chance to be wrong too many times. And yet, here I am on the eve of cut-down day sending out projections. Fortunately, I feel good about tight ends, linebackers and the defensive line. And, I think, quarterbacks. But I'm shaky on running back, receiver and the defensive backfield. More fluid parts there.

They’re in:
Griffin, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
Out: Pat White

Note: White made strides, and under different circumstances I’d keep him around. Just to see how he develops. But with questions about Griffin’s durability, I’d be reluctant to have White as my third quarterback because of his inexperience. He improved with his accuracy, but still was inconsistent on certain throws. He’ll take time to develop. Would you keep White to groom him as the backup and then trade Cousins in the offseason? Sure. But what if something else happens to Griffin and you hang onto Cousins, just in case? When you listen to the coaches, they definitely like how White has progressed. Their enthusiasm for his progress is genuine. A few weeks ago I would not have written any explanation about why he would or would not stick around.

They’re in:
Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Keiland Williams, Chris Thompson, Darrel Young
Out: Evan Royster

Note: Royster is a better running back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to trade him. (Was told by one coach of another team there would be at least a limited market for him.) Before the Bucs game, I was convinced he was gone. Now? I think it's 51-49 he leaves. Or, perhaps 50.5-49.5. Williams is a better special-teams player than Royster. Both have solid hands, but Royster needs the ball a lot to be effective. So in a pinch he’s not as effective. Though he’s a good fit in a zone-read, the Redskins have a featured back (Morris), a third-down back (Helu), a speed back (Thompson) and a special-teamer do-it-all (Williams). It does not sound as if Williams' shoulder is that bad from Thursday; if it is, then this changes.

They’re in:
Fred Davis, Jordan Reed, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul
Out: Emmanuel Ogbuehi

Note: No surprises here. On draft day coach Mike Shanahan made it clear they could keep four tight ends. Paul looked a lot more comfortable this summer than last, thanks to an offseason of work after playing the position for the first time. Reed will help once he becomes more consistent. Ogbuehi impressed them, but there’s no room.

They’re in:
Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
Out: Dez Briscoe, Skye Dawson, Nick Williams

Note: The first five were a lock before camp opened and remained that way throughout the summer. Briscoe could sneak in because of his size, but his hands are inconsistent – that was true last season and again this summer. He had a nice play the other night, but I didn’t like that he got caught from behind. With four tight ends, three of whom are solid receiving threats, and with Helu, the Redskins don’t need as many receivers as in the past. Keep in mind, too, that Shanahan has kept as few as four wideouts in the past (with Denver in 2005 and ’08, according to their opening day rosters). If they keep Dawson or Williams around on the practice squad they should be fine. Neither Dawson nor Williams did enough to warrant a spot. Dawson is quick and was tough to cover in one-on-one drills, but did little in 11-on-11 work. As a returner he was fine, but needed to be great.

They’re in:
Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus
Out: Tony Pashos

Note: The Redskins opt for youth at the backup spots, but while Pashos did show some good things – his hands, strength – I’m not sure he moved as well as needed in this offense. Again, another one I’m uneasy about because I don’t like the inexperience with the backups. Plus Compton’s development at left tackle should give them confidence that he could move to the right side if needed. The problem: Compton did not have a good final game, especially early. Gave up more than you’d like in protection and some issues in the run game, too. He was inconsistent in the opener, but played well in the second and third games. They also have Maurice Hurt, who likely will be on the PUP list. I’m uneasy with the backup guards, even though I do like how Gettis progressed.

They’re in:
Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Baker, Chris Neild, Phillip Merling
Out: Ron Brace

Note: Merling would have been bumped had Jarvis Jenkins not been suspended. So when Jenkins returns, Merling could be in trouble. But Merling was fine against the run. Golston has played well enough to open at left end; he does a better job than Baker of doing his job here, occupying blockers. Baker too often likes to get upfield and make plays; it can lead to big gaps in the defense.

They’re in:
Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Bryan Kehl, Nick Barnett, Brandon Jenkins
Out: Will Compton, Marvin Burdette

Note: This is tough for me because I like how Compton has played. He’s a smart, decisive player who was able to defeat blockers in part because he often beat them to the spot. I’d definitely want him on the practice squad. The other question is, what happens when Rob Jackson returns from suspension? Do they cut one of these players? I don’t know who you would cut; Tapp has been a terrific surprise (for me anyway) and Jenkins is safe. So they might end up with nine linebackers when Jackson returns.

They’re in:
DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, Chase Minnifield, Jerome Murphy

Note: Murphy is a surprise choice; the coaches really like him and he’s a physical player and good on special teams.

They’re in:
Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, Bacarri Rambo, Jordan Pugh, DeJon Gomes.
Out: Jose Gumbs

Note: Gumbs to the practice squad. And, by the way, I’m not confident at all in this position. The Redskins, one league source said, had contacted teams about Gomes a couple weeks ago, seeing if there was any trade interest. Whether or not he’s still on the market – or if anyone would part with something for him -- I don’t know. And if they’re concerned about Meriweather’s durability, perhaps you keep Gomes because he can play in the box and back up Doughty. He’s also a good special-teams player. I'm not anticipating a Tanard Jackson return either. He can apply for reinstatement Saturday. That does not mean he'll be reinstated immediately -- if at all. Remember, it was an indefinite suspension.

They're in:
Sav Rocca, Kai Forbath, Nick Sundberg

Note: If you’re expecting great analysis here, stop reading. Nothing to say. They were in from Day One.

Redskins vs. Bucs: What to watch for

August, 29, 2013
With just about every starter out for Thursday's preseason finale at 7:30 p.m. ET at Tampa Bay, is there much reason to be interested in this game? The biggest part of the night will be an examination of Robert Griffin III's right knee. If they televised that, it might draw higher ratings than the game. But they are going to play and we're going to watch, and this is what needs to be monitored:

How Brandon Meriweather looks. The Redskins need Meriweather to look like he’s ready to play a game and, thus far, they have not been convinced that is the case in practice. Every game he played last season, whether it was in the preseason or the one game against Philadelphia during the regular season, Meriweather made plays. There were breakups, hits and turnovers. If he’s not around the ball a lot; if he’s not making plays; then Meriweather might still be affected by his December ACL surgery.

Many happy returns? The Redskins could use another game with many punts, just to give them a better idea on certain players, such as rookie Chris Thompson. Two weeks ago he looked bad fielding punts; last week he did not -- he was patient and knows how to set up blocks. But those two fumbles from scrimmage loom large, as does his inexperience. Josh Morgan might get a surprise shot here, coach Mike Shanahan said Tuesday. But Morgan was a good punt returner at Virginia Tech, though he’s returned just one in the NFL. Skye Dawson has returned punts throughout the preseason and has done well since two bad returns in the opener (fumble, bad decision). Hard to imagine he’s done enough to warrant a roster spot.

Pat White. He’ll start and play the whole game, capping a summer of terrific opportunities. Thanks to Robert Griffin III’s knee, White received more time than he ordinarily would have as a fourth quarterback. It enabled him to showcase more of what he could do. Could he earn a spot here? Only as a fourth quarterback, and that seems like a big stretch. The Redskins are convinced he’ll be on someone’s roster -- is that legit or an attempt to possibly drum up trade interest (slight long shot). White is not close to where the others on the Redskins are as a quarterback. He has improved, but all he’s shown thus far is an ability to run (already known) and that he can hit the slant/dig route. He needs to show he can go through a progression; that he can consistently hit the out routes. White has definitely improved since we first saw him in spring workouts (when he looked like someone who should not even be invited to camp). He deserves a lot of credit, and I could see another team wanting him as a developmental No. 3. With two young quarterbacks already, the Redskins don’t need such a player, unless they already anticipate trading Kirk Cousins in the offseason (though how could you know that already; what if something happens to Griffin once again?) and want to groom another backup.

Secondary issues. At least those not named Meriweather. Josh Wilson will play, one of the few projected starters who will appear in the game (tight end Fred Davis was not yet scheduled to have the night off as of Tuesday; that's surprising, so we'll see if he actually plays or not). Wilson is coming off shoulder surgery and needs the work. Is there any way he loses his starting job? I can’t go there yet, because rookie David Amerson is still clearly learning lessons. But I can’t imagine Wilson has a stronghold on the position either. Why should he? Two guys to watch are cornerback Jerome Murphy and safety Jose Gumbs. Murphy has been a special teams standout, and fared well in limited time from scrimmage; he had a good camp, too. Gumbs is a hitter learning to play free safety. This is, perhaps, the most jumbled of all the positions because they also have Jordan Pugh and DeJon Gomes. Tough to see both making the roster, but it really could depend on the Bucs game.

Who has the big finale? There are players who can change their fate with a big showing in the final preseason game. A year ago Brandon Banks had 156 total yards against Tampa Bay -- 90 from scrimmage; 66 on punt returns -- to clinch a roster spot. Maybe he already had earned one, but this made it definite. Linebacker Robert Henson had a terrific final game in 2009 to jump ahead of fellow rookie linebacker Cody Glenn and earn a spot. A year later Henson lost his opportunity when he blew out his knee in the preseason finale. Who will have that sort of game Thursday night?

Running back battle. My best guess is that the Redskins keep four running backs, in addition to fullback Darrel Young. In that scenario Thompson makes it with Keiland Williams and Evan Royster vying for the final spot. Right now, I’d give Williams the edge. Rookie Jawan Jamison hasn’t done a whole lot this summer and appears to be a good candidate for the practice squad. And if they somehow lost him, oh well.

Receiver questions. Do they keep a sixth receiver? If so, would someone else other than Dez Briscoe be in that battle? Hard to imagine based on what we’ve seen in games and practice. Lance Lewis has a long way to go to be ready to make an NFL roster, and Dawson and Nick Williams both are more suited to the practice squad. What if Leonard Hankerson has a big game? Could he unseat Morgan as the Z receiver? I’d like to see a lot more consistency from Hankerson to make that happen. Morgan makes the tough catches that Hankerson has yet to prove he can make (not the one-handers, but the grabs over the middle when you’re about to be drilled).
Quarterback Pat White remains a long shot to make the Redskins roster. He could, however, get a chance to make someone else’s with another strong preseason showing. White will play the entire preseason finale at Tampa Bay.

The Redskins don’t have a need to develop another young quarterback, with their top two both in their second year. They like what Rex Grossman brings, both on the field and in the meeting room, as a No. 3 quarterback. The Redskins have done a good job calling plays for White, who is comfortable running the ball but inconsistent with his passing -- excellent on slants and digs but high on passes to the outside.

“Pat hasn’t been totally consistent in all his drops in the rhythm of the passing game,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “But he’s gotten better each week. He can still get a lot better.”

White is ineligible for the practice squad, but the Redskins are convinced he’ll be on some team’s roster this season.

“The more football he’s around, the more he works at it, the better he’ll get,” Shanahan said. “He’s as hard on himself as anyone I’ve been around. … It’s just a matter of time that he can be as good as he wants.”

In other Redskins news:
  • Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett on veteran linebacker Nick Barnett: “He’s got great football instincts. He knows where to go, he flies around. He [doesn’t] know what he’s doing yet but he knows where the ball is. He just needs reps on the field and once he gets those he’s going to be fine. He’s a good player.”
  • Haslett still likes his depth at corner even after the loss of Richard Crawford, out for the season after tearing his ACL, LCL and MCL in his left knee. Crawford would have been, at best, their fifth or sixth corner. “I feel good about Chase [Minnifield], I feel good about Jerome [Murphy],” Haslett said. “We’ve got enough guys that we’ll be fine.” Murphy has quietly had a good summer, particularly on special teams.
  • Another name added to the list of possible punt returners: Josh Morgan. Coach Mike Shanahan said they might have him return a punt or two against Tampa Bay. However, Morgan has never returned a punt in the NFL (he has run back 15 kickoffs, including 13 in 2009 with San Francisco – and averaged 28.2 yards). But he did return punts at Virginia Tech.
  • The Redskins reached the 75-man roster limit by waiving linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and corner Ryan Mouton with injured designations and waived Jacolby Ashworth with an injury settlement. They also terminated the contract of tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
  • The Redskins also moved defensive end Adam Carriker from the active/physically unable to perform list to the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Carriker does not count against their 75-man roster, but this still leaves open the possibility that he could return later in the season. Maurice Hurt, who is on the active/physically unable to perform list, does count against the 75.

Observation deck: Redskins-Bills

August, 24, 2013
Highlights from the Washington Redskins30-7 win over Buffalo on Saturday, their third straight in the preseason. Somewhere, Don Shula’s boys are getting nervous. Or not. Anyway, here you go:

  1. The running game was terrific, but I need to start with the defense. Yes, the Bills have some issues at quarterback. Kevin Kolb was knocked from the game, but he’s at best an average quarterback. Still, the Bills want to play at a fast tempo and it’s not just about passing the ball; they want to run the ball a lot, too. But the Redskins’ defense forced two three-and-outs in addition to a 10-play drive (aided by a third-down penalty on David Amerson). It would have been good to see the Redskins’ defense face this attack longer, to get a better feel because it can wear teams down. However, the Redskins handled this attack well and one reason was linebacker London Fletcher. To a man, players talk about how communication and conditioning are key to battling that offense. The Bills typically snapped the ball with 20-23 seconds left on the play clock. Yet the Redskins’ D did not look confused or lost. They subbed and were able to use their base and nickel packages. “London is the calming force of the defense,” Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. “You feed off his confidence and getting the calls. That tempo is trying to catch you with everyone not communicating. That’s how big plays happen.” By the way, Buffalo managed a first down on only three of 12 series and none in the second half, though when Jeff Tuel is your quarterback for most of the game, that's bound to happen.
  2. It can’t be underestimated how important it is to have someone like Fletcher on the field. It doesn’t mean mistakes won’ t happen; it does mean that they can minimize those mistakes because of his knowledge. “He’s a coach out there and even with the short amount of time we had to get up, we were able to get the calls out and get lined up,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. I haven’t asked Fletcher about this, but there’s little doubt that he’s watched film of Oregon and of Philadelphia in preparation for the opener, and probably has for a while. There’s still no voice in the defensive room that players trust more than Fletcher.
  3. I know one growing trend in the NFL is the use of packaged plays in which the quarterback has the option to either hand off or throw – and only he knows what he’s going to do. Buffalo does that; Philadelphia will do some of that. And Saturday, the Redskins scored a touchdown in that situation. They don’t do this a lot, but it’s certainly not foreign to them. They scored a touchdown two years ago versus Minnesota in this fashion to receiver Jabar Gaffney, and their first drive against New Orleans in the 2012 opener featured several such plays. Anyway, against Buffalo, Rex Grossman spotted the safety in a spot that left him vulnerable – up near the line on the right side. Typically, the safety would have been where receiver Pierre Garcon was headed on his slant. Grossman knew what to do. Watch the offensive linemen on this play– everyone was blocking for a zone run to the right; left tackle Trent Williams went for the linebacker. Grossman stepped that way but threw the slant to Garcon for an easy score. The corner had no shot at making the play – and even gestured to the safety at the end. Don’t blame him at all. “I knew we would get a blitz or he would drop out of leverage,” Grossman said of the safety. A good call and an easy touchdown.
  4. It’s a shame about Richard Crawford on many levels. It leaves the Redskins in a bind for punt returner. I wrote about this elsewhere on the site, but the options are veterans such as Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall. However, coach Mike Shanahan does not like to use key players in this role, and both would qualify. Besides, Moss has not returned a punt since 2009, and Hall has four returns in five seasons. There’s also Aldrick Robinson, who was bad in this role two preseasons ago and didn’t show a lot of improvement last summer. Can they really trust him? Skye Dawson has looked better since two disastrous returns in the opener (a fumble and a bad decision to reverse field). Anyway, Crawford is one of the Redskins smarter players; he’s always struck me as a future coach because of the way he thinks and understands the game. And he had improved a decent amount this summer – after spending the spring working with Redskins Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green. Mostly, this is about Crawford’s returns and I liked how comfortable he was fielding the ball. It looked natural and he (usually) made the first defender miss.
  5. Another option is Chris Thompson. There’s much that I like about Thompson and what he offers, and yet there are two major issues that just won’t go away: durability and ball security. I was pleasantly surprised how he looked fielding the ball. In practice a week or two ago Thompson did not look smooth at all; he twisted his hands awkwardly catching it on the run to his left and he fought the ball other times. However, he looked much different Saturday. “When I got back there I was pretty calm,” he said. It showed. He ran up and caught one on his 31-yard return. He had to backpedal and grab another one and moved to the side. Still, he’s only fielded three punts in a game since high school. It’s hard to imagine they can trust him with ball security at this point. But they absolutely love his speed and his sharp cuts in the open field. Some of this talk makes him sound like Brandon Banks, though Thompson is loads ahead when it comes to character.
  6. Now, for Thompson’s runs from scrimmage. The fumbles are an issue, and it’s clear he’s still adjusting to running in this offense. Of his 15 carries, none went for more than 9 yards. There were some positive signs: He did not dance around, and when he saw the opening he cut up and took what was there. Liked on a 5-yard run in the fourth how patient he was running to his left, then cutting up and running into the gut of a linebacker, moving him back a yard. He only averaged 2.9 yards per run and I’m curious to see when rewatching the game what sort of holes he really had. I saw good signs. However, those fumbles are killers. He showed resiliency in what he did after the fumbles and that’s good. (He actually carried the ball in his left hand on a run to the right, his first after the fumble. Why? Because he's left-hand dominant and felt more secure with the ball in that hand.) But he’s fumbled twice in two preseason games. If you’re going to do that, you’d better make a few really big plays. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Can he make the roster? Yes, because the coaches love his speed and he can develop. But he has not yet earned it with his performance (just remember, though, two years ago that Banks had not really earned it either until a big preseason finale).
  7. I liked how rookie tight end Jordan Reed played after a tough debut versus Pittsburgh. In that game, he dropped a pass and struggled as a blocker. Saturday, Reed caught the ball well and blocked even better. Reed competes hard, one reason he’s further ahead as a blocker than the coaches had hoped or realized he would be at this stage. On Keiland Williams’ 23-yard run it was Reed who cleared an opening by driving a linebacker out of the way. It wasn’t his only good block, but it was one good example. He used his hands better and was a little quicker with his feet getting in position. I also like that he makes smooth catches on balls that would be a little tougher for most players of his size at his position. I don’t know when he’ll make an impact, but I like his potential.
  8. Another guy who deserves credit: safety Bacarri Rambo. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him after the game, but you saw one reason why the coaches really like him: The ability to quickly learn. With the tackles it was all about angles rather than desire and after working on it even harder this week, there was a big improvement. Should you be completely comfortable yet with him? No. Even Sean Taylor needed to adjust to this during games; I remember asking Gregg Williams about Taylor’s open-field tackling as a rookie. The difference for Rambo tonight is that he didn’t hesitate. He was decisive and it showed. He tackled running back C.J. Spiller in the open field. Rambo also tackled Kolb in the open field. OK, Kolb isn’t Mike Vick. But what Rambo needed was some confidence in this area, and he received it Saturday. The coaches even gave Rambo extra time when the other starters were out, a smart move. They need him to be solid in this area. One game doesn’t make or break anyone – good or bad – but it was a positive step.
  9. The Pat White show continues. Does it mean he’ll win a roster spot here? Not unless the Redskins do the unlikely and keep four quarterbacks. And while he’s done a nice job running the zone read plays, keep in mind what separated Robert Griffin III on these plays was his ability to provide a triple threat: run, hand off or throw. White hasn’t shown he can be consistent throwing the ball from this look. White has improved greatly since we first saw him in spring workouts and if nothing else he’s shown that if and when he’s cut, it would be wise for someone else to at least take a look. His passing is still inconsistent and while he’s good throwing slants – hitting guys in stride – he has trouble on out routes. Before I go crazy on him I’d like to see consistency throwing into different areas and against different looks. But for a guy out of football for three years White has been far from an embarrassment and has provided jolts of energy on the field. He was very patient on his touchdown run, allowing fullback Darrel Young to do his job and then following behind. It’s just too bad for the Redskins that White is ineligible for the practice squad. White is behind Grossman; that touch throw to Roy Helu on the wheel route was very, very nice by Grossman. Maybe White gets there someday but he’s not close to those types of plays yet. Still, he’s improved.
  10. Finally, running back Roy Helu showed once again what he can do in the open field. As a running back there are still times I’m not in love with him. He gets the yards that are available too often whereas Alfred Morris creates more yards for himself. Morris did just that on his first three runs; each one went for longer than it should have because of his vision or his cuts or all of the above. His patience is exemplary. Helu is learning how to run with a little more patience. He didn’t always set up blockers. But one of Helu’s best runs, a 12-yarder, also coincided with a major negative – a fumble. However, the run was good as Helu pressed the hole well and got the linebackers to overflow to their right. A big cutback lane opened and Helu took advantage. Lucky for him, he recovered his own fumble. On the next play, you saw the dangerous Helu: his footwork was sharp as he was forced to cut a yard or two deep in the backfield because of pressure. Then he made a quick jump cut outside; all tight end Niles Paul had to do was obstruct his man and he did. Helu bounced wide for 17 yards. There’s a big difference between Helu and Morris, but both can be dangerous when used properly. If Helu gets 10 touches a game he will provide some big plays. If you put him on the field in passing situations with tight end Fred Davis and receiver Pierre Garcon and use play action… one of them will get wide open. Get a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker, as Helu did, and it can result in a wheel route and long completion. I’m not about to say this will be the most explosive offense ever, but a healthy Helu certainly provides more options and added firepower.