Washington Redskins: RG III

Washington Redskins mailbag: Part 2

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
12:00
PM ET
The second round of the mailbag takes a look at Robert Griffin III's knee and how it impacts his passing; Leonard Hankerson; injured players and the physically unable to perform list and DeSean Jackson's numbers in various months. Enjoy.

John Keim: Don't know how he'll do it, but most coaches do it about the same. I would not expect him to veer off a whole lot in this area. But I don't know how he'll treat the offense, which is learning a new system (mostly when it comes to passing; numerous coaches have said the run game will be the same) compared to the defense, which is not. So maybe the offense gets an extra series or two in the first couple of games. We'll see.

Keim: His knee was healthy last year. Doesn't mean his game had completely recovered -- it hadn't-- but his knee was sound. There's a difference. It's not that his knee will be a lot healthier this year and therefore he's better, it's that he could spend the offseason strengthening it instead of rehabbing and he could work on his game. Those are huge factors. He fell into some bad habits last season that a good offseason might have prevented. He focused hard on his footwork in the pocket, for example. Griffin also did a poor job of transferring his weight, which led to some throws not having the same zip. That, too, should be better -- and it was a point of emphasis when he worked with quarterbacks guru Terry Shea. Also, the mind has to trust the body and at times last season Griffin perhaps was not at this point. But let's say he went from a 4.3 guy in the 40 to a 4.5 last year because of the knee. The latter time would still put him in the top third of quarterbacks.

Keim: Well, need to see if he's healthy first. My guess is he'll open training camp on the physically unable to perform list and then we just have to wait and see when he's healthy. As of last month the Redskins really had no idea when that might be the case. If he's healthy then I see no reason why they'd cut him. They don't have that sort of depth at this position and he's one of the few targets with any size.

Keim: At this point less than eight. There are things I liked coming out of the spring, but it still takes a leap of faith to think that they'll go from three wins to more than eight in the first season with a new coach, a defense that still needs work and a quarterback who still needs to prove himself as a pocket passer. I think Robert Griffin III will improve, but I have no idea what to expect from coach Jay Gruden or the defense. Not everyone was sold on Gruden or his work in Cincinnati, but I've seen first-year coaches who were more widely praised and yet fail terribly (Steve Spagnuolo). The pass rush will be better, but will the defense improve considerably? Lots of question marks in the back. They have not fixed the defense. Anything can happen and many things can break right, but entering camp I'm going with the under. Then it's time for a new evaluation.

Keim: There is no limit, but you can't go onto the PUP list going into the season unless you're on it entering training camp. So it's not like you can place someone on the PUP list instead of injured reserve if they get hurt during training camp. I would assume Leonard Hankerson opens camp on the PUP list. I wouldn't be surprised if Stephen Bowen does as well and, perhaps, Jason Hatcher. Richard Crawford is a possibility. Hankerson is the one I most wonder about opening the season on the PUP list. I really don't know about Bowen, who said this spring he would be ready for camp.

Keim: There was an article on CSNPhilly.com that sort of addressed this topic, pointing to five stats that could explain why Jackson was cut. There is a drop-off in his yards per game after September (of his 20 career games of at least 100 yards, 10 have come in September). But I don't know that it's a cold weather issue as much, perhaps, as a small receiver getting worn down. (The Redskins always had this concern with Santana Moss.) Here's his production breakdown by month: September (98 catches, 1,783 yards, nine touchdowns); October (80 catches, 1,224 yards, six touchdowns); November (96 catches, 1564 yards, nine touchdowns); December (76 catches, 1,424 yards, seven touchdowns). The article pointed out that in the postseason "he's averaged 3.2 catches and 54 yards. In his last three playoff games, Jackson has eight catches, 114 yards and one TD." Now, in the Saints game last season, he also drew a big-time pass interference penalty that helped. Also, is this a matter of Jackson not helping or defenses focusing on taking away a primary weapon? Then again, that's something every great receiver must overcome. It's why they're considered great. And the bottom line is, in six postseason games he's surpassed 53 yards only twice -- and has yet to post more than 92. 

The first installment of this week's Washington Redskins mailbag features questions on, yes, Robert Griffin III (a reason for hope), Kirk Cousins and, completing the quarterback trifecta, Colt McCoy. Oh, and a little on Chris Neild. Enjoy.
John Keim: No. The reasons are many, but suffice to say neither one (Richard Crawford or Chase Minnifield) has a safety's build -- both are smaller players -- nor have they ever played the position. So it would take a while for them to get used to the position. It's not a simple transition. Bashaud Breeland is one who could eventually play here; he's a little bigger and more physical. But corner is more valuable and if he shows he can play that position then that's where he must stay. But you're right, they do need much better depth at safety. They do like the versatility of their top corners when it comes to playing safety in certain coverages. But that's different than being able to do it full-time. They need to find and develop some young safeties. Corner is considered the more premium position, so you absolutely need solid depth at that spot.

John Keim: He's looked fine. Can't say he stood out or anything, but he also wasn't the focal point that he was a year ago at this time when he was working with the starters. But nothing has changed regarding him since the end of the season. His value remains the same -- Cleveland offered Washington a fourth-round pick for him during the draft. I don't see that position improving unless some team gets really desperate because of a training camp injury. But I don't think Cousins is at a point where you make some panic move to bring him in right before the season, expecting him to go in and light it up. He's still a young guy with a lot to prove. He's not instant success in that sort of scenario. Besides, there's no way I'd trade him at this point. Why? I want good insurance behind Griffin because of the durability concerns.

John Keim: Mike Barwis, the trainer on this show, certainly agrees with you. I know the coaches here like him a lot, too. Sometimes you find a way to keep guys like him just because of what he adds in the locker room, how he works, etc. The problem is Neild is a backup nose tackle who provides no help in the nickel package. If the Redskins only keep six defensive linemen, then it'll be tough for Neild to make it (though injuries to others would change things). He would not be the first character guy to have been cut because, in the end, it's always a numbers game. But my guess is if they can find a way to keep him, they will. When you have bust-your-butt guys at the end of the roster, then it always helps. But it will depend on what happens at other positions.

John Keim: The unknown surrounding RG III. I say unknown because we've never seen him after a full, productive offseason -- and that's what he's had this year. Every coach I've ever covered has talked about how much improvement quarterbacks make from Year 1 to Year 2 because of the offseason. We don't know how he'll fare now that he finally has had one healthy offseason. It has to have helped, as might the improved relations with his coaches and the fact his knee is one year further from surgery. Also, in the NFL, there are always teams that finished with horrible records who make the postseason. The Redskins have a ways to go to reach that point, but some team will go from few wins to the playoffs this year.

John Keim: It's a done deal. The NFL does not announce these suspensions until the appeals process is over. Anytime you hear about a possible suspension, like Cleveland's Josh Gordon, it's because it was somehow leaked. But once it's announced? It's over. Now we can finally move on from this chapter about a guy who was discussed for two years -- yet never played a game.

John Keim: They only have three quarterbacks on the roster so if they keep all three then, yes, he'll make it. With Griffin's durability always an issue it's probably wise to have three quarterbacks just in case. McCoy is not a practice squad candidate.

John Keim: Actually, the NFC East does not have a tough schedule. Nobody in the division has a schedule rated in the top 16 (based on opponents' 2013 winning percentage). It's tough to gauge a schedule's strength based on what a team did a year ago, but it's the way it's done. And it's very hard to go through and guess how a team will do based on offseason pickups -- some will improve, others will not. So I'll just go based off winning percentage for now. According to this metric, the Redskins have the NFL's 17th hardest schedule as their opponents had a .490 winning percentage in 2013. That's also the hardest one in the NFC East. The others: No. 18 Dallas (.488), No. 20 Philadelphia (.479) and No. 26 New York (.465). Remember, those teams' schedules look easier because of Washington's 3-13 mark.  

Some Washington Redskins news and notes for Friday morning:

Griffin
Briles on RG III: Baylor coach Art Briles watched his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, work out earlier this week. He saw a guy he used to see with regularity. "I think it's as fresh and uplifting as I've seen him in a long time quite honestly," Briles said on the SiriusXM Blitz Wednesday via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "The thing about ACLs: I've always thought they take a complete year to get over. And I think he rushed himself a little bit, just because that's the way Robert is. He's always going to be determined to do more than is humanly possible."

Briles' prediction? "So I think this year, I do think we'll see a very healthy RG III. I think we're gonna see a guy that's happy playing the game, that has a fire and attitude that you need to have a chance to be successful, because that's who he is."

Revisiting Week 1 2013: Steinberg also wrote about former Redskin Chris Cooley saying that Griffin should not have started the 2013 opener. It wasn't because of Griffin's health, but rather his readiness. Griffin was cleared by doctors and was ready physically. But it's clear in hindsight he was not prepared to play in an NFL game. Mike Shanahan did a bad job of managing Griffin, from not pulling him in the Seattle game despite his gut feeling to do so and to being afraid of how his moves were perceived by the young quarterback. If you have a conviction on something, do it. Instead, Shanahan did not and instead we got the mess of last December.

Jackson
More on Jackson: ESPN980's Chris Russell exchanged texts with safety Tanard Jackson, who told him his fourth suspension was not like the others, that it had nothing to do with marijuana. It's hard to buy any story from a guy in his position, regardless if you want to or not. Maybe it's true; maybe it's not. Bottom line: Whatever Jackson thinks, the NFL's ruling is the one that matters. They ruled he tested positive for violating the NFL's substance of abuse policy. It's over.

Power rankings: The Redskins ended the 2013 season ranked No. 31 in ESPN's power rankings. The rankings suggest they'll be better over the next three years -- but not by a whole lot. The panel of experts ranked Washington No. 24 Insider for what it could do over the next three years. That's a dropoff from last season and it stems from a fall at quarterback and coaching. They dropped 12 spots at quarterback and 19 at coaching from this time last year. The knock on Griffin traces back to his knee injury and a subpar season. And going from Mike Shanahan to first-time head coach Jay Gruden caused a tumble (of course, had Shanahan returned after such a bad season they might have fallen far regardless). It's not as if Gruden's hire was considered a great one at the time, so until he proves himself there will be split opinions on him. They also were knocked for the front office. The Redskins need Griffin to rebound and they'll climb in the rankings, but they also have to do a much better job building the defense. If Griffin plays well, the offense is in excellent shape. But the defense needs more help and will need several new parts after this season.
This and that from coverage surrounding the Washington Redskins:

Kerrigan
Kerrigan wants more: The fact that Ryan Kerrigan wants to stay with the Redskins long-term isn't exactly a big surprise. Even if he wanted to leave, Kerrigan is now signed through 2015 so there's no way he'd say so at this point. But what stood out a little more is when he told the Muncie (Ind.) Star Press that, "I'm tired of being consistent. I want to be consistently really, really good. I don't want to be just consistently average anymore. I want to be consistently good." Again, Kerrigan should say something like that. But it's a good, and proper, mindset. If Kerrigan wants to get big money in a couple of years he'll have to do more than he's done his first three seasons. Thing is, I believe Kerrigan when he talks this way. Again, having a coach devoted to teaching the outside linebackers rush techniques -- and getting away from guys who mostly focused on assignments -- will help.

Morgan agrees to service: Former Redskins receiver Josh Morgan agreed to do 32 hours of community service in order to have an assault charge dropped. Morgan was accused of punching a valet in the mouth for "looking in the direction" of a woman with the new Chicago receiver. Morgan said he didn't hit the man, though. Kind of a wild divergence of stories if that's the case. It's an unfortunate turn for Morgan, though the community service aspect is good for him. It's something he already does -- more so than anyone else in Washington the past two seasons. He also showed that he wasn't much help at receiver.

RG III ranking: My former partner and mentor Rick Snider didn't like ESPN's ranking of quarterback Robert Griffin III. A poll of executives and coaches (most current, some former) showed Griffin as the 19th-ranked quarterback in the NFL, in the third tier and tied with Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. I wrote about this last week, but Snider scoffed at this notion. You can't dismiss how people around the league perceive Griffin -- and this includes players, too. There are definite skeptics. And while Griffin has had a lot go right this offseason, and has worked hard, it's not as if he tore it up in spring workouts (he's still a young QB learning the game) so all that outsiders have to go on is: whatever they saw on tape and whatever they hear/read about him. I get the concerns over him, but so much is based on a subpar season in which a guy who desperately needed an offseason didn't have one. A year ago, before the injury (and perhaps even after), Griffin would have been a lot higher on the list. But he struggled as a pocket passer, was knocked by "anonymous" sources and his reputation took a big hit. If he has a big year, that ranking will shoot up. In other words: He can still change things. In a hurry. It would be interesting to talk to the same people a year from now to see how much opinions can change in one year and what the narrative is surrounding Griffin.

No more headdress: Amanda Blackhorse, who was part of the group that challenged the organization's nickname with the Patent and Trademark Office, said they targeted the Redskins first because they considered the nickname more offensive than, say the Chiefs or Indians. But those teams aren't off the hook, nor are their fans. While a small minority of Redskins fans -- or those of other teams for that matter -- dress in Indian garb, Blackhorse told the Grand Canyon News that no one should. "You can love Native Americans and not have anything against them, but yet your fans will do very bizarre rituals in these games that are very stereotypical of Native American people," Blackhorse said. "The headdress, the war paint, that's what I have a problem with," she said. "No matter how well ... you try to stage this sort of thing, you're always going to have that outcome."
A little this and that:

Bronzed: Baylor announced plans to build a statue of quarterback Robert Griffin III at its new stadium when it opens in August. This had been in the works for a while – Griffin knew about the possibility during the season and, in fact, had photos taken of him for the project a year ago-- but the project was completed in May. The 9-foot statue will be unveiled before Baylor’s game against SMU on Aug. 31. Griffin is Baylor’s lone Heisman Trophy winner and obviously was given a lot of credit for Baylor’s rise. At some point the school will have to find a way to honor its coach, Art Briles (perhaps when he’s done there).

On second thought: Ben Tribbett, hired by the Redskins as a blogger to help in the name battle, announced his resignation via Twitter after only two weeks. Tribbett said on Twitter that, “I don’t want to be a distraction to the team as the political attacks have shifted towards being personal towards me.” He added in a separate tweet that he wanted the debate to be over the name and not over what anything he has said or done in the past. Tribbett, considered a liberal blogger, had been vocal in his support of the name in the past. But he’s also the one who wrote harshly about former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen after he used the word “macacca” in a 2006 campaign. And Indian Country Today wrote about a few missteps by Tribbett in the past, including a tweet about an encounter at a casino. Tribbett tweeted, “Just took Chief for his last 300. I’d call it a scalping but that seems uncalled for.” Another move that backfired on the Redskins. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, their attempts to win the public over on the name front have not helped.

American Muscle: Receiver Pierre Garcon and nose tackle Chris Neild both will appear on the Discovery Channel series "American Muscle" this summer (it debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday). I’ll be talking to Mike Barwis, who worked with them on the show, Tuesday morning for a post later in the day. I'm curious to hear how this came about and what sort of work they did. Neild is on the bubble this camp while Garcon is coming off a record season. A key part of Garcon’s game is his ability to play physical. I’d say it’s underrated, but I don’t think that’s the case so I guess I won’t say that. But it does allow him to be effective on bubble screens and other short routes because he has an ability to break tackles. Among other players featured on the show: Seattle corner Richard Sherman.

Lauvao’s progress: Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster said of new guard Shawn Lauvao last month: “He got better every day. It was all new to him. He needs to get out there and play. He’s more of a practice guy; he needs to be out there doing it. Trent [Williams] can make a lot of guys look good when they play next to him. He’s doing a good job with Shawn teaching him how to do things and [Lauvao] made huge strides from voluntary minicamp.”

Oops! A college student was asked his opinion on the Redskins name – and it turned out to be a break the police in another town needed. Jacob Close, 25, and a Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania) University student, was spotted by Ithaca, New York, police in the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise after his picture ran in conjunction with a story on the Redskins name. Turns out Close was wanted for jumping bail in a drug/DUI-related case, according to the Press Enterprise. The paper reported that campus police had been searching for him for more than a month after being contacted by Ithaca City Police in May. For what it’s worth, Close said the team should keep the nickname but change the mascot to a potato.
Some Redskins items from recent days that you might have missed:

More work: Quarterback Robert Griffin III will work with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea next week. Griffin worked with Shea earlier this offseason for a week, but wanted another tune-up before training camp begins July 24. Shea focused hard on Griffin’s fundamentals, including narrowing his base, getting his feet to turn with his body in the pocket and raising where Griffin held the ball -- at times last year he held it too low, leading to a wind-up throw. Griffin clearly has worked hard this offseason. I'm curious to see how that pays off this summer and during the season. He’s also said to have his explosion back, as has been discussed for a while – as multiple people have talked about seeing a difference in that area. But the real key for him is developing in the pocket. Griffin needs to succeed without that extraordinary explosion, though it certainly does help when defenses fear your legs.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesWashington hopes the offseason work Robert Griffin III has put in will pay off in the fall.
Skepticism over RG III ranking: Last week Mike Sando wrote a terrific piece, ranking quarterbacks based on a poll of executives and coaches and evaluators . Griffin did not fare well, being placed as a tier 3 quarterback tied with Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. The rankings prompted Kevin Seifert to question why Griffin had fallen so far after just one bad season; he also asked if they had forgotten a record-setting 2012 season. People fall in and out of love quickly in the NFL and I think Griffin is the latest example. Watch how fast opinions change if he gets off to a good start.

Vinny on Snyder's fight: Former Redskins executive Vinny Cerrato knows Dan Snyder well, which is why he doesn’t think he’ll abandon his fight to keep the nickname. Snyder is not going to suddenly think the other side has a point, not when he views the matter much, much differently. Besides, what has been evident over the years is that he’s ultra-competitive and does not want to lose this one. Cerrato’s point is one that others have mentioned, too: The only way Snyder might relinquish the battle is if (and he stressed if) he somehow gets a new stadium out of it in a decade or so.

Family torn on name: The Wetzel family is a pivotal one in the Redskins’ battle over the nickname as Walter Wetzel is the one who designed the current logo used on the helmet since 1972. Wetzel’s son, Donald, tells The Washington Post – and has told other outlets in the past – that he’s proud of the name and the logo. But his nephew told the Post that he definitely is on the other side with his thoughts. Guessing this is a microcosm of the debate played out among Native Americans.

Redemption: A lot of Redskins have talked about getting the “bad taste out of their mouths” from last season. Niles Paul joined that chorus in an interview with Omaha.com. Paul said, “This is clearly a redemption year for us, and we want to let that be known.” I did a two-week look at players with something to prove, but there’s no doubt the organization as a whole has a lot to prove. But the Redskins have said the right things in the past only to do ... nothing. They can back up these words if Griffin rebounds, the pass rush is terrific, the tackling in the secondary is a lot better and the inside linebackers produce.
The lone mailbag this week -- yeah, cutting back for a change -- covers the Redskins' potential offensive sets; Bashaud Breeland; Jordan Reed and the Pro Bowl; Robert Griffin III's quiet offseason and more. Enjoy.

 
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: guard Chris Chester.

Chester
Why he has something to prove: He is coming off a tough season, he would save the Redskins $2.7 million in cap space and the team has two young alternatives behind him. Chester has never been a great player, but two years ago he was mostly solid. Then, the line benefited from multiple factors that helped their play: the scheme, a quarterback who could fool defenses with his play fakes and a strong running game that capitalized on the line’s ability to move. But like the others last season, Chester struggled when it became a one-on-one game with a lot of dropbacks -- and few targets capable of winning quickly. Chester is adept at moving laterally, but got himself in trouble against stronger players. Despite his play, the Redskins did not take him out of the lineup (he wasn’t the only one on offense having issues). But they drafted Spencer Long in the third round and have praised Josh LeRibeus for his offseason. It’s a lot to ask a rookie to start immediately, let alone one who missed most of his senior season. But they do like Long. If LeRibeus ever wants to be good, this is the year he asserts himself. But this means Chester must prove he’s not only better, but that he will still be that way throughout the season. Again, they could save money by cutting him.

What he must do: He’s not going to get much stronger or quicker. So he has to play the savvy vet role and hope the offense doesn’t require a lot of deep drops that take 3.0 seconds to pass. That was part of the problem a year ago, compounded by a quarterback in Robert Griffin III who was unable to develop in the offseason. Chester typically plays with a good base and consistent fundamentals. He also shows good awareness in protection. Occasionally he would try to help right tackle Tyler Polumbus, but by doing so would knock the rusher into a better position -- leading to a sack. Chester has to return to the level of consistency he showed in 2012, especially in the second half of that season. Again, the style of offense will help. Offensive lines are aided greatly by: receivers who win quickly; quarterbacks who make good, quick decisions and a scheme that doesn’t put them in bad spots. They have the receivers to win that way. Griffin can help with his reads, though that will be aided by the receivers winning sooner as well. It all works together. But Griffin will always extend plays when possible, so not every pass will be thrown in a hurry.

Projection: For now, Chester is the starter. And there could be a distinct difference between he and the two likely challengers for his job. It’s hard to know that not having seen LeRibeus play since last August and knowing that Long is a rookie and has a lot to learn. Both have to prove that Chester doesn’t warrant a spot. But Chester has to prove that he’s worth keeping around after a tough season.

RG III a top-10 fantasy QB

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
9:25
AM ET
Robert Griffin III should be a top-10 quarterback this season -- at least according to ESPN.com’s fantasy ratings. The Redskins, of course, hope that’s not just, well, a fantasy.

They’re clearly counting on not only Griffin reverting to form but also on him getting a big bump from receiver DeSean Jackson (and just better overall targets, with the addition of Andre Roberts).

The rankings placed Griffin seventh, with the first six being Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.

Here’s their rationale:

Griffin
“From a fantasy perspective, RG III actually had his share of highlights last season. He had six games of 19 or more points, after eight 19-point games during his breakout rookie season. Still, some of the underlying indicators last year weren't great. He was the NFL's 31st-ranked QB on passes thrown 10 yards downfield, registering only 9.7 yards per vertical pass attempt. It helps that he'll be throwing to DeSean Jackson, who had more vertical yards (905) than Redskins receivers Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson combined (813). Look for Griffin's on-field numbers to catch up with his fantasy numbers, but he's not in the elite tier at this point.”

My take: The struggles in downfield passing wasn’t a surprise and stemmed from a variety of reasons, starting with his own inaccuracy (aided by inconsistent mechanics). The line did not always allow him time to make certain throws; receivers did not always win routes. Add it up, and it led to him being ranked 31st in this area.

But in 2012, Griffin was second overall in this category, trailing only Colin Kaepernick (but when it came to quarterbacks who made at least 100 such passes, Griffin was tops). Griffin completed 74 of 127 passes of this distance with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. One note: His attempts were the 26th most in the league.

However, the overall point is that he was much better in this area as a rookie than he was a year ago. The Redskins did an excellent job of fooling defenses in the back seven, creating more gaps for him to find. Last season teams blitzed him more, with a greater variety, as well. At times his throws were off; other times he did not look comfortable in the pocket. Certain routes were covered better. There was rarely a good rhythm to the passing game, a function of multiple issues. But certainly Griffin’s lack of offseason and, therefore, development did not help.

Really, forget what this means to Griffin from a fantasy perspective, if he improves in this area, it will go a long way toward the offense being dangerous. With the new talent at receiver, and with a full offseason, Griffin can re-establish himself just by being more accurate on these throws.
  1. Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay praised quarterback Robert Griffin III for how he handled the offseason – physically and mentally. “He did an excellent job above the neck,” McVay said, “as far as absorbing the new system, some of the terminology. … He’s done an excellent job translating his knowledge in the meeting room onto the field, recognizing some of those looks. Some of the audible situations we’ll give him the opportunity to call things at the line. He’s shown he’s fully capable of doing it and that’s what gives him a great chance to have success this year.”
  2. Griffin did not call audibles the first two seasons, but in talking to players the past two years, the Redskins had built-in rules in their offense so that if a bad look presented itself, there were automatic checks to another option.
  3. Cord Jefferson wrote an interesting piece on receiver DeSean Jackson in ESPN The Magazine. One thing that jumps out is his father’s involvement in his life. We already knew about this, but Jefferson wrote about Jackson’s father having an argument with his oldest son Byron after the latter told him he was giving up football after stints in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League. Jackson’s father eventually pulled a gun on him, leading to them being estranged. That was broken because Byron Jackson returned to help groom his younger brother.
  4. But it also illustrates the pressure put on DeSean Jackson to succeed in the NFL by his father. It wasn’t always easy, though in the end it sounds as if Jackson understood it better. And the heavy role his dad played is what Griffin gets. It’s why Griffin feels as if he understands Jackson’s motivation, which in turn helps him relate better.
  5. For what it’s worth, the Redskins obviously were pleased with what they saw of Jackson on the field this spring. As one coach texted last week, “He’s the real deal.” That’s not a surprise given his talent and background, of course, but they are excited about what he’ll do in Washington. Then again, I doubt they’d say otherwise right now.
  6. OK, in case you missed the last week of the Redskins’ nickname controversy: Here’s a story on a school board in the state of Washington that said they won’t force the local high school, in a heavily Native American district, to change its nickname; Senator John McCain said the name should change; a Redskins Pride Caucus was formed by Virginia politicians tired of the controversy.
  7. Here’s something I stumbled upon about Redskins running back Lache Seastrunk. Before last college season, he guaranteed that he’d win the Heisman Trophy. Don’t believe me? Here’s his quote to the Sporting News, “I’m going to win the Heisman. I’m going to win it in 2013. If I don’t, I’m going to get very close. I’m shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it.” Seastrunk also told the Sporting News, “I feel like there’s no back who can do what I do. I know I’m the fastest back in the country. I know I’m the best back in the country. Nobody’s going to work harder.” Have to say, I like guys who aren’t afraid to say how they feel. Don’t forget, Seastrunk said this spring, “I don’t have any weaknesses.” This kid could be a reporter’s dream.
  8. This story by Phil Sheridan surprised me as well: In the last 10 years, the Eagles have a home record of 44-36 and their road mark was 45-34-1. It’s mystifying how a team that has largely been a playoff contender during this stretch hasn’t been better at home. They were only 4-4 at home last season as well, though they won their last four (before losing a home playoff game). In the last 10 years, the Redskins have gone 5-5 in Philadelphia. Players get a kick out of pulling into the parking lot in their buses, seeing little kids flip them off and seeing eggs splatter on the windows. By the way, Philadelphia has added 1,600 seats to the Linc for this season.
  9. If the New York Giants want their passing attack to flourish again, it would help tremendously if third-year receiver Rueben Randle becomes a consistent target. He caught 41 passes for 611 yards and a team-leading six touchdown receptions, which our Dan Graziano likened to a “little like being the tallest dwarf.” Graz has a way with words. Anyway, Randle had three games of 75 or more yards but 10 with 40 or fewer. That has to change. And Giants receivers coach Sean Ryan said recently, “I've seen a difference in his seriousness towards his work. This spring, I thought he was locked in. I thought he did a good job learning the new offense. Like I said, he's got some football intelligence to him. Things come to him. He sees things pretty well. But I thought he really worked hard at being locked into the meetings and on the field as well. I noticed a difference in him." Receiver is a tough position for young players to learn; we’ll learn a lot more about Randle after this season and the direction he’s headed.
  10. For the first time in a while, Dallas lacks star power when it comes to its pass rush. Not that anyone else in the division will feel sorry for the Cowboys, entering life without DeMarcus Ware (not to mention Jason Hatcher and his 11 sacks from this past season). The problem is, where will their rush come from? The best options are a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and a defensive tackle coming off ACL surgery (Henry Melton). Calvin Watkins explored that situation here.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
12:45
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In Part 1 of this week's mailbag, the topics addressed: Robert Griffin III's accuracy, the kicker battle, differences between Jay Gruden and other first-year coaches I've covered and more. Enjoy. John Keim: Underrated? Maybe underpublicized is a better word for now. But that's because, in part, it involves kickers and there's not a whole lot to write about until camp begins. You can record their accuracy in practice - and we will, trust me -- but it's the games that matter (unless you're Shayne Graham and look horrible in practice, too). I think that's when it will become a bigger deal. Yes, a rookie kicker is a gamble. But Kai Forbath had never attemped a kick in an NFL game until signing with the Redskins in the 2012 season. Keim: Concerned? Not sure I'd go that far. I don't think he's going to turn into a Peyton Manning pinpoint accuracy guy (have said this before, but one general manager I spoke to before the '12 draft was worried about Griffin's intermediate accuracy). Griffin can succeed without being that sort of quarterback because of his ability to extend plays. He also can be a big-play quarterback with his ability to throw deep (which was not a strength last year, but was in 2012). But I think the concern would be if the Redskins want him to become just a pocket passer. They said that's not the case, and though that's what they did this spring, part of that was done because he needs to develop in this area. He will miss some throws, as he did his rookie year (he left a lot of yards on the table that season, too; some by not throwing the ball). But if he hits the deep ball with regularity and if the offense creates good running lanes after the catch, it will offset any accuracy issues. Keim: I've been around two other first-year coaches in Norv Turner and Jim Zorn (Steve Spurrier at least had been a college head coach). Gruden is a better communicator than both Turner and Zorn. Like those two, he's a nice guy who would make a terrific neighbor. But Gruden might have a better feel for being a head coach, though it's hard to compare considering he hasn't coached a game yet. Zorn was just a bit goofy and always seemed overmatched as a head coach. At 6-2, I remember him talking about getting players back healthy for the playoffs. Whoops. Turner had a terrific offensive mind but he also was insecure and often blamed others for losses or bad plays. I don't see Gruden being an excuse-maker; have not heard the same things about his offensive mind as I did about Turner's. Gruden surrounded himself with solid coaches. He seems to coach with less of an ego and that's to his benefit and I think that separates him. One knock on Gruden was his lack of organization; I think the other two were better in this regard. Still, when coaches think they have it all figured out, it can lead to, oh, three last-place finishes in four years. I don't know that any of the three first-year coaches I've covered are great disciplinarians. Definitely not the first two; we'll find that out about Gruden. Keim: Sure. It's not as if the defense that season was great; what they did was cause turnovers (and they did improve in most areas in the second half). And if the offense is scoring well, then it probably means they've cut down on turnovers, which will greatly help the defense. Also, if the offense isn't always playing from behind, then the defense could have better pass-rush opportunities. They bolstered the rush this offseason (they hope), so that should play into their hands. By the way, they had suspect inside linebackers last season, too. It was not a strength. The big difference has to be the pass rush. Otherwise, they will be in trouble and be forced to rely on an explosive offense and causing turnovers. Keim: He'll have to hope the Redskins keep six corners, because that appears to be his only chance (barring injuries to others). And then it depends on how Richard Crawford looks in his recovery from the knee injury. Crawford's chances would be better if he shows he can still be effective as a punt returner, but the Redskins might just opt for Andre Roberts in that role. That would improve Minnifield's chances. He showed last summer that he could help in press coverage, but struggled in a variety of other looks. He's feisty, and my over/under on camp fights involving him is three. As for practice squad eligibility, yes, he still has some. Keim: Hmmm, tough one for the offensive side and it depends on if they keep nine or 10. If they keep nine, I'd expect the backups to be Mike McGlynn, Morgan Moses, Spencer Long and Josh LeRibeus. But if there's 10, or if one of those four win a starting job, I could see Tom Compton making the roster as well. Defensively, if everyone is healthy and assuming the starters are Chris Baker, Barry Cofield and Jason Hatcher (and that's subject to debate), then the backups should be Jarvis Jenkins, Stephen Bowen and Kedric Golston. If Bowen is healthy, the Redskins could opt for him at right end and save Hatcher more for rush situations. I think this group is fluid because of health situations.

Redskins starting lineup: Offense

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
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The Washington Redskins changed head coaches and, at least in the passing game, philosophies. But they didn't do a whole lot to the lineup with only two new starters (and one changed starter). But new coach Jay Gruden inherited an offensive lineup that already had key parts in place, almost all of whom were young. However, if the offense doesn't do better than the 20.9 points per game it averaged in 2013 (ranked 23rd; they were ninth in yards per game; points matter a lot more) there will be more changes.

Here is a look at their starting offensive unit after the offseason workouts (I'll look at the starting defense Thursday):

Offense

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III
Running back: Alfred Morris
Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson
Wide receiver: Pierre Garcon
Tight end: Jordan Reed
Tight end: Logan Paulsen
Left tackle: Trent Williams
Left guard: Shawn Lauvao
Center: Kory Lichtensteiger
Right guard: Chris Chester
Right tackle: Tyler Polumbus
Change from 2013: Lauvao and Jackson are the only new starters. Lichtensteiger shifted from left guard to center.

Note: I did not include a starting fullback because they will likely use two-tight-end sets more often, but obviously Darrel Young is their fullback. Last season in Cincinnati, then-offensive coordinator Gruden used two tight ends more than any other formation on first down (229 times; next highest was three receivers and one tight end at 112 times). Also last season, Cincinnati’s fullback played 63 snaps -- but received 206 snaps in 2012. Young is better than what the Bengals had, and his blocking was a key element in the Redskins’ run game, which will stay about the same. Still, I would not put him as a heavy participant and, therefore, not a starter. As for position battles, the one to watch for me is right guard. Also, I think Lichtensteiger is well suited for center, but if he struggles then Mike McGlynn has experience there as well -- and by all accounts performed much better at this position than at guard.

Spring standout: Jackson. When healthy, that is. But it was clear the sort of difference he could make because of his speed. The coaches definitely came away thinking he is for real, not that they were surprised considering his past.

Average age at start of camp: 27.09

Combined Pro Bowls: 7. Jackson (three), Williams (two), Morris (one), Griffin (one).

Starters 30 or older: 1 (Chester).
The Redskins could end up with at least three starters and perhaps four from the 2012 class. That would be considered a good haul by any measure (if they play well especially). Of course, this draft always will be measured by Robert Griffin III’s performance because of what they surrendered and the position he plays. Still, there’s a chance for the overall group to be productive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

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

Redskins notes: Tempers flare

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
2:33
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ASHBURN, Va. -- It felt like training camp: Temperatures threatened to reach 90 degrees in the morning and there was more back-and-forth banter. And, of course, there was a shoving match. It wasn't even the first scrap of the spring, but it was one of the more notable ones because it was a little more intense.

Defensive lineman Doug Worthington and offensive lineman Mike McGlynn were engaged on a play that ended up getting more heated. McGlynn grabbed Worthington's facemask and pulled his helmet off. They had to be separated and that was the extent of it.

"Sometimes competitive players push and shove," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We've just got to avoid that."

"I've never seen a guy take another guys facemask off," Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "That was impressive. Emotions are high; guys are ready to go."

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins will enter training camp with three quarterbacks, Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, who all ran through drills on Tuesday.
Yes they are. This wasn't the first time players snapped at one another in the spring. It happened during organized team activities when tight end Niles Paul and corner Chase Minnifield had words followed a week later by Paul and linebacker Adam Hayward.

But by this point of spring, players are more than ready to finally put on the pads so they can hit for real.

"There's no doubt they're ready," Gruden said. "Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, it's very difficult for them to handle these practices, without pads."

Jackson getting healthier: Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson said his hamstring is around 90 to 95 percent recovered. "That's good enough speed for me to get out here and work," Jackson said. The receiver missed nearly two weeks of OTA sessions because of a strained hamstring. He returned last week and looked better Tuesday.

Three QBs: Gruden said the Redskins will take three quarterbacks to training camp. Teams often take four or five to keep arms fresh. But Gruden wants to make sure the three quarterbacks he does have -- Griffin, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy -- get enough reps. Griffin, obviously, will get the majority of them in camp. If a quarterback gets a tired arm in camp, or if someone gets hurt, Gruden would have to find another one. "But I can also throw perfect spirals and complete passes," the ex-college quarterback said laughing.

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