Washington Redskins: Roy Helu

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

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

Running backs (4)

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

Receivers (6)

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

Tight ends (3)

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

Offensive line (10)

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

Defensive line (6)

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

Linebackers (9)

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

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

Safeties (4)

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

Specialists (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not assume the Redskins will see fewer eight-man boxes compared to last season. In 2013, Morris only ran 44 times against an eight-man box, which was six fewer times than he did so as a rookie. So it’s not a given he’ll pile up more yards because of fewer eight-man boxes. But given the success of the past two years and that Gruden wants to keep it mostly the same, there’s also no reason to think Morris or the Redskins’ run game will suddenly drop off. That is, unless Gruden falls too much in love with the weapons at receiver.
The Washington Redskins' 12-member draft class in 2011 was supposed to yield a number of key players. With those players entering the final year of their original contracts, it has not lived up to expectations -- or hopes. As of now, only one player will enter the season as a guaranteed starter and by this time next year it could well be that only a couple players remain from this group. Injuries didn't help as five of these players have missed an entire season or a substantial part of a year. Here's a look at how they stand:

LB Ryan Kerrigan (first round): Established as the starting left outside linebacker. He’s become a solid player for Washington and was off to a terrific start last season with 6.5 sacks in the first seven games. Kerrigan injured his knee and, though he said it did not cause any dropoff in his play, he also admitted he lost a little explosiveness because of how it felt (he had just two sacks in the final nine games). Like Brian Orakpo, he should benefit from the arrival of outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, defensive end Jason Hatcher and rookie linebacker Trent Murphy. Kerrigan does well moving around and rushing from the inside. He’ll need to get out of the habit of trying to mostly rush with contain. But if others are being effective, Kerrigan will have a solid year with his relentless style. The Redskins gave him the fifth-year extension, so he will return next season -- as he should.

DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.

WR Leonard Hankerson (third round): There’s no guarantee he’ll even be ready to start the season. He’s been inconsistent and has never become the player Washington’s previous staff hoped he would be. Injuries haven’t helped him at all. But Hankerson lacks any sort of explosiveness after the catch. He’ll have a tough time this season coming off his knee injury. Not the way he’d want to enter a contract year.

RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.

S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.

TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.

RB Evan Royster (sixth round): Will enter once again as a guy on the bubble. He was insurance last year and carried the ball twice and caught one pass. With Morris, Helu and Seastrunk, it’s hard to imagine Royster being anything other than insurance again. It will depend, too, on how Chris Thompson looks this summer -- and how many backs Jay Gruden wants to keep. Tough to see Royster being around in 2015.

WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.

CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.

OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.

LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.

NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

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

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
A lot of variety in Friday's mailbag, from Jordan Reed as a wildcat quarterback to how the Washington Redskins have the quarterbacks practice reading defenses and a little bit on the atmosphere at Redskins Park. Enjoy.

@john_keim: Well, the purpose typically of a wildcat quarterback is to have a run threat back there. The Redskins already have that in Robert Griffin III -- and he presents a much bigger problem overall for a defense because he can also pass. So why go away from that? I'm not a big fan of the wildcat, because 95 percent of the time it's a run. The zone-read threat is a lot better (the Redskins averaged 5.33 yards per carry from that look in 2013, the year it supposedly was figured out by defenses). And if the purpose is to let Reed throw, why would you want any other dual threat than Griffin? Finally, Reed is a lot bigger than when he was a quarterback. Smaller, shiftier guys work better in that role.

Keim: There are drills where they will have the quarterback look off a target and throw the other way. There are drills that emphasize checkdowns -- last week, for example, we saw a lot of these to running back Roy Helu. Just to reinforce what else is available and when to get the ball to him. Last season, Griffin sometimes stayed with his first target too long and the checkdown was no longer available. Then he would get sacked. (He was very good at throwing to the checkdown in the first game against the Giants). It's just something they have to continue to harp on, making sure your body is in the right position to go through progressions and then unload the ball. Some of it, too, starts with stronger pre-snap reads and knowing right away what might not be available. All of this comes with experience. They also can have the defense run certain looks that force the quarterback to dump down, too.

Keim: I've heard good things about his offseason, but it means nothing right now. Safeties always look a lot better in shorts. Last summer, for example, Bacarri Rambo looked fine as the deep man -- he was not flashy and I rarely saw him make big plays, but he was usually in the right place. A good start. Then we saw what happened when the games began and he struggled (just as bad at the end as in the beginning). So anything you read about safeties right now, you absolutely have to keep it in perspective. No idea how he will fare against the run until the games begin. Akeem Davis must help on special teams. The Redskins received too few contributions from their safeties on special teams last season. That is inexcusable.

Keim: Well, when they went to certain fronts last season they did ask them to be one-gap rushers. Also, they need to be careful about this because the whole key to their pass rush is getting teams into second- or third-and-long situations. If linemen are getting upfield too fast or vacating gaps, then offenses will take advantage (doesn't have to be bad, though. Arizona last season switched from a two-gap to one-gap 3-4 front). What will help their pass rush even more is adding more pass-rushers, such as Jason Hatcher and, they hope, Trent Murphy. They have more versatility at linebacker and a more diversified rush, with someone inside finally able to help.

Keim: The players were mostly together last season so that wasn't an issue. Yes, there were some who were upset/annoyed/frustrated with various teammates as happens in a 3-13 season. Most players were not, even privately, ripping their coaches last season. The issues mostly surrounded a small group of participants. That said, there is no drama hanging over the franchise -- or with the coaching staff and any players -- and that makes it appear things are more together. There is a bit of a breath-of-fresh-air attitude. And there is little doubt that right now there is more "togetherness" between Jay Gruden and Griffin. The key is whether that is still the case after the season.

Keim: I posted a video on this topic the other day, but the answer there -- and here -- is Andre Roberts. At least he's the safe choice right now given his experience, speed and desire to handle that role. DeSean Jackson should not be used as anything other than an occasional punt returner -- why wear him down and therefore limit his effectiveness on offense? I'll be curious to see what Richard Crawford can do as a punt returner when healthy this summer. But he does not return kickoffs. Santana Moss, if he makes the roster, is not a full-time punt returner anymore. Roberts is the best one for both roles as of now.

Keim: Honestly, I haven't paid enough attention to Spencer Long the past two workouts during organized team activities (that we could watch) to give a strong assessment. I liked what I saw of him in the rookie minicamp and in the first OTA. He moves well. But we need to see him in more situations and how he handles some of the one-on-one contact drills that they can't run during the spring. Every time they run their fast nickel, those three linebackers are in together. It will be used quite a bit. Brandon Jenkins would have done more in that role, but his inability to help on special teams kept him in active too often..

While counting down the days until they're in pads when we can really learn something, these are the things I’ll try to watch for during Wednesday’s OTA session open to the media:
  • Receiver DeSean Jackson. Is he practicing? You need to be cautious with players this time of year, but this is also valuable time.
  • The different ways players are being used. The Redskins worked their outside linebackers at different spots last week. They clearly plan to tap into the versatility of their top three outside linebackers. Sometimes things that are planned in May and June fall apart during the season. This one, I think, will stick.
  • Guard Shawn Lauvao. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time watching the free-agent pickup. Just want to see how he moves around, how he uses his hands. And then we’ll wait until the pads come on in August to learn a lot more.
  • Robert Griffin III’s passing. It was fine a couple weeks ago, but sporadic when we could watch last week. I’ve seen changes to his mechanics, how he’s consistently holding the ball higher to cut down the length of his delivery for example. Now we need to see some consistency in his accuracy. (Again, he was inconsistent in practices as a rookie, too. Just for point of reference. Last summer when we saw him he looked more off than on.) Griffin’s had a good offseason in terms of getting work done and tweaking his game. I do expect a bounce-back season, but to what extent?
  • David Amerson. Haven’t spent enough time watching him, just to see what sort of progression there is in his game. I do know he’s working a lot on press coverage, something he did not do in college and improved at throughout his rookie season.
  • The emphasis during practice. When we watched last week, they worked a lot on red zone situations from various spots. Griffin also dumped a lot of passes off to running back Roy Helu last week. Sometimes those are by design. In watching his games again from last season, Griffin needs to get to those checkdowns sooner; would have avoided more sacks. So if it’s a point of emphasis now, that’s a good thing, just to get in the mindset. I wouldn’t worry about him doing a reincarnation of John Beck versus San Francisco.
  • Rookie progression. Have to give them time, but what sort of steps have they taken? It’s tough to focus on everything, but is Morgan Moses doing a better job at all of staying lower and not bending at his waist? Is Bashaud Breeland cutting down on the holding/pass interference plays? That sort of stuff. Again, this will be a long process for all of them.
  • Haven’t seen a whole lot of Jason Hatcher this spring. He missed the session we watched last week for personal reasons. So I’m curious to see how he moves off the line, etc.
  • If any focus groups show up. OK, I doubt that will be the case. But apparently they used another focus group to gauge the feelings of various aspects of the organization – how fans think about owner Dan Snyder or president Bruce Allen, for example. I know this: They’ll like them a lot more if they win. No focus group needs to be used to determine that logic.
ESPN's fantasy sports writer Eric Karabell is taking a look at every NFL team for the Insiders page , checking out the storylines fantasy league players need to follow this summer.

Among this thoughts on the Redskins:

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

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

“Running back Alfred Morris will simply be underrated.”

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

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

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

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

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

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

May, 31, 2014
May 31
Can't get through a week without some mention of the Washington Redskins' name controversy. So here are some questions and answers on that, plus offensive line talk, Roy Helu and Leonard Hankerson. Enjoy

The Washington Redskins knew they couldn't count on a draft pick starting immediately, not without a first-round pick. If it happened? Great. So they filled their perceived immediate needs in free agency and hoped several in the draft class could fill roles, some more prominent.

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

Player: RB Lache Seastrunk

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

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

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

What he must work on: Everything that pertains to third downs. He will have to show in a game that his hands aren't an issue, either -- in the pass game or when it comes to fumbling. But this is not just about can he catch the ball; with work I’m sure he can improve if it is indeed an issue. But he needs to learn how to run routes out of the backfield, not just going to the flat but learning how to set up a linebacker and break free. Morris is still learning this. Seastrunk also has to improve in protection; in college he would do it but not with the fire of, say, Clinton Portis (who was unusual in this regard). But Seastrunk will have to learn how not only to block, but who is coming and from where. It takes time. Seastrunk also has to learn how to run out of an I-formation, among other things. He's a good one-cut runner especially when he doesn't try to hit a homer each time. He'll need to learn when to bounce against NFL defenders, but he showed in college he could be an exciting runner.
The first two seasons resulted in big rushing yards and much acclaim. Not to mention a desire for more. Alfred Morris wants it; the Redskins say he can do it. More catches. More yards downfield. More production overall. Former running backs coach Bobby Turner would tell Morris that he was leaving yards on the field. Current running backs coach Randy Jordan delivered the same message.

“You can always find room for improvement,” Morris said by phone. “It’s good to have different coaches who can critique you more because they have an outside perspective.”

Morris has rushed for a combined 2,888 yards in his first two seasons. But he’s caught only 20 passes and both Turner last year and Jordan this offseason have told him he could gain more yards downfield, turning good runs into much longer ones.

First, the passing game. At the owners meetings, coach Jay Gruden said Morris could develop into a 20- to 25-catch running back. Clearly the Redskins would want someone else to handle the third-down role, whether it's Roy Helu this season or Lache Seastrunk in the future.

But with the weapons Washington has at receiver, Morris could be a forgotten man by defenses on early downs. Therefore, it would be wise for him to improve in this area. It’s not just about his hands, though. He said he needs to do a better job running routes against man coverage.

“My focus is building confidence in the quarterbacks as well as the coaches to let them know I can catch,” he said. “I know I can catch the ball.”

Gruden said, "Obviously we want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren't the most natural, but it's something you can work on."

For Morris, it’s about winning more often on his routes. He said he talks to the receivers and even Helu about running routes.

“I can get better,” Morris said. “Sometimes you get that linebacker that’s real grabby and how to get away from them and set them up is something I never had much experience doing. [Helu’s] one-on-one routes where he wins, sometimes I’m like, ‘How did you do that?’ I always pick brains so I can better myself.”

As for more yards downfield, Morris did lead the NFL with 10 runs of 20 yards or more. He also had five carries that resulted in 30-plus yards, but only one that went at least 40. Morris was sixth in the NFL in yards per rush on those 20-plus runs (29.80), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Morris improved his agility last offseason; this offseason he’s trying to work on a mindset.

“Usually it’s a safety and me or a corner and it’s just making a guy miss to get an extra 2 or 3 or 20 yards,” Morris said. “It’s just being a smarter ballplayer. Sometimes I get caught indecisive in between moves or which direction [to go].”
The Washington Redskins wanted to find a back who could become a big-time threat as a pass catcher. It's why they expressed initial interest in Darren Sproles, had he become a free agent.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsLache Seastrunk was an explosive runner -- leading Baylor with 1,177 rushing yards in 2013.
They drafted Lache Seastrunk in the sixth round hoping he could become that guy. He doesn't need to be that player in 2014, not with Roy Helu still on the roster. But Helu is a free agent after this season, so Seastrunk -- if he shows he can handle this role -- could become his eventual replacement.

What I liked: His acceleration and ability to change directions and swerve without losing speed. Made a lot of "wow" runs thanks to this ability -- sometimes only for a few yards. Was at his best when hitting the hole with patience, letting a defender commit to a side and then bursting the other way. Shows excellent balance and body lean. Won't break tackles, but can make defenders miss with his feet. Was good at setting up defenders, getting them to lean one way and cutting back -- but could do it more consistently. When he does, his ability to accelerate is enhanced. On occasion, was able to burrow forward in short-yardage or goal-line situations. While some have questioned his power, there were examples to show good leg strength. Once had a guy try to drag him down by the pads; Seastrunk was almost bent over backwards yet righted himself and gained several more yards. Another time I paused the frame because it looked like he was about to sit down with defenders holding onto him and another about to hit him, yet he still gained three more yards. Capable of being held down for a while and then having an explosive run. Works well when an offense can spread the field. Sometimes in space, defenders look like a batter in baseball trying to hit a knuckleball. Had five touchdown runs of 68 yards or longer.

What I didn't: Seastrunk likes to bounce runs outside quite a bit. At times he was able to cut it up and take what was available. But oftentimes Seastrunk tried to hit a homer and it would occasionally cost him -- though it clearly worked to Baylor's benefit as well. He'll have to learn to run straight ahead better. He has good speed -- a 4.51 in the 40 at the combine -- but he'll be facing faster defenders and bouncing all the time won't be beneficial. Keep in mind, Sproles' 40 time at the combine was a 4.47, so it's not a huge difference. Seastrunk is inexperienced as a pass catcher -- just because he caught the ball at a pro day against no defenders doesn't mean he can do it in games. Seastrunk will have to prove he can. He was OK at best in pass protection, though he didn't do it with a lot of verve -- and certainly without the violence of a Clinton Portis or Tim Hightower. Did not always like his recognition and ability to help others in protection. Did not have the same issues as Chris Thompson in terms of durability in college, but it also was a knock against him.

Summary: Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick, would have gone higher if not for questions/concerns about catching the ball. Or if he had done it more in college (Baylor does not throw to its backs). To be a good third-down back you also need to pass protect and this will take time. Seastrunk will need to adjust to facing consistently fast defenders, knowing when he can bounce and when he can't. What he can't become is a guy who loses a lot of yards while trying to turn every run into a long one. But if he does, then he has a good shot to help and will be fun to watch as a different dimension off the bench.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The easy part is looking at the Washington Redskins' draft and scratching your head. Or at least wondering if they got good value with any of these picks.

It's why I debated giving them a thumbs down and, perhaps, I should have. The problem is, I like that they addressed the pass rush. They took the guy they felt -- not what anyone else felt -- was the best pass rusher left on the board in Trent Murphy.

I like that they drafted Morgan Moses in the third round instead of the second. And I like that they added a third draft choice. The problem is, their last pick of the night, Spencer Long, is coming off torn ligaments and the reports on him were mixed. Some liked him; others did not. Some projected him in Rounds 3 and 4; others thought maybe a little later. Who's right? No idea.

So it depends on who you listen to as to whether he was a bad pick or a reach. But the Redskins needed to address their interior -- as much for the future as for this season. If Long comes through, he could be that guy. If not, he'll be added to the list of young guards who haven't made it in Washington.

ESPN980 reported that the Redskins were hoping running back Tre Mason would have lasted to the 78th pick, especially after running back Charles Sims went earlier. Those would have been interesting picks because they would have provided the backfield a little more pop, something it could use. While Chris Thompson has speed, he's not durable and the Redskins need more than what Roy Helu has provided.

The problem that I have with the Redskins' offseason -- and this is a function of changing regimes -- is that they found it necessary to sign a starting guard in free agency, add a veteran backup (who can also play center) and then draft one. All with three young guards on the roster. Perhaps one of those three eventually bumps Chris Chester from the lineup. If not, that's a lot of time invested on nothing.

But the first two picks are the most intriguing. Murphy's another guy that some will love and others will not, at least at 47. Regardless, the Redskins added a player who should help their pass rush. A year ago they tried to bring extra heat with Darryl Tapp, more of a run-stopper, and Brandon Jenkins, an unrefined rookie. It didn't work. There was no real threat outside of Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan.

Now the Redskins might -- and I stress might -- have options in the rush. They have Orakpo and Kerrigan. They have Jason Hatcher inside. And they have Murphy's versatility. He doesn't have to be The Guy here; he just has to play off three other solid pass rushers. If he can, then the Redskins will add another dimension to their defense.

Had the Redskins selected Moses high in the second, it would have been a bad pick in my mind -- though not in others. His play was too inconsistent to warrant such a selection, but in the third? Good value. Now he just has to clean up his game and develop.
Taking a look at selected players leading up to the NFL draft, which begins May 8. The reports are based on watching multiple games on draftbreakdown.com; I'll let you know when there's an opinion other than my own. I'm not a fan of having to only watch them off a TV feed -- you don't always get the best angle, or see all the players -- but it's the best I can do now and it helps provide a snapshot. The draft analysts -- especially those from ESPN.com, NFL.com and CBSSports.com --- help fill in the gap, especially in terms of where they're projected.

Player: Charles Sims

School: West Virginia

What he plays: Running back

College production: Graduated from Houston and played one year for West Virginia. He was ruled ineligible by the NCAA in 2010 for an undisclosed reason. Ranked second in the Big 12 last season with 1,549 all-purpose yards; among them: 1,095 rushing yards and 401 receiving. He caught 203 passes in his career.

How he’d fit: As a pass-catcher out of the backfield for quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins have two players who might be able to fill that role now in Roy Helu and Chris Thompson. The latter could be an interesting player, but major durability concerns lead to him being a big question mark. At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Sims offers better size than Thompson and, perhaps, greater durability. Also, Redskins coach Jay Gruden used Giovani Bernard in a dual role last year so clearly he knows the value of such a back.

What I like: His ability to catch the ball. Very soft hands. Against TCU, saw him catch a ball that was a bit low as he turned upfield from the flat, never breaking stride. Was very smooth. Sims moves well in the open field, able to cut and still go forward with speed and accelerates well. He made a lot more defenders miss after catches than on his carries. Sims makes defenders miss in space with a quick juke or plant-and-cut. Some of his best runs from scrimmage resulted in short gains, but showed him eluding immediate pressure in the backfield (the West Virginia line was not so hot) and still gaining a few yards. So he seems to have good awareness and vision. Sims has experience running out of the pistol formation (it’s what he mostly did) and with inside zones. He was fine on draw plays. Though there were too many short runs, there was the occasional carry in which his quick feet stood out. He didn’t shy away from blocking and, when he got it right, he showed a good base and kept his head up. Sims’ one-cut ability makes him a better fit in a zone running game (which, of course, the Redskins use).

What I didn’t like: He didn’t make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage and, as a runner, typically just gained what was available and didn’t make many yards after contact in the games I watched. In fairness, his line was terrible. He would occasionally lower his shoulder, but still went down easier than you’d like. Sims was inconsistent as a blocker in pass protection. There were times he took on a defender with his head down, leading to a missed block. (Next time: head up, good block. So it’s in him and my guess is with more work he would be a lot more consistent.) As a runner from scrimmage he didn’t always set up his blocks well, though that too was inconsistent because at times I did see him press the hole, draw in a defender and cut back. There’s some of Helu in him in that Sims would lack patience and cut back too fast. Again, the line was so bad at times it might have caused impatience. He was too upright going through the hole, leaving him little power to break free and causing him to be tackled too easily.

Where he’s projected: Middle rounds. Sims visited with Washington, so there’s at least some interest in what he offers. His best role appears to be as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Sims had a strong week at the Senior Bowl; former NFL general manager Phil Savage called him the best back of the week. So he's intriguing. Sims might be able to return kickoffs, but he did it only four times for 53 yards in college (all at West Virginia).

Other players examined:

Morgan Moses

Demarcus Lawrence

Chris Borland