Washington Redskins: Ryan Clark

Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

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

Running backs (4)

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

Receivers (6)

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

Tight ends (3)

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

Offensive line (10)

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

Defensive line (6)

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

Linebackers (9)

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

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

Safeties (4)

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

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job.

Camp preview: Washington Redskins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Redskins have to prove they are not a boom-or-bust defense. They tackled poorly in the back end last year, one reason they ranked 32nd in yards per pass attempt at 7.58. They have a new starting inside linebacker, Keenan Robinson; since being drafted in 2012, he has 11 career tackles, two torn pectoral muscles and zero starts. Safety Ryan Clark has been a solid player and is a terrific leader, but he needs to show he can still play at age 34. If a defense needs to be strong up the middle to win, the Redskins have this: a solid nose tackle in Barry Cofield, question marks at inside linebacker, and question marks at safety. While Griffin’s play garners the headlines, the defense holds a major key to success.
When the Redskins lost Tanard Jackson before the 2012 season, they also lost their starting safety. So they turned to Madieu Williams, who proved he was best as a backup.

This time, the Redskins weren’t counting on anything from Jackson. From the time he was reinstated, they made it clear that anything he gave them was a bonus. And the longer the spring went on, it was evident that he was not competing for the starting job – whether it was because the coaches knew how far he had to go or the wheels of another suspension already were in place.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clark
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesOffseason acquisition Ryan Clark will be counted on to lead the secondary from his free safety spot.
Oh, Jackson also told ESPN980’s Chris Russell that he plans to appeal. Problem is, the NFL does not announce suspensions until the appeal process is over. There are no more appeals to be made. It’s done. Over. And it’s also hard to believe someone when they say “this time is different” -- as he texted to Russell -- when they have his background of issues.

Regardless, the Redskins likely will keep five safeties (they could always go with six corners and four safeties; or six and five. The ability of some of the corners to be more versatile in coverage helps). They almost have to sign another safety (yes, Reed Doughty is still unsigned though as of late Thursday morning he had not yet been contacted by the Redskins but he has been in talks with other teams; Jose Gumbs remains unsigned for that matter). What’s clear: It’s not a deep position, with many question marks. That was true before Jackson’s suspension as he was a question mark as well, considering he hadn't played in two seasons.

Anyway, here’s a look at the position now:

Ryan Clark: Still the starter. He was clearly ahead of Jackson when it came to running the show in the secondary at free safety. When Clark was on the field the communication was loud and crisp. You knew he was out there. When Jackson was on the field, he was way too quiet in comparison. Clark just needs to prove he can still be an effective starter.

Brandon Meriweather: Jackson played free safety while Meriweather is more in the box. He’ll still open camp as the starter. Another who has something to prove, but with Clark here at least Meriweather will be able to play more in his comfort zone near the line of scrimmage.

Phillip Thomas: Another strong safety. He’s coming off the Lisfranc injury (and surgery). While he looked fine in the spring, the preseason games will be revealing. He has a lot he needs to show before anyone can rightly talk about him becoming a starter.

Bacarri Rambo: He’s helped by Jackson’s absence because he’s a free safety. Rambo still has to show he can help on special teams, which should be a prerequisite for any backup at this position (finally, it is). I wouldn’t put Rambo on the roster just yet, but Jackson’s suspension helps him.

Akeem Davis: Davis went undrafted out of Memphis in 2013 and, though he was with Seattle for its rookie minicamp, he was not on anyone’s roster -- or even practice squad -- last season.

Trenton Robinson: Special teams guy, but the Redskins need that. However, he’ll also have to show he could help from scrimmage in a pinch. He’s small at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds but has good speed.

Madison Ross: A local kid, having played high school ball in nearby Leesburg, Virginia. But he’s an undrafted free agent so, entering camp, he’s a long shot to make the roster. Things can change, but there’s no way to view it any other way at this point.
The sad part of the tale for Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson is that he got another chance. And another one. And another one.

And now he deserves no more, after news Wednesday that the NFL has suspended Jackson again for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. It's sad because he keeps doing this to himself. It's sad because whatever he's doing with his personal life now has such a hold on him that he's tossed away a precious career, one that could have set himself and his family up for life.

Now, it's no longer about football for him -- and, in truth, it hasn't been for a while. Rather, it's about beating a far tougher opponent than what he faced on the field, one that could destroy him. Yes, Jackson has made bad choices. Yes, he put himself on this path. But do you really think this is the path he wants? Being suspended four times by the NFL, causing anguish for his family and personal embarrassment? Taking drugs puts your life on a slippery slope; you can choose to do them for a while and then, after a while, they choose for you.

My colleague Mike Jones pointed this out on Twitter earlier Wednesday, but it's true: When asked in May about changes he had made to his lifestyle, Jackson really didn't have a lot to say. It would have been easy to say he stopped going to certain areas, or that he'd been in rehab, or he stopped hanging around certain people. He did talk about having to change his lifestyle. The problem is, issues with drugs become a shadow, something that's impossible to outrun without a lot of work or help.

When he returned, the Redskins were not expecting a lot from him unlike when they signed him in 2012 and anticipated him being a starter. They were left with an ineffective Madieu Williams when Jackson was suspended that August.

Now they have Ryan Clark, who was firmly ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. He's reliable, available and a leader. The only way Jackson would have bumped him from the lineup is if Clark's play had slipped. Or if Jackson had somehow regained some past glory.

I also thought it was a little odd that Jackson was not in great shape when he returned. I would have thought he'd have been working hard to get ready and take this last chance seriously. It wasn't as if he was grossly out of shape, but he admitted that staying in shape wasn't at the top of his priority list. No, it most certainly shouldn't have been. But it should have been part of an overall package of turning his life around.

Again, it's a shame. Jackson did this to himself, and he knows it. He didn't let fans down, he let himself down. And, yes, while I know some do not have any sympathy for him, he still warrants it. You know him as a player; he's more than that. His career is over. But his fight continues.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
OK, I have to admit that I lied to you: Turns out I could -- and did -- do a second mailbag this week. Saw more questions, got a burst of energy and here it is, with topics ranging from culture shift to Robert Griffin III's study habits, the secondary and the defensive line. Enjoy.

John Keim: Let's not get too carried away with this just yet because the culture was changed dramatically when Mike Shanahan was hired too. A lot of the stories at that time focused on that very topic. He was trying to bring in players with a certain mindset and he had that winning aura. And then they finished last in three of his four seasons. So his changes did not lead to the one change everyone wants. The culture of an organization always starts at the top. But in terms of the coaching hire, that was on Bruce Allen and then the subsequent assistant hires was on both he and Jay Gruden. There is a positive energy right now with the coaching staff and players and a good vibe among the players, but until they win -- and do so consistently -- it will always be about "changing cultures" at Redskins Park. And they'll try to do so every four years. Keim: Griffin receives a lot of credit for how hard he works; part of that includes studying film. I know he watches a lot of film, but the bottom line is right now the area that people want to see him improve involves pre-snap reads, getting off primary reads faster. Once he starts doing that, you'll hear more about the other habits that go into that improvement, like film study. To be honest, not sure I've read a lot or heard a lot about other young quarterbacks and how much film they watch. If you're a starting quarterback in the NFL it's assumed that you watch a lot of film. Griffin is no different. Really, it's not about watching film as much as it is processing what you're seeing. It takes a couple years for any young quarterback (or player for that matter) to reach a comfort level in this area. Many, many times I've talked to players about watching film and they consistently say it took them a while to do it well. Keim: I need to see them in game action. I need to see if the safeties are tackling better, what Ryan Clark has left, if David Amerson has improved and if Brandon Meriweather is more consistent. It is impossible to tell most of that from watching them work in just shorts and a helmet. I do like what I saw from Amerson and in what I heard from him. He had a good grasp on what he needed to be doing to improve. In less than a month we'll get a chance to see how he's really doing. As for the starters, it's easy right now: Amerson and DeAngelo Hall at the corners; Meriweather and Clark at safety. They need Clark's leadership deep, but they also need to make sure he can still play at a certain level. Keim: They'll typically keep five, including one fullback. Gruden kept a fullback in Cincinnati and Darrel Young has improved as a blocker during his time in Washington. He helps the run game and he helps on special teams too. But really this will depend on what they do at other positions. My guess is they'll want to keep nine or 10 offensive linemen. Would they really keep two kickers? How many safeties and corners? Usually 10 are kept, but they were willing to go with 11 two years ago. Would they really want to go with three running backs and a fullback -- or four running backs and no fullback? Last year's fourth running back, Evan Royster, barely played. They could always keep one on the practice squad just in case. Keim: My main issue with their line is not where they rank but their age. They have four potential defensive linemen 30 years or older -- and three of them will be coming off surgeries. So there's concern here. If they're healthy and if Jason Hatcher plays well if Chris Baker comes through to give them a young rusher, then I think this group will be fine. They'd have more depth and versatility than a year ago. The line did a solid job against the run last year; their issue was a lack of pressure. But if Hatcher has durability issues because of his knee and Stephen Bowen does not return to a solid level and Jarvis Jenkins still can't do much in nickel ... then they will have issues. They're a question mark, like many parts of the defense. 

Something to prove: Ryan Clark

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
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: safety Ryan Clark.

Why he has something to prove: Any player still in the NFL at age 34 has something to prove (heck, they all do, but stay with me here) -- and he turns 35 during the season. Can’t imagine anyone ever expected this to be the case way back when he was an undrafted and undersized safety, but Clark developed into an excellent player because of his toughness and smarts. But Pittsburgh let Clark leave, opting for someone younger and faster (Mike Mitchell). Word out of Pittsburgh was Clark had lost a step. That’s not surprising given his age. Clark was never a burner and relied on knowing where to be and when. Clark often lined up a little deeper, sometimes 20-25 yards in certain coverages and depending on the offense, to compensate for any lost steps. A quarterback who throws with anticipation could take advantage of any lost steps. Clark will need help from the pass rush so any slowing down doesn’t become an issue. He did play in the box when warranted and covered backs on occasion.

What he must do: Make the plays that are available. Clark is not and never has been a playmaker. What he has been is a tough-minded, physical and smart player. You can't have a tough defense without such players, and the Redskins did not have enough of them defensively in recent years. The Redskins could have used a guy like that in the secondary for a long time. When watching his tape from last year, it’s evident Clark still likes getting involved in the action, coming up hard against the run, for example. Maybe Pittsburgh saw that less than it had in the past, but compared to what the Redskins have had, it’s an improvement. His intangibles are real and, provided he can still play, he’ll be a leader. That much was evident this spring. But Clark will have to show he can still come up and tackle; he did so for the most part last season (career-high 104 tackles) -- though there were some misses. How will he handle an offense like Philadelphia's that demands good open-field tackling? Dallas and New York also will use the entire field. The Redskins just need steady, reliable play at safety. If Clark provides that, he’ll be a good one-year investment.

Projection: Starting free safety. Unless Tanard Jackson shakes off two years of rust and unless Bacarri Rambo improves dramatically, then Clark is the guy. The other two can’t touch him in intangibles. The question will be what is the impact on Jackson having missed the past two seasons? But Clark does well anticipating plays and alerting others as to what might be coming. That helps. Linebacker London Fletcher used to do that, too, but it was clear in 2013 that he was done. The Redskins hope Clark has one more solid year left, and he can perhaps mentor some of their younger players.

Something to prove: DeSean Jackson

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
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: Receiver DeSean Jackson.

Why he has something to prove: Unless you missed the offseason you’ll probably know the answer. Anytime a team releases you, regardless of the reasons, it’s going to result in a chip on your shoulder. Or, at least, it should. For Jackson, it’s not about his ability. His career is proof that he’s a playmaker. The question surrounds other issues that will take time for him to prove they were either wrong or accurate. Does he handle himself like a professional? Is he good in the locker room? Those sorts of things. Those take time to unveil and they can’t be underestimated. It was a knock on him in Philadelphia, even before his release and the subsequent stories. But one thing that stands out with Jackson is loyalty, as this ESPN the Magazine article spells out once again. The Redskins embraced him immediately (quarterback Robert Griffin III has made it a point to get to know him, wanting to understand Jackson and his motivation better. Griffin gets him, especially his feelings toward his late father.) If that matters to Jackson then he’ll reward his new team with good behavior. He signed a three-year deal but the Redskins can cut him after two years with a cap savings. It would be a bad look for him if that happened. At that point he’d be an aging fast receiver who was cut by two teams in three years. But if he handles himself right, in three years he’ll remain a valuable commodity. Then? Cha-ching.

What he must do: Be himself on the field and a non-issue in the locker room. Handle your business; be on time, etc. Jackson is not a perfect receiver; he’s not much of a blocker, which will hurt in the outside zone run game. But anyone who thinks he’s not dangerous hasn’t watched him. Jackson has a knack for creating several yards of separation for a couple reasons. One, he’s quick in and out of cuts. But, more importantly, defensive backs have to – have to – be concerned with his deep speed. So comebacks and hitches work well. And if you sit on those, he’ll go deep. If you’re a safety or corner who does not turn well, you’ll be exposed. You have to honor his fakes because if not he’ll burn you. There are ways to handle him and good, physical corners have had success. Again, he has flaws and a way he can be contained. But even in those games he’s capable of one huge play that makes a difference (see: Redskins/Eagles, Monday Night Football, 2010, Landover, Maryland). It’ll take him longer to prove himself in the locker room because there are so many situations to go through. How he handles a tough game; a tough stretch; not getting enough passes. The Redskins’ leadership also has to guide him properly – that means players such as safety Ryan Clark, unafraid to speak truth, and corner DeAngelo Hall and Griffin. And it could (will?) provide a good test for a first-time head coach in Jay Gruden and the organization.

Projection: Obviously Jackson will start. The question is, who will get the bulk of the passes? My feeling, still, is that Pierre Garcon will be the volume guy. Before last season’s 82 catches, Jackson’s career high in receptions was 62. If Jackson catches between 60-70 passes, he will be impactful – don’t forget, there’s a trickle-down effect with his presence. Though Jackson was considered a risky pickup, it’s not as if he ruined the Eagles. During his six seasons, they made the playoffs four times, ranked in the top 10 in points scored five times and in the top 10 in total yards four times. The Eagles took a risk on him and were rewarded for a while.
The Washington Redskins didn't ditch their defensive boss, even after a rough year and a coaching change. But they did tweak the lineup and it's possible that nearly half of the players who start this season will be new to the lineup, though only two would have been added in the offseason (Jason Hatcher, Ryan Clark). Washington's biggest change is that it plans to alter the pass rush, which is one reason the Redskins hired outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, a pass-rush specialist. The Redskins also added linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, who will also be a big help.

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


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

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

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

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

Average age at start of camp: 28.18

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

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

Special teams

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

Change from 2013: Malone and Roberts are new.

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

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..

Jay Gruden energizes Redskins

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
Jay Gruden AP Photo/Nick WassIn a short time, Jay Gruden has brought a more relaxed atmosphere to the Washington Redskins.
The energy is different, as it always is when there’s a new coach. New drills, new voices, a new vibe, new storylines that don’t involve backroom drama. The Washington Redskins needed it, badly, after a 3-13 season punctuated by anonymous swipes at star players and a few at the coaches. Reputations were altered; the direction of the franchise changed.

Life is calmer now for the Redskins. (Well, if you don’t count the storm over their nickname.) That’s the result of hiring Jay Gruden, whose candor, insight and friendliness provides the franchise a breath of fresh air. But also an unknown: Though opinion around the NFL was split on his hiring, Gruden has passed the first test of his tenure by laying a solid foundation. And the Redskins head into training camp next month energized.

It’s about a new trust, felt by players and coaches. Gruden has made it clear from the get-go: This is about the players. There’s a different level of ownership by the players and even some of the coaches. Maybe it helps that Gruden took a different path to reach this point, starring in the Arena League for many years, but he coaches without much of an ego, or at least not one that overwhelms him. He didn’t come to Washington with a system, he came with beliefs in what he wanted to run and fused them with what worked well here in the past. Not all coaches operate that way.

Any change after such a disastrous season feels like a good one. Any new voice feels like the right one, especially when the new guy is a lot different than the old one. Mike Shanahan loved having total control; Gruden favors delegating authority. Shanahan did not jump into drills to provide a look for the offense (others would); Gruden will do just that. Not that one way is the right way. And, of course, one of them won Super Bowls and the other hasn’t won an NFL game yet. That’s why, for now, all we know is that the offseason has been a mostly good one for the Redskins.

The feel-good offseason started with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s work. He got the necessary work in that he could not get last season because of his knee. He worked hard on his mechanics and will continue to do so; he looked much more relaxed around Gruden than under Shanahan. He’s not wearing a brace; he can be more himself. He’s as confident as he’s been in a while.

However, Griffin also is still learning to be a pocket passer. That doesn’t just mean throwing a pass from the pocket, but also knowing when to run and where and how quickly to go from your first option to your second or third. It doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do it, but it does mean there’s an ongoing transition that will take time. Nor does it mean he won’t make plays in the process. If he’s more himself, why wouldn’t he? There are things he does well as a passer; the trick for Gruden is incorporating those while he improves in other areas. Knock the Shanahans all you want, they coaxed a terrific season from a rookie quarterback two years ago.

DeSean Jackson’s arrival might not be the same feel-good story because there’s some risk involved, but it certainly can be cause for optimism. The guy is a playmaker; the Redskins needed a playmaker.

But Jackson is an emotional player, and the Redskins need to successfully harness that and know how to deal with him. The good news for Washington is that Griffin made it a point to learn what motivates Jackson and bond with him. That helps now; it needs to pay off during the season.

The defense can feel good, too. It added pass-rushers in Jason Hatcher and, the Redskins hope, Trent Murphy. They have a vocal leader at safety in Ryan Clark. They’ve added two outstanding linebacker coaches in Kirk Olivadotti (inside) and Brian Baker (outside), the latter of whom has focused heavily on pass rush techniques. They’ve talked a great game about a more aggressive pass rush.

But as the Redskins exit the spring, Hatcher is coming off knee surgery, joining two other key players along the defensive line in that regard. The defense might have five starters 30 years or older and there are questions about what certain players have left.

Then there’s Gruden. Players have talked about the new energy in practices, stemming from him and his new hires. Coaches like him because they have more freedom -- to hire, to implement ideas, to coach. It matters. It’s too early to say he changed the culture; Shanahan was said to have done the same thing. But Gruden has changed the mood. There’s a different level of passion, stemming from his energy and the coaches. It rubs off on players. Because of that, it (should) enable him to command the room, a pre-hire criticism. That is, as long as you bring in the right players who won’t abuse that trust. It’s a fine line.

Is he organized enough? That was a knock before he was hired. Then again, his offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, is ultra-organized. Can Gruden command the room? How will he handle it if the defense struggles and he feels they should tweak or change their coverages or philosophy? Or how will he handle in-game adjustments, clock management? Player discipline?

We’ve learned a lot about Gruden, but there’s so much more to learn -- questions that can’t be answered until the season begins. Until then, the Redskins can feel optimistic. They’ve been at this point before. The next step has always been the hardest.
  1. Ryan Kerrigan did not practice Wednesday because he was a “little sore” according to coach Jay Gruden. He said they’ve liked what Kerrigan has done in the weight room and on the field and just wanted to give him a day off. Meanwhile, Brian Orakpo returned to practice after missing Tuesday because of an illness.
  2. OK, Brian Baker is not only good to watch and effective with his players, but he also provides terrific insight into what he’s doing. It’s the same reason I liked Kirk Olivadotti when he was here the first time. If they’re able to communicate this well with the media, then chances are they do so with their players -- and it enables them to learn. I’ll have more from Baker over the next few weeks.
  3. One little nugget from Baker: He called second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins one of the more improved players this spring. Baker has gotten on Jenkins quite a bit and there’s little doubt that he needed to improve in a few ways. He’s still not a lock to be on the roster, but if he continues to improve then he’s in a good spot.
  4. Jenkins beat rookie Morgan Moses to the inside on one rush. Moses could not recover to stop Jenkins’ counter. It is an issue right now for Moses and something he’ll have to work on in order to become a starter. Also saw Jenkins get around right tackle Maurice Hurt later in the practice during a hurry-up drill.
  5. Play of the day: Corner DeAngelo Hall made a terrific diving interception on a Robert Griffin III pass intended for receiver DeSean Jackson, cutting to the outside. Hall read it perfectly and made the diving pick as he headed out of bounds. He bounced up, his helmet popped off and he threw the ball in the air as linebacker Adam Hayward led the charge over to him. Yes, it was just a play in a spring practice but certain plays get them fired up no matter when they occur.
  6. At 6-foot-5, Trent Murphy is tall for a pass rusher, but he does a good job of staying low -- and trying to get lower. It hasn’t always resulted in pressure, like Wednesday when he went against Trent Williams. The left tackle stopped him initially, but Murphy tried to get lower and did so. Williams still won, but Murphy seems comfortable staying low. It’s one reason he can use the spin move.
  7. Phillip Thomas picked off a Kirk Cousins’ pass that skipped off Andre Roberts’ hands.
  8. This is when you know it’s time to get to training camp, when you write this line: Quarterback Colt McCoy hit receiver Cody Hoffman on a deep ball down the right side. Hoffman beat corner Blake Sailors on the play.
  9. Saw safety Ryan Clark up at the line of scrimmage in coverage; did a nice job staying with Roberts on a short out route.
  10. Receiver Pierre Garcon beat corner David Amerson to the inside; Amerson was on his hip, but did not react quick enough and the pass was completed, prompting secondary coach Raheem Morris to yell to him, “Come on! That’s a dream throw!” Amerson did a nice job later in the practice covering a double move by DeSean Jackson. Griffin looked their way, but because Amerson played it properly he had to eat the ball and would have been sacked by linebacker Brian Orakpo. Too much pressure allowed Wednesday.
  11. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland showed good patience on a couple routes. First, in off coverage against Aldrick Robinson he did not fall for a fake and was in good position (Robinson then fell as he cut inside). Later, rookie receiver Ryan Grant stepped back at the line as if he were about to get a screen pass. Breeland did not bite. Grant then took off downfield, but Breeland’s patience meant he had him covered and the ball was thrown away.
  12. I’m setting the over-under on number of scuffles involving Chase Minnifield this summer at three. He did not get in one Wednesday, but the way he plays aggravates the offense. He’s feisty and aggressive with his hands. Wednesday, tight end Logan Paulsen blocked him on a run to the other side and Minnifield was trying to somehow shed a man who outweighs him by about 75 pounds. At one point Minnifield grabbed Paulsen’s facemask.
  13. More on Clark’s value: He quickly recognized a zone read look and called it out before the play happened. The defense stopped the play. As I’ve said before, there’s just a big difference with him back deep and anyone else when it comes to communicating. Thomas was praised after one play for his pre-snap communication.
  14. The defense was just stronger overall against the offense Wednesday. Several tipped passes resulted in a couple interceptions. Also, linebacker Perry Riley made a nice tip on a Griffin pass in zone coverage. Griffin was trying to hit Paulsen and Riley barely got a piece of it, but it was enough. Sometimes the difference between a tipped pass and a perfect one is just a few inches -- and this was an example.
  15. Spencer Long worked at right guard, it’s where he’s most comfortable. In the past, the offensive linemen were worked at one spot only, allowing them to get comfortable before expanding their roles. But that will change a bit this season. The Redskins have enough competition among the young linemen that they all have to show they can help at multiple spots.
  16. Rookie tight end Ted Bolser struggled to block outside linebacker Gabe Miller on a couple plays, allowing him to shoot inside on one play and then pinch the running back inside on another. Miller had a good day, but obviously is a longshot to make the roster. Bolser will need to block better.
  17. Don’t always see strong leg drive from Clifton Geathers; he gets upright and loses his strength. But he did drive guard Adam Gettis back on one rush.

Analyzing the Redskins' salary cap

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
Not a lot going on, so it's a good time to catch up on some salary-cap numbers and scenarios. All numbers are from ESPN Stats & Information:

Cap space available: The Redskins have $2,551,306 left against the salary cap. Only three teams have less room against the cap (Detroit, New Orleans and San Diego). The Giants have $6.9 million available, but both Dallas ($10.2 million) and Philadelphia ($20.2 million) are in strong shape. Don’t forget, teams can carry cap space into next season. Also, as of now only the top 51 players count against the cap in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeStephen Bowen
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins would save $5.5 million against the cap if they cut Stephen Bowen after this season.
Cap savings: If the Redskins really wanted to save a few extra dollars, they could always look at right guard Chris Chester. If they cut him, it would save $2.7 million against the cap. But, again, someone has to beat him out. If they felt that confident about someone else they likely would have made a move by now. But they do have some young options here between rookie Spencer Long and third-year players Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. However, while Long obviously has never played, the other two have limited experience. Tyler Polumbus' release would save $1.5 million, but that means that either rookie Morgan Moses or third-year Tom Compton is ready to start. It’s hard to imagine Moses being at that point and Compton was not there at the end of last season.

Another place that will be interesting is the defensive line. The Redskins kept six at this spot each of the past three seasons. If they only keep that many this year, it means a veteran could be in trouble. They clearly aren’t going to cut Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher or Chris Baker. Also, as long as Stephen Bowen is healthy he’ll stick around.

Yes, the Redskins could have re-worked his deal (which counts $7.02 million against the cap) but they have wisely been reluctant to spread money into the future for players who may only be around another year or so. That’s the case with Bowen. He has one year left on his contract and is coming off microfracture surgery. I don’t care how optimistic you are about him, can you trust he’ll be around and playing at a solid level in two years? No. The way they’ve done things in the past they could ask him to take a pay cut, but they typically did that before this point. Just so you know: Bowen would save $5.5 million against the cap if cut after this season.

So if Bowen sticks, that gives the Redskins four. If they keep six again, that means they’d have room for two among Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston and Clifton Geathers. Here’s the savings for each player: Geathers ($600,000), Golston ($1,005,000), Jenkins ($1,027,184). Nose tackle Chris Neild also would be in trouble. His savings would be $645,000.

Highest paid: Brian Orakpo ($11,455,000) followed by Trent Williams ($10,980,393). By the way, both players will count more against the cap than all the players at five other positions: safeties ($5.1 million), tight ends ($4 million), running backs $5.6 million), quarterback ($7.1 million) and cornerback ($8.6 million).

Lowest-paid starters: Running back Alfred Morris will count $600,775 against the salary cap. Next up: safety Ryan Clark ($635,000) and tight end Jordan Reed ($642,778). Clark’s base salary is $955,000, but he counts less because of the veteran minimum cap benefit.
  1. Safety Ryan Clark never stops talking on the field -- and I mean that as a compliment. With Clark and Brandon Meriweather on the field at the same time, there's an awful lot of chatter, drawing heavy praise at one point from secondary coach Raheem Morris this past week. It's important and the more teams communicate, the better they play.
  2. Clark shouts to players pre-snap, telling the young corners (David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland) what to watch for and if he thought a play was coming their way. Whether it did or not doesn't matter as much; it forced the young players to react as if it was coming to their side. Clark shouted out adjustment; he'd loudly praise teammates after a play. Nobody else on defense gives the Redskins what Clark can in this area. He has to prove he can still play, but the leadership and knowledge he brings will be vital. I'll also say this: the other safeties were not as vocal as Clark.
  3. There's more energy with this coaching staff than the previous one -- whether that results in more wins, I don't know. But Jay Gruden will occasionally give the receivers and quarterbacks a look by playing corner or safety. He tried to run with Jackson one fade route. He failed. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay does this every so often as well. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica has a commanding presence; outside linebackers coach Brian Baker seems to be a passionate guy. Just a different energy.
  4. With Gruden, the added energy comes from his style, but also the fact players feel they have more ownership and with coaches feeling they have more say. Again, wins and losses ultimately prove whether this style works or not. Being considered a players' coach isn't always great, so Gruden has to make sure everyone knows he's in charge. But he does have a comfortable, confident air about him.
  5. I've covered two first-time head coaches in my tenure: Norv Turner and Jim Zorn. Gruden isn't an offensive mastermind like Turner, but he's also a better communicator and less insecure. Zorn was a terrific guy, but just corny from the start and it was more shocking that they went 6-2 in his first eight games than that they ultimately collapsed. Gruden is not Zorn. But I'm going to hold off on making some bold predictions about him; need to see how he handles various situations first. This job is so much more than X's and O's. Joe Gibbs won because he understood how to manage a team, not because he called great plays.
  6. Because it's Father's Day weekend, might as well talk a little dads. Mine died a few months ago, right around the time DeSean Jackson was signed. Loved going to games as a kid, with my dad and my brothers. But one memory that sticks out from when I was around 10 was playing pretend football games in the backyard, then going to my locker room (aka: my basement) and having my dad interview me (because, well, I was the star). I wanted it to be like the scenes I saw on TV after games. Then I'd draw up a photo of a play on a blue sheet of paper. Enjoy your kids; enjoy your dad.
  7. I thought about that anecdote again after NBC reporter Dianna Russini asked Jason Hatcher about how it was with his dad. Hatcher said, "He wasn't in my life. I had great guys around me who mentored me and showed me how to be a father." But Hatcher took pride in talking about how his kids make him breakfast (he uses a token that has a chore written on it; their gift to him). Has to be a nice feeling for him knowing that he can be the dad he never had.
  8. Point is, for me, football has always been a key part of my life and extends from one generation to the next. With my kids, watching them play has been fun. But the memories extend to texting with my oldest, who is in college, during fall Saturdays about various games; or watching with all of my boys or playing knee football with my middle son or just playing catch with my youngest.
  9. Back to on-the-field stuff. Guard Josh LeRibeus had a terrible offseason a year ago, but he looks in good shape and is working at both guard spots. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has noticed (knowing he has to prove himself in August). "His weight was down. He's in good shape and he's made some improvements from what I saw last year. I don't have a lot of history with him obviously, just what I've seen this year. But he does look a lot better this time of year than he did last year from what I hear. He's doing well."
  10. One thing I forgot to mention in this article, taking a look at what Gruden said the other day to Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, is how one thing I haven't seen this spring is any zone read option work. Doesn't mean they won't run it; they already know how. And Gruden has said many times they will use it on occasion. But the emphasis has been on a more diverse attack. Robert Griffin III has spent a lot of time under center and in shotgun. If this offense grows, it has to come from Griffin's improvement as a passer. Gruden knows this (but so, too, did the previous staff).
ASHBURN, Va. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins organized team activities workout Wednesday:
  1. DeSean Jackson returned to practice and did get open deep on a couple occasions. The first time, on a deep cross, he got behind the secondary and had enough time to haul in an underthrown pass from Robert Griffin III. Brandon Meriweather was about five or seven yards behind him.
  2. Later, Jackson narrowly beat Bashaud Breeland on a deep ball down the left side. But Breeland deserves credit for good coverage. He was a couple inches from making a deflection; Griffin stuck it in a tight window. He and Jackson celebrated with a chest bump.
  3. Receiver Leonard Hankerson again worked off to the side as he recovers from his torn ACL. Coach Jay Gruden still has no idea when he'll be ready. On Wednesday he ran short routes -- hitches, slants -- at around half-speed and looked fine doing it.
  4. During individual drills, the quarterbacks worked on throwing over a defender and at other times they worked on looking off their primary targets and then throwing the other way. Good reinforcement. And during a special teams drill, Griffin worked off to the side with offensive coordinator Sean McVay on sprint rollouts and bootlegs, making sure to get the proper depth after his play fake.
  5. I liked the way Trent Murphy was able to come up under control against the returner in a special teams drill. Not bad for a big guy.
  6. Your punt returners Wednesday: Andre Roberts, Nick Williams, Rashad Ross, Lache Seastrunk, Santana Moss and Chris Thompson. I like Williams as a slot guy, but still think he'll have a tough time making it barring injuries.
  7. Griffin worked on some hard counts Wednesday, drawing the defense offsides on a handful of occasions. He was not always sharp on the intermediate throws, though there were a couple of big connections deep. One of his best throws was to rookie receiver Ryan Grant down the middle; corner Blake Sailors was there, but the pass was perfect. Not exactly the combo that will be on the field this fall, but it was a good throw nonetheless. Griffin did miss an open Jordan Reed on one deep crosser and Roberts on another. But Griffin is still doing a better job keeping the ball high, leading to less wind-ups -- and a quicker release than last season.
  8. Safety Ryan Clark helped force an incompletion to Reed by playing insid, with linebacker Perry Riley playing him man to man. Griffin had to throw it to the outside and Reed didn't have a chance. After the play, Clark yelled to Riley, "Tell them you're a cover linebacker!" Clark is non-stop with his talking (more on that in a future post).
  9. Gruden is confident that he'll find this year's punter out of Robert Malone and Blake Clingan. If Malone shows any consistency, something he has not done in the past, then he'll be interesting. He gets a lot of hang time on his punts in practice (last year with the New York Jets, though, he'd have some excellent hangtime followed by low liners).
  10. Jason Hatcher doesn't play too upright, but he does have a high stance. At 6-foot-6, it's understandable, but he definitely is higher before the snap than the others. But he's able to play with good leverage inside.
  11. Saw Hatcher get a nice spin move inside Shawn Lauvao and, another time, got his hands in the guard's chest and drove him back, forcing Griffin to hop out of the way. Hatcher also got outside Lauvao and would have sacked Griffin if it had been a game. Instead he pulled up and Griffin connected with tight end Jordan Reed downfield. They celebrated a long gain, but Hatcher was right there.
  12. After working at left guard last week, Josh LeRibeus spent Wednesday on the right side. Tough to say how he looks other than he's in much better shape than a year ago. That will help. Entering last offseason there was optimism about his future, until he showed up out of shape.
  13. Another change: Morgan Moses was back at right tackle, after playing on the left side last week. Tom Compton worked on the left side Wednesday. By the way, and I'll have more on this later, but Moses is well aware of his need to stay low. Definitely something he's focused on. Moses' head is still on a swivel and you can tell at times how much learning is still going on; led to a missed block on linebacker Adam Hayward on one run (as one coach was yelling for Moses to ‘Get there! Get there!').
  14. Did see Moses push linebacker Brandon Jenkins to the ground on one rush outside. Jenkins had earlier beaten Maurice Hurt to the inside on another rush. Jenkins is going to have a much tougher time making the team this season.
  15. Corner DeAngelo Hall was not at practice after cutting his chin during Tuesday's workout. He was also headed to Atlanta.
  16. Linebacker Akeem Jordan had good coverage on a pass down the middle that quarterback Colt McCoy underthrew. Jordan's back was to the pass, but he still managed to break it up. He was typically removed in passing situations with Kansas City last season.
  17. Nose tackle Barry Cofield participated in individual drills, something he did not do the first two weeks we saw. With Cofield still sidelined during team drills, Chris Baker worked as the No. 1 nose tackle with Jarvis Jenkins and Hatcher as the ends. Cofield said he will be 100 percent for training camp.
  18. Meanwhile, Adam Gettis also worked at right guard, his more natural spot. But it's important for these backups to be able to show they can play more than one spot.
London Fletcher’s play wasn’t the same a year ago, his run as a Pro Bowl linebacker over. Fletcher, though, remained a presence on the field and in the meeting room for the Redskins’ defense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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