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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I wrote about the Tony Dungy-Michael Sam controversy on Tuesday, so you know where I come down on the gay rights issue. I think these are issues of human decency, not of religion or culture or the sanctity of the NFL locker room.

But if Dungy merely put his toe over the line and onto the wrong side of this issue, former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree is the mayor of the wrong side of this issue. In 2011, Tyree said he'd trade his miracle "helmet catch," which led to the Giants winning Super Bowl XLII, in exchange for a law outlawing gay marriage. And he's publicly professed his belief that "there is no scientific data to support the claim of being born gay." Tyree has explained his views by citing his religious beliefs, which is an excuse a lot of people use and is, in my opinion, a crummy reason for treating fellow human beings poorly. You believe what you want to believe, but once you start using it as a weapon with which to mistreat other people, you have lost me.

Anyway, this comes up because the Giants hired Tyree on Tuesday as their new director of player development. And while I don't think wrongheaded views should necessarily prevent a person from seeking and holding a job in his chosen field, I'm surprised that the Giants would make such a tone-deaf move in the current NFL and social climate. The move was ripped by the Human Rights Campaign, and Tyree declined to comment about the criticism when contacted by ESPNNewYork.com.

Obviously, given the sensitive nature of the Michael Sam story, we're at an important social time in NFL history. One of the points of Sam's decision to live his life as an openly gay man trying to play in the NFL is that gay football players in the future will be less afraid to live their lives openly. Sam's story should lead us all to a deeper understanding of each other as people and to treat each other with more kindness and decency regardless of where we disagree or where we're different. People like Tyree stand in the way of that, which is why I don't think this is the right time for Tyree to hold a job like this in the NFL.

Imagine, if you will, there was a hypothetical closeted gay player on the Giants who was thinking about coming out. Maybe he was inspired by Sam, maybe not, but as of, say, Monday, he was thinking about telling the world he's gay. He was nervous but excited about finally not having to feel as though he had to hide who he is -- a great, positive thing for the player and the world in general.

And then on Tuesday, the Giants go and hire a guy to work in a position of authority in the organization, and this guy loudly and publicly believes what Tyree believes.

What does that player think now? What does that player do now? What message has his organization sent to players in that position?

Tyree might well be qualified to hold the job of director of player development. Heck, he might be great at it. And maybe his medieval views on this issue won't affect his ability to do the job or relate to players in any way. But given what's going on in the NFL and the world right now, I have to think the Giants could have made a less tone-deaf hire.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrived at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon under clear blues and temperatures in the mid 70s.

It was far different atmosphere from the high-90s temperatures that greeted the players at Valley Ranch on Monday for the players who ran a conditioning test.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoTight end Jason Witten was one of several Cowboys veterans who wanted to run a conditioning test before heading to training camp.
Barry Church and Travis Frederick said Jason Garrett canceled the conditioning test -- a series of sprints ranging from 40, 50 and 60 yards that need to be completed at different times depending on the player’s position -- but older players such as Jason Witten called for the test to be run anyway.

League rules prevented any coaches from being on hand because the facilities are closed down 10 days prior to the start of training camp.

“When coach said we weren’t going to have a conditioning test this year a couple of the older guys wanted to make sure that we had everybody in the right shape,” Frederick said. “Sometimes if you don’t do it, you’re not in the right shape and you’re not ready to practice. When you come out and practice as hard as we do and you do it as much as you do during training camp, that’s when it leads to guys getting hurt. A couple of the older guys wanted to make sure guys were in shape, so we did get together yesterday and do some stuff like that. Nobody was around, just the players running it, but I think it was a really good step for our team.”

The players kept the times and had to have been on the honor system. What’s unclear, however, is if those who didn’t run the test Monday will run it Wednesday in Oxnard before practices begin Thursday. Could peer pressure play a part in those who did not attend the Valley Ranch workout lead to them running it?

Safety Barry Church said it was a “camaraderie thing.”

“I feel like it’s showing the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own type of identity as a team and combine together to see what we can get accomplished here this upcoming season,” Church said.

In the past, the Cowboys have used the test as a barometer for a player’s readiness for practice. If a player was unable to complete the test, he started the year on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury list. Garrett has attempted to alter some of the training exercises to potentially combat the number of injuries the team has suffered the last two years.

“When the players get together and do something like that I think that it shows there’s a level of maturity,” Frederick said. “There’s a level of work and a level of expectations by the older guys, the guys that held it. When you go out and do something like that, that is really showing the team is ready to step forward and is a mature team. Coach says 'There’s no conditioning test,' we could easily just not do it. Everybody is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We don’t have to do it.’ But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out and practice as hard as we need to practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?”

Giants Camp Report: Day 1

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was not at all happy that four of his players had to leave the team's first practice of training camp with heat-related problems. Guard Brandon Mosley, who had been working at starting right guard in place of the retired Chris Snee, was carted off early in practice. The cart also came for linebacker Spencer Adkins and tackle Charles Brown for what Coughlin described as heat-related issues, and Coughlin made it clear in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Don Banks that he was not pleased about it. The Giants will look to make it all the way through their second practice Wednesday, when the high temperature is forecast to be 92 degrees. The high Tuesday was 89.

Linebacker Jameel McClain was also carted off, but that was due to a foot injury. X-rays on McClain's foot were negative, which is good news for the Giants as McClain is filling in for middle linebacker Jon Beason, who also has a foot injury but hopes to be back in time for Week 1. For what it's worth, rookie Devon Kennard continues to look good at linebacker. He worked on the strong side but has been mentioned as someone who could handle the middle linebacker responsibilities.

Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., the team's first-round pick, pulled up short on a pass route in practice, leading to an interception of Eli Manning by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Coughlin seemed annoyed about that and said of Beckham, "He has a ways to go." Earlier in the day, Beckham told us he was planning to watch out for and be careful with the hamstring injury that held him back in minicamp. It's possible the incident here was an example of that, but Beckham's health and overall progress will be worth watching as camp goes along. He has obvious blazing speed and good hands, but he will need to run his routes and run them again if he's to advance to the point where he's a Week 1 helper in the new offense.

Manning shows absolutely no ill effects of the ankle surgery that sidelined him for a portion of his spring work. He's practicing as usual and seems excited about working in the new offense.

The Giants used rookie running back Andre Williams as the goal-line back during that portion of practice Tuesday. Williams likely could slide into that role right away while he works on the finer points of his NFL game as a rookie.

McClain (foot) carted off, X-rays negative

July, 22, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jameel McClain, who was carted off the field on Tuesday, the first day of New York Giants' training camp, underwent X-rays on his foot, which were negative, a source told ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson.

The source told Anderson that if McClain experiences soreness on Wednesday, the team may follow up with an MRI.

McClain has been subbing in for the recovering Jon Beason at middle linebacker.

“He thought it was a foot issue, an irritation of the foot, but it was one of the metatarsals, so the medical staff came over to look at that,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It will be interesting to see what the discussion is inside.”

McClain is expected to start at strongside linebacker but moved to the middle with Beason coming back from a foot injury, which he suffered during organized team activities. Mark Herzlich also has experience playing middle linebacker.

“I’m hoping that this is just a matter of a sore foot with Jameel, so we’ll see,” Coughlin said.

Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham came up lame while running a route, which was intercepted by No. 1 corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Beckham Jr. had been nursing a hamstring injury.

“He’s got some work to do,” Coughlin said of Beckham, the team’s first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Right guard Brandon Mosley was also carted off, likely due to dehydration issues. Rookie Weston Richburg stepped in in place of Mosley.

Linebacker Spencer Adkins and tight end Xavier Grimble left the field, too.

“Most of them were heat-related issues,” Coughlin said. “I’ll have to wait to get inside.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Adrien Robinson has a simple-sounding goal as he embarks on his third season with the New York Giants. One of four tight ends on the roster with a shot to emerge as the Week 1 starter, Robinson is hoping to rise above the rest of his position group.

Robinson
"I would hope my role is the starter," Robinson said before the Giants' first training camp practice Tuesday. "But all four of us want to be the starter, so we'll see what happens."

Not exactly a bold proclamation. But tepid is the watchword for the Giants' tight end situation. The other three in the four to which he refers are likely Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells, though he could have added undrafted Xavier Grimble in there as a fifth candidate. No one in that group has had much experience or success in the NFL, so Robinson was as good a chance as any of them to win the job.

But what's important -- and amazing -- to remember about Robinson is that he really, really, really hasn't played. Robinson has appeared in a total of three games in his first two NFL seasons (and lasted only one play in the only game he played in 2013). He hasn't caught an NFL pass, but really that's nothing new for him, as he only caught a total of 29 passes in his four years playing college football at Cincinnati.

The Giants drafted Robinson in the fourth round of the 2012 draft because he'd dazzled them with a workout in which he'd come off as a physical freak. They believed they could develop his raw skills and make him into a serviceable NFL tight end. GM Jerry Reese famously said of Robinson on draft day, "we hope he can be the JPP of tight ends," referring to 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul, who was raw coming out of school but blossomed into a dominant player in his second season. That has, unfortunately, stuck with Robinson, though it was always unfair to compare a fourth-round flyer to a first-round pick.

Yet, with no other clear better options on the roster, here Robinson is with a chance to start at tight end for the Giants. He's engaged. He's talked about how the change from longtime tight ends coach Mike Pope to Kevin Gilbride Jr. has helped him, as his new position coach is much closer to his own age and in some ways easier for him to communicate with. He believes the new offense is a fun one in which to play tight end.

"I think the tight end moves around more than what I'm used to," Robinson said Tuesday. "And I think that could showcase my ability better."

Heck, at this point in his career, it'd be something for Robinson to showcase his ability at all. Watching him in practice Tuesday, he still looks mechanical and sometimes confused as a route-runner. He remains a work in progress. The Giants would tell you they don't need their tight end to catch many passes as long as he can block in the run game, and Robinson can definitely do that. What remains to be seen is whether he can... well, play. It's not something of which he's done very much.
Foles-KellyDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesNick Foles and Chip Kelly will rely on each other to push the Eagles to the 2014 playoffs.
PHILADELPHIA -- In Chip Kelly and Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles have a coach/quarterback duo in the enviable position of having some success to build on. With that success, though, comes the sometimes crushing pressure to take the team farther than it has gone since 1960.

The last coach/QB duo to try that here came achingly close but ultimately fell short. From the start, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb were a joint entry. Reid was hired in January 1999, and he took McNabb with the second overall pick in that year's draft. That pair got to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl together but never quite reached the top of the mountain.

Reid tried to move on from McNabb, signing Michael Vick after he got out of prison, in hopes of finishing the task of winning a Super Bowl. The whole enterprise failed, and the Eagles never so much as won a playoff game during Reid's final four seasons with the Eagles.

That long, slow slide into misery led to the hiring of Kelly. The new coach gave Vick every chance for a late-career rebirth, but injuries forced Kelly to go with Foles. That led to an arranged marriage between the coach and his quarterback. Foles will never be the anointed savior of the franchise -- he was a third-round pick under a different head coach -- but that doesn't mean he can't deliver where previous Eagles quarterbacks have failed.

In some ways, the situation most resembles 1998, when Bobby Hoying was entering the season as the No. 1 quarterback. Hoying had some things in common with Foles. He was a third-round draft pick. He got a midseason opportunity to start during the 1997 season and showed some promise. Hoying went 2-3-1 in those final six games, including a showy 44-42 victory over Cincinnati.

There were some major differences between Hoying then and Foles now. Offensive coordinator Jon Gruden left after 1997 to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Ray Rhodes, a defensive coach by trade, hired Dana Bible and then undermined the new coordinator by claiming, even to players, that the hire was forced on Rhodes. Foles got in on the ground floor of what Kelly is building in Philadelphia.

It was fascinating when this year's draft rolled around. Johnny Manziel was still on the board when the Eagles' 22nd overall pick came up. Kelly could have claimed his franchise savior right there. Instead, the Eagles traded the pick to Cleveland, who snapped up the Texas A&M quarterback. The Eagles took Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker from Louisville with about 0.3 percent of Manziel's star power.

At that moment, Kelly and Foles became a new joint entry in Eagles history. Their fates are now intertwined, coach and quarterback.

Foles did more than Hoying to earn his opportunity. His numbers -- a league-high 119.2 passer rating, 27 touchdowns, just two interceptions, 8-2 record in 10 starts -- was much more impressive than Hoying's back in 1997. And he has benefits that Hoying did not, No. 1 among them an offensive innovator as a head coach. Kelly saw enough to believe in Foles, but also enough to believe Foles can be even better.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"I might not ever reach those statistics again. ... If we don't reach it again, I hope that we're winning more games," said Nick Foles of his 2013 season.
"I'm not being sarcastic," Kelly said, "but I think he can improve on everything, and I think he'll be the first to tell you that, too. But I think all the great ones feel the same way, that there's every aspect of their game that they can constantly improve, and I think that's what makes Nick really special -- that he's never really content with where he is."

Kelly said he has seen that same trait in Foles during the spring.

"I just go to work every day and just try to get a little bit better, and I try to push myself as hard as I can," Foles said. "Even on days I don't feel the best, when I'm worn out, I just try to push as hard as I can and really focus in. Because I know my teammates are looking at me.

"And I think the thing that I will always work on is attention to detail in the drills. 'OK, we're not just doing this drill to go through the motions.' Why are we doing it? I need to do this to the best of my ability because when the game time comes, I can just do it naturally."

Foles completely bought into Kelly's approach from the very beginning. He wasn't able to translate that onto the field fast enough to beat out the mobile Vick in one training camp, but Foles was able to run Kelly's offense efficiently after Vick pulled a hamstring in Week 5 against the Giants.

Foles made his mark with his seven-touchdown performance in Oakland a few weeks later. He had played poorly before being concussed against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 20. After missing a game, Foles went to Oakland and played a nearly perfect game.

"Going into that game," Foles said, "it was just one of those weeks where you're coming off the concussion, you're just really paying attention to every single detail, you're trying to really focus in even more, because you remember your last play was a concussion. 'All right, can I still do this? Can I still react like I need to?' You really don't know until the game starts. But after the first drive of the Oakland game, I knew that my reactions and everything were there."

Foles' equipment from that day was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was the first in a series of unusual moments that marked Foles' breakout season. The last was being named MVP of the Pro Bowl.

"I know I say it over and over again, but all those throws that happened last year, the TDs, whatever, it does absolutely nothing," Foles said. "It probably hurts me more now than it did last year because I did it, so now you've got to do it even better. In my mind, I want to do even better.

"But I know in reality, some things can happen. There could be a game where I throw two INTs. I threw two INTs all last season and it's like, 'Oh gosh.' But that happens. I've thrown multiple interceptions in a game in college, but then the next week, I came out and threw four touchdowns. It's that short memory and just really having amnesia and forgetting stuff."

Taking that next step -- toward consistent excellence -- isn't easy. It is what Foles as a quarterback and Kelly as a coach are attempting to do together.

"I think he's a lot more comfortable in what we're doing offensively, just because it is Year 2," Kelly said. "So you just see the little things, whether it's the footwork or the proper technique or looking off a guy -- he knows he's throwing to No. 1 [in his progression], but can he keep the free safety in the middle of the field a little bit longer so that the run after the catch is a little bit better?"

That synchronicity between Foles and his coaches is the main reason Foles is in better position than Hoying was in 1998. It is a very good reason to believe Kelly and Foles have a chance, at least, to be the kind of coach/QB combination that excels in the NFL.

"Our team isn't measured by my 27 [touchdowns] and two [interceptions] or whatever," Foles said. "If we win and I throw 25 touchdowns and 20 interceptions -- well, hopefully I don't do that. I don't want to do that. ... I might not ever reach those statistics again. ... If we don't reach it again, I hope that we're winning more games. Because that's the big thing."

Cowboys' trio part of new core

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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OXNARD, Calif. -- They came to the Dallas Cowboys a year apart: Dez Bryant in 2010, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray in 2011.

The trio represents what the Cowboys hope is their bright future, not a continuation of a three-year run of mediocrity.

Jason Witten and Tony Romo are entering their 12th seasons with the organization and serve as the team's leaders. It befits their accomplishments, tenure and status, but the Cowboys have slowly changed their core.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDez Bryant, left, and DeMarco Murray celebrated 22 combined touchdowns last season but not a trip to the playoffs.
Only eight of the 90 players on the current training camp roster were on the team when Jason Garrett took over as interim coach in 2010. Bryant is the Cowboys' most dynamic player. Smith is their best player, regardless of position, taking that spot over from DeMarcus Ware. Murray is one of the most important.

In January, all three played in their first Pro Bowl.

"I think for all those guys, there's not harder workers and competitive guys than the guys you just mentioned," said Witten, whose nine Pro Bowls have been topped in team history only by Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Larry Allen and Mel Renfro. "But I think for anybody, you do it [make the Pro Bowl] once you want to stack a bunch of these together. It gives you confidence that you can do it. These guys are elite players. They are ingrained in this system. They are committed to help turn this around. They want to be the best players they can be, but also help this team compete for a championship."

The Pro Bowl is a validation of individual talent. Witten would give up his Pro Bowls for playoff success. When Smith, Murray and Bryant met with Garrett after their Hawaii trip, they "said the same thing to me: ‘That was great, but we want to be in the big game. We want to be one of those teams,' " Garrett said.

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That's why during special teams' portions of spring practices, Bryant caught balls from the Jugs machine off to the side. It's why Murray worked on hand placement on a blocking sled during the same period of practice. It's why Smith was one of the last to leave the field.

"There are levels of desire to be great, and you want guys to come in every day who want to be great and who demonstrate that each and every day," Garrett said. "We talk about that a lot, this desire to be a Dallas Cowboy playing in the National Football League. It's not about the guy that wants to put the jersey on, walk through the mall and send the hats to his family and friends and tell everybody you're a Dallas Cowboy and you're playing in the NFL. You need to demonstrate it each and every day. If you really, truly want to be great, you have to come to work every day with that mindset. Everything you do, take full advantage of it to try to make yourself be the best player you can be, and hopefully part of a team that can be the best they can be."

Smith prefers to be in the background, like most offensive linemen. He is considered by many to be one of the best left tackles in football. He will be paid handsomely by the Cowboys sooner rather than later. But he views his accomplishments differently.

"I just feel like it's not there yet," Smith said. "I feel like I've got a long way to go. You've got guys that are eight-time Pro Bowlers and things like that. I'm still at the beginning stage. I have a long way to go."

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports"What makes Tyron great is his consistent ability to dominate every play," Mackenzy Bernadeau said of Tyron Smith, above.
His linemates are not as shy.

"What makes Tyron great is his consistent ability to dominate every play," Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "Just his athletic ability for his size, his strength and his hard work, so when you're at that level and can do that consistently at such a young age, that's what makes Tyron great. And he works hard. He's well deserving of all he's getting."

Smith helped Murray to his first 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,121 yards in 2013. This year Murray hopes to become the first Cowboys rusher since Emmitt Smith in 2001 to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The Cowboys are 11-0 when he gets 20 carries in a game.

Bryant's athletic ability was on display the minute he arrived. The rough edges of his game have been smoothed during his four years. He is the only Cowboys wide receiver with back-to-back 90-catch seasons. In the past two seasons, no receiver has more than Bryant's 25 touchdown catches.

As he enters his fifth season, Bryant is now the most senior voice at his position.

"My little saying that I go about it is you've got to love and respect the job you do," Bryant said. "If you do that, you're going to dominate. I love my job. I'm doing a better job of respecting it. That's what you do."

Because of the Cowboys' past, Smith, Bryant and Murray are matched against Hall of Famers like Allen, Rayfield Wright, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, and Ring of Honor member Drew Pearson.

They combined for 36 Pro Bowls, but more importantly, they were part of the Cowboys' five Super Bowl titles.

Winning drives these three.

"Yeah, that's it," Murray said. "That's the result, just straight winning. Yards, all that crap doesn't mean a thing. If we're winning, at the end of the day, that's what you play for."
The pessimistic side was revealed Monday, with reasons why you should be concerned about the Washington Redskins this season. Coming off a 3-13 season, with a new coach and plenty of questions won't exactly lead to unbridled optimism. At least not by realists. However, the Redskins also are one season removed from a division title, have a young potentially explosive offense and a quarterback who was considered the future of the game just a short time ago. Go ahead, build your case for a turnaround.

[+] EnlargeGriffin III
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsRedskins QB Robert Griffin III should benefit from his first full offseason of training while healthy.
So, here now, is the optimistic take on their season: reasons for hope.

  1. Robert Griffin III's offseason. It's not like he became Tom Brady in one offseason. Griffin will not be transformed into a pocket passer overnight. But he showed what he was capable of his rookie season and, now, he has the benefit of a full offseason for the first time in his career. Every coach says it makes a difference so you can't just judge him off last season and think that's who he now is. Like any other passer, he needs a chance to develop and this offseason provided one.
  2. The passing game has weapons. One reason the Redskins feel they can ease Griffin into a new offense is because of what they have at receiver: three players they believe can win one-on-one battles. Add to it a fourth in tight end Jordan Reed and now Griffin can be more decisive. That builds confidence. In 2012, Griffin threw with confidence. That wasn't always the case in '13.
  3. Jay Gruden is not Mike Shanahan. The latter entered with two Super Bowl rings and was an accomplished coach; the former has a lot to prove. Sometimes having a lot to prove is better. Gruden's arrival brought a different vibe and energy (of course, the same was said about Shanahan in 2010). It's not as if Shanahan was evil, but he had reached a certain point in his career that Gruden aspires to reach. At times you wondered if Shanahan overlooked certain deficiencies, thinking he'd overcome them because of his resume.
  4. The QB-coach relationship. It's better. Whether that changes or not I don't know, but entering camp it's a good one. Griffin looked like a new man this spring, though part of that also stems from not having to recover from knee surgery.
  5. DeSean Jackson. He does not need to catch 80-some passes to make a difference. He made one in Philly for years catching around 55-60. Pierre Garcon and Reed might catch more balls, but Jackson just needs to make teams pay. And his presence will help. Can Griffin keep everyone happy? That's certainly a much better question to ask than, “Is Josh Morgan a legitimate No. 2 receiver?” Jackson might eventually wear out his welcome, but even in Philadelphia he produced while doing so.
  6. Alfred Morris. He hasn't gone anywhere. The run game will be the same as the past two seasons, all involve have said. Morris is not some product of the zone read option; he's an excellent fit in the zone system. His line has more depth, though how effective the starters will be remains to be seen.
  7. The young talent offensively. If this offense clicks, look at how many starters are 27 or younger: eight (the number is the same whether in a two-back set or three-receiver set). They have potential Pro Bowl talent at left tackle, receiver, running back, tight end and quarterback. They lack the same nucleus defensively, but they have some intriguing youngsters in linebacker Keenan Robinson and corner David Amerson.
  8. [+] EnlargeRyan Clark
    John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThe Redskins will lean on veteran safety Ryan Clark to provide leadership for the rest of the secondary.
    Improved safety play. Ryan Clark is not in his prime and the Steelers saw a decline in his play. But the Redskins' safeties were dreadful, so if Clark has anything left he'll be an improvement. Clark is a natural leader, which the Redskins can use, but you still have to show you can still help on the field to maximize that asset. He's not a playmaker, but if he is a sure tackler and prevents mental mistakes by others with his communication, then he'll help.
  9. Improved special teams. I loved how much emphasis the Redskins placed on this area. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica enters at a good time; when taking over a disaster you can (or at least should) only look good. But the decision to sign linebackers who excel in this area was huge -- as was drafting two players among the top four who can help here in Trent Murphy and Bashaud Breeland.
  10. They bolstered the pass rush. Jason Hatcher is coming off an 11-sack season in Dallas, but if the outside linebackers do their jobs (he did not have a lot of help in Dallas last season) then he might not reach that number again. However, he just needs to be a presence and a constant threat. That will open up others: not just Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, but also Barry Cofield and Chris Baker, who played well down the stretch in '13. Along with Hatcher and the drafting of Murphy, they also hired Brian Baker, an accomplished assistant.
  11. Jim Haslett can finally run the defense the way he wants. Granted, it became too convenient to blame a lot on Shanahan, as if his input always was wrong. However, Haslett didn't have much say in the hiring of his assistants, as he did this offseason. He hired better coaches than the ones he had previously (Baker, Kirk Olivadotti). Haslett is an experienced coordinator and has a clear idea on what he wants to do. He now has more pieces in the pass rush to perhaps give a greater variety of looks. Time to produce.
  12. It can't go that bad again (can it?). They went from 14 turnovers in 2012 to 34 a year ago. An improved offensive attack should cut down on that number and that will be a start. If they handle the details of the game -- tackling, taking care of the ball, protection -- then they can turn it around. A team that was terrible last season likely will make the playoffs. Maybe the Redskins?
Chris SneeJason O. Watson/Getty ImagesChris Snee retires after 10 seasons and two Super Bowl titles with the Giants.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Offensive linemen don't get stats. They don't gain yards or score touchdowns or sack quarterbacks. Check out Chris Snee's page on ESPN.com right here and, well, you don't see a whole lot of information. But Snee makes a strong case as the best offensive lineman in New York Giants history. And on the occasion of his retirement Monday after 10 seasons, four Pro Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles with the Giants, it was clear that his legacy would live large in the memories of those who watched him up close.

"Strength, power, mental toughness, work ethic, the way he approached the game ... he had everything you want," former Giants offensive lineman David Diehl said in a phone interview Monday. "Sincerely, one of the best guards I've ever seen."

You have to play guard at a pretty high level -- and for a pretty long time -- in the NFL to make the kind of imprint Snee made on the game. Monday afternoon, Giants owner John Mara said Snee was the first player he'd ever told, on the occasion of his retirement, that he would definitely be in the team's Ring of Honor.

"We just have to figure out a date," Mara said shortly before Snee came out to formally announce his retirement.

Mara recalled that 2004 draft, in which the Giants were making the big blockbuster deal to trade up for quarterback Eli Manning. He said there was a debate about whether to include that year's second-round pick (No. 34 overall) or the 2005 first-rounder in the deal, and they ultimately decided to hold onto the 2004 second-rounder, "because we felt like it was going to be a real good player, and was it ever."

Snee was that player, though at the time he was picked the bigger headline was about his relationship with Kate Coughlin, the daughter of Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Snee would end up marrying Kate and fathering three of Coughlin's grandsons -- creating a professional arrangement that could have been awkward but which both son-in-law and father-in-law discussed emotionally and lovingly Monday at its end.

"People say, 'You're not very objective about this.' Well, I'm not pleading my case for objectivity right now," Coughlin said. "I'm just telling you the quality of the man is greater than the quality and the ability of the football player, and that's as good as it gets. People asked about coaching your son-in-law, 'Is it hard?' I'll take 100 of them. If there's 53, I'll take 53 of him."

Manning smiled Monday as he recalled coming into the league at the same time as Snee. Two quiet guys who didn't say much, even to each other as they roomed together in camp and on the road that year, Manning and Snee ended up as part of the backbone of a team that won two Super Bowls. Manning said Snee took some grief early in his career for being the coach's son-in-law, but that he handled it the best way anyone could.

"He became a dominant player," Manning said. "And that helped him really take it in stride."

Dominant. The best player on an offensive line that became a Giants calling card from 2006-10. Snee, Diehl, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie quite famously started 38 games in a row at one point. They helped knock off the undefeated New England Patriots and win Super Bowl XLII. Diehl says he still has the copy of the January 12, 2009 ESPN the Magazine cover that pictured the five of them in a circle, looking down at the camera, under the headline "Are These Guys the NFL's Real MVPs?"

"We wanted to be the leaders of our football team," Diehl said. "We had a mentality that we were going to push for each other, work for each other and turn things around for the New York Giants. Chris embodied everything about that mentality. He did it quietly, but he lived it."

Snee lists at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, which makes him a large human being but not an especially large NFL guard. He fought the perception that he was undersized and did it by emphasizing strength and power in his game. Coughlin said Monday that Snee and former defensive tackle Linval Joseph regularly competed in the weight room for the title of strongest player on the team.

"People knocked him for his size, said he was short," Diehl said. "But he had incredible strength, an ability to get under people on double teams, use his legs to move people off a spot and dictate the action. Just a tough, hard-nosed, hard-working football player."

The incredibly physical way Snee played is likely the reason it's over for him at 32. Both hips and his right elbow are shot to the point where he doesn't feel he can play anymore, and after an offseason of trying to get himself in shape to do that, he figured out within the past couple of weeks that he could not.

"I have to admit that I can no longer play," Snee said. "It's a sad day, but once I leave here, I'll be at peace with it."

Snee is a guard, and as such he's a guy who doesn't get or seek a lot of attention. So Monday wasn't easy. He broke down at the start of his retirement news conference, and when it ended he gathered two of his sons in his arms as they cried. He said he'd have to "disappear" for a couple of weeks, but that he expected to return at some point this season to catch a practice and some games because his sons love it so much.

"This is home," Snee said. "My kids love the games. They're going to want to come. I'm going to want to go. It's going to be tough at first, but that's the way life goes."

Snee said "everybody wants the Strahan ending," referring to the fact that former Giant Michael Strahan's final game was the Super Bowl XLII victory over the Patriots, but he's OK with not getting that ending. He'll wish his final game had been something better than the seven-sack mess the Giants delivered in Week 3 of 2013 in Carolina, but that's not in his control. And if he listened to those who spoke around him Monday, he knows he doesn't have to worry about that being a part of his legacy.

"As an offensive lineman, you don't want the glory, you don't want the fame," Diehl said. "All you want is that 'W' for your team."

The New York Giants won 89 games with Snee on the field from 2004 to 2012. Two of those 89 were Super Bowls. Offensive linemen don't get stats, but they'll take those. And if you're wondering about Chris Snee's legacy, it doesn't need numbers. All you had to do Monday for proof of that was ask. Anybody.

Cowboys sign WR Dezmon Briscoe

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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys signed wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe on Monday, bringing the total receivers on the 90-man roster to 11.

To make room on the roster the team released defensive tackle Chris Whaley.

Briscoe, a Dallas native, had not played in a regular-season game since 2012. He has been with the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.

Of his 43 career catches, 35 came in 2011 with the Buccaneers when he finished with 387 yards and six touchdowns. He was on injured reserve last year with the Redskins.

The Cowboys like to bring a high number of receivers to camp because of the amount of running required at the position and do not want to tax the group as a whole
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I understand those who want to grumble their so-whats about Monday's big David Wilson news. If you're a New York Giants fan, there's a chance you're sick of hearing so much about Wilson and seeing so little from him. The Giants' 2012 first-round pick hasn't made much of an impact, and even he'd admit he needs to show more than he's shown.

All of that said, Monday's news (via Wilson himself on Twitter) that Wilson has been "cleared for everything" following neck surgery can only be a positive for the Giants as they open training camp Tuesday. They were prepared to move forward, if they had to, without Wilson in their backfield. But they're in much better shape with him as a viable option.

Start with Wilson's raw ability. He touched the ball only 75 times on offense as a rookie in 2012, but he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception. A better look at his game-breaking speed showed up on kick returns, where his 26.9-yard average ranked among the league leaders. There is little doubt that when the ball is in his hands, Wilson is a threat to do something special.

The issue in 2013 was getting and keeping the ball in Wilson's hands. After Andre Brown was hurt in the final preseason game, the Giants installed and talked up Wilson as their workhorse starter -- a role for which he may not have been psychologically prepared. He fumbled twice in the opener and was benched for it. The Giants eased him back into the offensive mix in a Week 3 loss in Carolina and a Week 4 loss in Kansas City, showing good flashes before getting hurt in the Week 5 loss to the Eagles. And that was the end of his season. A lost season, to be sure, but Wilson just turned 23 last month and there remains plenty of time for him to remind us of all the positives he brings.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Kathy WillensDavid Wilson tweeted on Monday that he's been cleared to return to the Giants' backfield.
It's hard to know for sure what kind of role Wilson will occupy in the Giants' backfield this year, because injuries and circumstances always force changes in plans. But it's fair to assume the Giants will look for ways to use him, given that his speed offers them something their other running backs don't. Rashad Jennings was signed to be the do-it-all starter, but no one's sure he can be that. Power runner Andre Williams was drafted in the fourth round after a brilliant college season, but he needs work in pass protection and other areas before they can trust him enough to put him in a game. Peyton Hillis offers some reliability, but nothing special at this point. Michael Cox is a second-year back they like, but he brings his own question marks. Add Wilson to the mix and you have a group deep in talent and diverse in skill -- plenty of different toys for new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo as he builds the Giants' offense.

Not having to deal with the pressure of being the only real option at running back, as he was in Week 1 last year, should be a help to Wilson. The depth of this year's group should protect against the total collapse the Giants suffered due to injury at the position, and the creativity of the coaching staff in making opportunities for all of the backs tailored to their specific abilities should help the running game be more productive. The Giants also believe their offensive line will block better this year, which shouldn't be hard.

Still ultra-talented, Wilson is also now apparently healthy again. He's learned his lesson from last September about the way they want him to carry the ball in traffic, and the manner in which that lesson was taught ensures he's not going to forget it. The current structure of the Giants' roster should land him in positions that maximize what he does well and minimize what he still struggles with. All in all, the return of Wilson to the backfield can be only a positive for the Giants in 2014.

David Amerson: 'I found my swagger'

July, 21, 2014
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His rookie season included a little of everything. There was hope: the interception returned for a touchdown against Oakland. There was concern: falling for double moves and missing assignments. In the end, though, the Washington Redskins were quite pleased with how second-round corner David Amerson developed -- and how he finished the season.

And they liked what they saw this offseason (some players talked privately about how he had improved). Now, as Amerson enters his second season, he does so as a starter. Amerson will have a lot more to prove, and for the defense to get better the optimism surrounding him must be legitimate.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsEntering his second season in the NFL, Redskins CB David Amerson has worked to improve several areas of his game this offseason.
But Amerson had a clear grip on where he wanted to improve his game.

"Going into my second year, I feel confident," he said last month. "I found my swagger a little bit. I feel good about it. ...Coming into the season I was real fresh. I started to pick up the defense, but as far as fundamentally and working at stuff, I was raw at it. The more I played the better I got."

Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said they challenged Amerson to "work harder than he ever worked before" this offseason.

"We always joked with him to take the cool out of his game," Hall said. "It looks like he's not really working. From Day 1 of the offseason program he was first in the sprints. We have a board of guys who won sprints and he's top two in every category. He accepted the challenge and he worked hard, he lifted hard. He worked on his technique and all his fundamentals and nuances of the defense."

And defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Amerson has matured -- remember, he did not turn 22 until late in his rookie season.

"He has the type of skills you look for at that position," Haslett said. "He has a ways to go, but I'm proud of the way he's developed to this point."

Here's a look at how Amerson hopes to get better:

Run support: A big knock on Amerson in college was his run defense. He tackled better last season than he did at NC State, in part because it was demanded. Amerson said he added seven-to-eight pounds of muscle in the offseason to help his play against the run.

"I felt a little slim sometimes [last season]," Amerson said. "I can support the run a little more, get off blocks and make it difficult for people to put their hands on me."

His technique against the run needs adjusting, too. He has to make sure he's taking the proper angles to give him the best leverage. It's not like he didn't face the run game last season, but he was the third corner and entered in three-receiver sets.

There's another aspect he wants to work on, too.

"I'm a tall guy so sometimes I dive at guys because I have to get so low," said the 6-foot-1 Amerson. "I throw my head down. So I just have to focus on fundamentals and the little things."

Press coverage: Amerson was new to this last season, having rarely -- if ever -- done it at NC State. But with his height and long arms, it's a natural tactic for him. Amerson improved in this area throughout last season, but knows he's not yet where he needs to be.

"I definitely feel good at the line of scrimmage," Amerson said. "The main thing is to get your hands on guys. You can really kill the quarterback's read and mess up the timing. I definitely feel more comfortable.

"I remember a play I got beat on last year against Oakland. A guy shook me up at the line, got an inside release on me and caught a deep ball. The biggest thing is just to get your hands on people. Once you get your hands on them, you can control the route. If you miss it, it might be a touchdown."

The eyes have it: Another criticism of Amerson in college involved his eyes. Too often he would get caught peeking too long in the backfield after the receiver made a cut. Offenses hurt him by turning that into a double move and big plays. That also happened in his rookie season.

For Amerson, he just has to make sure his eyes are in the right place, whether in zone or man. He appeared to do a good job of this in the spring, though on at least one occasion he was burned when he looked too long in the backfield.

"When I play my best ball my eyes are in the right position," he said. "It allows me to play faster. I know when I don't, my eyes are on the quarterback and I don't see the route or I might see it late or something and it makes me late to the comeback. ...It's about repping it. Sometimes you might slip and have your eyes in the wrong place. The more you get comfortable with it and the more you drill it, it becomes second nature."

Know the D:Hall knows what it's like to be a rookie corner. They feel like they have to cover every route and, in the end, that mentality can land them in trouble. When you learn the defense, and where your help is, you can play your responsibility much better.

"That's what we want to teach him. 'It's all right if he catches that pass, it's OK. That's what we want him to catch. We don't want him to catch this,'" Hall said. "Last year he was just out there playing. He's learned what we want him to prevent and what the defense will help him stop."
Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.
With the news breaking Sunday night that longtime New York Giants guard Chris Snee was planning to announce his retirement, one angle that came to mind was the potential impact this could have on Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

Snee
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Snee is Coughlin's son-in-law -- married to Coughlin's daughter and the father of three of Coughlin's grandsons, who are often there to greet Coughlin in the locker room after games. The family is a very close one, and as driven and intense as Coughlin is as the Giants' coach, he's a man who values time with his family a great deal. Having Snee on the Giants for the past 10 years has delivered a tangible benefit to Coughlin, providing an easy means of maintaining a unique form of work-life balance. Not having Snee on the team -- or at least in the building for injury rehab, as he was last year -- is going to feel odd.

For the record, I believe Coughlin when he says he doesn't think about retiring. People outside the building talk about it because he's the oldest coach in the league (turning 68 next month), but Coughlin always says he doesn't feel old and has nothing in particular he's looking to do in retirement. He loves coaching and remains as good a coach as the NFL has. Other than the external perceptions of others, there's really no basis for a discussion about his retirement. My opinion is there's no real reason to think Coughlin will or should give this up any time soon.

But as we look big-picture, I think it's worth considering how the loss of Snee from the roster could affect the way Coughlin looks at his job. Something's going to be different for Coughlin this year. Snee has been on every Giants team he's coached. Not having him and his family around will have an effect that goes beyond that of any other player's departure. I'm confident it won't affect the way Coughlin approaches his work and coaches the team, because he's obviously a high-level professional with a rare ability to maintain focus and priorities. I'm just saying it's not out of the question that this particular move could affect the way Coughlin feels about the job in the big picture, and could factor into decisions he makes about it down the road.
The national media, apparently, don't think too highly of the Redskins as they enter training camp. But considering the Redskins are coming off a 3-13 season, have a new head coach and have questions surrounding the quarterback, is that a big surprise? No. If you want to paint a negative picture of the team, it's not that difficult. It doesn't mean it will unfold this way -- I still remember how bleak a picture was painted in the summer of 1999, after the team had been sold, when some predicted 3-13. The Redskins won the division. Then again, last year many pundits -- including me -- predicted success, only to watch the season go up in flames. The point: With any team, and the Redskins in particular, it's tough to know. In the last 15-plus years, rarely has a Redskins season gone the way many anticipated. In truth, it's very, very difficult to know about most teams at this point.

But as camp gets set to begin Thursday, I'll take a look at 10 reasons for concern (followed Tuesday morning by 10 reasons for hope).

  1. [+] EnlargeJason Hatcher
    AP Photo/Nick WassJason Hatcher is one of three Redskins D-lineman who are over 30 and coming off surgeries. Will they hold up this season?
    The defense hasn't improved enough. The team added Jason Hatcher, who will help the pass rush, and Ryan Clark, who adds leadership. But the defense had a lot of holes. And if Clark can't play at a certain level, it will have another one.
  2. The Redskins' new starting inside linebacker (entering camp), Keenan Robinson, has 11 career tackles in two injury-filled seasons. Can he handle the position? Can he stay healthy? We have no idea.
  3. They lack a proven punter. Robert Malone has NFL experience, but booming punts precede line-drive punts. They might have a kicker in rookie Zach Hocker.
  4. I have no idea how the first-year head coach Jay Gruden will handle the job. There was split opinion on him outside the organization when he was hired. Does that matter? Maybe not. But it's just that he wasn't a slam-dunk hire and instead was the choice of a guy in charge, Bruce Allen, making his first significant hire. (He'd never had this power in the past.)
  5. Quarterback Robert Griffin III still must show he can be a consistently effective passer and must return to being a playmaker. He's learning his second offense and, while there are similarities to the previous offense, it still requires time. Given the talent at receiver (and tight end Jordan Reed), the Redskins want to throw the ball.
  6. The Redskins' defense under Jim Haslett has not fared well. During his tenure from 2010 to 2013, the Redskins are cumulatively 29th in yards per play (5.75), 31st in yards per pass attempt (7.22), 21st in yards after contact (5,016) and 27th in points per game (25.2), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They're in the top half on third downs (16th) and red zone efficiency (15th), but overall the defense has to improve drastically. How much will it help Haslett to, finally, have complete say in the defense, from who his coaches are to the play calling? We're about to find out. Over the years when I've talked to people around the NFL about Haslett, I get split opinions: Some really like him and his style. Others call his defense too boom-or-bust. The Redskins clearly didn't blame him for all the defensive woes. Now his defense must reward that faith.
  7. The offensive line remains problematic. There weren't major upgrades all over (just as one team source said before free agency). Not everything is on the O-line when it comes to protection, but this group needs to play better. The Redskins did make some changes at left guard, with Shawn Lauvao (who had his issues in Cleveland) and Kory Lichtensteiger (shifting from guard to center). Is that enough? Will the right side be improved? Also, in protection, left tackle Trent Williams, a legit Pro Bowl talent, wasn't infallible either. He needs to be more consistent, though he is clearly their best lineman. If he becomes more consistent, he could be one of the few Redskins considered in the discussion for the best at his position.
  8. Age. Well, on defense at least, where five likely starters will be 30 or older. This is not a proud Steelers defense nearing the end of a terrific run. This is a defense that has mostly struggled, that is older in most areas. The unit has three defensive linemen who are at least 30 years old coming off surgeries. How will they hold up? Will Stephen Bowen be effective coming off his microfracture surgery?
  9. Defensive depth. I'm not sold on it at safety. If something happens to Clark, who enters? Bacarri Rambo needs a chance to show he can play better, and if he does that's great. But he has a lot to prove. And if he can't do it, then is Trenton Robinson or Akeem Davis really the answer? Strong safety Phillip Thomas has a lot to prove too, after missing his rookie season. The defensive line has good names, but again age and surgeries are a bad mix. Barry Cofield could be an effective interior rusher next to Hatcher. But if anything happens to Hatcher, then what happens to their interior threat?
  10. History. The Redskins have finished last in seven in the past 11 seasons and three of the last four. Mike Shanahan wanted to change the culture in Washington, but the way to do so is by winning. The Redskins haven't done so consistently in a long, long time.

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