NFC East: Washington Redskins

Redskins game day: Notes and analysis

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
  • Cousins
    This is the sort of game that can propel a season to good things. If the Washington Redskins can beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins suddenly look like a different team. It's not just because Kirk Cousins is in, either. A 2-1 record with a chance to get to 3-1 Thursday? Big deal. Especially with a schedule that looks a little different, with Arizona even more banged up, Tampa Bay struggling and Minnesota minus its best player. Of course, by the time Washington faces those teams who knows how the Redskins will look (or those teams for that matter). But the tone and outlook of the season can change with a win Sunday, especially if Cousins has a solid day.
  • Though I picked the Eagles to win by one -- our picks are made on Wednesday -- all week I've felt the Redskins are sitting in a good spot. The Eagles are missing one of their top defensive players, linebacker Mychal Kendricks. They have issues along the offensive line, especially at right tackle where former third stringer Andrew Gardner will start -- he struggled with rushers getting inside; that's a Ryan Kerrigan/Trent Murphy strength.
  • The Redskins have the corners to deal with Philadelphia's receivers, so it will come down to limiting yards after the catch by Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy -- and limiting them on first down. The Redskins are capable of winning this game, but they've played one complete game since the 2012 season. It just so happened to be last week -- an aberration or foreshadowing?
  • Though one player said this week that losing Kendricks wouldn't hurt as much as you would think because of how well their front plays, I can say: the coaches do not agree. Safe to say they're not disappointed that Kendricks won't be on the field.
  • For what it's worth, the Redskins did a good job against McCoy in the second meeting last season (20 carries, 77 yards), using their big nickel to clog lanes up the middle and pinching the outside. McCoy makes defenders miss all the time, but the Redskins had an excellent shot on tackles in the hole or on the edge. I think they'd take those numbers again.
  • Cousins' ability to use his eyes to maneuver the defense was crucial last week (Robert Griffin III did this well, too, especially on the deep ball to DeSean Jackson). The Jaguars' defensive players read the quarterbacks' eyes, but the Eagles pattern match -- boiled down, it's playing man coverage within your zone. So maneuvering with your eyes is not as vital as it was last week.
  • Paul
    It sounds simplistic, but the coaches insist the biggest difference in tight end Niles Paul this season is confidence. He's naturally improved at this position, now in his third season at this spot. But they said one big change in Paul was evident after he dropped a wide-open throw Sunday. On his next chance, he made a tough grab on a back-shoulder pass in the end zone, with a defender in his face. To the coaches, that catch was an example of growth.
  • The Eagles will be an active team up front. It'll be on center Kory Lichtensteiger to know what's coming and call out adjustments accordingly. "Sometimes it's hard to ID; they're always running games and stuff. It changes your angles; you can get picked," Lichtensteiger said. "Just getting to your normal landmarks doesn't always work against a team like that."
  • Those looks can make it difficult for a young quarterback making his fifth career start like Cousins. But as Cousins said Friday afternoon, about a half hour after practice ended, if they felt it was that big an issue they would have still been on the field working on this aspect. Not that he thinks it's easy. "It's a lot mentally to handle," he said. "You've got to be on your business, have to be aware of the play clock how much time you have and what they're trying to give you. But at the end of the day we have to execute and not turn the ball over and make positive plays."
  • The Redskins' confidence in rookie Ryan Grant is legitimate. Coach Jay Gruden has nicknamed him "The Clinic" for how well he runs his routes and how savvy he is. There's trust between he and Cousins; coaches loved that third-and-five pass for 21 yards to the 3-yard line in which Cousins threw him open. Cousins knew where Grant would be and he got there when the ball arrived.

Gruden says DeSean Jackson improving

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson did not practice for a second consecutive day, but coach Jay Gruden remained cautiously optimistic about his chances for playing Sunday. Still, Gruden said, it could come down to a game-day decision.

 Jackson, nursing a sprained left shoulder, did catch a couple passes from a short distance during individual drills. But that was about all he did. Gruden said there’s still a chance Jackson could get some work Friday.

“He’s still sore, but he’s getting better, and his range of motion is better,” Gruden said. “It’s an injury where a couple more days will do him a lot of good.

“A lot of it is pain tolerance. … I think he’ll be OK.”

Gruden said they will test Jackson the morning of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Jackson said Wednesday that he plans on playing, and he texted good friend LeSean McCoy and told the Eagles running back he would play against his former team.

“There’s no guarantee, that even if he does dress, that he has to play the whole game,” Gruden said. “There’s a chance he plays 20 to 30 plays. Maybe 60. I don’t know yet. He’ll be honest about it. I know he wants to play and compete against the Eagles, but he also knows we have other guys who can do a better job than him if he’s injured. He still has a few good days left to get this right.”

If he can’t play, then rookie Ryan Grant will get more opportunities in Washington’s three-receiver sets. He lacks Jackson’s speed, but he’s a talented route-runner.

Also on the injury report for Washington: Tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive lineman Kedric Golston (groin), corner Tracy Porter (hamstring) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) did not practice. Center Kory Lichtensteiger (groin) and kicker Kai Forbath (groin) was limited.

Ryan Clark unimpressed with blowout win

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
ASHBURN, Va. -- Ryan Clark has a message for teammates: Don’t be too impressed by Sunday. It’s one not often delivered in Washington, but Clark wants them to know that Jacksonville is not a good team and what happened Sunday, well, should have.

It’s one of the reasons the Washington Redskins like having Clark around. He’s played for winning teams in the NFL -- two Super Bowls -- and another one in college at LSU. He knows what a winning effort must look like over 16 games, not just one. Part of it is not falling in love with what you did the previous week. Like Sunday, when the Redskins held Jacksonville to 148 yards, recorded 10 sacks and won 41-10.

“Going into this week we can’t throw a party, can’t hang balloons around lockers,” Clark said.

Don’t get Clark wrong. A 31-point win in the NFL is always good, regardless of the opponent.

“The way we were rushing, I could have kept my clothes on from before the game,” he said. “I did absolutely nothing. It’s why I feel decently good today. I’m excited about that. It was good.”

But ...

“In my honest opinion, this is a team that’s waiting around until they can get Blake Bortles ready to go,” Clark said. “That’s how you’re supposed to play against a team like that, a team down its No. 1 receiver and missing a very good receiver due to suspension. You’re supposed to play well against them. It’s not any barometer of how good we can be this season or how good we were [Sunday].

“If there’s a guy who can’t block Ryan Kerrigan, then Ryan Kerrigan should beat him off the ball and make sacks. Should he make four? I don’t know about that. That’s Ryan going above and beyond. There’s a guy who can’t block [Brian Orakpo], he needs to beat him. A guy can’t block [Jason Hatcher], he needs to beat him. Guys who can’t beat [David Amerson] and [DeAngelo Hall], we need to cover them. That’s what you do against a team that’s better than you.”

The Redskins won Sunday despite losing -- in the past week and during the game -- a starting tight end, nose tackle, quarterback and receiver. That’s good. But for Clark, it only hammered home his point even more.

To him, this is what it meant:

“That you played a team that wasn’t very good that day and you capitalized on mismatches and opportunities that you have. Jacksonville, they’re trying to find themselves, figure out who they are as a team. It was a good week to have new guys come in and play. Sunday (against Philadelphia) we’ll know. When we step on the field against an NFC East opponent picked to win the division. For me it’s about preparing for that, not talking 41-10. When I watch film I want to figure out why it wasn’t 50-0.”

It’s an approach Clark saw his previous teams take. You can't scoff at a lopsided win in the NFL. But if the Redskins want to truly do anything, it’s an approach they should adopt as well.

Redskins 41, Jaguars 10: Ten observations

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
videoLANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 41-10 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars:
  1. I don’t know if Robert Griffin III will return this season. I do know he’s waiting until his MRI Monday before he counts himself out. It didn’t look good, of course, but he really doesn’t want to speculate on any timetable. If he’s somehow able to return this season, there will be a lot of what-if scenarios discussed: as in, what if Kirk Cousins plays well (that’s what you want your backup to do, of course)? What if the Redskins are winning (also what you want, it’s about the team, not one guy)? Would you then put Griffin back in (not if the above two scenarios exist)? How will this impact his game? But there’s plenty of time to worry about the future later.
  2. The tough part for Griffin is that he needed a game like he felt he was going to have Sunday. It’s not as if he had lost confidence, but it could have been a springboard game, or at least one where he could remind everyone of his ability. Instead, people will focus on his durability -- a second major leg injury in three seasons. Injuries happen in football and this was a freak one. But Griffin did what anyone would want him to do: extend a play and make a throw. And he still got hurt. The old Griffin was emerging; now he must wonder what the future holds, though that really depends on what the MRI reveals.
  3. Kudos to Cousins for how he handled the situation. The Redskins never seriously considered trading him, nor should they have for this very reason. Having a quality backup means the Redskins can at least look at the next 14 weeks, if that’s how long he plays, and still feel they can accomplish something. Cousins, too, will get a better chance than at the end of a 2013 season in which the coaches knew they would be fired.
  4. I liked how Cousins handled most of his throws. I’ll get more into some of those Monday and Tuesday, but he does a good job getting off his first read and finding the open target. That’s what happened on his first touchdown pass to fullback Darrell Young. Cousins looked left, then came back right and Young was wide open. Cousins was able to go deep in his progression -- and did so while staying clean in the pocket.
  5. Also liked how Cousins reacted to negative situations. He turned the corner on a boot with a defender coming at him. Because he knows he can’t outrun anyone, he planted and threw to Niles Paul for 23 yards. Decisive reactions. I don’t know what Cousins will do going forward -- he’s decisive, but sometimes that gets him in trouble, too. He’s comfortable in the pocket and running this offense. Going forward he’ll need to be consistently accurate, but this is the opportunity he desired.
  6. In the last week, the Redskins had to replace a nose tackle, starting tight end, deep threat receiver and quarterback. Each player who entered for the injured player did well Sunday. That’s impressive. Chris Baker is a good nose tackle and Paul had his best receiving game as a tight end. The Redskins’ receivers were not dynamic; they were effective. Call it what you want -- good coaching, depth, whatever. It bailed out Washington Sunday. Doesn’t always go that way, especially here.
  7. Jacksonville is really bad. But the Redskins did more than what they should. It was the best they’ve looked since the 2012 season. They were dominant in every phase -- not sure last year they were ever dominant, or even good, in more than one in a game.
  8. I will get into this more Monday morning and Tuesday, but Jason Hatcher is better than I anticipated. Hatcher can be dominant inside and the trickle down impact is legitimate. Lines can’t slide to the outside like they could in the past -- and if they do, then he’s one-on-one inside. That’s a total mismatch.
  9. Brian Orakpo, for example, was being blocked by the backs a couple times. He won those battles, too -- he didn’t get many such rushes in the past. Credit to Hatcher. What surprises me about Hatcher is how quick he is; his game is not just about strength.
  10. Ryan Kerrigan had a record day and I gave him a game ball, but that was more symbolic because of what the defense did as a group. Ten sacks -- Jacksonville only had eight first downs and 148 yards total. The Jags were in John Beck territory. The Redskins knew Jacksonville’s line was weak and once they got the Jaguars into passing situations it was all over.

Redskins locker room quick takes

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
ASHBURN, Va. -- Some highlights from the Washington Redskins' open locker room session Thursday:
  • Not a whole lot of activity in the open locker room period Thursday. Read: Not many players entered the locker room, so there wasn't a whole lot of information gathered. Just the way it was. Fortunately, a lot was gathered Wednesday.
  • Defensive lineman Kedric Golston said he's hoping he can do some running in practice Thursday, testing his injured groin. There does not seem to be a great deal of optimism for his chances Sunday. And he's not going to be swayed by what the Redskins don't have. In other words, he said his decision comes down to this: "If you're healthy, you play." It's not about the fact that Washington already is down a lineman in Barry Cofield. Golston would back up Chris Baker at nose.
  • Linebacker Keenan Robinson said the coaches compare Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne to Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a guy who's been around a little bit and can hurt you if given time. "If you let him get comfortable, he can hurt you," Robinson said.
  • Center Kory Lichtensteiger talked about his game Sunday -- one of the best I've seen him play -- and why center suits him. It maximizes his strengths, as in his quickness. But Jacksonville plays a different style up front than Houston -- a 4-3 front vs. a 3-4 -- so it presents a different challenge. More on that later in the week.
  • Returner Andre Roberts talked about making more plays downfield, as well as his mentality in the return game. As for the downfield part, my two cents: They'll have more chances Sunday to make those plays.

RG III report: Learning in the pocket

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
ASHBURN, Va. -- The game plan didn't call for quarterback Robert Griffin III to run, nor did the Houston Texans always allow him room to do so. It’s also clear the Washington Redskins want Griffin to become a strong pocket passer.

But the Redskins still want his legs to be a part of his game. And when he extends plays, they want to make sure they get better results. Like on the incomplete pass to Andre Roberts against Houston, when Griffin threw the wide-open receiver a pass that led him out of bounds. Roberts was ruled out of bounds and officials did not overturn it after a review.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderRobert Griffin III was solid against the Texans, but he'll need to be much better moving forward for the Redskins to improve.
The point by the Redskins' coaches was this: It was a missed opportunity.

“Those are plays that we need to take advantage of with an elusive, athletic quarterback,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, “if we are going to really take that next step. Pocket passing is one thing, but when he breaks contain, that’s when there is a lot of damage done, and you see the great ones do that.”

It’s not as if Griffin was bad in Sunday's 17-6 loss. He completed 29 of 37 passes for 267 yards. But the Redskins scored just six points and the third-year quarterback didn’t do enough -- like most of the Redskins' offensive players. The Texans took away the deep ball by playing their corners sometimes 8 and even 9 yards off the receivers. In fact, while the lack of a deep ball was lamented, the coaches wish they had thrown more comebacks and hitches -- they were easy gains all day.

Gruden said the same thing Wednesday about Griffin’s performance that he did Sunday after the game and again Monday. Griffin did some good things and some not so good.

“He was accurate with the football, which was good," Gruden said. "He was decisive with the football, which was good. But there were some other plays in there -- a couple of the sacks he took weren’t very good. Some of his out-of-the-pocket decisions weren’t very good, and that’s where we need to thrive as an offense.”

But really, it’s still about learning to be even more of a pocket passer. That’s not just throwing the ball, it’s learning when to throw it away, too. Whether this is the best usage of Griffin remains to be seen, but this is how the Redskins are using him, so it’s where he must improve.

“If you're going to be a professional football quarterback, you're going to have to learn to be a pocket passer at some point in your career, and he's learning,” Gruden said. “He's not a finished product yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he will get there. I know one thing: that if you keep telling Robert he can’t do something, he's going to do it and he's going to want to do it and he'll get there.

“I like where he's at mentally. I think he's starting to gain momentum and confidence every day out at practice. We just have to carry it over on the field and decisions have to be consistent at the quarterback position, especially when games are tight.”

Also, just because Griffin didn’t have any designed runs Sunday doesn’t mean he won’t in the future. Some games they’ll be a part of the game plan and others they won’t. Two years ago, there were games in which he rarely ran as well, but it was definitely a part of the philosophy. This summer, for example, they rarely used him on designed runs.

“It’s always a threat, it’s always there,” Griffin said. “I’m not trying to stay in the pocket to play quarterback. I’m trying to play a game at an efficient level, at a high level and be what my team needs me to be to win. If that calls on Coach calling more run plays, I’m all for it. If we continue to run the offense we have then I’ll do that, too."

Jaguars vs. Redskins preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11

The first two games of the Jay Gruden era for the Washington Redskins looked like they made for a quick start, with games against Houston and then Jacksonville at home, who combined for a 6-26 record last season. But suddenly, nothing looks easy for the Redskins as they try to rebound from a 3-13 season. This is not about whether they go 0-2 and can still make the postseason; it’s about re-establishing themselves and playing well.

Conversely, the Jacksonville Jaguars continue to look like a team ready to take that so-called next step only to stumble. A 17-0 lead in Philadelphia had them on their way; a 34-17 loss reminded them they’re not there. So they, too, view this as a game in which they can establish themselves.

Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's matchup.

Keim: Obviously the Jaguars did something right for a while in Philadelphia before collapsing. What’s different about this team –- and what still must change?

DiRocco: From what we saw in the first half of the Jaguars' game against Philadelphia, the biggest change is that the defense is better. The Jaguars sacked Eagles quarterback Nick Foles five times and forced three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone by cornerback Alan Ball. The team upgraded the front with the additions of ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and tackle Ziggy Hood, and that allows for a much deeper rotation and fresher bodies. For the most part, the Jaguars' defense played well. The Eagles’ two biggest offensive plays were the result of communication issues that occurred when the Jaguars' two best defensive players (middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Johnathan Cyprien) were off the field because of injuries. Those plays happened in the second half, which is an example of one of the two biggest issues the team must fix in order to become better: consistency. The Jaguars played well on offense and defense in the first half but not in the second, and that is the mark of a young team that isn't very good. (The Jaguars have the league’s second-youngest roster.) The other issue is a lack of a running game. The offensive line continues to be a work in progress and the Jags had new starters at left guard, center, right guard and right tackle. It was the first time that group had played together in a game. Still, that’s no excuse. The interior of the line, specifically center Jacques McClendon, has to get better quickly.

John, it seems to be open season on RG III. CBS’ Brandon Tierney called him a mental midget, Fox’s Terry Bradshaw said that he’s not ready to play pocket football and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller said that he’s not well liked in the locker room. Why is Griffin so polarizing and do you think he’s the right QB for this team?

Keim: I’ve been in the locker room with him for three years, and to say that he’s that disliked is just not accurate. That said, I have yet to see anyone who’s universally beloved in my 20 years covering the Redskins -- even Darrell Green had his detractors -- so, yes, there have been some grumbles and some who haven’t liked Griffin. Also, to say he’s a mental midget is beyond ridiculous. Say what you want about his game, but he’s a smart person. It’s hard for me to say why others view him a certain way or why he’s polarizing to others so I can only guess. So my guess would be that it stems from being all over the place before he had really accomplished anything in the NFL (Russell Wilson was all over the place this past offseason; he has a ring). Then Griffin was viewed a certain way because of the issues with his coaches; that never looks good, regardless of who’s at fault. And then add to it the fact he’s struggling and people wonder where his game is headed. Or that some viewed him as a gimmick two years ago. I don’t know. I’m sure there are other reasons. Winning and playing well changes minds and perception. That’s what he must do. Is he the right QB? Well, he needs to be and I think this season will reveal that answer. For one year he absolutely was; last year he struggled. This year he’s transitioning more to the pocket -- and it will take time. I’ve used the words "growing pains" several times because that’s what he’ll endure. It’s tough to make that transition, and I still think they need to use his legs a little more. But I’m not sure they trust him to always protect himself.

Speaking of quarterbacks, when do you think Blake Bortles will take over? What does Chad Henne give them?

DiRocco: The Jaguars have been consistent in saying that they’re not going to put Bortles on the field until they believe he’s ready and that the ideal situation would be that Henne plays well enough so Bortles can sit the bench the entire season and take over as the starter in 2015. But based on the way Bortles performed in the preseason, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get on the field at some point this season, most likely in December after the Jaguars have been eliminated from playoff contention. As for what Henne gives the offense, it’s nothing spectacular. He knows the offense pretty well, doesn’t make huge mistakes and put the team in bad situations and is well-liked and respected in the locker room. He’s a game manager, which is all the Jaguars want him to be right now, although Gus Bradley said they’re encouraging him to take more chances down the field. Though the Jaguars have won just four of their past 17 games, Henne hasn’t been the reason for any of the losses. He’s not killing the team with turnovers or bad decisions, and he did help rally the Jaguars to a victory on the road at Cleveland last season.

How has the culture changed under Jay Gruden from the Mike Shanahan era? What’s the biggest impact he has made in his short time there?

Keim: Funny thing is, Mike Shanahan changed the culture from what he inherited from the Jim Zorn/Vinny Cerrato era. Four years later, the culture needed changing again. The difference now is that coaches feel they can do their jobs without a lot of interference -- for better or worse. The energy on the coaching staff is much different, partly because of who Gruden hired. You could see a difference in practices. I think that’s the change and it’s also the biggest difference. Shanahan liked to meddle; Gruden does not. Gruden has a good rapport with players. Of course, he’s coached only one game. Let’s see how great the rapport is if they keep losing. That’s the key. But, for now, the atmosphere has been a positive one for the Redskins and I credit Gruden and the guys he hired.

I read and heard good things about the Jaguars' offseason, then I would see predictions of 3-13 records. So where are they headed -- and how long is this going to take?

DiRocco: I think the first half of last Sunday’s game against Philadelphia is an indication of the kind of progress the franchise has made. They put pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz, forced turnovers and hit some big plays on offense. It all fell apart in the second half, but the bottom line is that what they did in the first half was something we didn't see from the team in the 2013 season, which was the first for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars should be much more competitive this season, thanks mainly to the upgrade along the defensive front, and that should keep them in more games into the fourth quarter. A lucky bounce or a play here and there and they might be able to steal a victory or two. That being said, this is the second-youngest roster in the league and there are still holes at certain spots (offensive line and linebacker are the most glaring), so getting to .500 this season isn’t realistic. I’ve predicted a 6-10 record and I’ll stick by that. Next season, with Bortles taking over, the Jaguars should compete for a playoff spot.

The biggest issue surrounding the Redskins for a while is the nickname. How has that affected anything, if at all, in the locker room? Have the players been somewhat outside the controversy?

Keim: Zero impact. Players are far more worried about their own jobs and who they play in a given week than they are about the name. I asked one veteran player if they ever discuss it among themselves. The answer: no. It comes up when they’re asked about it, but it’s not as if it’s asked all the time. The daily reporters aren’t, and can’t be, fixated on this issue. There are too many other on-field issues to discuss or storylines that pertain more to the inner workings of the team that have a much greater impact on their performance. Not every player is in favor of the name, but they realize it’s an issue far above their pay grade. And for the local media, there are only so many times you can ask this question to players who won’t, or don’t want to, discuss the matter.

Redskins locker room quick takes

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
ASHBURN, Va. -- Some highlights from the Washington Redskins' open locker room session Wednesday:
  • The Redskins are definitely preparing to play without tight end Jordan Reed, though that's not a big surprise. Quarterback Robert Griffin III said it would hurt not having him -- of course. They knew he would miss time, but they weren't sure how much time he would miss. More on that later; there's still no update from coach Jay Gruden. We won't talk to him until after practice, around 3 p.m.
  • Griffin also said it's not as if he was making it point to stay in the pocket -- when he did get outside, the bootlegs weren't working at all. He also said, "You have to get your home run shots in every now and then."
  • Jacksonville defensive lineman Red Bryant, during a conference call with reporters, said of Griffin, "It does seem like he's trying to stay in the pocket more."
  • Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said he's not worried about the public's perception of him or his game and that he's not a "selfish" player. He's right; Orakpo does what's asked of him and Sunday, more often than not, Houston forced him into coverage by formation. The Texans would spread the field with their regular personnel so if the Redskins were in their base 3-4 front, then he would have to play in the slot. More on this later.
  • Baker
    There's a great deal of confidence in nose tackle Chris Baker and what he can do at nose tackle, taking over for injured Barry Cofield. As Baker said, his body type is more suited to nose than it is to end. I had a talk with him about why playing nose for him is easier than playing end -- more on that Thursday. I will write a little bit on Baker on Wednesday about taking over at nose and what some teammates said. Jason Hatcher loves him, but also said he needs to learn when to curb his "Hollywood" ways and get serious.
  • A lot of talk in the locker room about avoiding an 0-2 start. Any talk about the Redskins possibly taking Jacksonville lightly would be ridiculous: As safety Ryan Clark said, the Jaguars were picking after the Redskins last season -- (or, would have been had Washington had its first-round pick). The Jaguars were 4-12 a year ago, the Redskins 3-13.
The Redskins liked what they had entering the season, even with Stephen Bowen sidelined for at least six weeks -- and maybe more. And even with a backup nose tackle done for the season.

 Still, their starting group was set: Chris Baker at one end, Jason Hatcher at the other and Barry Cofield in the middle. Jarvis Jenkins, coming off a good summer, would be a good third end. They had versatility -- Hatcher could rush inside in both their big nickel and fast nickel; Baker could slide to nose for a series, and Jenkins could play either end and in their big nickel.

But a lot changed with one injury. With Cofield now headed for the short-term injured reserve list, and unable to play for eight games, the Redskins’ depth will be tested, as will their versatility.

Though Cofield did not have a strong second half last season -- certainly not as strong as his first half -- he remained a key part of what Washington did defensively. Also, he played well Sunday. With better depth, he would't be needed as much in their nickel packages, the way he had been in the past. They hoped to keep him fresh -- a necessity -- considering he had hernia surgery in the offseason and was dealing with a strained groin.

Players constantly point out how smart and intuitive he is, knowing offensive tendencies and reacting accordingly. It makes a difference and his penetration on two short-yardage situations was key. He had to learn how to be a nose tackle after never having seen the blocking schemes he did in his first season at the position in 2011.

Baker can handle the position, as it’s probably a more natural spot for him. He plays with excellent leverage and, when that’s the case, power. It’s a good time for him to take over because of his comfort level on defense, reading offenses and understanding his responsibilities up front. He’s developed into a solid player since joining the Redskins. But the Redskins were better off with Cofield in the middle and Baker on the edge. That gave them two quick players along the front to pair with Hatcher’s power.

They can use Kedric Golston at nose in a pinch, as they did Sunday. Even Jenkins played there for at least a snap Sunday. But it’s not the ideal situation.

It’s also another test for Washington’s defense. The Redskins are down one starter with safety Brandon Meriweather suspended for one more game. They have some age and, therefore, durability questions on that side of the ball as well. The defense got off to a good start with its showing Sunday, allowing only 10 points. They certainly can continue playing well without Cofield; it was a lot easier to do so with him.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins' depth along the defensive line will be tested -- and their lack of depth at tight end could become an issue. That is, if nose tackle Barry Cofield and tight end Jordan Reed have to miss more than just a week or two.

That's a distinct possibility, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Monday.

Cofield suffered a high ankle sprain while Reed has a mild hamstring strain. Gruden said both players "could miss some time." But the Redskins won' t know exactly how much time they'll miss yet. Both players underwent MRIs. Gruden said they're still waiting to hear from doctors about the extent of the injuries.

Both players were hurt in Sunday's 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans. Cofield was using a walking boot on his right foot. Reed was going to be a major part of the game plan Sunday, especially in the red zone, Gruden said. But he lasted only seven plays.

"We'll see how it goes," Gruden said. "It's probably a week or two or three [for both players]. We'll see."

Until they know how much time the players will miss, it's hard for them to make any sort of roster move. Gruden said they were going to work out some tight ends in case Reed has to miss more than a little time. But he was not optimistic they'd find someone who could provide the necessary help. They also have Ted Bolser on the practice squad.

They currently have Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul as their tight ends. They used tackle Tom Compton as a tight end in some run packages. The Redskins can also go with a one tight end, three-receiver set. They used that formation 16 times out of 30 first-down plays Sunday.

"If we have to play with two we will," Gruden said. "To bring a guy in this late and get them ready, it'll be rough. We want to find out the severity of Jordan's injury before we go crazy. Hopefully it's not as long as we are dreading, but we'll find out in the next several days."

As for Cofield, the Redskins will start Chris Baker at nose tackle and Jarvis Jenkins at left end. Baker played nose Sunday and has played it in the past -- it may even be his better position. But the Redskins liked having Cofield inside and Baker outside. Cofield understands blocking schemes well and is adept in short-yardage situations. Baker had a good training camp, though that came mostly at the end.

Gruden said Cofield also continues to battle a sore groin, so the rest should help.

The Redskins kept seven defensive linemen on their 53-man roster.

"Our depth is being tested a little bit on the defensive line," Gruden said. "[But] Chris Baker is a very good nose guard so we'll be OK there."
videoHOUSTON -- It would be fine to point out the positives and say, if only. As in, if only the Washington Redskins had executed a basic block on a punt. If only they had not fumbled twice inside the red zone. If only they had made a tackle after a blown pass coverage.

Then, perhaps, the Redskins would have exited feeling much differently. Instead, Jay Gruden walked with a dejected look on his face, drained from the emotion of a 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans. The problem is, the if only game doesn’t work in this case. The Redskins once again made too many mistakes.

Yes, it’s a new season but the errors they made certainly made it feel a lot like 2013.

“You can’t make those mistakes and expect to win the game,” Redskins running back Alfred Morris said.

The frustrating part for Washington is that each of the mistakes was eminently preventable. But they added up to a rough debut for first-year coach Gruden.

It started with the extra point, the easiest play in the NFL. J.J. Watt penetrated the middle and Kai Forbath's kick appeared to be low. It was a bad combination and it resulted in a block and lost point.

On the Texans' next possession, crossed signals followed by a poor tackle attempt led to a touchdown.

Safety Bacarri Rambo did what he was supposed to do. He dropped to the middle and was supposed to read the quarterback. But DeAndre Hopkins, running in his area, turned to the outside. Rambo spun around and a huge gap was created. Another player was supposed to be there in coverage. They were not.

“They were hurrying up a little bit,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We had to get some things figured out before the play and we didn’t. It put Bacarri in an extremely bad situation. That was a team mess-up. That wasn’t just Bacarri. I know it will be played that way, but it wasn’t his fault.”

“Just blown coverage,” Rambo said.

But the missed tackle around the 35-yard line was his fault. Hopkins broke free from the attempt and completed the 76-yard score.

“A poor angle,” Rambo said.

“It was poor,” Gruden said. “We all saw it. It was poor. A poor angle, poor attempt at a tackle and it led to a huge play in the game.”

Then there was the blocked punt. Upback Roy Helu failed to block Alfred Blue, who raced inside and blocked Tress Way's punt, then returned it five yards for a touchdown.

“I didn’t step heavy inside and I should have,” Helu said. “I didn’t do my job. I feel terrible.”

But the Redskins could have overcome that block if not for two fumbles inside the Texans’ 10-yard line. First, quarterback Robert Griffin III was tripped by center Kory Lichtensteiger as he came out of his stance. Griffin tried to hand off to Morris, running outside to the right. But Griffin was fully outstretched and it led to a botched exchange, a fumble and the Texans ball.

Their next possession ended with tight end Niles Paul fumbling at the end of a 48-yard catch, having the ball knocked free from behind.

“It’s inexcusable to have turnovers in the red zone,” Gruden said.

For Washington it’s a line that was uttered quite a few times last season, when they also dealt with special teams mishaps and big plays allowed thanks in part to missed tackles.

“We don’t have that feeling,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “This isn’t the same team. We know it ain’t.”

He could be, and should be, right. I still think this will be an improved team. But if they wanted to let everyone know this was a new era, they went about it the wrong way. It felt too much like the old one.

Orakpo, Reed listed as questionable

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
ASHBURN, Va. – Linebacker Brian Orakpo and tight end Jordan Reed both are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at Houston. But, according to the injury report, both players were full participants in practice Friday.

However, corner Tracy Porter (ankle) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) are out.

Reed (sprained thumb) said he would play and Orakpo (sprained right ankle) said Thursday that he had no worries about playing Sunday. Porter said after visiting a doctor during the week, he’s day to day with his hamstring. He said doctors told him it was looking good.

Porter has played 16 games only once in his first six seasons (it happened to be last year). Durability issues have followed him throughout his career.

“Durability is the question mark,” he said. “Everyone has to put a label on somebody. That happens to be the label they want to put on me. They can do it. It happens. It’s a physical sport. It’s something I have to overcome. It’s a minor injury. I know what I can do once I’m out there and the coaches know what I can do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

E.J. Biggers has served as the primary nickel corner in his absence during the summer. Rookie Bashaud Breeland also has worked there, though it’s still a new spot for him.

For Houston, two players are probable: tight end Garrett Graham, who has not practiced all week because of a back injury, and safety Shiloh Keo, who was listed on the injury report for the first time all week because of a calf issue.

Meanwhile, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Bacarri Rambo would start at strong safety for the suspended Brandon Meriweather on Sunday. That’s no surprise, given that the only other option is Duke Ihenacho, who wasn’t signed until this past Sunday and still has a lot to learn.

Redskins notes: Orakpo limited again

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
ASHBURN, Va. – Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said he would be limited in practice, so it was no surprise that, for the second day, he indeed took part in only a small portion of the practice.

Orakpo also said his sprained right ankle wouldn't prevent him from playing Sunday against Houston.

“No worries,” he said. “I should be good.”

The Redskins need him to be, considering his importance to the pass rush. If Orakpo can’t play, rookie Trent Murphy would take over. That represents a potentially big drop-off considering how much the coaches ask of the outside linebackers, and it would be Murphy’s first game.

But the coaches expect Murphy won’t have to replace anyone.

“I expect [Orakpo] to play and play well,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He usually does play well when he plays.”

In other notes:
  • Corner Tracy Porter was absent for a second consecutive day because of his hamstring issue, head coach Jay Gruden said. Linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) did not practice, either.
  • For Houston, every player practiced in full except for tight end Garrett Graham, who did not practice for a second consecutive day because of his back.
    This isn’t a surprise, but Andre Roberts will be the No. 1 kick and punt returner Sunday, Gruden said. The Redskins could use Santana Moss for an occasional punt return, but Roberts has the speed to threaten teams in both roles. Plus he has experience (though only 16 career kickoff returns and none in the past two years).
  • Defensive end Jason Hatcher said his knee feels close to 100 percent, but it’s not as if he doesn’t feel some soreness in his knee. “I have my days,” he said. “It’s football; you’re going to be hurting. But not to the point where I have to miss practices. I just have to stay on top of it and rehab and manage it during the season and take it from there.” As far as his conditioning, Hatcher said he took all the snaps in practice this week and isn’t worried about that aspect for Sunday. “The momentum of the game and the adrenaline I have will take me through the game,” he said. “Once I get between those lines, I’m playing.”
  • For what it’s worth, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the last player off the field Thursday. He spent a good 20 minutes working with tight ends Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen, with tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. On a side field, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw to receiver Leonard Hankerson. It’s hard to imagine Hankerson will need to stay on the physically unable to perform list for more than six weeks, but we’ll see.
  1. Britt
    How will the Washington Redskins slow J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? All we really know about Clowney in the NFL, considering he played so little this summer, is that he's an athletic freak. He'll be facing an athletic tackle in Trent Williams and it's a matchup the Redskins need him to control so they can focus on stopping Watt. The problem with Watt is that he'll line up in a few different places and is an excellent inside rusher. The Redskins have not protected well from the interior. They can't afford many one-on-one battles against him -- not if they want Robert Griffin III to have much time in the pocket.
  2. How much will Washington's offense change? Yes, it was vanilla in the preseason just like every other team in the NFL. But there's still a mystery to it because this is Jay Gruden's first season as a head coach and because it's hard to imagine him only having Robert Griffin III be a drop-back passer. Neither Griffin nor the line is built to win that way consistently. But how, exactly, will Gruden use Griffin? We did not see a lot of zone read this summer (two years ago we saw lots of read options in camp). But it may well be they need to use it because it has been an effective part of the offense the past two seasons (averaged 5.33 yards per zone read run in 2013, for example).
  3. Rambo
    Who will replace Brandon Meriweather? Certainly seems that Bacarri Rambo will be the guy for the opener at least. He knows the defense and can play both spots, allowing Ryan Clark to sometimes come down in the box, too. I would not want Clark down there too often, just from a durability standpoint. It's hard to imagine Duke Ihenacho knowing the defense enough to warrant starting. It's a different defense than what he's accustomed to, not only in coverages but in terms of where he fits against the run. But, long-term, it could be Ihenacho or even Phillip Thomas replacing Meriweather should this happen again. Thomas just has to stay healthy while working on the practice squad.
  4. How good is Houston's offensive line? That will be a key to this game so it's worth wondering about. Two years ago the Texans sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl after a 12-4 season. They were excellent not only in protection but in opening up cutback lanes for Arian Foster. Last year, though, Foster suffered a season-ending back injury. And the tackles, Duane Brown, and Derek Newton, dealt with their own injuries. The result? A bad season. But the line is supposedly healthy. If that's the case it'll be a good first test for the Redskins' line -- and their new-look pass rush.
  5. How will they handle Andre Johnson and Foster? For starters, Foster was held out of the preseason to protect him after his back injury. But he will play Sunday -- and the Redskins' improved tackling and faster defense will get a good immediate test. If they don't pursue well, Foster will make them pay. As for Johnson, they will not use DeAngelo Hall on him at all times, instead keeping the corners to their respective side. It's an indication of David Amerson's growth entering his second season. It's a good challenge for him. Johnson caught 109 passes last season, but only five for touchdowns. But: don't sleep on receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is not a fast player but runs excellent routes, has long arms and is a hard runner after the catch. He finished with 802 receiving yards as a rookie last season -- playing with bad quarterbacks.

Tress Way a longtime Redskin

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
ASHBURN, Va. -- He’s not about to be sucked into a controversy, not after just winning a job for a team he signed with two weeks ago.

 Washington Redskins punter Tress Way, though, understands the nickname controversy -- and has since his high school playing days.

Way played for Tulsa Union High School in Oklahoma whose nickname also happens to be the Redskins. They’ve received pressure to change their name but have resisted.

While Way didn’t want to discuss the team’s name, he did talk with excitement about one of his high school’s traditions. The topic arose because he was talking about what signing with Washington meant to him and those he played sports with in high school.

At football games, players ran onto the field through a teepee with smoke coming out, chanting, Way said, “All my life I want to be a Redskin.” Then they would chant, “Work, work, baby, work, work.” So, after signing with the Redskins last month, Way said he received 65 texts from high school buddies filled with the Redskin line.

“I had work, work, baby, work, work just copy and pasted to everybody,” Way said.

As for his high school, the National Congress of American Indians urged them last year to change their nickname, pointing out that 28 other high schools have done so. Tulsa Union declined.

According to the Oklahoman, Tulsa Union issued a statement in response, saying, “Union community members of all races tell us this is not an issue divided strictly on the lines of race. The debate appears to be between some people outside of this district who have a different opinion as to how people inside this school district should believe, feel, and identify themselves. It is those within the Union community that the district serves.

“Definitions need to be in context of time, place and usage. In this day and age, in the Union community, ‘Redskins' is not derogatory; rather it defines a diverse, yet close-knit community that exhibits great pride and spirit in its schools and programs as well as in its determination and traditions of success.”