NFC East: Washington Redskins
“That’s sweet, man. That’s fun,” the Washington Redskins cornerback said.
He was serious. It returned him to his first season in Green Bay, when he’d face either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers in practice. And Blackmon enjoyed that time.
“It was bullets flying all day,” Blackmon said. “So it was an advantage of ours; if you weren’t better than our two quarterbacks then you had issues.”
So after Sunday's visit from the New Orleans Saints, the Redskins can know they might not face a better quarterback the rest of the season. Not after facing future Hall of Famers in consecutive weeks. And what the Redskins know is that there are aspects of the games of Brady and Brees that are similar and some that are not.
Here’s a look at the styles of both quarterbacks through the Redskins' eyes:
Familiarity with the system
Brady has operated in the same offensive system under coach Bill Belichick for 16 years, one of the most beneficial streaks in the NFL. But Brees isn’t far behind, having played 10 seasons in the same offense under coach Sean Payton.
“They’ve been in their offense for a lot of years and know it like the back of their hand,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “There isn’t much you can throw at them from a defensive standpoint that’s going to get them off their game. They know where the ball is supposed to go in every situation.”
Style of passing game
It could be more about personnel, but Brees is more apt to throw downfield than Brady. In eight games this season, Brees has attempted 42 passes of 20 yards or more -- 14 more than Brady, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And Brady has yet to throw a touchdown pass that has traveled that distance (Brees has three).
“Drew can stretch the field,” Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. “You’ve got Brady who has his guys running every damn route tree in the book they can get. And I’m not saying the Patriots don’t have those roadrunners, but the Saints have that. So if Brees needs to get the ball down the field, he has the arm strength with the speed to do it.”
Hall sees a difference in this area, too. However, it’s not as if Brees only looks downfield: He has attempted 181 passes of five yards or less -- one more than Brady.
“Tom is more systematic with it,” Hall said. “His offense is a bam, bam, dink-and-dunk style. But I’ve seen Drew go out two or three series and hit all checkdowns. Even though shots are built in, he’s patient enough to take what the defense gives you. As soon as he finds that one guy open and it’s a bomb, he’ll let it fly.”
Blackmon said the signal-callers just run different styles that suit their strengths.
“With Brees, it’s more I’m going to drop back and dice you guys up,” Blackmon said. “I remember playing against him and no matter how tight the coverage is, he’ll throw it to a perfect spot where the receiver will catch it. With Brady, it’s more, ‘I’ll take advantage of my matchups and every time I line up I’ll get us into a perfect play.’ Brees just scans the entire field and he’ll find the open man.”
Moving in the pocket
Neither player is going to try to win with his legs -- they’ve combined to run the ball 33 times this season. But both can move well in the pocket, though they do so differently.
“Drew will get outside the pocket,” Hall said. “Tom seems to step up in the pocket and go left or right, but he won’t try to get outside the pocket. Drew will really move around.”
Some of that stems from Brady being 6-foot-4 and Brees standing 6-foot. Brady can see over the offensive line; Brees needs to create more passing lanes.
“Brady knows how to maneuver through his line if the pressure is coming and he’ll get the ball where he needs to,” Jean Francois said. “With Brees, you just have to get your hands up. You have to do something for him not to look over that line of scrimmage.”
Brady can move defensive backs with his eyes, getting them to cheat to one side before hitting them back the other way. Brees will do that as well, but he has a strong shoulder fake that burns corners. Brees used that shoulder fake to burn Tennessee for a touchdown last week.
“It’s definitely something that’s taken years to perfect, but he can move you off the spot with his shoulder,” Hall said. “It’s amazing how he’s moving guys out of the way and opening a window for someone else.”
Regardless, the Redskins know Sunday will be another challenge.
“For us it’s about going out there and competing,” Hall said. “You won’t see two better quarterbacks than we’ve faced in back-to-back weeks.”
ATLANTA – The final play, one that turned a potentially resilient win into a crushing defeat, unfolded exactly how the Atlanta Falcons wanted.
One week after leading a game-winning drive to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw an interception that turned into the game-winning touchdown as Robert Alford ran 59 yards for a touchdown.
It was a good news, bad news for Cousins and the offense. He led some clutch drives; he missed some key throws.
“I wasn’t good enough on some of those throws,” Cousins said. “There’s nowhere to point except at myself. I have to make those throws. I can make those throws, and I believe I will over the long haul. But today I left too many out there.”
Cousins and the Redskins’ offense finally displayed life in the fourth quarter by scoring 12 points -- three of which came on a drive with 24 seconds left in regulation. A second straight week of such late success would have delivered quite a bounce.
But the crushing play started with a good blitz from Atlanta, which left linebacker Nate Stupar with a free rush. Cousins knew where he had to throw the ball, but with Stupar free, it bought him little time. It provided Alford a chance to read the play well, starting slightly inside Grant and resulting with him sliding outside and then breaking as the ball was thrown wide. When Grant tried to break after turning around, he slipped.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden wasn’t going to overanalyze what happened.
“Ryan Grant just slipped and fell, and that was unfortunate,” he said. “There really isn’t anything to say on that.”
Grant did not talk to reporters, so it’s tough to know what happened from his perspective and what he was supposed to do on the route. He has declined multiple requests this season. Cousins didn’t mention anything about Grant slipping after the game.
“I felt the need to get rid of the ball and not take a sack and kill a drive,” Cousins said. “I threw it, and the guy made a play, and that was it. I tried to put it where I felt it needed to be put. Until I see the film, I can’t say much else without conviction.”
Redskins nose tackle Terrance Knighton said, "Kirk did a good job all game. I went to him after the game and said, 'Don't hang your head. Their defense made a play.'"
Cousins was, at best, inconsistent -- completing 21 of 32 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was intercepted in the first half on a ball that bounced off Pierre Garcon’s hands. While Garcon said he should have caught the ball, the pass was also off-target. He misfired several other times to Garcon but connected with him for 19 yards on the game-tying drive.
But Cousins also drove the Redskins 80 yards in three plays after Atlanta took a 12-7 lead early in the fourth. Then he drove them 46 yards in four plays for the game-tying field goal. It was good enough to nearly win; it wasn’t good enough to win.
“He was up and down,” Gruden said. “He’s a young quarterback on the road, hostile environment. He competed, made some big-time throws, missed some throws he would normally make. We want to be in the game at the end, and he put us in the position to be there. Unfortunately, Ryan slipped, and they made a good play. We can get better from Kirk. We can demand better from Kirk, and he will get better.”
Much has been made over the past year about Cousins' ability to recover from bad plays. But Cousins showed Sunday that he was resilient, and he rallied in the fourth quarter. He must wait a week to display his resilience after this game. It helps when you know why something happened, and the fact that the interception can't be blamed all on him matters too. Just like the Giants loss, however, it was the misses on other throws aside from the interceptions that hurt. Coaches have mentioned Cousins' poise all season; he'll need to keep displaying that attribute.
"The bounce-back thing was never an issue for me," Cousins said. "If you go back through my story, my life is bouncing back and fighting adversity and being mentally and physically and emotionally tough. I've always been able to do that, and to play quarterback in this league you better be able to do that. That's something going forward I'll continue to have to do."
ASHBURN, Va. – The accomplishment might become routine for some players, but scoring a touchdown doesn’t get old for many others. It’s a rarity – and they also know how difficult it is to do. Last season, for example, 124 players rushed for at least one touchdown. But only 75 rushed for more than one.
Washington Redskins fullback Darrel Young understands the feeling – and he’s never forgotten his first NFL touchdown. It happened on Nov. 15, 2010 in a 59-28 Monday night loss to Philadelphia, when Young caught a 3-yard touchdown pass. Young has scored 12 more touchdowns in his career; the first one stands out, as he explains in his own words:
The memory: “Hell, yeah, I remember. Monday Night Football. Donovan McNabb. Mike Sellers was poked in his eye so I came in. It was my mother’s birthday so I can’t forget it.”
How it happened: “Donovan looked at me in the huddle and said, ‘It’s coming to you.’ I was like, 'All right, it’s cool.' It was a pass play, a keeper. That’s my play. Don’t tell anybody. I scored and I remember saying, 'This is something.' I accomplished my dream and since I’m playing in the NFL, now I want to make it to the top-tier level and be a starter. But this is something everyone lives for – Monday Night Football, scoring a TD and my brother was watching in Afghanistan. It was something I’ll never forget.”
The feeling: “The air felt different in the end zone. It’s not butterflies. It’s this sense of excitement because you know everyone is cheering for you in the stadium. You come back to the sidelines and everyone is excited for you and it’s that feeling. Not that it’s a selfish moment, but you did something to help the team out. It’s different than scoring at [other levels of football]. This is the highest level. Being a professional athlete, what better stage to go out and perform than in front of the world and have everyone cheer your name in a positive way. I still haven’t come down from it. It’s all people talked about, ‘Hey, I remember when you scored on Monday Night Football.’ I’m never going to come down from that. That’s what you live for, you live for memories. Football has helped me to try and become a better player and person.”
On keeping the ball: “Hell, yeah. It’s hanging up at home in a framed case. I got it painted with the date, the touchdown, who we played and the score.”
ASHBURN, Va. -- The low expectations returned, with one publication or website after another predicting doom and gloom. Five places tabbed the Washington Redskins as the NFL's worst team. Seven others were more optimistic – picking the Redskins as high as 30th.
Meanwhile, the team ignores all talk.
"You don't pay attention to it," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "I understand there will be headlines, that you guys have a job to do. There are a lot of things you have to learn to tune out, that being one of them. When you guys think the sky is falling, we sit in this locker room with a lot of optimism."
That's how players and coaches must think; otherwise, why play the games? For the outside world, the Redskins have: won seven games combined the past two years, have no quarterback and remain a dysfunctional franchise; they moved the fifth overall pick from tackle to guard; they benched Robert Griffin III before the season opener and lost a top pass-rusher in Junior Galette to injury.
For Williams, he's used to whatever attention comes the Redskins' way.
"We're a pretty big market and we're vulnerable for people to come in and pick on us," Williams said. "It ain't like it's popping out of the blue. We've been dealing with this the last five years of my career. We're used to the noise. You just have to learn to tune this out and know what you do on Sundays is the ultimate end all, say all."
The Redskins have lost double-digit games in five of the past six seasons. They also haven't solved the most important position, quarterback. They benched Griffin and spent part of the past two weeks with speculation about whether he'd be released. It added to the belief the Redskins were a mess entering the season. ESPN's power rankings placed the Redskins 32nd.
"We're just ready to put everything behind us," Knighton said. "With all the quarterback controversy and just off the field study, we're ready to focus on football. Once Sunday comes, everyone will forget about that as long as we put up Ws, and we're playing well as a team and putting our best product on the field."
Redskins coach Jay Gruden pointed to additions such as Knighton, corner Chris Culliver and even safety Dashon Goldson as reasons he feels confident. He likes the physical mindset of the players they've added overall, including draft picks Brandon Scherff (guard), Matt Jones (running back) and Jamison Crowder (receiver), among others.
"We feel like we added the toughness that we're looking for. Now, it's a matter of going out, handling adversity, playing hard and keeping that toughness level up at a consistent basis," Gruden said.
And the players know they control their fate, not preseason pundits.
"We know what talent we have, it doesn't matter what outsiders think," receiver Andre Roberts said. "You just have to go into the season with the right mindset. Everybody's 0 and 0 and you can have some down parts in the season but as long as the team is clicking at the right time, you can do some good things."
After quarterback Robert Griffin III visits the independent neurologist (a different one from last week) Friday, the Washington Redskins will have a decision to make -- if he's cleared, that is. It's believed they would not make a move until he is cleared.
The choice is simple: Does the organization see a future in Washington for him or not? Earlier in the week, coach Jay Gruden said he did see one, but that's hard to imagine. The football side hasn't seen the sort of growth needed to make a long-term investment in him (in terms of coaching). The question is, how does the business side view the situation? That's why there was genuine uncertainty among several in the organization over the direction this decision will go.
Griffin would count $6.7 million against the cap whether he's here or not -- the Redskins can absorb it considering they have $8.9 million in available space. Their quarterbacks as a group only would cost $8.9 million vs. the cap, which is 36 percent below the league average at this position, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Owner Dan Snyder was OK with not starting Griffin, but would he be fine with the team cutting him? He hired football people to make football decisions, but this remains his team and Griffin remains someone he views fondly.
But even if Griffin gets through the final cuts Saturday, there's still a chance he could be cut before the opener. The real deadline for making the roster is Tuesday, the day by which teams will have made their final moves.
If you see no future for a player, don't you owe it to yourself -- and to him -- to let him go? Let Griffin see if he can make it where he's wanted. You can argue all day whether it's fair or not, right or wrong, but the Redskins' coaches do not have full belief or confidence in Griffin; hence, the benching before the season opener (a decision supported by the organization). It doesn't matter what you or I or anyone outside thinks. Again, their issue boils down to basic fundamentals of the position. Pierre Garcon's drop had nothing to do with this move -- passes that weren't made; hesitation on throws and pocket presence all played a factor.
If it's over, then it's only fair to both sides to move on. As hard as it would be for some fans to see Griffin leave -- 2012 was that magical; the promise of him that strong -- it might be harder for him to stay at a place where he has no future.
- While this decision certainly puts some pressure on Gruden to win with another quarterback, is it really as much as everyone thinks? After all, the organization knew entering the offseason that it did not have one quarterback they all wanted to see play. One person in the organization said last season picking a starter was like pulling names out of a hat. Each guy offered something the other didn't. If general manager Scot McCloughan agrees with this move -- and there's no reason to believe otherwise -- then that's good for Gruden. This was not a one-man decision, though ultimately it's the coach who powers this engine of change.
- Gruden didn't say Cousins was the greatest quarterback ever; nor did he stake his reputation on him. He just said he was the best quarterback on the roster right now. It's hard to find a legitimate football person who would disagree. That's not a statement on Cousins' future -- I see good and bad in his game, so I don't know if he's the future or just the present. But in the present, he deserves the job.
- And it's not as if Robert Griffin III was lighting it up to the point that anyone would say, 'How could you bench him?' As much as Cousins might have improved, this always has been about the state of Griffin's game more than anything. Had Griffin made strong progress, he would have the job. Period.
- If everyone in the organization agrees with the move, then how does that put more pressure on Gruden? His decision was really between two quarterbacks he inherited. He wasn't 'standing on the table' to bring in these players; others did that before him. Had Gruden opted for Colt McCoy, I think the pressure would have been greater. Cousins has only started nine games, so potentially there's still room for growth -- and a possible payoff. McCoy is the most known commodity of the group. He might be the smartest of them all, but has more limitations. Starting Cousins is the right move; anything else was a risk.
- Players know who can and should be playing. A move like this will earn Gruden applause. That has nothing to do with how they feel about Griffin personally, but all about which player they know is capable of producing this season. Maybe benching Griffin looks like a tough move because of his name and what everyone thinks the owner feels. But when a coach makes the right move it shouldn't result in more pressure -- regardless of who the quarterback is, a bad season will do the trick. The Redskins are a work in progress and this season will be spent, once again, finding out if they have to address quarterback in the offseason. Cousins, though, gives them a better chance for whatever success they might have.
- The pressure, though, obviously comes from failing to develop Griffin. I don't care if the owner loved Griffin or not, they had a heavy investment in him and Gruden was hired to make it work. But this offseason they named Griffin the starter, hired a quarterbacks coach and had tried to fortify the line and focus on the run game. It just wasn't working. It's not about (ridiculous) conspiracy theories. It's about production; coaches like players who do one thing: Help them win.
- And that's the thing. This should be about developing a team, not a player. If you watched the last two preseason games (not to mention last season), you know that having Cousins in the game will help the young right side of the line by getting rid of the ball quicker. Of course, if he throws too many interceptions the defense won't be developing -- and will be sort of ticked. Sacks lead to punts; turnovers lead to points.
- Also, if there's added pressure, it's not just on Gruden. It's on president Bruce Allen, too, who hired the coach. Here's another reminder: The Redskins have one winning season since 2007. Just about everyone in the organization should feel increased pressure given that track record. In fact, there are only two people who shouldn't feel more pressure this season: Dan Snyder and general manager Scot McCloughan, who just arrived in January.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The response he needed to see occurred two seasons ago, near the end of a loss at Atlanta. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had tossed two interceptions that day, yet still drove the team to a late touchdown, only to lose on a failed two-point conversion.
But the point for Cousins: He threw interceptions and he didn't wilt. Last season, that's what the coaches felt happened and it's one reason Cousins was benched after five starts.
"You're going to throw picks," Cousins said. "It's, can you come back? I want to come back better. You're going to get in situations that are tough. To make quick decisions and get rid of the ball and avoid sacks, you're going to have times where you get rid of it quickly to avoid a sack and you saw the play wrong."
Here's why this matters: Last season, Cousins had a 47.08 passer rating after throwing his first interception in a game. After that first pick, he completed a combined 15-of-30 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions (three of which occurred in one game). He threw interceptions in 10 of the 14 games he's played with six multi-pick games.
Before his first interception, Cousins had a 113.8 rating -- completing 68-of-101 passes for 948 yards and five touchdowns.
"Interceptions are going to happen," he said. "It's not the turnovers as it is throwing the turnover and then not losing an ounce of confidence. That's a bigger deal. I feel good about my ability going forward to respond."
There's no way to know, of course, whether that remains an issue until he actually gets in a regular-season game, throws a pick and must respond. A lot of that depends on how well starter Robert Griffin III plays. For now, the Redskins like what they've seen when it comes to Cousins and interceptions this summer.
"He hasn't thrown many this camp. He's improved on the turnover issue very much so through OTAs and training camp and preseason games," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We're impressed with the progress that Kirk has made very much. He's done a great job."
Cousins, like the other quarterbacks, feels good about where he's at entering his fourth season and second in Gruden's offense. Yes, he's facing backups in preseason games but Cousins has shown what the coaches wanted to see: a quarterback getting rid of the ball right after he hits his last step in his drop and a quarterback who has improved his ability to move in the pocket. The latter trait was evident in both the preaseason wins against Cleveland and Detroit.
Against the Browns, he created time and space in the pocket one time by sliding left, backpedaling and then dumping over the line to running back Matt Jones. Another time, he slid left thanks to pressure to his right and then connected with receiver Reggie Bell. Last week, with pressure coming upfield on the right side, Cousins kept his eyes upfield while stepping up, then slid all the way to the right, almost by the sideline, before finding Rashad Ross.
Cousins focused on this area after watching film from 2014. The hard part is improving here without facing a rush. Cousins tried to simulate game-like conditions in his head. He says he's a work in progress in this area. It's about feel.
"If you expect to sit back there in one spot and read a defense, you're kidding yourself," Cousins said. "The ability to manipulate an imperfect pocket is very important. When I take drops [in practice] I try to envision in my mind a pocket collapsing and operate as if it's a tight space. The number of times you get a wide open [pocket] is rare. In a game you're falling away and we never practice that. Some of the great ones come up with drills that mimic what they do.
"I learned in this league you have to be anal and paranoid and very much have attention to detail and constantly saying, 'What else can I do better?' At this level guys are doing that and if you're not, then you can't hang."
While Cousins has experience, he -- and his supporters -- will point out that he only has nine starts. He's only started and completed one game in which the Redskins won (vs. Cleveland his rookie season). But he has played well in relief appearances vs. Baltimore as a rookie and against Jacksonville last season.
The learning curve continues; where it takes him remains unknown -- whether it's as a future starter or career backup. Opinions have always been split on him and as a backup, there's always the promise of the unknown. But Cousins is encouraged.
"I'm still learning; I have a long ways to go and I'll be the first to admit that," Cousins said. "My mistakes are correctable. I'm not sitting here going, 'Oh my goodness, I don't have arm strength to play in this league.' Then I'm screwed. I look at it like if that's my issue I'll be fine. Every year I've gained more confidence and every year I get more experience and every year I'll be better coming back and learning from those situations and being a better quarterback. If that's my issue I just have to keep working because we can get it corrected."
This will be brief, or at least mostly about the starters considering that's about all I was able to watch Thursday night. Too much going on with the Robert Griffin III story to focus on some of the backups.
- Wrote a lot about Griffin after the game, in a news story and an analysis. Did not get much into coach Jay Gruden's decision to put him back on the field. Yes, I wondered about it as well. Thing is, the last time Griffin went in, the first offense was facing Detroit's second defense. But here's the other part: The Redskins were using a left tackle in Willie Smith who has not had a good camp and who remains, for me at least, a longshot to make the roster. And he did not have a strong night. Sure enough, he was driven back on one play for a sack.
- Still not sure why Griffin decided to run on that last play; he wasn't going to pick up the third-and-16 with his legs and he could have dumped the ball off. Get some yards, punt and move on. Do the ordinary. I admire his toughness, but it's hard to watch all the hits -- he can't stop all of them, but he can prevent some. I'll say this again, too: The throw to Andre Roberts under duress was terrific. Griffin stood in there; feet turned properly and made a good throw before Roberts broke -- the ball skipped off his hands -- and before he was drilled.
- I've written about the line's responsibilities, too. Just know that having a quarterback who lacks great pocket presence playing behind a developing line is a difficult proposition. It's not about blaming one or the other, either. And I don't think it's about pre-snap reads all the time; it's about instincts. Some of the pressure that reached Griffin was so quick, you have to allow those natural instincts to take over (in some cases there wasn't much time for that to happen).
- Tom Compton lined up at tight end on a handful of occasions. Paid attention to him on two plays, both of which ended with excellent blocks. He turned the defensive end outside on the second play of the game on Alfred Morris' 10-yard run. On a play in the second quarter, Compton drove the linebacker a few yards downfield. I like him in this role; he's still limited because, you know, he's a tackle/guard, but he should provide help. Did not like him as a tackle, but like him in a hybrid role as a backup lineman/tight end option.
- Each of the top four running backs had at least one good run, from Morris to Matt Jones and then Chris Thompson and Trey Williams. For a big guy, Jones at times gets taken down by one man more than I'd imagine (around the line of scrimmage). But when he gets going, it's a little tougher. That's when he can use his feet to fool people or just try to lower his shoulder. On one run, he swerved to miss one linebacker -- he kept the linebacker uncertain of where he was going, too, and that allowed him to stay blocked -- and then did the same to a defensive back en route to 24 yards. Thompson and Williams have the ability to cut and move without losing speed. Williams' footwork is terrific, as he showed on his 38-yard run. He bounced wide and two cuts left two defenders upset. And Thompson juked a defender over the middle on his 19-yard run up the gut. The Redskins should be encouraged by this group, but they should be discouraged by the first-down runs with the starters. Not good and it set up bad passing situations.
- I like the way end Jason Hatcher is playing. Beat both guards with outside moves for pressure; he's healthier than last summer and playing accordingly. Last summer he could not sustain the early dominant flashes that he showed. Can't say he did Thursday because he only played a quarter, but it was another good showing.
- Of Detroit's 13 runs, only one was for more than seven yards. It's not just about Terrance Knighton in the middle; the ends are doing an excellent job of holding their ground, but also penetrating to force the action. And though there was some sloppy tackling, the Redskins compensated with more of a swarming defense so those misses led to little damage. It's when you have no one else around the ball when they become a bigger issue.
- The pass defense needs some work; I'm guessing they'll feel better when they have all their guys out there (linebacker Junior Galette; corners DeAngelo Hall and Bashaud Breeland). But it's an area they must improve. They did do a job on a blitz/sack by slot corner Justin Rogers. Liked how quickly safety Dashon Goldson rotated to Rogers' area to prevent a throw by Matthew Stafford. Ricky Jean Francois had a sack -- and performed the "Peanut Butter Jelly" dance. He also got off one block to help on a tackle for a short gain.
RICHMOND, Va. -- The old-school players drew his attention, as they always have. Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris didn't grow up watching them, but he takes advantage of learning about them whenever he can. So when the Redskins spent a few hours at the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week -- a day before they played Cleveland -- Morris checked out his football ancestors.
It wasn't the first time he's visited the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But it did provide him another chance to watch players he's grown to love, for their games and more. He watched video clips of players such as Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Walter Payton among others. He paid homage to his Washington lineage and checked out, among others, former Redskins quarterbacks Sonny Jurgensen and Sammy Baugh.
"I prefer old-style running backs," Morris said. "Those are the guys I like. I don't have a problem with the newer backs, but those are my favorites. I used to watch clips on YouTube. I didn't have the privilege of watching those guys growing up. It's just cool to see their stats and see what type of guys they are and read a quick bio on them."
Morris wasn't the only Redskin watching videos of ex-players, but he is among the most interested. And one man stands above for him: Payton. It goes beyond football for Morris, who said he's seen all he can of Payton. A big part of that admiration stems from Payton's off-field impact as well.
"It's an honor to play running back when guys like that come through this league," Morris said. "It's cool to see how he has an influence on people even though he's gone."
That influence is felt on the field, too, in the form of his style more than the position he played. That's why Morris calls him his favorite player.
"It's because of the way he played. He played every play like it's his last play and never shied away from contact," Morris said. "You see clips from him and he could easily just walk in [to the end zone] and he'd just go at guys. He wanted that contact. He wanted to assert himself, 'Hey, I'm Walter Payton, you're gonna respect this.' I carry myself like that as well, whether it was in high school or college, and now I get to play in the NFL. I still carry myself like that. I don't shy away from contact. I don't go looking for it, but I don't shy away."
Morris always has had a sense of history. And some of those backs have been drawn to him: During his rookie season, he received a request for a jersey from Campbell. And at one point after rushing for 200 yards in a division-clinching win over Dallas in 2012, Morris paid tribute to John Riggins and took a bow, something Riggins did at the end of a 1983 playoff win.
The Campbell jersey swap still amazes him.
"That was an awesome experience," he said. "I was like, 'What, you're a fan of me? No, I'm a fan of yours.' He's another one of those older guys that I love watching. His thighs were probably four of mine put together. He was impressive and I always remember the run against the Rams when he plowed into the guy and knocked him backwards and then kept going. He was a hard runner."
It's hard to match what Campbell or some of the other backs did. Morris, though, is off to a good start in his career with 3,962 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first three seasons. He'll be a focal point again this season as the Redskins are expected to deepen their commitment to the running game. And while Morris' career keeps pointing forward, he'll always take time out to look backwards.
He admits he has a running backs bias, but will watch some others, including the old Redskins as well as former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. Morris checked them all out during the visit to the Hall of Fame. Some teammates, barely in their adult years, played games on Madden. Morris capitalized on a chance he won't always have.
"It was cool," he said. "It was interesting to know what it means to play in the NFL. It's not just playing a game, it's paying homage to the guys who came before us. We're standing on the shoulders of giants. They opened doors for us. Me being African-American, guys like Ernie Davis and all of them who paved the way for us. They made it so it's possible for us. I'm definitely not a numbers guy so I can't tell you the stats. But it's just so I know what it took to be here and it makes you appreciate that much more. I feel more people should do that, even guys who are now in little league or high school. They should start learning what it took for them to be able to do what they do."
RICHMOND, Va. – They didn’t view his game as perfect by any means. That’s not what they expected anyway. But the Washington Redskins say they saw what they needed: progress from quarterback Robert Griffin III.
In their preseason opener vs. Cleveland, Griffin completed 4 of 8 passes for 36 yards, with one deep ball dropped. They say he got rid of the ball on time and avoided negative plays.
“His comfort in the pocket looked a little better,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Overall, managing the game, the position, getting the plays out...
"Like I told Robert before the game, 'Whether you go 10-for-10 or 0-for-10, all we're looking for is to learn from the experience, continue with our process of building you as a starting quarterback and go from there."
Others in the organization echoed Gruden’s sentiment, saying they liked how Griffin got rid of the ball quickly and was protected by the line. The times he got hit involved blitzes. He played only the first quarter, which might be all that Griffin will play vs. Detroit as well, though Gruden left open the possibility of playing into the second quarter.
Thought it would be interesting to offer my take on some plays by Griffin from the first preseason game along with theirs.
The play: The play-action deep ball to Pierre Garcon that was dropped inside the 10-yard line.
My thought: I had been told there was an adjustment on this play, so I wasn’t bothered by Griffin being late with the throw. The result was that Garcon and Griffin sort of adjusted on the go and it should have resulted in a touchdown. Griffin still put the ball where Garcon could have, and should have, made the catch.
Their thought: Gruden said Garcon was supposed to sit down on the route, but made an adjustment. Because the safety was holding in the middle of the field and the corner had stopped, the outside was open, so Garcon made the cut. That’s why it looked a little awkward at one point.
The play: Two missed fade routes to Garcon in the red zone. Both were overthrown.
My thought: Another missed opportunity in the red zone. The first one was just too far, as there was enough room to work with to give Garcon a better chance. No one would disagree. However, on the second one, the ball initially was supposed to go to Andre Roberts, but it was wise not to throw to him because Roberts would have been short of the first down.
Their thought: He had a free nickel pass-rusher running at him and needed to get rid of the ball. Yes, the pass was incomplete, but they knew once the blitzer was unblocked, there would be trouble. So Griffin earned kudos from them for getting rid of the ball and saving the short field-goal attempt.
The play: A third-and-2 in which Griffin took off running for the first down.
My thought: He made life more difficult than it needed to be. He had Ryan Grant about to turn open for an easy first-down completion. But Griffin looked off the left side and swung his eyes to the right, where Garcon was doubled. So Griffin ran for a first down. He picked up the first down, but the more he runs, the more he courts danger.
Their thought: He got the first down. Get it any way you can, so multiple people said they had no issue with him running on this play.
The word earlier in the week suggested the Redskins’ starters would play at least a quarter of Thursday's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns. Now, though, it will be no more than that – and possibly less.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters Wednesday that he’ll go by feel as to how much his starters will play. In last year’s preseason opener, the starting offense played in one drive, but it took 11 plays. A day earlier, Gruden had said he wanted the starters to anticipate playing at least a quarter. Other members of the organization echoed that sentiment.
“Obviously if we go three-and-out, we’ll bring them back for another series or two,” Gruden said. “But that’ll be a game-time decision for me.
“We’ll play it by ear. I told these guys, anticipate playing a quarter. It could be less. It won’t be more than a quarter unless we’re finishing a drive.”
The Redskins need to balance getting ready for the opener and taking care of some starters who don’t need the same amount of preseason reps, such as left tackle Trent Williams or nose tackle Terrance Knighton. However, the Redskins have a new offensive line coach, two new starters on the right side of the line and several new starters defensively. But Gruden sounded as if the offense needed more work.
"We have to get them back in the flow of playing football against a live pass rush," Gruden said. "Our whole offense needs to do that, come off the football. Our running backs need to work on their ball security and hitting the new running lanes and the plays that we have and get some good practice. We have got a new line coach and some new schemes going on both offensively and defensively and we need to work.”
But quarterback Robert Griffin III could use as much work as possible. Last summer he attempted only 20 passes in the preseason – 34 fewer than Kirk Cousins and 24 fewer than Colt McCoy. The offense then managed only six points in the season opener vs. Houston.
Though the Redskins have sounded upbeat about Griffin's progress, there are still concerns and areas that need more growth.
“We want to go out and get points and put good drives together and start getting in a rhythm,” Griffin said. “That’s all that matters.
“Whatever they call, we’ll execute it and make sure we’re on the little things, the fundamentals, so we can get back in the swing and feel the guys at game speed and get going. I’m not worried how many passes we throw. We just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
RICHMOND, Va. – The assignment might not last long. That’s OK for three Washington Redskins corners, because it will still provide them with what they want: an opportunity.
All three will try to replace Bashaud Breeland as the slot corner for the next month as well as the season opener vs. the Miami Dolphins. Breeland is sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The NFL also suspended him for the season opener.
Rogers will get the first chance with Mitchel and Jarrett both rookies -- and Jarrett having to move over from safety. Rogers’ experience shows, as he played in the nickel with Buffalo from 2011-13. He also started five games as a replacement in 2013 but was cut shortly thereafter. The Bills did not think he was big enough or strong enough to play outside. He also spent one game with Houston in 2013 but has not appeared in an NFL game since.
“I started my career off in the nickel, so it’s refreshing going back,” Rogers said.
The Redskins just need him to be smart enough to handle inside duties. Slot corners must be able to handle a wider variety of route options by the receiver, as well as play run support and work more in concert with linebackers.
“Ask any guy who has played the slot, it’s different,” Rogers said. “There are tricks to the trade you need to know playing in there. You got to have savvy players because a lot of teams have a good slot guy. The more reps and experience you get, you learn what quarterbacks try to do to nickel guys.”
Mitchel injured his right shoulder Saturday, and it remains uncertain how much time he’ll miss, if any. Like Jarrett, he’s learning the pro game. However, he at least played in the slot at Arkansas -- he was better there than on the outside.
For Jarrett, it requires him to learn a spot he never played in a game at Virginia Tech. But Jarrett said he did practice there quite a bit. He said the coaches at Virginia Tech wanted the corners to know how to play safety and vice versa -- just in case.
The reality is that Rogers has an edge just because of his experience. He also looked solid in that role in the spring. But for someone such as Jarrett, even if he doesn’t end up playing the position, if he shows he can handle it in a pinch, his odds of making the 53-man roster increase.
And Jarrett said his skills can translate to success in the slot.
“My knowledge of the game, that definitely helps,” Jarrett said. “I feel I have the man skills to do it, and it’s something I’ve done. Who I’m surrounded by, with the veterans and the coaching will help me enough to go out there and perform.”
Some things to watch for during camp:
- The Redskins’ offense. Last summer, it was clear that the Redskins wanted to have Robert Griffin III work mostly from the pocket. Not that he never escaped or improvised, but Jay Gruden seemed determined to develop him in this area. It didn’t work and they knew early in the season, before his injury, that they’d have to tweak their plan. How will things look this summer? And how will Griffin respond? There might be subtle tweaks that aren’t immediately evident. Also, a second year in the offense surely can help.
- Inside linebacker. Will Compton looked like an intriguing undrafted free agent two years ago. Entering last season, he had developed enough that the coaches felt he could “start right now,” as one said in camp. My sense is that the new staff likes Compton as well. So it will be interesting to see what happens this summer and if he could somehow wrestle the starting job away from Perry Riley. The play inside has been too inconsistent for a few years, which is not all on Riley, but he does not have a stronghold on the job.
- Left tackle Trent Williams’ health. It’s a big year for him (contract) so he needs to be absolutely right when it comes to health. Williams obviously is a good player, but to get the sort of contract he’ll want, I’d want to be sure of his durability moving forward (not talking freak injuries, but making sure nagging ones don’t become an issue). He’s only missed one game the past three years and he’s been willing to play hurt. It’s admirable, but it takes a toll. Williams just turned 27, so he’s early into his prime years.
- Receiver Ryan Grant. I know they really like him so I’ll be curious to see how he looks after one year in the system. Also, he’s had a year to work out in the NFL, so how will the added strength help? And will he do enough to surpass anyone?
- Running back Matt Jones’ pass protection. I think his hands will be fine and I like his footwork in the open field, especially for a bigger runner. He will try to run over guys, but it looks like he has the ability to fool them as well. But how he handles protection will be key.
- Corner DeAngelo Hall’s health. If he’s right, he certainly expects to start. But he also has to show that he’s not only healthy, but hasn’t lost anything. Along with this, I’ll monitor Bashaud Breeland’s ability to cover full time in the slot. One aspect that helps: He tackles well. When you play inside, there are different responsibilities including more work vs. the run.
- Safeties. It’s not just the competition between Jeron Johnson and Duke Ihenacho, it’s also about Dashon Goldson’s impact, good or bad. It’ll be interesting, too, seeing who wins the backup jobs.
- The right side of the offensive line. Both Spencer Long (guard) and Brandon Scherff (tackle) have potential and could form a terrific tandem for the next 5-10 years. Even if they are successful, it will take time to get there – how quickly will it happen? It’s asking a lot for both to be ready to play at a certain level by the season opener.
- The interior pass rush. It's not just Stephen Paea, rather it's the combination of Paea and Jason Hatcher and Ricky Jean Francois. The Redskins have more depth here but I'm curious to see how effective they can be and, in some cases, still are. Hatcher was not bad last season, but he did not give them what they needed either (aside from flashes). Should be worth watching the one-on-one pass-rush drills (they usually are, but even more so this summer).
- Linebacker Preston Smith. Curious to see his hands in camp, especially during one-on-one pass-rush drills. They’re a strength of his game and it’s why he rushed well from the inside.
ASHBURN, Va. -- The goal is simple, one the Washington Redskins predict he will do and one Dashon Goldson knows he can do. There will be skeptics, probably chief among them the team that traded him this spring. It's natural to wonder: What does Goldson have left? He's 30 years old; he's also coming off a tough season in Tampa Bay.
"I want to show I can still play. Nothing has changed about me; my game is still the same," Goldson said earlier this summer.
The Redskins need for that to be the case. That would solve a problem that has existed for nearly a decade, ever since Sean Taylor was murdered in 2007. They've landed safeties past their prime, whether O.J. Atogwe or Madieu Williams or Ryan Clark. Goldson needs to show he's not out of his prime, but there was a reason the Bucs unloaded him (they would have had to pay him a base salary of $7.5 million this season, which didn't help his staying power). Here's my scouting report from after the Redskins obtained him.
For Goldson, the change was welcomed. He reunited with the general manager, Scot McCloughan, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft in San Francisco. Goldson developed into a two-time Pro Bowler before signing with the Bucs before the 2013 season.
Goldson was not crazy about playing in the Tampa 2 scheme. Indeed, his lack of fit in that scheme under coach Lovie Smith was among the reasons why the Bucs traded him.
"Everyone knows I'm an aggressive player," he said. "I like to be in the mix, to have gap responsibilities and all that extra stuff. I like to get my hands dirty. I like to be in the mix a little more often than I was in a Tampa 2.
"It was different. Last year was a little different based on some of the things I was used to and more how I felt."
Goldson said a toe injury suffered in the fourth game last season bothered him all year. Then he said with the six penalties for unnecessary roughness in 2013 "they tried to make me out of the game a little bit." He's been fined $252,500 since the start of the 2012 season for illegal hits. Last season, Goldson committed one penalty for illegal contact. He intercepted one pass in two seasons with Tampa.
The hope for Washington is that he gets his game back. The coaches, privately and publicly, have been excited about having Goldson around.
"He's an experienced guy. He's tough. He had some great seasons at San Francisco, went to Tampa Bay, might have been a little disappointing down there, I don't know," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "But based on his tape and his career production, we thought it was worth it to go try to get him. Brings more experience, toughness to the secondary that we need."
Others have used the word swagger to describe what he brings.
"They're talking about my vocal presence, my presence on the field, my demeanor when I'm out there," Goldson said. "I'm calling out stuff, the way I move. Little things like that. I'm not a robot. [Defensive coordinator Joe Barry] lets me play. He trusts me enough to make the plays I'm calling out. It's just more about my presence back there and making plays and seeing things before it happens."
While Goldson initially said he wants to show he can still play, he also doesn't want to just have that mindset. He knows the Redskins want him to be a leader in the secondary. They had a strong leader last season in Clark, but he was 35 and soon-to-be retired.
"It's more that I want everyone around me to be good as a team," Goldson said. "Be good as a defense, just get everyone on the same page and playing with one mind, one goal. Nothing has changed with me. I'm not thinking about myself."
The offseason grade turned out to be much better than their outlook for the next three years. That's the opinion of ESPN's panel of experts when it comes to the Washington Redskins.
In May, a panel of ESPN experts gave the Redskins an A-minus for their offseason (the same grade I gave them last week). But the latest project for the Insiders page shows just how far the Redskins have to go in the minds of some: They ranked 27th when it comes to what shape they're in for the next three years. It takes into account the roster, coaching, quarterback, front office and the draft. The Redskins had a total score of 59.3, which was down from 69.4 a year ago.
The roster was down (to 60, from 70) and perhaps that can be explained by reality. Last season, there was still a belief the Redskins merely needed to change coaches because they had the talent. Wrong. But the roster has been upgraded this season. Also, the Redskins received a mark of 66 for their draft outlook a year ago compared to 64.3 this year. Not sure why it would go down; this class, I believe, is better and was selected by someone with a proven track record in Scot McCloughan.
Overall, the Redskins dropped three spots in large part, my colleague Mike Sando wrote, "because there is much less optimism for Robert Griffin III and the quarterback situation."
McCloughan's arrival meant the Redskins jumped from 27 to 14 in front office rankings and their drafting went from 31st to 23rd. Two low spots: coaching (27) and roster (26). The latter was impacted, John Clayton said, by the Griffin trade as well as the $36 million cap penalty. I'm not big on excuses, but those are definite factors.
For the crowd that loves to (foolishly) toss around the word "Haters" to describe any article that doesn't glorify their team, here's what the experts said in an Insider's post about their offseason in May. Their grade was the same one I gave them, an A-minus. And both of these Insider projects mirror my general sentiment that I wrote about Monday: Good offseason; lots of work needed to be done -- and still remains.
But so much rides on Griffin's development -- even if the roster around him has improved (in my eyes at least; how much so? Stay tuned).
Anyway, here's what ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said in the article about the situation: "RG III's inability to stay on the field has severely hampered his development as a passer. And while I love just about everything this team has done from a player acquisition standpoint since McCloughan took over, exercising Griffin's fifth-year option for 2016 at $16.15 million is a huge risk, given his injury history. I'd be worried every time Griffin broke the pocket and ran with the football. This season will go a long way toward determining whether Griffin has a long-term future in Washington."
Riddick is right on all counts. That said, if Griffin plays well, then the risk goes away -- they clearly would want to keep him. If he doesn't, then he could be replaced long before the season ends, which would minimize the risk.
One thing the Redskins tried to do this offseason is rebuild the rest of the roster so they're far less reliant on the quarterback position than they have been the past three seasons. But even in 2012, they caused turnovers and limited them offensively, which helped tremendously.
It's not surprising where the Redskins rank. The memory of the past two seasons are not erased by one good offseason. The key, now, is where they rank in 2016.