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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

Jay Gruden seems to be happy with all 10 of the Redskins’ draft picks but he seems to like two in particular. It looks like the team already has specific roles carved out for the two receivers the team took.

Appearing on ESPN 980 on Monday, Gruden was asked by host Kevin Sheehan what draft picks other than top selections Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith would have the earliest impact on the team. After first saying that he was excited about all of them and that it was hard to name one player, Gruden named three—receivers Jamison Crowder (4th round) and Evan Spencer (6th) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (6th).

He didn’t go into any detail about what kind of impact Mitchel would play. “He’s an exciting player, he can play nickel, he can play corner, he’s an exciting guy,” said Gruden. Apparently we’ll have to wait to see what all the excitement is about.

Gruden apparently has plans for Crowder to play a role in bolstering the return game, a weak spot on the team for the last several years.

“Crowder has a skill set where he can be a slot receiver and a return guy from Day One, which is exciting,” he said. “So he has a chance to get the ball in his hands and make an immediate impact, quickly, if he can handle it.”

Andre Roberts was the team’s returner last year and his performance there was pedestrian at best. His average of 7.4 yards per punt return was 24 among qualifiers in the NFL and his kickoff return average of 23.7 yards was 21st.

It was interesting to note that Gruden said Crowder can make an impact “if he can handle it” and not something like “if he can beat out Roberts”. It would be a major upset if Crowder is not back there to field the first punt in Week 1.

Gruden envisions a role for Spencer in two phases of the game.

“Evan Spencer, he’s a special teams monster,” he said. “He can block . . . You want to run a power running game you’ve got to have a receiver who can block and do all that . . . But also special teams. You’ve got to have a guy who can cover punts, cover kickoffs we didn’t really have that at our receiver position. Adding him, he’s going to have an immediate impact.”

The Redskins’ backup receivers have not contributed much on special teams. Leonard Hankerson never developed much enthusiasm for kick coverage or blocking and Ryan Grant played a very limited special teams role last year despite being active for 16 games and played only 187 snaps on offense.

We knew that a contribution on special teams would be expected from Spencer but the role as a power running game blocker is interesting. That would mean that he will get snaps on first and second down and those reps will have to come from Roberts, Pierre Garçon, or DeSean Jackson. And they would have to throw the ball to him on occasion so that his presence on the field doesn’t automatically tip off a run. And like the snaps, those targets in the pass game will come at the expense of another receiver.

If Spencer and/or Mitchel can contribut at all it would represent a step in the right direction for the Redskins when it comes to getting something out of the last rounds of the draft. Last year they had one sixth-round pick, RB Lache Seastrunk, and two seventh rounders, K Zach Hocker and TE Ted Bolser. None of them made the 53-man roster and none are currently with the organization.

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Five takeaways from the Redskins' necessary win over the Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Five takeaways from the Redskins' necessary win over the Giants

Here are my five takeaways from the Redskins’ ugly 20-10 win vs. the Giants.

A Win is a Win:
If you are worried about style points you are doing it wrong. This was a banged up team on a short week playing for its life. Perhaps a better start would have made for a more comfortable win but they got done what they needed to do.

Jamison Crowder is on a Roll
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He gained a career-high 141 yards on seven receptions. The yardage broke his career high of 123 that he set in Week 8. The third-year receiver got off to very slow start, not posting over 52 yards in any game.

But he has broken out of his slump in a big way and Kirk Cousins is very glad to see it.

Perine is Ready:
The rookie was elevated into the starting role after Rob Kelley went onto injured reserve two weeks ago. His importance elevated when Chris Thompson went out for the year with a broken leg.

Fortunately for the Redskins, his play has elevated since becoming the starter. He rushed for 117 yards against the Saints on Sunday. Thursday, four days later, he couldn’t get anything going in the first half, gaining only three yards on seven carries. But he got rolling in the second half and finished with 100 yards on 24 carries.

The Redskins may well have lost this game if Perine, the only back who was on the roster as of three weeks ago, had not gotten himself on track.

MUST-SEE: BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' THANKSGIVING VICTORY

Defense Got Help: 
Eli Manning passed for 113 yards. Only six times in his career, which spans 211 games, has he thrown for fewer yards. There are three entities mainly responsible for Eli’s woes. The Redskins defense did a good job of putting pressure on him and for the most part the back seven played well in coverage. But Eli himself contributed to his own production problems.

On many occasions he had time to throw and a receiver open but he either sailed the ball well over the receiver’s head or threw it in the ground. Finally, when Manning did have time and delivered the ball on the money, his receivers frequently were unable to find the handle; there were several costly drops.

RELATED: BIGGEST UP'S AND DOWN'S FROM REDSKINS-GIANTS

There is Hope:
It’s too early in the weekend to go into much detail about the Redskins chances of making the playoffs but the losses earlier in the day by the Lions and Cowboys certainly helped.

It’s still a tough path to navigate.

But they did what they needed to do today in winning one of six games that looked winnable earlier this week. All they can do is try to get a winning streak together and they did all they could do in that regard on Thanksgiving.

Now it’s on to Dallas to see if they can take the next step.

MORE: THIS ONE THROW SHOWS HOW COUSINS IS EVOLVING

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Want to see how Kirk Cousins is evolving as a quarterback? Then watch this throw

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USA TODAY Sports

Want to see how Kirk Cousins is evolving as a quarterback? Then watch this throw

LANDOVER — At times during the Redskins' 20-10 Thanksgiving night victory over the Giants, Kirk Cousins and Washington's offense performed at a level somewhere between sloppy nausea-inducing.

There was that awful sequence where the offense botched a fourth-and-1 more than they normally do.

There was also No. 8's slightly off-target throw to a running back he barely knows that ended up as six points for New York. And there were plenty less notable, but still gross, plays before and after those.

But Cousins' first touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder was far from gross. It was beautiful. It was creative.

And it showed how the 29-year-old is still developing as a quarterback:

MUST-SEE: BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' THANKSGIVING VICTORY

"The touchdown he had to Crowder was one of his best touchdown passes that I've seen since I've been here," Jay Gruden said about it afterward.

He's right.

By now, you know the boxes that Cousins checks off as a passer. He has the requisite arm strength. He's usually able to move an offense, even one like the Redskins' 2017 version that includes a ton of spare parts, up and down the field. He has the work ethic and leadership skills. 

But a common knock against him is that he can't extend a play and find a receiver when things aren't there during his initial dropback. And that weakness becomes a glaring one in the red zone.

Yet on Thanksgiving night, there Cousins was, avoiding an edge rusher, stepping up, rolling right and then nailing Crowder right on the numbers for a crucial TD. Like his head coach, Cousins was proud of how that score unfolded.

"I felt some pressure so I just tried to escape up and to the right and kept my eyes down field," he said. "I think just the longer I play, I'll get a better feel for how to move and escape."

MORE: ALL OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE THANKSGIVING WIN

Cousins' final stats don't stack up to some of his past performances, such as his Week 11 effort in New Orleans where he shined or his pretty perfect evening vs. the Raiders in Week 3. Regardless, this one was encouraging in its own way, because it provided another grlimpse at how the signal caller is becoming more comfortable when things around him become uncomfortable.

Like most of his fellow starters in the league, Cousins has flaws. But the more he plays, the more those flaws diminish. Gruden sees it, he sees it, and you should see it, too.