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Holdman: Dawn of the Dead

Holdman: Dawn of the Dead

At the end of the 2005 season, it appeared certain that Warrick Holdman did not have a future with the Washington Redskins. After the Redskins took him back after exploring some alternatives, it appears that Holdman is back from the dead and ready to fight for a starting job at the open weak side linebacker spot.

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About a year ago, Warrick Holdman’s NFL career seemed to be doing quite well. He had just come on board with the Redskins at the age of 29 with 61 career starts under his belt. There were two starting jobs in play as weak side starter LaVar Arrington was still recovering from a knee injury and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce had bolted to the New York Giants via free agency. Holdman was reunited with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, under whom he had enjoyed his best seasons in Chicago.

When the season started, he found himself at the periphery of the Arrington controversy as he continued to start in place of a healthy LaVar. Eventually Holdman found himself square in the middle of the storm as he struggled on the field. He often appeared to be lost in the defense. Here is what was said about him here after the Redskins’ Week 8 36-0 blowout loss to the Giants:

And this is not an isolated poor performance. Holdman has started all seven games this year, has played the lion’s share of the defensive snaps and yet they need to put out an Amber alert for him. He has 15 tackles. Yes, a small fraction over two a game for a starting NFL linebacker. You can fall on piles or tag runners who have fallen down and get that many.

After his performance in the Meadowlands blowout Holdman found himself parked firmly at the end of the bench. When the season ended he became an unrestricted free agent. Joe Gibbs frequently mentioned a list of the team’s free agents that the team wanted to bring back; Holdman’s name never was mentioned. The other 31 NFL teams, all of which had Holdman’s 2005 performance documented on film, took a pass on him as well. After free agency began he was unemployed and, apparently, unwanted.

Then after about a month, Holdman’s fortunes began to turn. The Redskins had released Arrington and wanted a veteran on the weak side to compete for the job with the inexperienced Chris Clemons and whatever linebacker the Redskins might draft (that turned out to be Rocky McIntosh). They brought in a few mid-level free agents and made some offers, but nobody bit. So in mid April the Redskins turned to Holdman who was, to use the words of Steve Spurrier when explaining the preponderance of former Florida Gators on the Redskins roster, cheap and available.

Brought back from the dead and given another chance, Holdman is making the most of it. Last year he wasn’t signed until the middle of May and he admitted that he was out of shape. “I had been in free agency, going on trips, eating steak and wining and dining,” he said.

When you’re with Gibbs’ Washington Redskins, May is not the time you need to start getting yourself in to shape. You’re already hopelessly behind at that point. He reported to minicamp last year at 240 pounds. Holdman came in this year at 233.

He knows that his performance last year was not up to snuff. "I owe the Redskins from last season," he said.

Gregg Williams has rewarded Holdman’s efforts by putting him at the top of the depth chart going in to training camp. “Warrick right now is having a great camp,” said Williams during minicamp. “His suddenness without the pads on is excellent. Right now, Warrick has done the best job coming out of this camp with Roger and Chris breathing right down his neck.”

A lot can happen in camp, and Holdman’s status as the starter is far from secure. However, the fact that he occupies the top spot on the depth roster is quite surprising if not miraculous.

A year ago it appeared that Mark Brunell’s career as a Redskin was all but over. After a horrid 2004 that ended with him firmly on the bench, there was no reason to believe that he would contribute anything in 2005. Redskins fans cringed at the thought of Brunell ever have to take a meaningful snap for Washington. At minicamp, however, Brunell showed improved arm strength. Twenty minutes in to the season, he was the starter who would eventually lead the Redskins into the playoffs.

A month or so ago the thought of Holdman lining up at weakside LB was a cringe moment for Redskins fans as well. Is Holdman’s solid 2006 minicamp a precursor to a similar story of redemption for a veteran?

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Need to Know: Should the Redskins draft Vita Vea in the first round?

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Need to Know: Should the Redskins draft Vita Vea in the first round?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, January 24, 51 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL franchise tag deadline (3/6) 41
—NFL Draft (4/26) 92
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 228

Fan questions—Surprise cuts, finding a playmaker

I put out a call for questions on social media and I got so many good ones that I’m splitting them up. Here are Facebook questions today and I’ll hit the best Twitter questions later this week.

 

Spencer Long could be gone but he is a free agent, so he could not be cut. As far as players under contract, a lot will depend on who they draft and sign in free agency. If they go heavy on the defensive line, Ziggy Hood and Terrell McClain could be in danger of being cut. An influx of defensive back might have Josh Holsey and Deshazor Everett headed out of town.

There won’t be any cuts that save a major amount of cap space. Thek players with the top 15 cap numbers per Over the Cap are all vital to the operation with the possible aforementioned exception of McClain.

The rub is that if you want an instant “bona fide” playmaker you are going to have to invest either a lot of cap dollars or high draft pick. They have invested cap dollars in Reed and, to a lesser extent, Thompson and a No. 1 draft pick in Reed. The plan needs to be to make sure that Reed stays healthy (as best you can) and hope you get 12-14 productive games out of him, get Thompson back in the swing of things, and continue to work with Doctson. Perhaps they can get a mid-round find like the Saints did with Kamara to add to the mix. But for the most part, the Redskins will have to make do with what they have.

The way things stand right now, I’m seeing Vea regarded as more of a late first-round pick than a player who should go in the top half of the round. That could change as the draft process goes on. I think the Redskins need to continue to strengthen their defensive line and if Vea moves up to a high first-round grade or slides to a second they should take a long look at him.

The player I’m keeping my eye on is Jordan Matthews, who spent three years with the Eagles before being trade to Buffalo. He had over 800 yards receiving in each of his three seasons in Philly before a knee injury hampered him last year. He’s 6-3 and still young (26 in Week 1). Sammy Watkins of the Rams is intriguing but he had just 593 receiving yards in 15 games in a Sean McVay’s very productive offense. An older but less expensive option might be Eric Decker of the Titans, who had just 30 fewer receiving yards than Watkins and would be much a much less expensive acquisition albeit as a stopgap.

I see them addressing other needs in the first round. That could change if there is someone there who is just too good to pass up.

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

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No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

No tension between Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, but the coach wants improvement 

MOBILE -- Jay Gruden is making jokes about Kirk Cousins again, and that's good news for Redskins fans that worried about a fracture between coach and quarterback. 

It all started in the weeks following the Redskins dreadful Week 17 loss to the Giants as Gruden and Cousins seemed to be throwing slight jabs at one another.

Gruden, in his end of year press conference, explained that while Cousins "showed flashes" in 2017, when the team goes 7-9, the coach can't say any player was outstanding: 

You know when you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding.’ You know there’s a few guys obviously that jump out, Pro Bowlers like Ryan Kerrigan had a solid year. Obviously Trent when he played was Pro Bowl type, Brandon when he was healthy was Pro Bowl type guy. Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns I believe. So, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning a division with all the injuries that we had, I think he competed and did some good things.

Cousins, in his year-end radio appearance with 106.7 the Fan, explained that he wants the team to do better but doesn't think the 7-9 record should fall on his shoulders alone. (Quote via Washington Post)

What I gathered from the comment was 7-9 and the quarterback play are causally related and that quarterback play is 7-9, 7-9 is the quarterback play. I saw that and I thought, ‘I think it’s slightly more complicated than that.’ I think there’s a few more dynamics in play as to what your final record is. … At the same time, his job is to evaluate. That’s a big part of his role and his position. In that comment, he’s just doing his job, he’s evaluating the position and he has the right to say what he wants to say.

Both comments were fairly innocuous, but also clearly at odds. Combine that dialogue with the undercurrent of another offseason contract negotiation, and it seemed things between coach and quarterback weren't quite right. 

On Tuesday, speaking at the Senior Bowl, Gruden cleared the air. Asked directly about tension between he and Cousins, the coach was blunt. 

"No." 

Gruden went on to explain his answer about Cousins 2017 play, the now infamous 7-9 line.

"When I say 7-9, if I say one player played great that means I'm saying everybody else was not very good," the coach explained (full video above). "I think we all have to stick together, we all have to improve from a 7-9 season, coaches, players, everybody."

Cousins was good in 2017, throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season. He also showed that he can produce offensively without a great supporting cast, as injuries robbed the Redskins of many of their best passing game threats and seriously damaged the offensive line. 

The quarterback did play two terrible games in the last month of the season, however, including a three interception stinker in the Week 17 finale.

It's possible that Gruden had that fresh in his mind when he spoke in early January, and with the benefit of a little time, his assessment mellowed by late January. 

Either way, Gruden joked about Cousins deserving a vacation, and even said the QB needs a tan. Gruden often uses humor to defuse touchy situations with Redskins players, and maybe he just did it again. 

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