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Need to Know: When will it be time for the Redskins to panic about the running game?

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Need to Know: When will it be time for the Redskins to panic about the running game?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, August 16, three days before the Washington Redskins play the New York Jets at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Off day

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 219 days ago. It will be 27 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Final roster cut 18; Cowboys @ Redskins 33; Browns @ Redskins 47

—Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was born on this date in 1988.

When will it be time to panic about the running game?

The Redskins entered training camp with an unsettled and, for many fans, unsettling situation at running back. They are departing with the same uncertainty.

Matt Jones is still the starter and he has said all of the right things and he has looked pretty good in practice. But it’s hard to tell much about his progress from last year, when he averaged 3.4 yards per carry, the lowest in the league among qualifying backs, when contact is very limited. And even though he didn’t fumble at all during training camp despite the defense constantly pawing at the ball there is not solid evidence that his fumbling problems of last year are a thing of the past.

Jones saw very light action in the Redskins’ preseason opener, gaining on yard on two carries, so there’s nothing to go on there.

Chris Thompson did well catching passes out of the backfield in Richmond and demonstrated his speed on a few runs around the outside. But several times Thompson indicated to reporters that he thinks he’s better off in his role as a third-down back and not working as Jones’ backup.

That leaves Robert Kelley, Keith Marshall, and Mack Brown to fight it out for the role as Jones’ backup. They have all had their moments. Marshall, a seventh-round draft pick this year, may have the inside track but he had minus-one yard in five carries in the preseason opener. Kelley led the team with 40 yards on the ground against Atlanta but 18 of those came on one run. Brown may have been the most consistent of the group, getting 28 yards on seven carries.

The problem with the running game might not be the ball carriers. There were not many openings for the running backs against the Falcons and it’s hard for the best of backs to gain much yardage without blocking.

“We’re going to keep working on it,” said head coach Jay Gruden. “We’re not going to panic in the first preseason game but we also understand that in these games you are who you are and what you put on tape. We’ve got to make sure that we continue to work on it and get better at it. That’s all you can do.”

Would it be panicking if they brought in a veteran running back, a player like Pierre Thomas who could work as Jones’ backup? There has been talk of that since it became apparent that Alfred Morris was on his way out as a free agent. If Jones doesn’t prove that he is worthy of the coaches’ trust and if nobody emerges to establish himself as a reliable backup it would be crazy not to make a move.

The running game issues are not new. After an offseason spent talking about being a power running team, the 2015 Redskins were 20th in the NFL in rushing yards and 30th in yards per carry. At some point, panic, or at least trying something different, is called for.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Costly cornerbacks, offseason blueprint

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Costly cornerbacks, offseason blueprint

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 17, 25 days before NFL free agency starts.

The Redskin week that was

My weekly look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics on RealRedskins.com and NBCSportsWashington.com.

An offseason blueprint for the Redskins—Should the Redskins focus their free agency money on keeping their own? In addition to unrestricted free agents Zach Brown and Trent Murphy, they need to consider extensions for Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, and Jamison Crowder. That could chew up a bunch of the approximately $31 million of cap space that they have. They may get some help on the market but most of their improvement should come from the draft and from within.

Redskins offseason will hit warp speed soon—With the exception of the Alex Smith trade, which actually hasn’t happened yet, there hasn’t been much going on with the Redskins. That is going to change soon, check out the post for the calendar and how the events matter for the Redskins.

No mixed messages from Alex Smith—In a radio interview, Alex Smith said that he was “jacked” to be a part of the Redskins. Now, the phrase often repeated here is that you shouldn’t listen to what they say, you should watch what they do. And the moment that he signs the reported four-year extension that he has negotiated with the team, a deal that likely would put him in Washington for the rest of his career, we will see his actions backing up his words. Then we will know.

What we know, and what we think, of the Su'a Cravens situation—This will be a true test of the acumen of the front office. It’s a very tricky situation. The Redskins have to decide if they want to keep Cravens. Should they decide to keep him, there will be a lot of smoothing over of ruffled feelings that would need to be done over and trust in Cravens would have to be restored. If they don’t want him around, they have to make it look like they are willing to go into the season with him in order to be able to trade him. Otherwise, teams may just wait for them to cut him and sign him as a free agent. Again, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Tweet of the week

Quarterback is not the only NFL position with rising salaries. The players teams hire to try to stop opposing QBs, cornerbacks, are getting expensive, too. Bashaud Breeland is a good cornerback, not a great one. His coverage skills are solid, he’s a good team player (if a bit of a hothead at times) and his work ethic is not questioned. For a fourth-round pick who everybody thought left Clemson a year too early, he has done well for himself But he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl and he hasn’t even come close enough to be considered a snub. Breeland has eight interceptions in four years in the league with a high of three in 2016.

The price tag for good at cornerback is likely to be in the vicinity of $10 million per season. And good for him if he gets it. But with the Redskins employing Josh Norman, who has cap hits in the range of $14.5 million-$16.9 million over the next three years, it would be difficult to fit him in. Truth be told, Breeland has probably been destined to leave as a free agent ever since Norman signed his contract in April of 2016.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 12
—NFL Draft (4/26) 68
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 204

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Cousins would reportedly look to file grievance if Redskins use franchise tag on him

Cousins would reportedly look to file grievance if Redskins use franchise tag on him

The Redskins might try to franchise tag quarterback Kirk Cousins to try to get some compensation for him as he leaves. But Cousins’ camp might not let that happen without a fight.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Cousins might file a grievance if he is tagged, saying that the Redskins would be violating the spirit of the rules regarding the use of the franchise tag. He would be seeking to have the tag voided because the team clearly isn ’t interested in reaching a long-term deal with him given the acquisition of Alex Smith. The tag is supposed to be used to buy time to get an agreement done, not to squat on a player’s rights in order to trade him.

There is precedent for the tag being used in order to facilitate a trade. In 2009, the Patriots tagged quarterback Matt Cassel. They clearly had no intention of keeping him as they had Tom Brady on the roster. But New England pulled it off, shipping Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round pick.

But it is up to the player to object to being tagged and for whatever reason Cassel and his agent went along with the tag and trade rather than fighting for free agency.

It looks like Cousins ’camp won’t go as quietly.

It’s up to the Redskins to make the first move. The window to be able to tag a player opens on Tuesday with the deadline coming on March 6. We will see how things play out after that.

MORE REDSKINS: THE EXPECTATIONS GAME

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