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Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

The end of Preston Smith’s 2015 rookie season set high expectations for his future. The outside linebacker racked up six sacks in the final four games including three in the Redskins’ division-clinching win in Philadelphia and one that got Aaron Rodgers for a safety in their wild-card playoff game. His eight sacks led all NFL rookies

But he wasn’t the player the team hoped he would be in 2016, at least not consistently. Smith got 4.5 sacks on the year. He had some dominant games like the one against the Vikings when he got two sacks and his first career interception. But he also disappeared for weeks at a time.

This past offseason the Redskins drafted outside linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round and they re-signed Junior Galette. You always want to have good depth at the edge rushing position but it also appeared that the organization wanted to ensure that it would have alternatives if Smith’s sophomore slump extended into his third season.

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But so far, we have seen a Preston Smith who looks more like the one who finished up his rookie season than the often invisible 2016 version. He has two sacks in two games plus two quarterback hits and two hurries. While it’s very early, Smith is starting to live up to the potential he showed as a rookie.

His versatility has impressed Jay Gruden.

“I think he’s doing good against the run, number one,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. He’s got to set the point. You’ve got to set the point of attack, and he’s done a good job of that.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has played 86 snaps. He has rushed the passer in most his plays, 46. But he also has defended the run 28 snaps and has dropped back into coverage 12 times. He has allowed one reception for six yards in those coverage snaps.

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The rest of Gruden’s answer to the question about Smith’s play was interesting.

And then when he’s asked to rush some, he’s done fine. I think he and Junior [Galette] had some good rushes. Junior got that critical holding call that pushed them back out of the red zone and forcing them into a field goal and obviously [Ryan] Kerrigan is doing his thing, so all three of those guys are doing a great job as far as giving a chance of pace. Preston is doing a good job. He can go inside, he can use his bull [rush] and he’s working on his get off. So I think he’s getting better and better.

Note that Gruden is nowhere near over the top in his praise of Smith. He brings in Galette and Kerrigan to turn the topic to the pass rush in general and uses words like “fine” and “good” to describe Smith’s play. Smith has been a source of frustration for the coaches as he often has relied on his natural ability rather than working to master the finer points of the job. The willingness to work on the details is often the difference between a talented player who just gets by and one who racks up 15-sack seasons, goes to Pro Bowls, and gets paid with large contracts.

Smith’s start is encouraging for the Redskins but Gruden and company are going to want to see a lot more before they dish out big compliments for him.

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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Redskins need to fix problems with slow starts

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usa Today Sports Images

Redskins need to fix problems with slow starts

The Redskins have solved their problem of blowing early leads but not the way they want to get it fixed.

The pattern for most of the season has been to build an early lead, blow it, and either hang on to win or, more often, lose.

Here is a quick synopsis of the games where they lost most or all of a healthy lead.

—In Week 2 against the LA Rams, they had a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. The Rams came back and tied it 20-20 in the fourth quarter before the Redskins won on a late drive.

—On Monday night in Week 4, they led the Chiefs 10-0 in the first quarter before losing 29-20.

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—The then-winless 49ers came to town in Week 6 and the Redskins built up a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter. San Francisco rallied to tie it at 17 in the third quarter. The home team reestablished a nine-point lead but they still had to hang on through a final, desperate 49ers possession before claiming a 26-24 win.

—In Week 9 in Seattle, they took a 10-2 lead into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks came back to take a 14-10 lead before the Redskins pulled out a 17-14 win on a late drive and hold.

—Week 11, Saints. You don’t need the details of this one.

But those were glory days compared to the last two weeks. The Redskins did not hold a lead at any time against the Cowboys or the Chargers. The game in Dallas was scoreless going into the second quarter but the Cowboys tore off 17 unanswered points to take control. The Redskins never got to within one score.

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The next week, the Chargers jumped out to a 13-0 lead and the Redskins were fortunate it wasn’t 21-0 as the LA offense was moving the ball at will. The Redskins did drive for a TD to pull within a touchdown at 13-6 but they were close for all of 11 seconds as Philip Rivers threw a touchdown bomb to Tyrell Williams on the next play from scrimmage.

This is not the direction you want to go in at the end of the year. The ideal scenario, of course, is to build a big lead and then hold the opponent at arm’s length the rest of the way. The Redskins will try to accomplish that against the Cardinals on Sunday.

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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Need to Know: Fan questions—What's the plan at cornerback, losing the locker room

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Need to Know: Fan questions—What's the plan at cornerback, losing the locker room

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, December 16, one day before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: No media availability

Days until:

—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 8
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 15
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 131

Fan questions

Today's questions are from my Facebook page.

I don’t think that he is but it is a valid concern. This is what happens when you lose two in a row and neither game is competitive. As we sit here right now I think that Gruden still has the respect and the collective ear of the players. But if there is another game like the ones against the Chargers and Cowboys, things could start to erode. They are still pretty high up on the slippery slope but things can fall apart quickly with a push in the wrong direction.

First, you go for the best available player but in the first round. If a few guys are close, and they often are, you will tend to go towards the position of greatest need. However, it’s hard to pinpoint the area of greatest need before going through free agency, where gains and losses have a big effect on needs. But looking at it right now and projecting what I think is likely to happen in free agency, I think that inside linebacker could be a good place where need comes together with draft position. To throw out one name, I think Roquan Smith of Georgia might be a nice fit with a pick in the 10-12 range.

I think that Kendall Fuller is best suited to the slot. He has really found his niche there and with receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Keenan Allen frequently lining up in the slot it pays to have a strong corner there. Quinton Dunbar could be an option on the outside if Moreau isn’t up to speed in time. It seems likely that Bashaud Breeland will be gone; he will get a pretty lucrative deal and it will be hard for the Redskins to carry two high-priced cornerbacks.

I’m not sure if they’re sold on the current stable of running backs but I think they are willing to settle for them. Just look at the history. They have not spent a first-round pick on a running back since the 1970 merger. The highest they have taken one is in the second, most recently Ladell Betts in 2002. Since then, the highest they have taken a running back is in the third round (Matt Jones, 2015). I don’t see them taking a first-round back or even a second rounder. Sure, you can find game-changing backs later in the draft, like David Johnson in the third. If they should happen to stumble on such a back, great, but getting one of that caliber doesn’t seem to be part of the grand plan.

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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