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Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

From the moment Bill Callahan took over as the Redskins interim head coach, he talked almost exclusively about establishing the run game in the offense. 

Last week in Miami his team did just that, running the ball 33 times for 145 yards. It was Washington's biggest output from the ground game this season, and by a wide margin. 

This week, however, the Redskins face a much stiffer challenge against San Francisco. The 49ers boast the second-best defense in the league, trailing only the Patriots, and Kyle Shanahan's team is giving up fewer than 90 rush yards-per-game. That's nearly 100 yards less than the Dolphins were giving up prior to last week's game against the Redskins. 

Last week, it made sense for Callahan to preach running the football. Miami was awful at defending it. This week, things look much different, and Redskins fans might be surprised to know Callahan looks willing to change his offensive scheme. 

"Every game is different," Callahan said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.

"This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid."

Against the 0-4 Dolphins, the Redskins played a conservative offense that saw Case Keenum complete just 13 passes. He was able to connect with rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin for two scores, but there were plenty of pass yards left on the field in Miami. The truth was Washington didn't need to do that much offensively to beat the awful Dolphins.

Against 5-0 San Francisco, the opposite is true. The Niners' offense ranks fifth in the league in yards-per-game and third in points-per-game. Shanahan's team plays great football on both sides, and the former Redskins offensive coordinator will very much want to show off his new squad on Sunday. 

Callahan seems quite aware of the circumstances for this game, and that could mean a much more aggressive Redskins offense. 

"I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent," the coach said. "Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do. We will certainly focus in on that as we delve into the 49ers."

The Niners have won four out of five games by double digits, and two wins came by more than 20 points. This team is clicking on all cylinders right now. 

The Redskins have a serious task in front of them, and oddsmakers installed Washington as double-digit underdogs. The good news, even if minor, is Callahan looks like he understands the nature of his opponent and that he must adapt his team to best attack San Francisco. 

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Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

When Bill Callahan was asked on Thursday if he's noticed any major differences between Preston Smith the Redskin and Preston Smith the Packer, the interim coach responded that Smith looks "pretty similar" these days.

His stats, however, suggest otherwise. 

The 27-year-old already has 10.5 sacks through Green Bay's 12 games. His career high in four campaigns with Washington was eight. So he's surpassed his best sack production already and still has a quarter of the way to go, and is also on pace to easily set new bests in tackles, solo tackles, tackles for loss and QB hits.

That leap in production has caused many to wonder if Smith was properly used or coached while he was with the Burgundy and Gold. Callahan didn't necessarily dismiss that idea entirely, though he also made sure to note that perhaps Smith has developed on his own.

"Everybody matures, gets older, stronger, has new experiences, new position coaches, system and with that I think players evolve," Callahan said. "You just don't know what can make a spark in a player's career, whether it's a position coach, a coordinator, a system, new place, whatever it may be."

It's certainly possible Smith has "matured" personally. However, it's not like there's such thing in the NFL as "the fifth-year leap." While guys certainly learn and make tweaks to their game every offseason, the massively improved play from Smith indicates he's on a defense now that uses him in a much more effective way. 

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur wouldn't comment on why Smith has thrived more with the Packers than he did with the Redskins, opting instead to simply point out that Smith's impact has been "tremendous." Callahan, meanwhile, explained that Smith is rushing from both sides more, and he also seems to have more "freedom to take the inside rush if it's there."

This Sunday, Dwayne Haskins and his offense will get to see Smith in person at Lambeau Field. Unfortunately, 2019 hasn't been fun for the Redskins when it comes to facing well-known ex-Redskins.

In Week 1, DeSean Jackson completely changed the flow of the opener for the Eagles and scored twice. In Week 3, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off two passes and returned one for six as a Bear. And in Week 11, Jamison Crowder caught eight passes and found the end zone when the Jets visited FedEx Field.

Now, the point of this isn't to claim that the organization blew it by not re-signing Smith in March. He was paid quite a bit of cash by the Packers, and after four years of solid but not superb results, Washington was content not to match the contract Smith eventually got. They felt like he had reached his ceiling in D.C. and they were fine with moving on.

So, when the Redskins watch Smith in Week 14, they shouldn't feel remorse for that. But they should look at him and then look at themselves, wondering if they're employing the right people and running the right systems to get the most out of their players. 

The franchise can claim all they want that Smith is "pretty similar" to what he was as a Redskin. The reality is that he's better. A lot better. He's surely evolved some, yet the more prominent thing here is that the Redskins often refuse to.

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Cardale Jones and the DC Defenders ready to kick off an updated XFL

Cardale Jones and the DC Defenders ready to kick off an updated XFL

The reboot is almost here. 

The second edition of the XFL, the infamous football league brought to you by WWE founder Vince McMahon for a memorable, combustible one-year run in 2001, begins play in February. It is a second chance for the league and for the players who’ve joined, including former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

Jones is the quarterback for the DC Defenders, Washington’s newest pro franchise that will play its home games at D.C. United’s Audi Field. The first game isn’t until February 8 after the NFL’s season concludes with the Super Bowl, but the organization opened its offseason camp at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House indoor facility on Thursday. The debut is just over two months away. 

“I love it. It’s pretty cool to be part of something that’s going to be a first, a historical moment of the return [of the XFL] and to be in [the D.C.] area,” Jones said. “Hopefully not just me, but this team can leave a lasting impression.”

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the Defenders will make on a crowded winter sports scene with the NHL’s Capitals and NBA’s Wizards playing and the World Series champion Nationals starting their title defense just across the street from Audi Field in April just as the XFL plays its final two games and its two playoff rounds. 

Jones, of course, led Ohio State to the national championship in 2014 when he came off the bench to replace two injured starters and led the Buckeyes to wins in the Big 10 championship game and two more in the college football playoffs. He started seven games in 2015 as a redshirt junior, but lost his job and turned pro after that season. 

Part of the appeal of the XFL is to get another shot at an NFL opportunity. Jones was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and made his debut in a game late that season. He was traded to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 and spent that year on the practice squad. Jones was with the Seattle Seahawks this summer and again cut from the practice squad in September.  

“My focus is strictly on the XFL and the DC Defenders, nothing more, nothing less,” Jones said. “I do have long-term goals and aspirations, but all of them consist of being a better player and teammate to this franchise and this organization.”

Pep Hamilton is the head coach and general manager of the Defenders. Quarterback at Howard in the early 1990s, Hamilton has spent 10 years coaching in the NFL and was most recently the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator at Michigan. 

That drew a laugh from Jones, who was going back and forth with Hamilton to set up a meeting after the Defenders’ roster was announced. Hamilton still has a home in Ann Arbor so that’s where Jones, the ultimate Ohio State guy, had to go. 

“Right around the corner from the University,” Jones cracked. “So I had to drive past the Big House every freakin’ time I’d go up there. Monday through Wednesday I’d have to go past there.”

Jones laughed and said he was driving through campus one day and saw some players he recognized wearing Michigan gear. He yelled out the car window “O-H!” and sped past them cackling. Every workout Jones makes sure he has his Ohio State cleats on and Hamilton wears his Michigan shoes. 

Jones, Hamilton and the rest are all on the same team now, though, and it will take lots of repetitions throughout the offseason for players from colleges all over the country to come together and form a cohesive group. There isn’t much time. Walk throughs and team meetings began this week and continue into next week. Then come OTAs next weekend and finally a two-day minicamp on Dec. 16-17. 

“This is going to be interesting,” Jones said. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I sense a great buzz. We did a couple of appearances and some meet-and-greets with the fans and I was shocked by the response that we got and how excited people are around the city. It’s football all year round.” 

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