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Can a healthy Paul Richardson be the help at WR that the Redskins need?

Can a healthy Paul Richardson be the help at WR that the Redskins need?

The Redskins offense performed bad in 2018. At times, the unit played downright ugly football.

There were plenty of culprits, from a run game mismatched to the pass game, injuries, and a lack of versatility in play calling and personnel. Probably the worst group, however, was the Redskins' collection of wide receivers.

The team got hardly any production on the outside of their offense. Of the starting trio of wideouts last year - Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson - none played in all 16 games or a 1,000-yard season. None got close to that benchmark.

Early in the year, however, there were glimpses of momentum with Richardson. He recorded at least 50 yards receiving for the Redskins in Weeks 2 through 4. It might not sound like much, but the ‘Skins offense was anemic. It was something.

And he was never healthy either.

“No,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said when asked if Paul Richardson was ever fully healthy last hear.

Gruden’s comments came from the league meetings last month in Phoenix, but told a lot about the speed receiver.

“I think he showed glimpses in training camp of ‘wow, this guy can run.’ He’s got great hands, but I think he was beat up a little bit. The shoulder was giving him more problems than he would probably want to say and he’ll probably get mad at me for saying that but I do want to see that on tape again. And I know he’s got it in him, I know he wants that back and he’s going to ask for a lot more opportunities to make plays on the ball this year and he will get it if he’s healthy.”

Injury prone is a rough label for any player, and watching Richardson in the locker room last year, he truly tried to play through pain. For a speed guy, however, playing through pain doesn’t always work in the NFL.

“It’s important, for sure, I think to get that top level fast down the field and clear it out for the next level, whoever that is,” Gruden said. “Having that luxury of having a guy that can really run fast, put the pressure on the defense, get on the toes of the corner, or the safety, to make them get the heck out of there, is important.”

Richardson has that speed, that talent.

The Redskins need him to be that player if 2019 will be a better season.

Will it work out this year? Asked that question, Gruden kind of laughed and said he was confident his receiver would be back. At some point.

“I’m 100 percent certain he will be fine, yes. Mentally, yes,” Gruden joked. “I don’t know how much he’s going to do in OTAs.”

Richardson finished 2018 on the injured reserve. He started four games and played in seven. The biggest free agent signing last year, Richardson notched two receiving touchdowns and 262 receiving yards on the season.

If Washington is going to make the playoffs in 2019, those numbers have to significantly improve. And that means getting healthy.

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Steven Sims is an under-the-radar name in the NFL. Here's why that'll change in 2020

Steven Sims is an under-the-radar name in the NFL. Here's why that'll change in 2020

Some people — like most Redskins fans, the most desperate fantasy football players and, well, his family — are well aware of who Steven Sims is. 

Once this season comes and goes, however, far more folks will know of, and appreciate, Washington's receiver. That's because he's going to build off a quietly impressive rookie campaign and have a really nice 2020 for the Burgundy and Gold.

And as that's happening — like, for example, when he has six receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown in, say, Week 3 against the Browns, and you're at your buddy's house and he says something like, "Damn, who is this Sims dude?" with a surprised look on his face while you, on the other hand, aren't surprised at all because you read this story, so you just sit there smugly and eat his mediocre dip  — just remember who tipped you off.

OK, now that that's been established, let's explain why this much optimism exists about the 23-year-old's future. 

In 2019, it took Sims a while to crack the lineup. His first head coach, Jay Gruden, had a job to worry about, so even though Gruden made the call for Sims to make the roster coming out of the preseason, giving him real playing time was an entirely different conversation. In Gruden's five games in charge, Sims saw just 52 offensive snaps, and 31 of those came in Week 5 against New England (where he scored his first TD and hinted at his unique explosiveness).

After Gruden was fired, Bill Callahan assumed command and actually showed even less interest in trusting the Kansas product. In the team's next five contests, Sims trotted out with the offense for just 24 plays. Of course, it's not like the Redskins needed another threat during that stretch because they were just rolling their opponents (they scored 17, 0, 9, 9 and 17 points in this span, so the unit was obviously clicking).

Finally, thankfully, fortunately, from Week 12 on, Sims was given a chance to contribute outside of returning kicks and he largely delivered. In the Redskins' last six matchups, Sims caught 23 balls (he had 11 in Weeks 1-11) for 259 yards (compared to the 51 yards he had totaled in the two and a half months before) and four touchdowns.

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If you extrapolate those numbers out to a full schedule, that adds up to a 61-grab, 690-yard effort with a whole bunch of scores. Not bad for an undrafted guy from a basketball school, huh?

It goes beyond the fact that Sims simply produced, too. It was how he produced. Honestly, describing some of the patterns he ran as "lightning quick" would be an insult to the wideout, not the weather phenomenon:

Per Pro Football Focus, Sims was targeted on almost 25-percent of his routes last year, which was the seventh-best output at his position. For those who don't necessarily pay attention to PFF's metrics, that essentially says that Sims was getting open on a regular basis, and Dwayne Haskins rewarded him for that work by going in his direction a ton.

So, there is Sims' first go-round in the NFL summed up in a handful of paragraphs. His overall stats — 34 catches, 310 yards and four scores — don't suggest much, but if you evaluate only when he was truly relied upon, you'll see that's when he peaked and that's when he showed his rare quickness, shiftiness and craftiness.

Those things on their own are reason to expect more out of Sims in 2020. What's even more encouraging is that his skill set is now in the hands of new offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

Turner has already stated that he'll use the best weapons he has on offense regardless of age and experience, so Sims should have plenty of opportunities to thrive beginning in Week 1. That'll be a huge difference from 2019, when he had to bide his time on the sidelines until late November.

Turner's also coming from an offense in Carolina that made a point to quickly get the ball to pass-catchers like Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel and then let them do damage in space. That should also benefit Sims.

To be fair, there are still facets of Sims' game that need to be improved on. He made some very difficult catches as a first-year pro, but as a whole, he needs to be more consistent with his hands. He's always going to be one of the smaller players on the field, meanwhile, so he'll have to continue to refine the ways in which he creatively finds space since he'll never really do so with his physicality.  

As long as Sims sharpens those aspects and adapts well to Turner's scheme, though, he's going to keep shining. He just is.

His rookie rise coincided with the part of the Redskins' season where nearly everyone had tuned out, so most people aren't fully aware of what he can do yet. But that will change, and soon. 

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Good, bad and ugly make up Redskins head coach debuts over the years

Good, bad and ugly make up Redskins head coach debuts over the years

As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That is true in all walks of life, including the professional sports world. And while the NFL may be a “what have you done for me lately” business, it is imperative to kick off a coaching tenure on a positive note,  rather than playing from behind the entire way.

Ron Rivera is set to take over as the 30th head coach in franchise history when his squad presumably lines up against the Eagles on September 13th in Landover. With team workouts currently not an option, it is certainly too early to gauge how those two teams will match up in Week 1 - but if recent history is any indication, that debut could go either way.

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It could end up like Mike Shanahan’s primetime victory in his 2010 debut against the rival Cowboys, or like the return of Joe Gibbs back in 2004 that saw Washington outlast Tampa Bay, and even like Steve Spurrier’s high-powered win over the Cardinals in 2002 - all first impressions that the burgundy and gold promptly celebrated with a “Victory Monday” and left the fanbase hopeful for a return to glory.

But the glass could end up looking half empty as well, as it has so many times before. Jay Gruden and Jim Zorn certainly didn’t inspire confidence with their initial performances in the district. Neither did Marty Schottenheimer, who lost the opener of his only season with the Redskins. You can go all the way back to Norv Turner, who had the difficult task of following the first run of legendary Coach Gibbs with the Redskins, and he did so by falling to the Seahawks in 1994.

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What is also important to note is that the debut isn't the all-telling game for head coaches. Though it sets the tone, some have rebounded from poor starts, while others have struggled after solid beginnings. Spurrier's first win was followed by two disappointing years, while Joe Gibbs' 0-5 start in 1981 was soon forgotten when he held up the Lombardi Trophy three times.

In 2011, Rivera lost in his head coaching debut with the Panthers, but a lot has changed since then. He eventually figured things out in Carolina, amassing 76 wins over 9 successful seasons, including an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Rivera created a reputation that preceded his arrival in Ashburn, and since then it has been clear that it is a new era for the Redskins.

As for how that era begins? History tells us to buckle up.

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