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Jay Gruden wants to see a statement game from Case Keenum against the Falcons

Jay Gruden wants to see a statement game from Case Keenum against the Falcons

ATLANTA -- Through two games in the preseason Redskins head coach Jay Gruden can't be particularly impressed with his team. Thursday night could change that.

When the Redskins face the Falcons in the third and most important preseason game, Gruden could play his starters as much as the whole first half. In that time, there's plenty he wants to see from his team.

  1. No injuries - It might be redundant to put that at the top of each preseason article, but there is nothing more important for a coaching staff than to escape the meaningless preseason action without major injuries. It's football, guys are going to get banged up, but Washington cannot afford to lose any starters or key reserves in August action. Superstitious or not, Gruden is knocking on wood and lighting candles before his team takes the field in Atlanta.
  2. Making a case - With Colt McCoy out for an unknown period of time, Case Keenum is the presumed starting quarterback for the Redskins when the real action starts Week 1 in Philadelphia. With that in mind, it would be nice to see some offensive efficiency from Keenum. Against the Bengals last week, Keenum started hot but was undone by a few penalties that backed the Redskins up and away from the red zone. Keenum doesn't have a stranglehold on this job either, so it would be a wise move to prove to the coaching staff and Redskins fans that he should be on the field in Philly.
  3. Making a push - After Keenum comes rookie Dwayne Haskins. Through two games he hasn't been terrific, but he's shown flashes of being terrific. The 55-yard touchdown pass he threw last week to Robert Davis is the prettiest downfield toss from a Redskins QB in at least a year, and nobody questions the arm talent or potential of the former Ohio State star. While it seems unlikely Haskins will push for the starting job, with McCoy out, if Keenum struggles and Haskins shines, things could get interesting. It certainly bears watching if Haskins gets time with the first team on the field. 
  4. All the horses - Offensively the Redskins strength should be running the football, and for the first time in over a year, Derrius Guice should take the field in Burgundy and Gold. Gruden has been clear that he just wants to get Guice a few touches before the real action starts in about two weeks, and it makes sense as the charismatic running back is about a year removed from ACL surgery. Redskins fans should expect less than five carries from Guice, but it will be highly valuable to see him take on contact again. Guice, along with veterans Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, could form a formidable backfield. 
  5. Keep it up - The starting defense didn't play much against the Bengals, but outside of some dumb penalties, that unit looked very good. The strength of the defense comes up front along the line, and that will get tested against a good Falcons offense. If the Redskins have real designs on a Top 10 defense, they need to prove it against Atlanta. These two teams met Week 9 last year, before Alex Smith was hurt and when the Redskins still looked like a playoff team. The Falcons scored 38 points and ran up nearly 500 yards of total offense in a runaway win at FedEx Field. Top 10 defenses don't give up 500 yards. 

Extra point - The Redskins special teams have been bad through two preseason games. Time to look better, especially with former special teams coach Ben Kotwica now on the Falcons sideline. 

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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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Nate Orchard was installing windows prior to signing with the Redskins

Nate Orchard was installing windows prior to signing with the Redskins

A week ago, many Redskins fans were not familiar with the name Nate Orchard. But after No. 54's exceptional performance in the Redskins' Week 13 victory over Carolina, he's turned into a feel-good story in an otherwise tough season in Washington.

As many Redskins fans know by now, Orchard was signed just days before the Week 13 game. Due to injuries to linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat, as well as Ryan Anderson being ejected, Orchard was forced to play meaningful snaps towards the end of Sunday's victory. He finished with a sack, recovering a fumble, and two tackles for loss in the win.

The former star on HBO's Hard Knocks while he was with the Cleveland Browns had worked out for 10 (!!) teams this season, but none chose to sign Orchard until Washington did last week. It makes sense why he was so emotional postgame.

So, how was Orchard spending his time before joining the Burgundy and Gold? 

Orchard, who spent most Mondays and Tuesdays this season working out for NFL teams, was installing windows in Utah a few days during the week, according to 106.7 The Fan.

"A typical week for me, I would leave for a workout Monday, get back Tuesday night," Orchard said on 106.7's Grant and Danny"Wednesday morning, I'd hit the gym early, then go and install windows from 7 [o'clock] until about 3 [o'clock], then come back to my family and rest up. [I would] repeat that Thursday and Friday."

Orchard admitted that he questioned whether he should continue to train and wait for a call, but says his wife encouraged him to stay motivated and continue to workout.

They say hard work pays off, and Orchard's whirlwind of a season thus far ended up being very rewarding for him this past Sunday.

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