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Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most of the time, if you're getting upset about an NFL player skipping voluntary OTAs, you're doing life wrong.

But if you're a Redskins fan who's a bit puzzled by Montae Nicholson not showing up to the early sessions of Washington's offseason workouts, you have a right to be.

Nicholson wasn't in Ashburn on Monday, a practice that was open to the media. There's been no indication that he's reported to the 'Skins since, either (UPDATE: Here's a video proving he has since returned, which is an encouraging sign). 

Now, this isn't a situation worth really freaking out about. Again, OTAs are voluntary, and it's totally possible Nicholson was working out somewhere else and feels that's how he'll be best prepared for 2019. 

Still, though, assuming he had nothing else serious going on, it's a questionable choice by the defensive back. And, according to Jay Gruden, it was a questionable choice he made on his own.

"Correct," Gruden answered Monday when asked if Nicholson skipping was based on the 23-year-old's decision. Gruden said earlier in his presser that he was "not really surprised" by it.

Perhaps the coach is telling the truth and he wasn't surprised. You can bet he was definitely annoyed by it, however.

Nicholson isn't an established player like Trent Williams or Josh Norman, other guys who weren't there when the Burgundy and Gold started this phase of the NFL calendar. He's a third-year safety with 22 up-and-down games to his name.

Not only that, he's just a week or so removed from the news that December assault charges against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence. You'd think someone who just learned that would be eager to get in front of Gruden and his coaching staff and try to repair his image.

After all, much of the same coaching staff who preferred to keep Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the lineup over Nicholson, even as Clinton-Dix struggled following his arrival, remains in charge.  

The starting spot opposite of Landon Collins is wide open, and of the options on the roster, Nicholson is the most talented. He also would fit nicely next to Collins, considering he's got the speed and ability in coverage when he's healthy and mentally right.

Speaking of Collins, he attended OTAs, despite the fact that he wasn't able to participate as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury. Yet there he was, involved and roaming the sidelines, encouraging his teammates and coaching up the younger DBs on various techniques and details.

One of those DBs Collins should've been coaching up is Nicholson, yet Nicholson was nowhere to be found. Plenty more reps await Nicholson over the coming months, but the fact that he wasn't there to claim the first helping of them is not the best way to start his path back into the starting lineup.

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Are the expectations for Chase Young too high in 2020?

Are the expectations for Chase Young too high in 2020?

The expectations for No. 2 overall pick Chase Young are sky high, and for good reason.

Young, the Redskins first-round selection, was considered a generational prospect by many draft experts. As a junior at Ohio State, he led the country with 16.5 sacks in just 12 games. Young was a Heisman Trophy finalist, just the ninth defensive player to do so since 1982, and the winner of the Bednarik Award, given to college football's best defensive player. He's earned comparisons to Julius Peppers and other great edge rushers before him.

While the hype might be justified, Rotoworld's Josh Norris wonders if the expectations for Chase Young are too high for his rookie season.

"I do wonder, on a bad team, how much of an impact someone like Chase Young can have on the overall scheme," Norris said in a recent interview with the Redskins Talk podcast.

While Norris' take on Young might be different than many, his opinion on the Redskins as a whole is not. Across the NFL and in the national media, not many expect the Redskins to be very good in 2020. After all, they won just three games in 2019 and didn't sign any big-time free agents, with cornerback Kendall Fuller being Washington's biggest offseason addition not from the draft.

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The organization underwent a massive overhaul this past offseason, most notably bringing in head coach Ron Rivera and firing longtime team president Bruce Allen. But there's no telling whether those front office changes will directly result in wins, and the head coach admitted himself that turning around a franchise doesn't happen overnight.

However, what's interesting about Norris's comments wondering how Young will fit in is that the Redskins defensive front is by far the best unit on the team, which could have been said even before the addition of Young.

The unit disappointed a tad in 2019, but a large portion of that could be blamed on former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's system, which was complex and often had players playing out of position. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has already stated that he will run a simpler scheme that allows his players to play fast and instinctual.

Plus, the Redskins defensive line is already full of talent. Young is Washington's fourth first-round pick the team has used on a defensive lineman since 2017, and the Ohio State pass rusher was the best prospect of all of them. If teams decide to key-in on the rookie, guys like Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan and Ryan Anderson will all benefit on the other side.

"The Redskins have invested heavily in that front four, five, six and seven for years and years," Norris said. "[Montez] Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, obviously, that was 10 years ago, but then you have Ryan Anderson as well. That's already a ton of investment that a lot of teams haven't been able to have."

With Allen, Payne and Matt Ioannidis in the middle, the Redskins should be able to apply pressure on the quarterback from their interior defensive line, something Rivera's units have had success with in the past.

"We know Ron Rivera's background is on the defensive side of the ball," Norris said. "He actually struggled for quite some time to find that premier edge rusher with the Panthers. They had Charles Johnson for a long time, they had Mario Addison, they brought back Julius Peppers, drafted Brian Burns last year. But a lot of their disruption when Dave Gettleman was there was from the interior as well."

What the Redskins have done with their defensive front over the past four years has drawn many parallels to the San Francisco 49ers defense from a year ago. From 2015-2017, the 49ers used a first-round pick on three defensive linemen, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, before adding the final piece to the line in No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa last year.

As a rookie in San Francisco, Bosa's presence completely transformed the 49ers' defense. The 49ers finished the 2019 season ranked second in total defense, compared to their 20th ranking the year prior. Bosa's nine sacks were the second-most on the team. The addition of Bosa was a large reason the 49ers went from a 4-12 football team in 2018 to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019.

Norris understands the comparisons between the two. But the analyst believes there's another factor that the 49ers had that helped turn around their season a year ago. one that the Redskins simply don't have the luxury of (well, anymore, that is).

"I know people are going to compare this, potentially, to the San Francisco 49ers defense last year with how many first and second-round picks were spent along that front four, front seven," Norris said. "But that's with Kyle Shanahan calling plays. I like Scott Turner, but he's no Kyle Shanahan. Few are, if any."

In 2019, the 49ers offense ranked fifth in time of possession, while the Redskins finished dead last. As a result, the 49ers defense was one of the most rested in the NFL, while no defense was on the field more than Washington's a year ago. San Francisco's unit was often fresh in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, while the Burgundy and Gold's was often gassed.

Young will undoubtedly make the Redskins defense better in 2019, and Norris isn't arguing that.

What the analyst is questioning is whether Young's impact is "going to equal a big optic in the win/loss column" and while Norris says the pass rusher is "a fantastic prospect," he's not sure that it will.

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Peyton Manning's rookie year shows why Redskins should be patient with Dwayne Haskins, one former GM says

Peyton Manning's rookie year shows why Redskins should be patient with Dwayne Haskins, one former GM says

As the Redskins set to begin a new era of Washington football, Dwayne Haskins' development in Year 2 as a full-time starter will likely dictate where the team goes in the short term. 

Based on his production last season, it's hard to pinpoint who Washington fans should expect under center. The player who completed 54% of his passes for an average of 165.3 yards per game and got sacked 18 times over his first four starts, or the guy who completed over 67% of his passes for five touchdowns and just one interception over his last three games.

If you ask longtime executive and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, inconsistency isn't new for young quarterbacks. With Haskins entering his second season in the NFL having to learn a new offense under Scott Turner after just one year of starting experience in college, Polian acknowledged the young signal-caller needs to be afforded some time. 

"Dwayne Haskins is essentially a work in progress," Polian said on The Sports Junkies Monday. "You've got to give him a chance to get his feet wet and feel comfortable in the offense -- he's going to be learning a new offense -- but he has the tools and the thing that's nice about him is that he can do it with his feet and he can do it with his arm. And he seems to me to have the kind of poise and approach to things that you need in a quarterback."

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Polian has one of the colder takes of recent memory after suggesting Lamar Jackson should move to wide receiver, but make no mistake, he's an all-time great general manager. He helped build the Bills teams that made it to four straight Super Bowls and began an incredible run with the Colts by drafting Peyton Manning, who didn't exactly start his career off on the right foot. 

"It's going to come slowly, it does for every quarterback," he said. "Peyton [Manning] had an awful rookie year, but the arrow was up when [his career] was over. He learned a lot from the experience. I think Dwayne has already learned a lot and he'll be a lot better this year, but it'll take him time to learn a new system."

As a rookie, Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions and only managed to lead the Colts to a 3-13 record. Indianapolis stuck with their guy, and he turned into one of the all-time greats. 

This doesn't mean Haskins is going to become the next Peyton Manning or that's where the expectation should be. But players like Manning, Drew Brees and Troy Aikman serve as an example for quarterbacks that bounced back from underwhelming rookie seasons.

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