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Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden says Alex Smith needs to be effective starting Week 1

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden says Alex Smith needs to be effective starting Week 1

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, June 13, 43 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Minicamp quotes and comments

Here are some of Jay Gruden’s answers at this press conference yesterday along with my comments. 

On the players who spent practice rehabbing injuries off to the side:

“We’re very positive in their recovery right now. They’ve all worked extremely hard. Trent [Williams] came in here and has shown great progress, great strength. So I don’t see any reason why these guys won’t be ready for training camp.”

Comment: Along with Williams (knee), some other players working on the side were OT Morgan Moses (ankles) and TE Jordan Reed (toe). None of them seemed to have any difficulty getting around and there were no crutches of big braces being used. Of course, it’s a long way from being able to walk normally to being able to put your legs through the pounding of playing NFL football. As of right now, there is no reason to doubt what Gruden said but nothing is certain until camp gets underway on July 26.

On if he expects Alex Smith to be proficient in the offense “by midseason”:

“He has got to get it down by the first game. So, I think he is already close to having it down for the most part . . . We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now. This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.”

Comment: Being a veteran getting paid a lot of money, Smith should get no grace period to adjust. He has to be effective right out of the gate. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be better in Week 10 than he is in Week 1, but he has to be at least very competent from the very first snap.

On what needs to happen for the team to stop the run after upgrading some personnel:

“Stopping the run, it’s a team thing. It’s an 11-man deal. You have got to be in your right gap. You can’t abort your gap and leave somebody on an island or what have you. So, it’s up to the defensive line to stay in their gap, the linebackers will play off of them and obviously, the safeties have to be a part of it and sometimes when the safeties get blocked by the receivers, then the corners have got to come and crack-replace. So, it’s a total team thing on defense.”

Comment: I’m not sure why they couldn’t do this last year. Techniques and fundamentals are, well, fundamental. They didn’t have to bring in very man defensive players off of the street so most of them were there during training camp. I’m a big believer that it’s more about personnel than coaching so their rushing defense should be better with the addition of Daron Payne and a healthy season from Jonathan Allen. But the improvement will only be marginal if the coaches don’t fix what’s wrong. 

On how he feels about where the Redskins are at this point in the offseason:

“I’m always confident, really, but I feel really good. I think from a draft perspective, Payne is everything that I thought he was. Derrius Guice is everything I thought he was and more. He’s a lot faster than I thought. He plays faster – explosive. Christian adds great depth to the offensive line. Shaun Dion, like I mentioned, great depth at the linebacker position, could eventually be a starter, who knows? The rest of the guys are excellent.”

Comment: The draft class has indeed looked good in minicamp. Payne has shown quickness and agility and Guice has been doing well both running and receiving. There were major question marks about the latter skill coming in. As Gruden often notes, this is the offseason program and there are no pads. We don’t even start to collect hard data about the rookies until the games begin. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Today's schedule: Minicamp practice, 11:30; Jay Gruden news conference, player and offensive assistant coaches availability afer practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 43
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 57
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 80

The Redskins last played a game 162 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 88 days. 

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Shaun Dion Hamilton (drafted in the fifth round)

Departures: Will Compton (free agent)

Starters: Zach Brown, Mason Foster

Other roster locks: Josh Harvey-Clemons

On the bubble: Hamilton, Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight

How the inside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: This is a difficult comparison to make since only about half of the teams use the 3-4 with two inside linebackers and there are many variations when they go out of their base defense. Brown certainly is in the upper tier of players at his position. Foster’s skill set may not be coveted by many teams around the league, but he is a perfect fit in the Redskins’ defense in many ways. The player who could differentiate this group from others around the league is Harvey-Clemons. If he turns into a top-notch nickel LB the inside linebackers will be a great asset. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  This is about health. In 2017, Foster missed 11 games, Brown was hampered by a variety of injuries before sitting out the last three games. Compton was the top backup to both players and he went to injured reserve after just three starts. They did re-sign Vigil, who had spent training camp with the team, and he played pretty well near the end of the season. If the front-line players can stay on the field for most of the season this should be a much better group than the one that was partially responsible for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. 

2018 Inside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: The 2017 season was supposed to be a redshirt year for Harvey-Clemons as he transitions from college safety to NFL linebacker. He played a lot in the base defense during the offseason practices and that indicates that they are considering him for a bigger role beyond just playing nickel. You have to wonder how his size (6-4, 230) will affect his ability to get off of blocks. 

Most to prove: Spaight was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and he has yet to establish a regular role in the defense. It was telling that when they needed someone to start in the latter part of last year they brought back and started Vigil and mostly kept Spaight is going into the last year of his contract, but it would not be surprising to see Vigil beat him out for the last roster spot.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins traded up in the sixth round to get Hamilton. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal but the fact that they thought enough of him to move up says something. Gruden has said that he thinks Hamilton could be a starter at some point. He was one of the leaders on a strong Alabama defense before injuries struck. Hamilton is not going to start this year barring multiple injuries, but he should develop a role as the season goes on and be ready to compete in 2019.

Bottom line: The Redskins have not invested much in terms of free agent dollars or draft capital in the inside linebacker position in recent seasons. That changed somewhat this offseason as they made sure to spend to retain Brown and Foster. Neither commanded a huge contract but they did make a commitment and that is important. Last year Brown gave the defense a sideline-to-sideline dimension it hasn’t had in quite some time and retaining him was critical. Inside linebacker may not be a major strength for the defense this year but it should be able to get the job done. 

2018 Redskins position outlook series


 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

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USA TODAY Sports

10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

Right or wrong, fans blamed Shawn Lauvao for much of the Redskins struggles on the offensive line last season. Pro Football Focus backs up the fans, as Lauvao landed a -19.1 grade, among the worst in the NFL at the guard spot. 

It's worth pointing out that Lauvao was playing hurt during much of his nine starts before getting shut down for the season just before Thanksgiving. In fact, injuries have probably been the biggest issue for Lauvao in his four seasons with the Redskins. 

In four seasons in Washington, Lauvao has never played a full 16-game slate. Last year he played just nine games, and in 2015 he only played three games. 

That points to what may be the bigger issue for the Redskins: offensive line depth. Last season was wild with the grotesque number of injuries Washington sustained up front. It seems almost impossible for the team to have that many injuries again.

Still, the Redskins lost Arie Kouandjio for the year in the offseason. Kouandjio played better last year than Lauvao, and having both men in Richmond would have provided real competition. 

And that might be the biggest question: Neither Lauvao or Kouandjio represent a difference maker at left guard, yet the team did little to address the position. 

All offseason, the Washington brass walked a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The organization believes strongly in the players they already have, and outside of signing Paul Richardson and re-signing Zach Brown, the team had a quiet offseason. The Redskins struggled to run the ball the last few years, and still, the team did not look to upgrade at LG. 

It's important to note that the Redskins have two All-Pro caliber offensive linemen in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses is a plus at the right tackle spot too. The team likes Chase Roullier at center too, and they tried to add depth in drafting Geron Christian in the third round and bringing back swing tackle backup Ty Nsekhe as a restricted free agent. 

Left guard will be a question, and it's hard not to think that it will be the weakest position on the O-line. Should that submarine the group? It shouldn't. What if Lauvao gets hurt?  Then things get quite tricky.

For the Redskins, however, the expectation might be that the line needs to perform as a unit, and with talent like Williams and Scherff, that should cover up any weaknesses.

Time, and health will tell if that plan works. 

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