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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Running backs

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Running backs

Training camp opens in about two weeks and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming couple of weeks, 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.

Running backs

Additions: Derrius Guice (drafted round 2)
Departures: None

Starters: Guice
Other roster locks: Chris Thompson
On the bubble: Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley, Byron Marshall, Kapri Bibbs

How the running backs compare

To the rest of the NFL: As always, it’s hard to separate out responsibility for the Redskins' 2017 average per carry of 3.6 yards, 29th in the NFL. The offensive line sure was banged up but it didn’t always look like the ball carriers were getting the maximum out of each carry. By the end of the year, with Kelley and Thompson on injured reserve and Perine still learning, nobody feared their rushing attack. Besides better health, two things could improve that and lift them into being a solid running back corps. One is Perine continuing to develop by learning to follow his blocks and keep his feet. The other, of course, is Guice. If he lives up to expectations, or comes close to them, the Redskins will have a very competitive group of ball carriers. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  Again, health is the key. If Thompson stays on the field, he adds a stop-notch weapon to the lineup. Guice could be a Pro Bowl caliber player. If Perine and Kelley contribute in some key moments, or Marshall or Bibbs if one of them makes the team, this unit should be much better. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: This could be Guice; we will discuss him below. Perine also has a lot of room for growth. When he was drafted in the fourth round many thought he could be a steal. Consistency was a big problem for him. Perine gained 67 yards in Week 2 after Kelley was injured. But after getting 49 the next week against the Raiders he disappeared for about a month, until emerging with back-to-back 100-yard games. Yet he didn’t post more than 53 the rest of the year. Yes, the O-line was banged up, but it didn’t always look like Perine was getting all of the yards his blocking was giving him. 

Most to prove: Kelley is a favorite of Jay Gruden. He went into the 2017 season as the starter, but injuries limited him to just seven games and 194 yards. The former undrafted free agent now has some serious competition for his job. It’s not hard to see Marshall or Bibbs ending up as the fourth RB on the roster. Even if he does make it, his opportunities could be few and far between and Kelley will need to take advantage of every one of them.

Rookie watch: Guice is the most anticipated rookie running back in team history. They have had some good performances by rookie RBs, most recently Alfred Morris in 2012. However, in July, few knew who Morris was. Guice is already one of the most popular players on the team. Will his performance match his Q rating among the fans? His college tape and performance in a helmet and shorts in the offseason program look promising. That can change when going against NFL players on other teams. 

Bottom line: The NFL is a passing league and you win games primarily by passing the ball. That doesn’t mean that having a strong running game isn’t important. The formula successful teams employ is to throw the ball on roughly 65 percent of the snaps to get the lead and then running the ball to preserve it. And you need to have the threat of the run to facilitate the pass when you are trying to build a lead. The Redskins have not had the running game needed to play that way. With Guice and a healthy Thompson, they just might have it now.

Quote-unquote

Gruden on Guice

Derrius Guice is everything I thought he was and more. He’s a lot faster than I thought. He plays faster – explosive.

2018 position outlook series

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

 

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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USA Today Sports Images

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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

Defensive line

Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)

Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor

How the defensive line compares

To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star. 

Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances. 

Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months. 

Quote-unquote

Greg Manusky on Payne:

Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.

2018 position outlook series

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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10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

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USA TODAY Sports

10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

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. 

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

The Redskins top two linebackers rank among the most productive units in the NFL. When healthy, Mason Foster and Zach Brown are highly efficient tacklers. In fact, Brown led the league in tackles for most of 2017 before his season ended with a foot injury. 

The healthy part is the trick. 

Last year, Foster separated his shoulder against the Rams in Week 2 and was shut down for the season by October. Brown played through nagging injuries all year before shutting things down in December. 

When both players were on the field, the Redskins defense excelled. In just four starts, Foster made 30 tackles to go with an interception, a fumble recovery and half a sack. Brown logged double-digit tackles in nine games last season, and probably would have more without the foot trouble. 

Foster and Brown are very good in the Redskins scheme, and both players are expected to be fully healthy for the start of training camp. Their injuries from last season are not the type that suggest durability concerns, and both players posted full 16-game seasons in 2016.

Foster and Brown aren't the question. The depth chart after Foster and Brown are the question. 

Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight, Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton are competing for two or possibly three roster spots. 

Spaight is the most recognizable name in the group. He's been a good special teams player for Washington, and is well liked in the locker room. By last December, however, Vigil was playing better football. 

More telling for both Vigil and Spaight was that Harvey-Clemons took the starter reps alongside Foster when Brown was absent during OTAs. The second-year man out of Louisville has more physical gifts than either Vigil or Spaight, and now given a full year to learn to play linebacker, Harvey-Clemons could make inroads.

A safety in college, Harvey-Clemons can run. He was a bit of a surprise last season making the 53-man roster out of camp, so expect him to definitely have a shot this year. 

Hamilton will be the wild card. An ultra-talented player out of Alabama, he dealt with a number of injuries in college. Redskins VP Doug Williams talked gushingly about Hamilton after the draft, and if the former 5-Star recruit can stay healthy, he could certainly push for a spot as well. 

Prior to 2017, the Redskins kept four inside linebackers on their final 53 roster. In 2017, the team kept five: Brown, Foster, Spaight, Will Compton and Harvey-Clemons. Compton left via free agency and is now playing in Nashville. 

Foster and Brown are roster locks, and it seems like Harvey-Clemons gets the third nod. 

Spaight, Vigil and Hamilton better be ready for serious competition in Richmond. 

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