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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Tight end

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Tight end

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Tight end

Training camp opens in about four 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.

Tight ends

Additions: None
Departures: Niles Paul (UFA to Jacksonville)

Starter:  Jordan Reed
Other roster locks: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle
On the bubble: None

How the tight ends compare

To the rest of the NFL: Reed is one of the best tight ends in the NFL if . . . You have heard it plenty. Reed's speed and athleticism are unique gifts that few can match. Having Reed available is doubly important because Davis is generally more effective working as a second tight end with Reed also on the field than he does as the lone TE. If Reed is on the field and at full speed for 12 or 14 games the Redskins have one of the better tight end situations in the league. If not, they are well below average.

To the 2017 Redskins: They will miss Niles Paul more for his ability to line up at fullback and play special teams than for his contributions as a receiver (13 receptions for 94 yards). Still, the unit could be vastly improved from last year if Reed plays at least three-quarters of the games (sorry to keep repeating myself) and if Vernon Davis can keep on outrunning Father Time for another season.

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: Sprinkle played in 11 games last year as a rookie and he caught just two passes, one for a touchdown against the Saints. He has nowhere to go but up in terms of production. While he will be counted on mostly as a blocker, a skill he needs to improve, he also needs to be more of a receiving threat. If Sprinkle gets better clearing room for runners and can match Paul’s production and maybe add a few more touchdowns from the red zone, he will be a solid asset.

Most to prove: We’re back to Reed. This year is very important to him personally. In 2019 he will be in the third year of the five-year contract extension he signed in 2016. The guaranteed money will have been paid and the Redskins would save over $6.1 million in cap money if they move on from him. If he suffers through another season like he had in 2017 they might not have any choice but to let him go. Such a move would cost Reed nearly $25 million in uncollected salary.

Rookie watch: The Redskins didn’t draft a tight end and there probably isn’t room for a fourth TE on the 53-man roster. Still, a spot on the practice squad could be important, a potential call-up if Reed struggles to stay on the field. Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Garrett Hudson out of Richmond. Every time you looked up during OTAs he was making a nice catch.

Bottom line: Alex Smith has demonstrated that tight ends can thrive while he is behind center. Travis Kelce and a younger Vernon Davis demonstrated that in Kansas City and San Francisco, respectively. Reed could be a candidate for All-Pro honors at the end of the year or he could be a candidate for the waiver wire. With a stronger defense, the Redskins might be able to get by if Reed misses a lot of time but things would be a whole lot easier if Reed is a factor.  

Quote-unquote

Jay Gruden on Reed’s condition:

He’s been working hard with the trainers now . . . His attendance has been excellent. His rehab schedule is on track to being ready, and I like where he’s at. His upper body strength is great. I think he’s on track to be there for training camp. We’ll wait and see.

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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There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

Ron Rivera's first free agency class with the Redskins consisted of just over a dozen players, many of which share this one specific trait: versatility.

On the offensive side of the ball, Washington added running back J.D. McKissic, who can both run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. Additionally, the team added a pair of offensive lineman, Cornelius Lucas and Wes Schweitzer, who both have experience playing multiple positions along the line. 

The trend of adding versatile players continued in the draft. The Redskins invested a third-round pick in RB/WR hybrid Antonio Gibson and followed that selection with fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles, who played both tackle spots at LSU. The Redskins used another Day 3 pick on Keith Ismael, who played all three interior offensive line spots at San Diego State.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner was asked this week why the team emphasized versatility so much this offseason, and the 37-year-old's reply was simple.

"I think you want to be as unpredictable as possible," Turner told local media via Zoom this week. "You don’t want the defense to know what you’re going to do. I think you do that with balance and everything like that."

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While that sounds ideal, being unpredictable is hard to do. The offensive coordinator explained that keeping opposing defenses on their toes requires a lot more than just mixing up pass plays with rushing ones. 

"Balance is not just run and pass," he explained. "It’s getting all five – you have five eligible receivers on every play – getting all five of those guys. That to me is what true balance is, using all five of those guys in the run game or pass game. So, guys that are able to do different things, it gives you more options of how you can use them and more things that the defense has to defend."

Outside of wide receiver Terry McLaurin, plenty of Washington's offensive weapons remain unproven at the NFL level. However, there's still plenty of optimism in Redskins Park about the team's skill position depth.

The Redskins had a pair of rookie pass-catchers emerge towards the end of last season, Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon, and having another season alongside Dwayne Haskins should only help them. At running back, Adrian Peterson keeps chugging along, and if Derrius Guice can stay healthy, he has the chance to make a huge impact, too. 

Washington's offseason additions of McKissic, Gibson, and fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden, who the offensive coordinator specifically praised, all give Turner plenty of flexibility to be creative with the unit.

"We have guys that we feel like can fit those molds as far as just creatively getting the ball, not just like running back and receiver and we’re going to give a lot of people a chance and see how it shakes out," Turner said.

Too often last season, Washington's offense was extremely predictable, especially once interim head coach Bill Callahan took over. Callahan insisted on running the ball early and often; the Redskins ran the ball 58% of the time on first down, the sixth-highest rate in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats.

Many of these runs were unsuccessful, leaving Washington in plenty of third-and-long situations. Those down-and-distance situations are immensely hard to convert, but even more difficult with a rookie quarterback, which the Redskins had with Haskins last season.

There's only room for improvement for the Redskins offense as Turner enters his first season as the team's offensive coordinator. The unit averaged just 16.6 points per game a season ago, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Washington averaged just 274 yards of total offense per contest in 2019, good for 31st in the league, with only the Jets trailing them.

This season marks the first true offensive coordinator gig that Turner has had; he was promoted to the role in Carolina last December, ironically after Rivera was fired. With the Panthers, Turner had the luxury of running back Christian McCaffrey -- arguably the most versatile offensive player in the NFL -- to his disposal, as well as guys who can play multiple roles like Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore.

While the Redskins may not have a player like McCaffrey, the offensive coordinator has a plan for how he envisions Washington's offense to succeed in 2020, and it all starts with having players who can do multiple things.

"Versatility is so important because it’s uncertainty for the other side of the ball," Turner said.

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Two examples of why ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes Dwayne Haskins will excite Redskins fans

Two examples of why ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes Dwayne Haskins will excite Redskins fans

Scott Turner was asked about quarterback Dwayne Haskins' growth this offseason during a Zoom call with local media earlier this week, and the new Redskins offensive coordinator explained he was pleased with both Haskins' physical and mental progress.

Besides raving about the second-year quarterbacks imposing size and natural arm strength, Turner also dove into specific detail about one other thing that really stood out to him about Haskins: his ability to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a throw without much space.

Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky took to Twitter on Friday, tweeting out two video examples from Haskins' rookie season where the quarterback demonstrated the qualities Turner raved about.

The first example was a clip from the Redskins Week 11 contest against the Jets. The play went down in the scorebook as a 24-yard completion to Kelvin Harmon, but what the quarterback had to do in order to make this play successful was quite impressive.

For this play, Orlovsky explained how Haskins identified where the pressure was coming from pre-snap, causing him to shift the entire protection to the left. After the running back missed his block, Haskins didn't panic. The then-rookie QB stepped up in the pocket and fired a dart to Harmon on the in-route as the receiver broke open in the middle of the field.

"This is one of my favorite plays by him last year," Orlovsky explained. "It really is an example of the intellectual aspect of quarterback play with the feel aspect of quarterback play."

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The second clip was from Washington's clash in Green Bay last season. On this particular snap, Haskins showed his mastery of the Packers' defense.

Haskins' initial read was to the right side, where Harmon was running an inside post route. But once the quarterback saw his first read was covered, he continued to look right, forcing Packers' safety Darnell Savage to slide in that direction. The passer then immediately turned to his backside, which created an open throwing lane to find Terry McLaurin in the middle of the field.

"It really shows a complete understanding of what the defense is, what the coverage is, and then a complete understanding of who on the defense he needs to move with his eyes to open up a window," Orlovsky said.

It's fair to mention that the Redskins would not win either of these games and that the rookie passer had his struggles in each of these contests. It's no secret that Haskins had his growing pains as a rookie, and there were examples of such in each of these matchups, too.

But Haskins did finish the season playing the best football of his young career, giving some hope for the future. Count Orlovsky in on those who are optimistic about the quarterback as he enters his second season with the team and his first as the team's true starter.

"There are so many examples on his tape that show how smart he actually is," Orlovsky said. 

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