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Redskins Position Battles: Who, if anyone, will be a contributor at tight end in 2020?

Redskins Position Battles: Who, if anyone, will be a contributor at tight end in 2020?

This week, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will examine some of the more critical position battles you'll see on the Redskins over the next few months.

Next up? Tight end.


Jeremy Sprinkle, Logan Thomas, Hale Hentges, Thaddeus Moss, Richard Rodgers, Caleb Wilson, Marcus Baugh

JP's outlook

*Let’s be clear that nobody really knows what’s going to happen at tight end. That goes for the coaches, the players, the front office. There are plenty of options but nothing is obvious with this group. 

*Thomas will have the inside track on starting. He signed a two-year deal with Washington this offseason and the contract contained real money; he got more than $2 million in his signing bonus. Thomas started all 16 games last year for the Lions and has all the physical tools to be effective on the line, but it’s unknown if he can be a true playmaking weapon. I already mentioned Thomas started all 16 games last year, which is a positive, but he only made 16 catches in those 16 starts. That’s not a positive. 

*Let's talk about Moss. He balled out last season at LSU — 47 catches for nearly 600 yards and four touchdowns — but slipped in the draft because of a foot injury. Fans are right to be excited about Moss — he made two TD grabs in the national title game for LSU for goodness sake — but he also went undrafted for a reason. Moss, at least, has the right attitude: “ I’m not going out there with a vengeance, trying to prove people wrong. I’m just trying to go out there and be the best football player that I can be, be the best teammate that I can be, you know, and like I said just prove myself right." Moss might be the biggest wild card on the Redskins 2020 offense. If he can get right, the Redskins solved their tight end problem. 


*With all the talk about Thomas and Moss people kinda forgot that Jeremy Sprinkle started 13 games last year and made 26 catches. It wasn't always pretty — Sprinkle had too many important drops — but on some level, he's proven he can play. Not many of these other Redskins tight ends can say that definitively. 

*Don't forget that Rodgers' dad is on the Redskins coaching staff. This isn't high school (as in, that won't get him on the varsity when he deserves to play JV) but it's an interesting note nonetheless. 

*With a new staff and no offseason workouts, some lesser known players might have way fewer opportunities to win a job. That's tough news for Hentges and Wilson. 

*Going to finish this the same way it started: I don't know what's going to happen at tight end. Doesn't seem like Redskins OC Scott Turner does, either: "We got Sprinkle coming back who has been on the roster, a couple other guys and just put them in the mix to compete and see how that whole thing shakes out.”


Pete's outlook

*Trying to sort through the Redskins' current set of tight ends and find something to be happy about is like trying to sort through JP's recent purchases and not find a 7-Eleven visit in there. Both tasks are difficult. 

*Yes, Thomas is intriguing, and Ron Rivera, Turner and Kyle Smith have all made sure to mention how much they like what he can do. Maybe they're onto something, and he'll continue to progress. But the reality is he had just 16 grabs in 2019. Even if he takes a major step forward, what does that look like? 35 receptions?

*I get that fans will be drawn to Moss thanks to his last name, the way he produced for the national champions and the fact that he's an underdog. But for those (such as JP) pointing to what he did at LSU as evidence that he can be a reliable receiver in the NFL, think about how excellent his QB was in school and how many studs were around him in that offense. Playing for Washington is going to be very different from his college experience.

*As for Sprinkle, at this point, he is what he is: He can catch a few passes (as long as they hit him right in his hands) and serve as a fine blocker. That feels like Hentges' ceiling, too. Then there's Rodgers, who hasn't caught a TD since 2017. Bleh, bleh and bleh.

*In the end, I think Thomas will lead this group in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but none of those numbers will be particularly strong. Moss, meanwhile, will be a useful blocker — every scouting report touts what he can do there — but not much more. I guess Sprinkle will be there as well. It doesn't matter, though, because people are going to look back in a few months and skewer the Redskins for not doing more here, and rightfully so. No, you can't fix everything in one offseason, but what they tried to do at this spot certainly ain't it. 

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.


Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 


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Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for Red Tails.

Case for: Washington Red Tails

“Red Tails” might’ve been the favorite among fans and others on social media before the “Red Wolves” hype train started gaining traction.

The origin of the name comes from the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black pilots in the United States military. A group of Tuskegee Airmen known as the Red Tails -- because of the paint on the tails of their planes -- made up the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. The Red Tails had one of the lowest loss records of all escort fighter groups.


Brad Nierenberg, CEO of RedPeg Marketing, an Alexandria, Virginia-based marketing agency, thinks the history of the Red Tails provides an opportunity for Washington to attach itself to a powerful story, particularly in a time where conversations about social justice have been amplified.

“The Red Tails is an incredible opportunity for [Washington]," Nierenberg said. "I don’t know of it as a major team name. I think that it allows them at this time to take a leadership role in this time of changing of understanding of social justice. And I think that their recognition of the Red Tails could be a dramatic, great first step for them as a brand that I think is overcoming… there’s a great story behind it. They can run with that story that already exists.

"And at the time to actually capitalize on this, you can get a lot of wind beneath your wings on that one. I think there’s a lot of energy there with society. I think this town would wrap their arms around it. As a company and as a team, as an ownership group, recognizing this incredible story could be powerful forever. And it’s a fighter group, it’s a fighter, it’s an overcoming odds -- there’s a tremendous story there, and I think that with today’s society doing what it is, I think it could be an incredible time for them to take advantage of this groundswell of energy. And it’s not going backwards, it’s only going forward, so I think they could be in a very positive position.”


Additionally, the Red Tails name allows the team to maintain its "warrior" ethos, according to Matt White, president of the marketing and ad agency WHITE64. White also likes that the name provides the opportunity for Washington to stick with its traditional burgundy and gold color scheme. 

"Graphically, the [old] logo on the helmet had the feathers. So you could certainly see how that could be very consistent," White said. "And certainly with the colors of the uniform."


Most marketing experts have stressed the advantages of a team's name drawing a connection to the city it plays in. While Red Tails doesn't immediately evoke thoughts of Washington, Tim Derdenger, assoicate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, thinks there's a strong enough connection for it to work.

"It’s a strong choice for multiple reasons. One being that it relates to D.C. and the military," Derdenger said. "It keeps the team colors. If you keep 'red' in [the name], it has to be the right name. And I think Red Tails is one of those right names. It has a strong connection to the city, to the military, the colors, it still can pay homage to the team, the players of the past with keeping the 'red' name in there. It should be a strong candidate.”

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