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What Landon Collins’ absence tells us about the bigger picture of the Redskins’ defense

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What Landon Collins’ absence tells us about the bigger picture of the Redskins’ defense

ASHBURN -- The Washington Redskins signed Landon Collins to a hefty free agent contract this off-season for a variety of factors. 

One of the more glaring reasons pops during those times when the talented safety is not on the field.

Collins was among the handful of veterans not participating in Tuesday's Organized Team Activities (OTA). That left the safety reps to an assortment of players making a run at likely three roster spots next to Collins on the final 53-man roster. 

Projecting the trio winning those slots might be easier than gauging what the team can expect from them in games. That's certainly the case six weeks out from the start of training camp.

Montae Nicholson's second season included the fourth-round pick losing his job and eventually his spot on the active roster following a December arrest for assault. 

Troy Apke's rookie campaign never took off he suffered an early hamstring injury that eventually led to landing on Injured Reserve.

Deshazor Everett offers the most experience, but the veteran primarily helped Washington on special teams during his four seasons.

While holdover Jeremy Reaves or undrafted free agent JoJo McIntosh could sneak into the mix this summer, someone from the Nicholson, Everett or Apke faction will start next to Collins. The others are a merely tweaked ankle away from taking the field defensively. They all did Tuesday with the ex-Giant skipping the voluntary session. 

The biggest mystery of the bunch is arguably Apke. Something of a surprise fourth-round selection last season, the Penn State product with 4.35 40-time only played two games last season before his season-ending IR stint.

"I know a lot more. More experience," Apke told NBC Sports Washington Tuesday. "The biggest thing for this off-season is just staying healthy, taking care of my body."

The key for the coaching staff is getting a more extended look at the player expected to serve as Collins' primary backup and key special teams performer. So far, so good.

"Apke is doing well. It has been good to see him get a lot of these reps and work," head coach Jay Gruden said Tuesday. "Obviously, last year he did not get a whole lot with his hamstring, so he is progressing nicely."

Nicholson wasn't just the Week 1 starter last season at free safety but an ascending playmaker based on his rookie work. The year one vibes never entirely translated into sophomore success. Injuries slowed down Nicholson, who lost his starting spot when the Redskins executed a pre-Halloween trade for Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix and then was suspended the final two weeks following his arrest. The assault charges were dropped earlier this year.

The real buzz for Nicholson's game will come during training camp and preseason. The only chatter that concerned Gruden during these early workouts involved talk among the safeties on the field.

"The big thing with Montae is getting the communication down with Landon and whoever the other safety is," Gruden said. "Communication is critical for those guys and the more work they get and the more situations we can put them in, red zone, third down, first and second down, all that good stuff, the better they are going to be."

Everett, an 11-game starter over the last two seasons, jumped a Case Keenum pass for an interception Tuesday. That type of ball-hawking prowess could turn him into a steady starter should it prove consistent.

"Everett also has picked up the slack. He has done a very good job. Reaves, he made some big plays out there today," Gruden said on the Collins-less Tuesday. "So, those guys are taking advantage of their time."

Time will tell if the Redskins have enough quality options to go along with Collins of if the three-time Pro Bowler's presence lifts the entire secondary. Signing the ex-Giant to a six-year deal counts as a long-term commitment. The other safety options are not on such solid footing. That could change by Week 1. The spotlight will shine on whoever is playing either way.

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Jamison Crowder's performance vs. Washington reminded the Redskins just exactly what they're missing

Jamison Crowder's performance vs. Washington reminded the Redskins just exactly what they're missing

FEDEX FIELD -- There's an age-old saying, 'there's no place like home.'

New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder called FedEx Field home for four seasons but departed this past offseason for New York on a lucrative three-year, $28.5 million deal. At the time, letting Crowder walk did not seem like a big deal for Washington. His final season with the Burgundy and Gold was injury-shortened and unproductive, and the price tag seemed a little steep for a slot receiver.

On Sunday, Crowder returned to Washington for the first time as a visitor, and he certainly felt right back at home. The 26-year-old receiver finished with five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 34-17 victory over Washington, a game that was not really close at all.

"It means a lot. Great team win," Crowder said on the victory. "Just to come back here to FedEx [Field] against the Redskins, for me, it's a great feeling. I'm just glad to be winning."

In his first year sporting green and white instead of burgundy and gold, the slot receiver has been a valuable asset for second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. Through 10 games, Crowder has recorded 53 receptions for 562 yards and three touchdowns with a 73.8 percent catch rate. He's on pace for 85 catches and just under 900 yards on the season, both of which would be career highs. 

"Crowder did a great job of making catches when [he] needed to," Jets running back Le'Veon Bell said. 

Meanwhile, his former team has struggled mightily on offense, especially over the last month of the season. Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins' 45-yard touchdown pass to Derrius Guice snapped a 16 quarter touchdown-less streak Washington had been on. That's four full games without a touchdown. The streak was the longest of such in nearly two decades.

Crowder, who played in a relatively high-scoring offense during his time in Washington, was asked whether he was surprised about the team's struggles. 

"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it much," Crowder said. "I think they have a really good ball team over there across the board. Especially on defense, they have a lot of guys that are really good. Offensively, they got a lot of guys that make plays, young guys that make plays. I haven't really thought about what's going on with them."

With Crowder's departure, the Redskins expected second-year receiver Trey Quinn to fill the void. Quinn has been unproductive and disappointing. He finished Sunday's contest with just two catches for nine yards, an unacceptable performance from someone who Washington counted on to make a leap in 2019. In 10 games, Quinn has a total of 198 receiving yards, with no more than 36 yards in any contest. 

Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin's emergence as the Redskins No. 1 wide receiver has been a rare bright spot in an otherwise lost season for Washington, but even his production doesn't match Crowder's. 

Crowder was certainly happy to defeat his old team but downplayed having any extra juice entering the matchup.

"There wasn't any extra motivation. I just approached it as another game," Crowder said. "It was just a little different going against the guys that I played four years with. I'm familiar with a lot of guys over there. For me, that's the only thing. For my preparation, I just approached it as another game."

Crowder may have seen Sunday as just another game, but the Redskins should look at his performance and see a player they maybe should have kept.

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In a blowout, Dwayne Haskins and Derrius Guice connect for a meaningful touchdown

In a blowout, Dwayne Haskins and Derrius Guice connect for a meaningful touchdown

Getting blown out by the New York Jets, one would think that any touchdown the Redskins would potentially score when trailing 34-3 would mean nothing. In most cases, that would be correct.

But when Dwayne Haskins connected with Derrius Guice for a 45-yard score, it was actually a very notable touchdown.

The touchdown is important for multiple reasons. One being that it is Haskins' first NFL touchdown. Making his first home start, the quarterback didn't have the performance many would have hoped for. But, he does now have one touchdown.

While it was the first for Haskins, it was also the first for Guice. The second-year running back who has missed a lot of time with injuries returned for the Week 11 battle and show the playmaking ability that has many excited to see him on the field.

Last, but definitely not least, the score put an end to the horrid touchdown-drought the Redskins had been in. Before Guice crossed the goal line, Washington hadn't scored in 16 quarters. Yes, that is the equivalent to four games.

But alas, the Redskins have a touchdown and so do Haskins and Guice. Sunday was a disappointing day, but at least there was this moment.

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