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Can Crowder turn around Redskins' return woes?

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Can Crowder turn around Redskins' return woes?

Although Jamison Crowder is listed at just 5 foot 8, the fourth round draft pick could make a huge impact next season if he’s able to produce as the Redskins’ punt returner.

Crowder returned a total of 47 punts the past two seasons as Duke and averaged 14.5 yards per attempt. He also scored four touchdowns, including an electrifying 68-yarder in the Sun Bowl last December.

“I feel like I can help out in multiple ways,” said Crowder, who also eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving each of the past three seasons for the Blue Devils. “For one, I can come in and be the return man, punt return guy and be able to help set up the offense with good field position, score touchdowns. Otherwise, [I can] come in and be a good slot receiver as well. I can come in and make plays, and do whatever is necessary to help the team win.”

The Redskins are deep at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Andre Roberts currently occupying spots 1-3 on the depth chart. Crowder might be able to join that mix as a rookie, but his best opportunity to make an impact early in his NFL career could be at punt returner because, well, the Redskins need a productive one.

Roberts got off to a decent start as the punt returner in 2014 but his effectiveness slipped down the stretch as the team slogged to a 1-7 finish. He finished tied for 19th, averaging 7.4 yards per return.

This offseason, Crowder figures to find himself in a competition with Roberts and possibly running back Chris Thompson, who returned seven punts for 36 yards in 2013.

Crowder describes himself and decisive and elusive as a returner.

“The main things I always work on are just the little things,” Crowder said.  “Making sure I deal with the ball first, make sure you take care of the little things first, make smart decisions. Be a great decision maker back there. I don’t want to have any fumbles or get hit, because you don’t want to make a fair catch when it’s too tough. Just make great decisions. That’s the main thing I always think whenever I go out on the field for punt returns. Be a great decision maker first, field the football and after that, just make the first guy miss. The rest is just natural ability, running ability.”

Coach Jay Gruden said he could see Crowder as the Redskins’ No. 1 returner this fall.

“Oh yeah, I could envision it,” Gruden said. “He’s been productive at it when he’s had the opportunity. He’s such a good receiver at Duke that they probably didn’t use him as much they would liked to have because he was such a key weapon for them on offense. But he’s the type of guy did a lot for them and he’s got the great, quick first step and he is a natural at punt returner.”

RELATED: [Redskins aimed to bolster special teams in later rounds]

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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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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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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