In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Do the Redskins need new returners?
El-Bashir: When Jamison Crowder won the punt returner job, it was widely expected that the pint-sized playmaker would provide the spark the Redskins have lacked for years.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, Jamison struggled to produce the way he did at Duke, where he returned five punts for touchdowns. As a Redskin, Crowder’s return numbers were ugly. In fact, on 30 attempts the rookie averaged just 5.3 yards per—last among qualified returners. His longest return? A modest 16 yards.
Here’s how I see it: Crowder made plays in the ACC. He made plays for the Redskins on offense. Yet, for some reason he didn’t produce as a returner. So, I’d be inclined to keep Crowder (while demanding better decision-making and consistency) and make changes to the scheme and/or the players blocking for him.
I’m less certain about how the Redskins should go about getting more on kickoffs. Last season, Andre Roberts took one back for a touchdown, but his future in Washington seems shaky given his cap hit and disappointing production as a receiver. Meantime, Rashad Ross, the primary returner, also took a kickoff back for a touchdown, but he ranked just 11th out of 13 qualified kickoff returners with an average of 24.4 yards per (boosted, of course, by his 101-yard score vs. the Giants).
I like Ross’ speed and home run ability and, because of that, I'd give him more time to blossom. Remember, last season was his first as a full-time player in the NFL. But given his inconsistency, I’d also expect GM Scot McCloughan to bring in some competition via free agency or the draft, just in case it becomes obvious that change is necessary.
Tandler: One of the hardest jobs that Scot McCloughan has is to try to project future performance. When he looks at a player who was not consistently productive like Ross and Crowder he needs to figure out if they have hit their ceilings or, if given some time things will click.
I think that you have to give Ross some more time to master kickoff returns. You can’t teach speed, as they say, and some patience with Ross may pay off big. There is something to keep in mind here. Since so many kickoffs are pounded through the end zone and because kickoff returns are something that can’t be practiced at anything approaching full speed, Ross has had very little experience returning kicks. His 28 returns last year (perhaps you can add the five returns of his in preseason games to that) are the sum total of his experience.
With Ross, we do have his 101-yard return against the Giants as evidence that he is capable of doing the job and just needs to develop consistency. Crowder, however, had a long return of 16 yards. We haven’t seen much that would give McCloughan confidence that he can get the job done at punt returner as well as he did at Duke (13.4 average, 5 TD’s).
But to be fair, he probably got better blocking when he was with the Blue Devils. Special teams improved considerably in 2015 but punt return blocking seems to be lagging behind. Rarely did he get tackled after a short return only to find out on review later that there was a big opening if only he had taken it.
So they should stick with Crowder, too, but perhaps they should have a Plan B on the roster in case they find that holes are there and Crowder just can’t seem to find them.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Who on offense will take the next step?
- Should DeSean Jackson return?
- How can the Redskins fix the running game?
- What will the depth chart at safety look like in 2016?