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Facing Suh and Wake, young Skins' O-line must grow up quickly

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Facing Suh and Wake, young Skins' O-line must grow up quickly

After a long and drama-filled summer, the regular season is here. Finally. And, if you’re a Redskins fan, you’ve probably already recognized the need for Kirk Cousins and Co. to get off to a fast start. Indeed, there's an early opportunity. Their first three opponents finished third or worse in their respective divisions in 2014 while posting a combined record of 20-28. And the first two games are at home.

Up first are Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins, who visit FedEx Field on Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff (CBS). Before the game, be sure to tune into Redskins Kickoff on Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic at noon. We’ve got you covered after the game, as well; Redskins Postgame Live begins at 4.

Here are Tarik’s five keys to the opener:   

1-Kirk Cousins. This game, no doubt, represents the biggest of his career. No longer in Robert Griffin III’s shadow, “It’s Kirk’s team,” as Coach Jay Gruden put it. But will it be Kirk’s time to shine and prove his legion of doubters wrong? Cousins’ bugaboo has always been his carelessness with the football. In fact, he threw nine interceptions in five starts last season. There are, however, many positives to his game, as well. For one, he’s a more polished pocket passer than Griffin, takes significantly fewer sacks and is a better fit for Gruden’s offense. Cousins also has good chemistry with No. 1 wide receiver DeSean Jackson and starting tight end Jordan Reed. Last season, Jackson had three 100-plus yard games and three touchdown receptions in games Cousins started. Against Arizona (the only game Cousins started and finished with Reed in the lineup), Cousins found his tight end eight times for 92 yards.

2-Offensive line. There will be no easing into the season for the young right side of the Redskins’ offensive line. Second year tackle Morgan Moses and rookie guard Brandon Scherff will be put on the spot immediately as they line up opposite Dolphins end Cameron Wake and four-time first team All-Pro tackle Ndamukong Suh. Wake, a Beltsville, Md. native, has 63 sacks since 2009 and his explosiveness off the snap is certain to test Moses, who will be making his second career start. Scherff, meantime, figures to see his fair share of Suh, who is arguably the most disruptive D-lineman in the game.  

3-Joe Barry’s defense. The biggest moves of the offseason came on the defensive side of the ball. Terrance Knighton. Chris Culliver. Dashon Goldson. Stephen Paea. Ricky Jean-Francois. Sure, Junior Galette ended up on injured reserve, but he wasn’t part of the original plan; he fell into the Redskins’ lap. The original plan was to hire Barry and provide him with the pieces he needed to implement an aggressive front and a competent backend.  On paper, the unit is improved over the group that yielded an NFL worst 35 passing touchdowns last season and 27.4 points per game (tied for third worst). But there are concerns. There are five new starters and the unit is still getting comfortable in Barry’s scheme, so it might take some time for the group to gel. And, of course, depth in the secondary could be an issue Sunday against Tannehill, whose 4,045 yards passing in 2014 ranked 11th. With Bashaud Breeland serving a one-game suspension, David Amerson and Justin Rogers are the third and fourth corners.    

4-New returners. One of the Redskins’ biggest issues on special teams last season was the unit’s inability to break off chunks of yardage on punt and kickoff returns. In fact, Andre Roberts ranked 19th in both categories. So Roberts has been replaced rookie Jamison Crowder (punts) and Chris Thompson (kickoffs). Crowder, who was an electrifying returner at Duke, will be making his pro debut. He’s got the speed and shiftiness to make an impact in the NFL, but how is his decision making? Thompson, meanwhile, struggled as a returner in 2013 but showed enough in practice this offseason to warrant a second chance. Facing strong-legged Miami rookie kicker Andrew Franks, however, Thompson may not get many opportunities Sunday.

5-Injuries won’t be an excuse. As of Friday morning, the only Redskins whose status remain in question are Griffin (concussion) and offensive tackle Tom Compton (calf). Griffin is expected to the third string quarterback behind Cousins and Colt McCoy, meaning he’ll probably be inactive. Compton is listed on the depth chart as Trent Williams’ backup, but backup right tackle Ty Nsekhe can play both sides, as well. It’s possible, if not likely, that this will be the healthiest the Redskins will be all season. They need to take advantage of that.    

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—OTA report, fans excited about young D-line

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NBC Sports Washington

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—OTA report, fans excited about young D-line

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 25, 62 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins' dead cap—This post does a good job of outlining where the Redskins’ dead cap came from. It should be noted that dead cap is a part of the cost of doing business in the NFL and the Redskins have done fairly well managing it this year. Only about a dozen teams have less dead cap on the books than the Redskins $5.2 million. 

Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins—I received some comments saying that my worst-case scenario, a 6-10 finish, is not low enough. Since we’re talking about events that won’t begin to happen for about three and a half months, I can’t really argue with them. But it’s just hard for me to see them dropping more than a game from last year when they were hit harder with injuries than any other team in the NFL. 

Pre-OTAs Redskins player one-liners, defense—An extension for Matt Ioannidis seemed preposterous a year ago, now it seems like a good idea. How many sacks for Lanier? When will Ryan Anderson get his first sack? Plus offensive player one-liners here

Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp—You can’t tell everything from OTAs, but you can tell some things. Taking another look at this post, I gave a good, detailed look at the session, but I didn’t really mention the overall feel, which was fun and energetic. 

Tweet of the week

Certainly, Derrius Guice is the fan favorite of the rookie class. But the great reaction to this tweet shows that there is plenty of love for Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, last year’s top pick. 

In 2016, the starting defensive line consisted of Ricky Jean Francois, Chris Baker, and  Ziggy Hood. The top reserve was Cullen Jenkins. They all had their good qualities and made some plays. But Baker was the youngster of the group and he turned 30 during the season. It clearly was a group on the decline. 

Two years later, the picture is quite different. Payne and Allen lead a younger group that will get better over the next few years. Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Tim Settle, and Stacy McGee should round out the group. McGee is by far the senior member of the group at age 28. None of the others have celebrated his 25thbirthday yet. 

Fans should perhaps temper their optimism with the knowledge that potential doesn’t always develop into performance. But unlike years past there is something to look forward to. 

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

Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 18
—Training camp starts (7/26) 62
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 76

The Redskins last played a game 145 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 107 days. 

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