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Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams

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Grading the Redskins at the bye: Special teams

Bye week grades: Special teams

Through seven games, the Redskins rank as one of the NFL’s most inconsistent teams—from week-to-week, quarter-to-quarter, heck, play-to-play. But at 3-4, they’re still in the thick of things as they catch a breather at the bye. It’s been an interesting couple of months, indeed, and over the next few days CSN Mid-Atlantic reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will hand out their first half grades, position-by-position.

Tandler: In the first part of the season it looked like it would be the same old, sorry story for the Redskins special teams as they gave up a game-winning punt return for a touchdown in Week 1 and a tone-setting blocked punt for a safety in Week 3. Since then, however, things have gone much better, in part because the kicking units don’t have to do as much. Kicker Dustin Hopkins, signed in Week 2, hammers almost three-quarters of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He has been nearly perfect on field goals, with just one miss in 12 attempts and that coming from beyond 50 yards. Punter Tress Way has been adequate but he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to placement and dropping kicks inside the 20. The Redskins do have an onside kick recovery, a 101-yard Rashad Ross return for a touchdown and a punt block for a TD on their ledger but it should be noted that the latter two plays took place at times when the Redskins were hopelessly behind. There’s a lot to figure out for a grade here so I’ll turn to the numbers crunchers at Football Outsiders. They have the Redskins with a special teams DVOA of 1.2 percent, 13th in the league. That’s a little better than average. With the big plays coming in meaningless situations, I can’t go with a B.

Grade: C+

El-Bashir: For the second straight year, the Redskins added a key specialist. Last year, it was punter Tress Way, who went on to lead the league in yards per punt as a rookie. This year, it’s been kicker Dustin Hopkins. Through seven games, Hopkins is 11 of 12 on field goals (91.7 percent, 11th best), including 2 of 3 from 50 or more yards out. He’s also recorded touchbacks on 71-percent of his kickoffs (6th best) and helped convert the first successful onside kick in the NFL this season against Tampa Bay. The coverage and punt protection units, meantime, have been better after allowing a punt return for a touchdown (Miami’s Jarvis Landry) and a blocked punt for a safety (vs. the Giants). The unit has also made some plays of late. In addition to the onside kick recovery, Jeron Johnson blocked a punt in the end zone vs. the Jets and Rashad Ross entered Sunday’s games leading the league in kickoff return yards (400), aided by his 101-yard touchdown return vs. the Giants. There’s still, however, much for Ben Kotwica’s unit to improve upon in the second half now that it seems to have adjusted to life without captains Niles Paul and Adam Hayward, who were lost to injury. One of those areas is the punt return game, where rookie Jamison Crowder ranks 28th (5.1 yards per return). Over the past few weeks, the unit has performed at a B level. But the wretched start drags down the first half grade.      

Grade: C.

Grading the Redskins at the bye:

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Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp

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Associated Press

Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp

Even though it was a bright, warm Wednesday in Ashburn the Redskins held their OTA session in the practice bubble because recent rains have left their outdoor fields to soggy to use. Here are my observations from the practice:

—A few Redskins were not present and a few who were there were not participating in the drills. Jay Gruden said that OT Trent Williams is rehabbing in Texas and that LB Zach Brown is in the process of relocating to the Washington area. RB Chris Thompson and OT Morgan Moses were present, but both were spectators. 

— It should be noted that even though Moses didn’t practice and is still rehabbing after ankle surgery, he still participated in the sideline-to-sideline running the team does at the end of practice.

—At rookie camp, RB Derrius Guice was first in line to do every drill. Today, he gave way to the veterans to all take their reps and then he went first among the rookies. 

— “Fat Rob” Kelley never really was fat but he is now lean and mean. He also seems to be a half step quicker than he was in the past. Added competition in the form of second- and fourth-round picks being added at your position will do that to a player. 

—The “starting” offensive line from left to right was Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, and John Kling. The interior could well start the season; the tackle position awaits the returns of Williams, Moses, and Ty Nsekhe. 

—RB Byron Marshall, who was on the team briefly last year before getting injured, looked very quick with good acceleration.

—CB Josh Norman was back with the group fielding punts. I seriously doubt that he will handle any kicks in games, even preseason games, but perhaps with DeAngelo Hall being gone he wants to be available as an emergency option. Also back with the punt returners were CB Danny Johnson, CB Greg Stroman, WR Maurice Harris, WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, and, of course, WR Jamison Crowder.

—S D.J. Swearinger spent most of the special teams practice on the sideline working on catching passes with his hands extended away from his body. A little while later, he had a chance to make an interception with his arms extended. Of course, he dropped it. 

—It seems like QB Alex Smith and Crowder have some good rapport built already. Once on the right sideline and a few minutes later on the left, Smith threw a well-placed ball into Crowder, who was well covered on both occasions. 

—Eventually, CB Orlando Scandrick caught on and he swatted down a quick out to Crowder. 

—With Brown out, Josh Harvey-Clemons was with the first unit at inside linebacker. He’s still skinny but less so than he was last year. The second-year player was impressive in coverage, staying with Crowder step for step on a deep pass down the middle.

—The play of the day was a deep pass down the right side from Smith to WR Paul Richardson. Stroman was with the receiver step for step on the 9 route but Smith laid the ball out perfectly and Richardson made a lunging catch. Even though it doesn’t have to under the new rule, the catch did survive the ground. 

—WR Cam Sims had a few impressive plays. On one, QB Colt McCoy lofted one high in the air down the right side. Sims kept his focus on the ball while two defenders lost it and made the catch. 

—WR Trey Quinn had his moments. He made a good grab while being bumped by Scandrick. But a while later he dropped a fairly easy one. 

—The running backs all looked good but Guice looked the best of all of them. He had an ability to cut and maintain his speed that not many have. With the warning that they were playing with no pads with no contact and not at full speed, Guice’s vision appeared to be outstanding. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

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 @TandlerNBCS.

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NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy

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USA TODAY Sports

NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy

NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that allows players to remain in the locker room if they prefer but requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance.

This new policy subjects teams, but not players, to fines if any team personnel do not show appropriate respect for the anthem. 

Teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction separately though. 

The NFL Players Association released it's own statement after the news was made official.