Alfred Morris nose for the end zone and uncanny ability to make defenders miss are well documented.Whats less obvious about the Redskins running back is his tireless work ethic. In fact, he occasionally has be told by the coaching staff to conserve energy in practice.Alfred is very conscientious, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. He never feels like hes arrived. Hes working every day in practice and walkthroughs.Shanahan added: He only goes one speed. We try to slow him down in walkthrough because hes running as hard as he can.Morris pulls up to Redskins Park each day in a 1991 Mazda with crank down windows. On Sunday, he'll arrive in Week 5 of his first NFL season tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (four) and ranked fifth in rushing yards (376).I dont even pay attention to that, Morris said. I heard that stat. But I dont look up that stuff. I dont be on the Internet. I dont be on these news channels or anything. I just run. The only stat I focus on is wins and losses.As impressive as Morris has been, Kyle Shanahan said its the 23-year-olds hunger to improve that sets him apart.Hes always going to get better because he works at it, Shanahan said. Als best thing is running the ball, which everybody sees. But hes got to get better in all those other aspects and he has. Just catching the ball, hes come a long way since OTAs. You feel confident throwing him the ball.Shanahan also said Morris continues to make significant strides in pass protection. Hes come a long way, he said. All guys out of college struggle with protections because its a lot more complex with the looks that you get. Hes more upset with himself when he has a bust in protection than when he has a bad run. When you have a guy like that, you have a chance to learn it quicker than others.
The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed.
Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them.
Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work.
“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season.
“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”
Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs.
“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked.
The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs.
Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information.
“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”
The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges.
“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.
The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs.
The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk.
More 2018 Redskins
Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, May 24, 64 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.
What Jay Gruden and Alex Smith had to say from the podium
After yesterday’s OTA practice, Alex Smith and Jay Gruden took the podium. Here are some of their quotes and my comments on them:
Smith was asked about getting together with his new teammates:
So I think every guy these last two days has enjoyed just getting back out there and losing yourself in the game, right? To be limited, it does make you miss it, and I think it makes you appreciate it, so that’s been nice.
Comment: This is a guy who loves football and everything that goes with it. Smith would start playing games tomorrow if they were scheduled.
Gruden was asked how Smith has looked in these first two days of OTAs:
He’s got good command of the offense already. Great command in the huddle. He’s just getting a feel for the receivers, the players around him, how we call things, but overall, the first two days, I would say I’m very pleased with his quick progression and learning. I knew that wouldn’t be an issue with as much as he’s played in a similar-style system.
Comment: It did seem that Smith was in sync with his receivers, Jamison Crowder in particular. He and Paul Richardson connected on a deep pass after giving each other a look at the line of scrimmage. The encouraging thing is that he is coming from a similar offensive system, so the learning curve should not be too long.
Smith had a great analogy when asked about similarities to the offenses he has run:
Both from West Coast worlds, so it’s kind of like they are all Latin-based languages, you know, but they are not the same. There are some similarities, structure of the playbook, of how we call things, things like that. There are a lot of similarities but it’s not the same language. I guess that’s the best analogy I can make
Comment: If terminology is the biggest obstacle for Smith to overcome it will be a smooth transition for him.
Gruden was impressed with the running backs.
“I’ll tell you what, just today in general, you could see the competition. You could see Rob Kelley step up. Samaje Perine’s had a couple big days. Byron Marshall, I mean, he had a couple great routes today. He’s running the ball between the tackles. [Kapri] Bibbs had some big runs yesterday. Obviously, Derrius Guice has come in here and fueled the fire a little bit.
Comment: I think that the Redskins are going to have to release some good running backs. Rob Kelly never really earned the nickname “Fat Rob” but he looked particularly lean and quick running the ball. He wants nothing to do with being on the roster bubble. Marshall moved quickly and showed his speed. Although Gruden wouldn’t say it, Guice clearly was the best of the bunch; his ability to change direction while maintaining his speed will serve him well. It must be noted that they are not in pads and not getting tackled so more definitive opinions will have to wait until we are in Richmond for a few days.
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—Minicamp (6/12) 19
—Training camp starts (7/26) 64
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 78
The Redskins last played a game 144 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 108 days.
In case you missed it
- Redskins OTA practice report—QB Alex Smith sharp
- New anthem policy approved in NFL
- NFL implementing new kickoff rules for 2018 season