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Need to Know: Around Redskins Park—No more Davis doubters

Need to Know: Around Redskins Park—No more Davis doubters

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, November 18, two days before the Washington Redskins play the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 12:05 p.m.; Jay Gruden press conference and player availability after practice, approx. 2 p.m.

Days until: Redskins @ Cowboys on Thanksgiving 6; Redskins @ Cardinals 16; Redskins @ Eagles 23

Injuries of note
Out:
LS Sundberg (back)
Limited practice: WR Jackson (shoulder)
Full: OT Moses (ankle)
Thursday injury report

Redskins vs. Packers
NBC 8:30 p.m., Mike Tirico and Chris Collinsworth
Line: Redskins -3

Around Redskins Park

—There were some Vernon Davis doubters at Redskins Park when the team signed the veteran tight end. “It has been surprising quite frankly,” said Jay Gruden said of Davis’ effectiveness. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to get with Vernon.” Kirk Cousins also had his doubts. “I guess I wondered how much he had left in the tank, didn’t know,” said the quarterback. Davis wiped out those doubts quickly; he has been a productive player at age 32 with and without Jordan Reed in the lineup.

Su’a Cravens is playing more snaps and in more positions as the season goes on. He got a season-high 37 snaps against the Vikings. The rookie told me that he played Sam linebacker, Will linebacker, inside linebacker, rush end, and even a snap or two as a three technique, lined up over the guard. Some snaps at safety could be coming soon. The effectiveness of the defense down the stretch here could depend on the playmaking abilities of Cravens and Preston Smith, who had a breakout game on Sunday.

RELATED: REDSKINS WORK TO STEER CLEAR OF RODGERS’ TRICKS

—Things seem to be going smoothly for DeSean Jackson as he tries to get back in the lineup. He looked like his normal self on Wednesday and Thursday. Jay Gruden is being very noncommittal which I read is one part uncertainty about the possibility of a relapse and four parts gamesmanship. Jackson declined to talk about it in the locker room after practice.

—The Redskins are going to have to expend some draft and free agent resources on their defensive line next year. But they may have a couple of young players on the roster now who could turn out to be useful rotational pass rushers. Anthony Lanier has played a combined 30 snaps in the last two games. Joe Barry said he’s “raw” but he has “so much natural ability, natural instincts” that he’s “scary”. Former Seahawks third-round pick Jordan Hill is explosive and he has the ideal size for a rush defensive end. The two of them could contribute a play or two down the stretch but the organization is looking for more out of both of them in 2017. It should be noted that Hill may not be around; he will be an unrestricted free agent. Lanier is under team control through 2019.

MORE REDSKINS: TEAM COULD SCRAMBLE FOR A SNAPPER

—This isn’t a must-win game but a victory would give the Redskins a much easier path to the playoffs. Sizing up things right now and knowing that things could change in a heartbeat it looks like a record of 9-6-1 will be good enough to qualify for the NFC playoffs. If they win and are 6-3-1 they would just have to split their remaining six games to get to nine wins. They’d like to do better, of course, but they would have some margin for error. If they lose they need to go 4-2 to get where they need to be. That’s not drawing to an inside straight and the Redskins are capable of doing it but it would be much tougher.

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

Most of the time in the NFL, successful offenses consist of schemes built around its player's strengths, rather than the other way around.

For much of the last decade in Washington, there's been a large difference between the offensive player's strengths and the scheme they've run.

But with new offensive coordinator Scott Turner now in charge, Rotoworld's Josh Norris no longer believes that will be the case in Washington.

Norris joined the Redskins Talk podcast in Miami and gave a lengthy example from Turner's first game as offensive coordinator in Carolina as a way of showing how the young coordinator came up with a game plan to fit his team's personnel.

"Curtis Samuel is one of the best receivers with the ball in his hands in the NFL," Norris said. "Yet, [the Panthers] were sending him on these vertical routes where he was creating separation and getting open, and the quarterbacks just couldn't get him the ball. It was awful."

Norris went on to explain that in Turner's first opportunity as offensive coordinator, he called three or four plays designed for Samuel out of the backfield during the Panthers' first two offensive series. 

"He understands where his players win," Norris said of Turner. "If they're not getting the ball enough, [Turner] seems willing to draw up plays each and every week to get his players the ball."

Last year, the Panthers' best wide receiver was second-year veteran D.J. Moore. The Maryland product finished the season in the top-10 in both receiving yards and yards per game, despite having a limited route tree, according to Norris.

With inconsistent quarterback play between Kyle Allen and Will Grier, Turner was able to design plays that catered to what Moore does best: catch intermediate passes across the middle.

"I think D.J. Moore is a very good player. Speaking of another Terp, he's no Stefon Diggs in terms of going out there, running the route tree, creating separation in isolation every single time," Norris said. "Moore right now is kind of a dig, a slant, a crosser, a drag route guy. He's not someone who can run this full, all-encompassing route tree. The Turners understood that, and gave him the ball, fed him the ball 7-10 yards from the line of scrimmage and allowed him to win in after the catch."

The success of Turner and the Redskins offense in 2020 will largely depend on the jump quarterback Dwayne Haskins makes from his rookie season to Year 2. The Redskins offense a year ago was not designed to suit Haskins' strengths. Washington was one of the most run-heavy teams in 2019, although the ground game brought them little success.

When the Redskins drafted Haskins, he was a raw product. Then-head coach Jay Gruden did not plan to play the rookie much in 2019. The Redskins planned to win in 2019 with their running game and defense — something they did well in 2018 before Alex Smith got hurt — but both units failed to live up to expectations.

Haskins was inserted into the lineup as the starter in Week 9 and seemed to improve each week. But it took a while for the Redskins to sway away from the offensive philosophy they started this season with to change into one that could get the most out of their rookie passer. Haskins only started to look like a competent, potential franchise QB in the final two games he played.

Like the Redskins, Turner underwent a lot of change last season in Carolina. One of the things that impressed Norris the most was his ability to alter his system.

"There's nothing more impressive to me, with Norv and Scott being around for so long, but willing to adapt and change," Norris said. 

During Turner's introductory conference call with reporters earlier this month, he emphasized the versatility of his system as one of his greatest strengths.

“If you look at the offense and the system that we have been a part of, talking about my dad and going back to him – the different places that we've been our offense has looked a little different," Turner said on Jan. 15. "It is still the same system, but we have versatility within our system where we're going to really fit and play to our player's strengths. So right now, as a coaching staff we're really trying to get to know these guys."

Turner also spoke highly of Haskins and seemed to have a solid plan of action to run a successful offense.

"Dwayne, you obviously see the big, strong guy who can stand in the pocket and really push the ball down the field," Turner said. "We're going to want to use a lot of play-action pass and then something also he's done a good job of in his past and in college too is just being able to get the ball out quickly and kind of distribute the football to the playmakers and let them make the plays for him."

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How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

If a college offered a How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, Mike Rizzo would be an apt choice to lead the course.

Rizzo has been a top executive with the Nationals since 2009, when he assumed the role of general manager. He's overseen Washington's rise from NL East fodder to NL East contender to, of course, now World Series winners. 

The process was arduous, but Rizzo was steadfast in his approach through it all and was committed to sticking to his values and his roster. He was the perfect leader to help elevate the Nats to the top of baseball, and he's also the perfect person to give advice to Ron Rivera and the Redskins as they try to make the same climb in football.

So, the Redskins Talk podcast searched for that kind of advice on Wednesday when Rizzo sat down with them in Miami at Super Bowl LIV.

Rizzo, who's actually already fond of Rivera since Rivera played for Rizzo's beloved Bears, looked back on the early days of his rebuild with the Nationals, stressing the importance of having a vision.

"It's very difficult. It's more difficult towards the fan base," Rizzo explained. "With them, we were honest and up front and kind of mapped out what our blueprint was for how we were going to develop this thing... From that day on we had a blueprint and a plan of how to do this. When I took over as GM in 2009, we started implementing the plan."

It seems as if Rivera is being allowed to begin his tenure in a similar way. The two-time Coach of the Year is the key component in what Dan Snyder has called a "coach-centric" structure, and so far, Rivera has brought in plenty of new figures at all levels of the organization. He'll likely do the same when free agency and the draft come and go.

That's just the beginning, obviously, which Rizzo discussed. It's rare for a franchise to flip its fortunes in a flash, especially when they're in bad as shape as the Curly Ws once were or the Burgundy and Gold currently is. But growth should happen, and that growth will hopefully lead to an eventual explosion.

"We saw small increments of improvement," Rizzo told Redskins Talk. "We went from 59 wins to 69 wins. From 69 wins to 80 wins. And then we went on our big runs."

Rivera is taking over a group that just went 3-13, and while there's plenty of optimism for what he can do, the progress may initially be slow. Six victories in 2020, for example, won't result in a playoff berth but would represent quite a jump. Yet even with what could be an uninspiring record in Rivera's debut season, there may be some vital developing going on.

"It happens most powerfully in places that nobody sees," Rizzo said. "It's down at the grassroots."

In the end, Rizzo has emerged from the Nationals' ascension understanding that making a team into a legitimate force is insanely difficult. However, the task becomes more doable if there's patience and unity between the people calling the shots. 

Essentially, in that hypothetical How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, the following quote from Rizzo would be the principle takeaway.

"Sometimes you have hiccups and take steps sideways or even take steps backwards," he said. "Ownership better be on board, you better have their support, they better have the blueprint in front of them and believe in the dream. And you better have the personnel in the front office and the decision-makers to make sometimes scary decisions. You can't be afraid to make big decisions and bold decisions to accomplish big things."

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