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Need to Know: Examining Jay Gruden's reasons for optimism for the 2017 Redskins

Need to Know: Examining Jay Gruden's reasons for optimism for the 2017 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, March 30, 28 days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 18
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 43
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 55
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/15) 107
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 155

Reasons for optimism?

I don’t think that Jay Gruden is on Twitter and I doubt that he listens to talk radio but he can sense the feeling of “doom and gloom” that has set in among many in the fan base. Not surprisingly, he disagrees that such a sentiment is warranted.

“I’m very optimistic,” he told reporters at the NFL meetings in Phoenix. “I know it’s not great but we’ve had back-to-back winning seasons and there’s no reason for us not to be optimistic. Last year we were very close, lost 13-10 the last game of the year to get in. So, yeah, we’re excited.”

He then went through a list of reasons for the optimism. Let’s go through them and evaluate them.

We have a very good offensive line coming back, our quarterback’s coming back. I feel good about our receiving corps, our two tight ends. Niles Paul’s coming back, [Derek] Carrier’s coming back for depth at tight end.

I can go along with this for the most part. It’s a very good pass-blocking line and it’s an adequate group when it comes to run blocking. While the future is cloudy for quarterback Kirk Cousins it does look like he will be behind center in 2017. The receiving corps lost two key members in Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson but the addition of Terrelle Pryor and some production out of Josh Doctson should compensate to an extent. Jordan Reed is one of the best tight ends in the league and Vernon Davis is a solid backup.

The defensive line, we’ve addressed a bit, we’ll continue to address it. 

Well, yeah, a bit. They’re still looking for a nose tackle. All Gruden had last night was that new D-line coach Jim Tomsula will make someone into a nose tackle. Maybe he can’t do that but he is an upgrade in the coaching department and he could make more out of what they have. And, of course, there is still the draft. Despite the loss of Chris Baker the line could be better than last year but that's a low bar. 

Linebackers, [Mason] Foster, [Will] Compton, [Martrell] Spaight is going to be back. Our safety position with D.J. [Swearinger] will be upgraded. Hopefully D. Hall comes back, Su’a [Cravens] over there, should be an interesting move, see what he can do.

The inside linebackers are not feared by any means but they do some things well. And, again, they have the draft to upgrade. The safety spot has potential to be upgraded with Cravens and Swearinger but there are leaps of faith with Swearinger playing free instead of strong and Cravens moving from his hybrid linebacker spot.

Kerrigan will be back, pass rusher, Preston [Smith] is going to get better. Maybe Junior [Galette] if he comes back.

This area is iffy. Kerrigan is going to give you good production but we'll have to see if Smith can be more consistent and if Galette can stay healthy and regain the explosiveness that led to consecutive years of double-digit sacks in New Orleans. Gruden didn’t mention Trent Murphy, who got nine sacks last year but, as Gruden acknowledged, is likely to be suspended for the first four games. If things work out the edge rushers could be a very good group but that's far from something they can bank on. 

We have a lot of reasons for excitement around here. I don’t know why everyone is so doom and gloom around here. We’re excited. I know our players are going to be excited to get back to work. Kirk’s excited, I’m excited so let’s go. 

I’m not sure if there is reason for Redskins fans to be looking for tickets and cold weather gear for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. This looks like a team that should have somewhere round seven or nine wins. That’s not where fans want them to be but it hardly warrants the dread and pessimism that is heard from many corners of Redskins Nation.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Redskins technically have nothing left to play for, but Dwayne Haskins sure does

Redskins technically have nothing left to play for, but Dwayne Haskins sure does

In five starts as a rookie, Dwayne Haskins has led the Redskins to two wins, displayed plenty of toughness and made a handful of throws that hint at his immense talent.

Even considering those factors, though, Haskins hasn't done enough to convince the franchise that he should absolutely, without a doubt, 110-percent be their starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season.

That means that, while Washington as a whole doesn't technically have anything left to play for this year — their Week 14 loss in Green Bay officially (and mercifully?) took them out of the playoff hunt — Haskins has a ton riding on the final three games on the schedule.

In all likelihood, the Burgundy and Gold will be searching for a new head coach in a few weeks. Perhaps they'll also enter the offseason with an adjusted front office. Yet, regardless of whether the latter happens, the former means that at least one major piece of the team's future won't have any direct ties to 2019's 15th overall draft pick.

You can debate whether moving on from a first-rounder after a small sample of starts is fair, but the reality in the NFL is that new coaches like to begin their tenure with QBs that they really like, and often times, that means QBs that they've drafted.

Now, as mentioned earlier, Haskins has shown off some useful traits. His arm strength will never be debated, and since taking over as the Redskins' signal caller, the rookie has also been brave in the pocket, been way more mobile than expected and made incremental improvements in areas like footwork and at-the-line audibles.

No. 7 has tools to work with, and those tools could become sharper with more time and with a new coach who wants to sharpen them. Plus, those tools very well could be put to better use with a more well-rounded roster than the one he's currently on.

But then there are his numbers, which aren't encouraging and must be considered, regardless of the talent around him. In his five starts, he's completed more than 60-percent of his passes just once and has topped 200 passing yards just once. Those are two basic benchmarks for pro passers to reach and he's just not reaching them.

So, if the Redskins finish with a 3-13 or 4-12 record and find themselves in a position where they can draft another top-notch arm, will they do so? 

That's a question that's difficult to answer as of now. Haskins' performance in Weeks 15, 16 and 17, however, will make it easier. Either he'll start delivering, thus giving the organization confidence in him, or he'll continue to be mediocre, which'll lead to a very intriguing offseason.

When the Redskins selected Haskins last April, they hoped their recent QB rotation would finally stop, and it very well still could. Yet there's also a possibility that the rotation begins again in a few months. The next 12 quarters of football will mean nothing in the standings, but everything for Haskins and the team that picked him.

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Terry McLaurin was not surprised a hobbled Dwayne Haskins stayed in vs. Green Bay

Terry McLaurin was not surprised a hobbled Dwayne Haskins stayed in vs. Green Bay

Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins played much of the Redskins Week 14 loss to the Green Bay Packers with a sprained ankle.

The rookie had a very noticeable limp and struggled to put weight on his bad leg. Haskins was clearly not at full health. Backup quarterback Case Keenum was seen warming up multiple times on the sideline, but never entered the game.

In the team's postgame press conference, interim head coach Bill Callahan said he never considered pulling Haskins from the game. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who was teammates with Haskins at Ohio State and has known the quarterback for a while, never thought that Haskins would exit the game, either.

"I know Dwayne. I've known him for a while now," McLaurin told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay. "He's a tough guy, and I feel like he gives us a good chance to win games. I knew if he was out there, he was going to be good to go. He was hobbled a little bit, but he wasn't going to use that as an excuse at all. It was cool to see him fight through it. We just hope that he can get healthy for next week."

McLaurin was then asked whether he thought Haskins should have been pulled. The wideout commended his quarterback for his toughness, and believes that will go a long way in terms of earning respect from his teammates.

"I mean, I'm not a doctor, so I feel like if you feel like you can play, then you try to play. Only that person knows how bad it is," McLaurin said. "He's a tough guy. He's a guy trying to earn the respect of this team. He's a quarterback, he's young. I feel like stuff like that really puts you in a step forward to get some respect. He was noticeably hurt and he fought for us."

Haskins finished 16-for-27 for 171 yards. He connected on an incredible late touchdown pass with McLaurin to pull the Redskins within five with just over a minute remaining in the game. On the two-point conversion try, Haskins put his body on the line, diving for the goal line headfirst. He didn't convert.

The Packers recovered the Redskins ensuing onside kick attempt, the Burgundy and Gold's final hope at pulling off the upset. 

The Redskins offensive line did not help out a hobbled Haskins much either. The rookie was sacked four times in the loss and hit the turf on numerous other occasions.

Although the Redskins weren't able to pull off the upset, Haskins showed poise and toughness by fighting through a noticeable injury and giving the Redskins everything he had.

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