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Need to Know: Should the Redskins shift to a run-first philosophy?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins shift to a run-first philosophy?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, April 6, 21 days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 11
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 36
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 48
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 148

Should the Redskins shift to a run-first offense?

Good question, Eric. First, let’s look at just how much of a pass-first offense they were in 2016 so we can gauge how much they would have to adjust.

First, let’s establish that “run first” doesn’t mean that you run more than you pass. Last year the Cowboys led the league in rushing attempts with 499 but they called 511 pass plays (attempts + sacks). Most years one or two teams run a few more plays than they pass but if you get to a 55-45 pass-run ration you are predominantly running team compared to the rest of the NFL.

The 2016 Redskins ran 1,009 plays and called 630 passes and ran 379 times. That’s a ratio of 62 percent passes to 38 percent runs.  They would have some work to do to get that 55-45 ratio that would make them a run-first team.

Assuming they run the same number of plays as they did last year, the Redskins would need to change about 55 passes to runs over the course of the year.

That would mean a serious change of philosophy. While I have documented here a few times that Jay Gruden is not nearly as pass happy as his reputation would suggest (most recently right here), he probably isn’t going to switch out 55 passes for runs easily. But if he ends up with a rookie or journeyman quarterback next year he might have to move in that direction.

You don’t need to look any further than Dallas to see how being run-first can help a young quarterback. There is no question that Dak Prescott is talented but he was rarely tested. Only two teams threw less often than the Cowboys and their effective running game helped them move the ball and keep the pressure off Prescott. To take one slice of the season, the Cowboys ran on first down a league-high 290 times. They averaged five yards per carry. The NFL is hard but it’s a lot easier if you’re facing second and five a lot.

The key for the Cowboys, of course, was rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing. The Redskins don’t have a back like him. There are a few backs, namely Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey, who have that ability. Gruden talked about them at the NFL meetings in Arizona recently and it certainly sounded like he would welcome any of those three players into the Washington backfield.

Getting a true feature back will be the key. will be the key. Rob Kelley is a good running back for a passing offense. He’ll get you some yards while your pass catchers are getting a breather and pick up blitzes when necessary. But he is not suited to be the centerpiece of a run-first offense.

So if the Redskins pull the trigger on McCaffrey or Cooke in the first round (Fournette is likely to be gone) they could begin to work towards a heavier emphasis on the run. I wouldn’t expect it to start right away since they still will be paying Cousins $24 million this year. But if they get a star-quality running back they would be well set up to go into 2018 with Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld, or a rookie or journeyman-type quarterback.

That’s not all they would need to contend for the playoffs going forward, of course, The rebuild of the defense would have to continue with further free agent and draft investments. But you must be able to score and a true feature back is a quarterback’s best friend.

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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Report: Months after major leg injury, Reuben Foster regains feeling in toes

Report: Months after major leg injury, Reuben Foster regains feeling in toes

The Redskins signed linebacker Reuben Foster late in the 2018 season after his release from San Francisco amid domestic violence allegations. The signing caused tremendous backlash towards the organization, but in the end, it was supposed to be worth it for what Foster could do on the field. 

Eventually, charges against Foster got dropped and he wasn't suspended by the NFL. Unfortunately for him and for the Redskins, Foster got injured in his first snap of offseason team activities in May 2019, and it was a major injury. 

The scene on the field that day was traumatic as Foster was visibly in intense pain. In the news that emerged after the injury, Foster had torn multiple ligaments in his knee and NBC Sports Washington reported there was nerve damage in the leg as well. 

Now, it seems like there is finally some positive momentum for Foster's injury. His agent Malki Kawa spoke to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport: "He's got feeling in his toes, the underside of his foot, the side of his foot. The nerve is starting to fire again."

The alarming part here is that Foster had lost feeling in his toes, and for a long period of time too. Foster's injury happened last May. 

Rehabbing a knee is one thing, football players do that all the time. But nerves operate almost on their own, and some nerve damage is irreperable. 

"He's regaining feeling and power," Kawa said. "It shows the nerve is firing. When he moves his leg upward, he can feel around the ankle and the top part of the foot. That's a new thing. The next 60 days are going to be big as far as getting back to normal."

The Redskins know about scary nerve injuries. Promising rookie safety Kyshoen Jarrett sustained nerve damage in his arm in Week 17 of the 2015 season, and never played again. Two years ago, cornerback Quinton Dunbar dealt with a nerve issue in his leg and was basically lost for the year. 

What happens next for Foster will be interesting to watch. 

Kawa said the next 60 days will be important, and that timeline also coincides with more Redskins offseason work. After such a significant injury, it would be premature to make any assumptions about Foster's return to the field, and if/when that happens, his level of play. 

Foster has been seen around the Redskins training facility at times since he was signed in 2018. At various points he was using a scooter and then walking on his own with a significant brace.

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Report: Jay Gruden interviewing for Jaguars offensive coordinator job

Report: Jay Gruden interviewing for Jaguars offensive coordinator job

Jay Gruden’s absence from football might only last a few months. 

The former Redskins head coach is reportedly interviewing for the Jacksonville Jaguars vacant offensive coordinator position, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Jacksonville parted ways with John DeFlippo last Monday after just one season with the team. 
 

The few times Gruden has spoken since being fired by Washington in October, the former head coach has expressed a strong desire to get back into coaching. Gruden recently told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport he’s been “itching to do something” and “would like an office to go to,” according to Garafolo. 

Interviewing for an offensive coordinator position is not unfamiliar territory for Gruden. He spent the past six years as the head coach in the nation’s capital, but perhaps his most success in the NFL was when the 52-year-old was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Behind the solid play of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the Gruden-led offense in Cincinnati resulted in three straight playoff appearances. 

Should be be hired in Jacksonville, Gruden would have some promising pieces to work with. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew showed plenty of hope in the 12 games he started, and second-year wideout D.J. Chark enjoyed a breakout season in 2019. Additionally, running back Leonard Fournette finished with a career-high 1,152 rushing yards last season. 

Former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo and former Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan have reportedly interviewed for the gig as well. 

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