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Preview: Can the Skins solve their road woes in Carolina?

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Preview: Can the Skins solve their road woes in Carolina?

At 4-5, the Redskins have already matched last season’s win total. They’re also in the thick of the NFC East race, sitting just a half game behind the Giants.

Indeed, tangible progress is being made in Jay Gruden’s second season.

But to continue making progress (and potentially challenge for a playoff berth), Kirk Cousins and Co. must take the next step over the final seven weeks. And that next step is winning on the road—something they’ve done exactly once under Gruden.

MORE REDSKINS: JOE BARRY ON THE MULTI-DIMENSIONAL PANTHERS OFFENSE

Their next opportunity to reverse the troublesome trend comes Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where MVP candidate Cam Newton and undefeated Carolina (9-0) will be waiting. Sure, it’s the toughest of the Redskins’ remaining four away games. But veteran leaders like Terrance Knighton are conceding nothing to the Panthers or to Newton.

“We have a good game plan to go out there and stop him,” Knighton told me. “We just have to put it to work.”

For more on the threat posed by Newton, click here for a story I wrote Thursday. For all of your pregame and postgame coverage, tune into CSN Mid-Atlantic on Sunday. Redskins Kickoff begins at noon and Redskins Postgame Live starts at 4.

Here are my five storylines/matchups to monitor:

1-Cousins’ challenge in recent weeks has been to show some consistency. And with two NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in three games, he’s started to do just that. Now, he’s got a new challenge: beating an opponent with a winning record. The Redskins’ wins (vs. the Rams, Eagles, Buccaneers and Saints) have come against teams that are .500 or below and sport a combined record of 16-21. Meanwhile, four of Cousins’ statistical showings have come against teams that are .500 or better (the Giants, Falcons, Jets and Patriots). Eventually, that will have to change.

2-One of the big story lines at Redskins Park this week has been the increasing intensity at practice. Last week, Gruden pitted starters against starters and, according to several players, it carried over to the win against the Saints. By most accounts, there’s been no drop off in the intensity and focus this week. In fact, Gruden acknowledged that there were a couple of “little skirmishes” during Wednesday’s session. “The intensity level is rising,” he added. “You can see it—the confidence, the intensity, all that— which is good. We’ve got to keep that up. There is no time for us to become stagnant in our approach or become lackadaisical when we go out to practice.” Good teams prepare hard. The Redskins are finally starting to understand that.

3-There’s been a lot of focus this week on Newton. But there are two other Panthers that will have the Redskins’ full attention on Sunday: cornerback Josh Norman and tight end Greg Olsen. Norman is ProFootballFocus.com’s top-rated cornerback this season for a couple of reasons. He's been outstanding in coverage and he’s also intercepted four passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. “You definitely need to be aware of great players like that,” said Cousins, who worked out with Norman prior to the 2012 draft. “Understand where they are. …He’s very physical, has good size  and has the mentality of a corner, which is confidence and swagger and the ability to be out there on an island and never question or doubt himself.” Carolina’s defense is tied for first in the NFL in both passing yards allowed per attempt (6.0) and interceptions (14).

4-As for Olsen, the 6 foot 5, 253-pound ninth-year veteran ranks third among tight ends in receiving yards (664), fifth in touchdowns (five, one behind Jordan Reed) and eighth in yards per reception (14.8).  “We dealt with it with Rob Gronkowski, and did a fairly decent job,” Gruden said. “But [Olsen], he can line up all over the field and he runs good routes and is a big target. It looks like he’s covered a lot of times, but you put it in a window where he snatches it and uses his big frame and body. And Cam has a lot of trust in him.” Olsen is Newton’s favorite target, no doubt. And if the Redskins are going to have any chance Sunday, they’ll need to stop one of them. “He has to be hit. He has to be knocked,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said of Olsen. “When he’s able to run free-release vertical routes, which is what he does, he’s tore up everyone that they’ve played against.”

5-The Redskins don’t have many significant injury concerns. The two players to keep on eye on are linebacker Keenan Robinson, who’s been battling a shoulder injury and sat out against the Saints, and backup safety/special teams ace Trenton Robinson (hamstring). Later Friday, Gruden will rule each injured player as probable, questionable, doubtful or out. So check back with CSNMidatlantic.com later for the latest.    

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Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most of the time, if you're getting upset about an NFL player skipping voluntary OTAs, you're doing life wrong.

But if you're a Redskins fan who's a bit puzzled by Montae Nicholson not showing up to the early sessions of Washington's offseason workouts, you have a right to be.

Nicholson wasn't in Ashburn on Monday, a practice that was open to the media. There's been no indication that he's reported to the 'Skins since that day, either. 

Now, this isn't a situation worth really freaking out about. Again, OTAs are voluntary, and it's totally possible Nicholson was working out somewhere else and feels that's how he'll be best prepared for 2019. 

Still, though, assuming he had nothing else serious going on, it's a questionable choice by the defensive back. And, according to Jay Gruden, it was a questionable choice he made on his own.

"Correct," Gruden answered Monday when asked if Nicholson skipping was based on the 23-year-old's decision. Gruden said earlier in his presser that he was "not really surprised" by it.

Perhaps the coach is telling the truth and he wasn't surprised. You can bet he was definitely annoyed by it, however.

Nicholson isn't an established player like Trent Williams or Josh Norman, other guys who weren't there when the Burgundy and Gold started this phase of the NFL calendar. He's a third-year safety with 22 up-and-down games to his name.

Not only that, he's just a week or so removed from the news that December assault charges against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence. You'd think someone who just learned that would be eager to get in front of Gruden and his coaching staff and try to repair his image.

After all, much of the same coaching staff who preferred to keep Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the lineup over Nicholson, even as Clinton-Dix struggled following his arrival, remains in charge.  

The starting spot opposite of Landon Collins is wide open, and of the options on the roster, Nicholson is the most talented. He also would fit nicely next to Collins, considering he's got the speed and ability in coverage when he's healthy and mentally right.

Speaking of Collins, he attended OTAs, despite the fact that he wasn't able to participate as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury. Yet there he was, involved and roaming the sidelines, encouraging his teammates and coaching up the younger DBs on various techniques and details.

One of those DBs Collins should've been coaching up is Nicholson, yet Nicholson was nowhere to be found. Plenty more reps await Nicholson over the coming months, but the fact that he wasn't there to claim the first helping of them is not the best way to start his path back into the starting lineup.

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Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Two days after losing Reuben Foster for the year, the Redskins made a move to at least provide reinforcements to a weakened linebacker group.

On Wednesday, Washington announced that they have signed Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran. The 'Skins also officially placed Foster on injured reserve.

Bostic was a 2013 second-round pick of the Bears out of Florida. He's since bounced around to New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, where he started 14 times for the Steelers in 2018 and posted 73 tackles. He's been traded twice in his career and missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. 

So, what does the move accomplish for the Redskins?

Well, Bostic — or any other free agent signing at this point — isn't going to have close to the level of talent and potential that Foster had. However, getting another option at linebacker was necessary for the Burgundy and Gold, and the 28-year-old has played in 30 contests over the past two years, so he's relatively established. 

Yes, he's far from a gamechanger, considering he has just one interception and 5.5 sacks as a pro. But he's regarded as a solid run defender and tackler and should at least push Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. His presence also could alleviate some of the pressure that would've been on rookie Cole Holcomb. 

Signing a defender who's been with five franchises in six years isn't exactly inspiring, but Bostic has experience as a starter and could give the Redskins useful snaps on first and second down at a minimum. Now it's on him to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given.

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