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Rating the Redskins: Linebackers

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Rating the Redskins: Linebackers

New Redskins GM Scot McCloughan aimed to improve nearly every position through the draft or via free agency. How has he done? Over the next couple of weeks, Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will examine and rate each group on the team. The ratings will be based on the quality of the players as compared to the rest of the league and, in particular, the division.

We’ll use a scale of 1 to 10. To receive a 10, a position group would need Pro-Bowl caliber starters and solid backups. A rating of 1 means the starters are aging and ineffective and there are no promising reserves in the pipeline.

We got it started with the defensive line and the offensive line. Up today, we've got the linebackers.

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan (LOLB), Perry Riley (ILB), Keenan Robinson (ILB) and Trent Murphy (ROLB).

Reserves: Outside—Preston Smith, Jackson Jeffcoat and Trevardo Williams; Inside—Adam Hayward, Will Compton and Martrell Spaight.

Tandler: This could be a very good group, perhaps the strength of the Redskins’ defense, putting pressure on the opposing passer and providing solid coverage and good play against the run. But there are some ifs to consider. The linebackers can be very good if Murphy takes a step forward from his OK but not great rookie season, if Smith can pick things up quickly, if Robinson can stay healthy and continue his solid play, and if Kerrigan builds off of his career-best 2014 season and break into the ranks of the elite pass rushers. Those are all plausible but we will have to see how it plays out. The depth is good on the inside. Hayward is a solid veteran, Compton played well filling in for both Riley and Robinson last year, and the team is very high on Spaight’s potential. The backups on the outside are shaky; it would be hard for the defense to thrive if Jeffcoat or Williams had to play key roles for an extended period of time. I’m going to give them a very respectable rating with the recognition that there could be an up arrow beside it should the players stay healthy for the most part and all of the “ifs” discussed here turn out positive. Rating: 7.

El-Bashir: McCloughan focused his offseason efforts on retooling the defensive line and bolstering the secondary. With the exception of drafting Smith in the second round, the new general manager mostly left the linebackers untouched. Which means he didn’t consider it a priority—even after deciding to let Brian Orakpo walk. And, for the most part, I agree with his assessment. The key players in this group are all young; in fact, Riley is the oldest starter at 27 years old. On the inside, Robinson possesses good upside but needs to stay healthy, while Riley needs to take the next step, which has so far proven elusive for the sixth year player. On the outside, Kerrigan is reliable and productive but even he’d tell you he wants to be more consistent. Murphy, meantime, has packed on nine pounds of muscle this offseason and hopes to hold off Smith in the competition to start opposite Kerrigan. Either way, the No. 3 outside linebacker figures to see the field quite a bit. But I share the same concerns as Tandler when it comes to depth. At inside linebacker, I’m okay with Compton, who can play both positions and performed quite solidly in five starts last season. (Hayward was almost exclusively a special teamer in '14). At outside linebacker, though, Murphy is the second most experienced player behind Kerrigan—and he has just 15 games (including eight starts) on his resume. Jeffcoat and Williams have shown flashes but haven’t played much. Because of that, I think this group can withstand an injury at ILB, but it would likely be in trouble at OLB. Overall, I see enough potential to be optimistic but also enough inexperience to give me pause. Rating: 6.

Consensus: 6.5.

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

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

 

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Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

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. 

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—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. 

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