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Redskins Offseason Questions: Is Spencer Long the long-term answer at center?

Redskins Offseason Questions: Is Spencer Long the long-term answer at center?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out. That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

More offseason questions: What are resonable expectations for Josh Doctson? | Will there be a surprise salary cap cut? Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

Is Spencer Long the long-term answer at center?

Finlay: In a word: Yes. Long played well in 2016 before a rash of injuries hampered him later in the season. Coaches and teammates spoke highly of his blocking and ability to cal coverages at the line. In the locker room, he's respected and funny.

Jay Gruden and Bill Callahan talked about their desire to let the 'Skins O-line grow up and gel together, and with young players Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses on Long's right flank, that's just what the team is doing. Further, once the team has to play Scherff and Moses, a contract for Long will seem like a relative bargain.

It seems highly unlikely Kory Lichtensteiger will come back to compete for the center spot, and there isn't another center on the roster. There is the off chance Washington would ask Long to move to left guard if Shawn Lauvao gets released, but the team spent a lot of time and resources training Long to play center. Why go back now?

Tandler: It has been pretty well established that Scot McCloughan had his sights set on Alabama center Ryan Kelly in the first round of last year’s draft. Fortunately, the Colts took Kelly a few picks before the Redskins went on the clock. Long’s progress at the position shows that a Kelly pick would have been a wasted pick.

The point is not Long will have a better career the Kelly. For all we know, Kelly may go on to have multiple All-Pro seasons. But while you want to have a good center there isn’t much added value in having a great center. Sure, Alex Mack helped the Falcon’s line gel. But unlike the Redskins Atlanta didn’t have a fourth overall pick (Trent Williams) and a fifth overall pick (Brandon Scherff) to do that.

Again, Long is not going to end up with a bust in Canton. But he is a more than adequate center and it would make no sense for a team with as many needs as the Redskins have to use more resources to try to upgrade the position. He’s up for a contract extension and the organization should lock him up and move on to improving other areas. 

 

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The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3

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The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3

Looking back at NFL Drafts can be a frustrating task for Redskins fans. Missed opportunities and botched picks litter the record books, though the organization has made plenty of good picks, too. 

This weekend marks an interesting intersection of past drafts and current reality when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers come to visit the Redskins and Alex Smith.

Way back, in the 2005 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. He was a major prospect and the consensus top pick in the draft coming out of an outrageous year playing under Urban Meyer at the University of Utah. 

Later that same draft, all the way down to the 24th pick, Green Bay took Aaron Rodgers out of the University of California Berkeley. At the time, the selection turned heads, as the Packers had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at QB. 

The Rodgers pick turned out to be pretty smart, to say the least. Smith’s tenure in San Francisco had high points, but nothing that lived up to his lofty draft position. 

Rodgers and Smith have talked about being from the same draft class, and the two have developed a friendship off the field. 

“You know, he's a decent player,” Smith joked about Rodgers on Wednesday. 

“He and I [have] been around each other a lot of time now, always linked, pretty good buddies. Certainly, kind of I think follow each other's career from afar.”

Fair or not, Smith and Rodgers have been linked ever since that 2005 draft. Those weren’t the only two QBs taken that year though. 

The Redskins selected Jason Campbell out of Auburn with the 25th pick. If Rodgers had slipped just one more spot, maybe the Redskins take Rodgers instead.

Just to make one more connection, albeit an odd one, but Rodgers wasn’t even the only guy with that last name taken in 2005.

The Redskins selected cornerback Carlos Rogers with the ninth overall pick. Imagine if they took the QB with the slightly different last name. 

 

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Washington Redskins, Alex Smith work to balance patience and aggression in pass game

Washington Redskins, Alex Smith work to balance patience and aggression in pass game

Alex Smith finished the Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts by averaging 6.3 yards-per-pass attempt on 33 completions. Those numbers aren't particularly good, and while they're not bad either, it clearly did not produce enough opportunities for points in the home opener. 

The Colts defense had a lot to do with that too. Indianapolis deployed a soft zone coverage system, forcing the Washington Redskins to look underneath for short gains and eschewing many chances at deep shots down the field. 

That's fine when the team is able to run the ball well, like the dominant Week 1 win in Arizona. But when Washington can't run the ball, like the embarassing Week 2, the short passing game looks too conservative. 

"I mean I think every guy on the team, certainly every guy on offense went through the game and what plays could I have done differently to help us," Smith said Wedneday. "Could I have taken a shot here? You know, all week we talked about being patient. The way they play defense, be patient. Let the shots present themselves."

The shots rarely presented themselves. 

Smith did put two passes in positions for chunk gains, but Josh Doctson was unable to bring in a deep ball on the sideline, and later in the game, Paul Richardson could not corral a big gain over the middle. Neither drop was devestating, but a catch in either situation could have turned momentum in the game. 

Prior to 2017, Smith had a reputation as a quarterback that rarely went down the field. Last season, he disproved that with his best ever statistical campaign and a number of highlight reel plays down the field in the Kansas City offense. 

Redskins fans are starting to wonder if they got the 2017 version of Smith, or the earlier version. 

Truth is the sample size is much too small to determine that answer. In Week 1, Smith didn't need to air the ball out. In fact, he still tried, barely missing a deep completion to Richardson on a play flagged because the receiver was held. 

There are other factors too. The offensive line had a poor performance in Week 2, and Richardson played the game dealing with a shoulder injury. 

Still, there were times it seemed Smith had chances down the field he didn't take, instead opting for the safer check-down pass.

Running back Chris Thompson finished the game with 13 catches but for just 92 yards. Much of that production came late in the second half when the Colts had taken a substantial lead.

"In the second half, very apparent, I mean they were not going to let anything get over their head or get behind them. It was so soft. Hence, a lot of the underneath stuff was open," Smith said.

What version of Smith will show up Sunday against Green Bay?

Much of that will have to do with the offensive line and Jay Gruden's game plan. But plenty will be determined by Smith too. 

The veteran QB does not turn the ball over, which is a big bonus. The Redskins need points though if they're going to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. 

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