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Redskins OTA to-do list: Inside linebackers

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Redskins OTA to-do list: Inside linebackers

The busy portion of free agency is completed. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview. The 90-man offseason roster is full, as well. Now comes the difficult part for second-year head coach Jay Gruden: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin next Tuesday, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to examine the top items on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the Redskins for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Inside linebacker to-do list

Tandler: There is stability in the starters here, with Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley both back. Robinson’s job is safe but Riley is going to have to stave off both third-year player Will Compton and rookie Martrell Spaight. Riley won’t lose the job in May and June but Compton, who played well filling in when Riley was out injured for two games last year, and Spaight, who has drawn praise from Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden, can gain ground with strong showings during OTAs. All of the inside backers will have to learn their responsibilities in the tweaked defensive scheme. The line will be more aggressive and control gaps so the inside backers will have to learn gap discipline rather than flowing to the ball.

El-Bashir: Robinson and Riley were the starters when healthy last season, and they’ll be the starters in 2015, too. But, as Tandler pointed out, it’s worth watching to see if Compton is able to put some pressure on Riley, who has yet to capitalize on the Pro Bowler potential some saw in him earlier in his career. Compton, who is entering his third NFL season, can play both inside positions, performed solidly in five starts as an injury replacement in 2014 and coaches like his potential. It’s unclear if he’s got a realistic shot to unseat Riley, but it’s something to keep an eye on over the coming months. Something else to watch is the battle for the final two spots (assuming the Redskins keep five inside backers as they did in 2014). Special teams ace Adam Hayward will get one of them. And you’ve got to imagine fifth round pick Martrell Spaight will grab the final spot, though I’m told undrafted Terrance Plummer (Central Florida) has enough talent and toughness to make a run at a job. 

[MORE REDSKINS: Can Matt Jones challenge Alfred Morris for carries?]

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon, or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

On paper, Jay Gruden's tenor with the Redskins is nothing to write home about. Through five seasons he holds a 35-44-1 record, good enough for a .444 winning percentage. Looking at that, some may draw the conclusion that Gruden hasn't been what the Redskins need at the helm.

But according to Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, that's not exactly the case. Taking into account the variables Gruden has dealt with throughout the five years, Gantt actually sees him as a "really good" coach.

"I have always come down of the side, maybe, of guys who are doing more with less," Gantt said recently on a Redskins Talk Podcast. "I think Jay has done a pretty good job keeping things in the middle."

Doing more with less and working in the middle essentially defines Jay Gruden's career with the Redskins. Besides his opening year in 2014 in which Washington went 4-12, Gruden's teams have consistently finished right around the middle of the pack.

In the last four seasons, the Redskins have not won more than nine games, but they also haven't lost more than nine. Hovering right around .500, they've always been around league average.

Part of the reason Gantt is willing to give Gruden praise for records that some coaches would get scolded for revolves around what he's had to work with. Gruden's time as head coach has been filled with injuries and other dilemmas both on and off the field. 

In those circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team completely flounder and spiral out of control. But, that hasn't really been the case with Gruden. Dealing with what he has, the head coach has kept the team competitive for the most part. The team hasn't been a perennial playoff contender, but it also hasn't been at the bottom of the league.

For that ability to keep the Redskins out of the basement despite all the problems he's encountered, Gruden is someone Gantt respects.

"They're able to keep it out of the ditches," Gantt said about Gruden and former NFL head coach John Fox, who Gantt followed during his time in Carolina.

"I think again in the NFL there's something to be said for that," Gantt added. "When things get sideways a Jim Zorn can lose control in a hurry. I feel like Jay just got sort of a steady hand on the wheel."

Until Gruden takes Washington back to the postseason, the critiques will continue to come, as they would for almost all head coaches in similar situations. But when looking at Gruden's time in Washington with a wide view of everything that has happened, Gantt believes the head coach deserves at least a little praise for keeping things afloat.

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