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Redskins preseason Q&A: What will the QB depth chart look like?

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Redskins preseason Q&A: What will the QB depth chart look like?

With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

How will the Redskins’ depth chart at quarterback shake out?

Here’s what we know: Robert Griffin III is set to open training camp as the No. 1 quarterback and he’ll get every opportunity to prove that he’s the Redskins’ best option. Here's what we don't: how Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy fit into the equation. According to Coach Jay Gruden, they'll compete for the backup job while simultaneously attempting to apply pressure on RG3. In many NFL cities, the backup gig isn’t a big deal. But it is in Washington for a couple of reasons: Griffin has battled injuries throughout his career and, in each of the past two seasons, he’s also been shown to the bench for performance-based reasons.

El-Bashir: To me, there’s no reason to suspect that anyone other than Griffin will be under center Week 1. The team has picked up his 2016 option. He led the first team offense throughout spring. And, perhaps more important, he produced a couple of his sharpest offseason practices in minicamp, drawing praise from Gruden, who noted the progress he's made working from the pocket.  

After Griffin, there’s a tight battle brewing between Cousins and McCoy. So tight, in fact, they alternated days leading the second team offense. And when asked if one had the edge on the other, Gruden said he expects the competition to last deep into the preseason. Which wasn't really an endorsement of either player.

Cousins and McCoy each had the opportunity to show Gruden during OTAs that there wasn’t much distance between himself and Griffin. But neither managed to do that. In fact, their inconsistency, combined with Griffin’s progress seemed to increase the gap if anything.

If I had to take a guess right now, I suspect McCoy’s experience and comfort level running Gruden’s offense will give him the edge he needs to grab the backup job. But I’ll also say this: if things get to the point where Griffin ends up on bench and the backup is called upon, chances are the Redskins’ season is already in jeopardy.

Tandler: While training camp is fun and there are lots of interesting storylines, there are some topics that make a writer (and, I’m sure, some fans) just scream that they wish the regular season would start already. This is one of those topics.

If we judge by what happened in OTAs and minicamp, Griffin would be cruising to the starting job and possibly NFL comeback player of the year honors. He wasn’t razor sharp during the sessions that the media was permitted to see but the issues seemed relatively minor and correctable.

Meanwhile, Cousins and McCoy both looked like backup quarterbacks, making some nice plays here and there but misfiring frequently and throwing too many interceptions. While it was hard to separate the two into a second or a third, it didn’t appear to matter the way Griffin looked.

But next they are getting out of the shorts and helmets phase and into training camp, something that more resembles real football with pads on. Then we go on to preseason games, where you have guys you don’t have dinner with every night trying to stop you. And then it goes to the highest level, the regular season.

Will Griffin maintain his sharp edge when things heat up, both literally and figuratively? We will have to see. If I had to guess (and I do since I agreed on this topic for the post) I’d say that he maintains his grip on the starting job for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. After that, we’ll see.

If the decision on the second-string quarterback was up to me I’d go with Cousins, who has some upside if he can shake the ball protection problems. But it’s Gruden’s call and I agree the pick is likely to be McCoy. Gruden seems to like him as a game manager even though two of his four starts (vs. Colts and Rams) were poorly managed.

Previously on Redskins preseason Q&A:

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Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

In 2017, the Redskins missed the playoffs while no receiver went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Jamison Crowder led the team with 789 receiving yards.

In 2016, the Redskins missed the playoffs while two receivers went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Pierre Garçon gained 1,041 yards that year while DeSean Jackson posted 1,005 receiving yards. 

In 2015, the Redskins did make the playoffs. That season the team had no receivers go for 1,000 yards, though Jordan Reed got close with 952 receiving yards. 

Is there a lesson here? Is there a takeaway that can help to predict the 2018 season?

Going into this season, no Redskins wideout has ever accounted for 1,000 yards in a single season. In their career.

Former first-round pick Josh Doctson accounted for just more than 500 receiving yards last season, catching 35 of the 78 balls thrown his way.  Crowder was mostly productive, but there was an expectation, fair or not, he would make more of a jump in 2018 than he did. Jordan Reed hardly played. 

To help the group, the Redskins added Paul Richardson in free agency. Last year playing for the Seahawks, Richardson went for 703 yards on 44 catches. The speedster gives the Redskins a true downfield threat the team lacked in 2017, and that could help the whole offense. In fact, it better help the whole offense. 

Still, looking at a top three of Doctson, Crowder and Richardson, it's hard to confidently predict a 1,000-yard receiver from the bunch. 

Could it happen? Absolutely. Any of the three could pop to a four-digit total.

Would you put your own hard-earned cash on the line? That would take some guts. 

Though the Redskins have a new quarterback in Alex Smith, head coach Jay Gruden has been crystal clear the team is not in a rebuilding mode. Washington must win, now, this season, and a minimum goal should be a Wild Card playoff spot. 

How imperative is a 1,000-yard wide receiver to that goal? Let's look back at the past 12 NFC playoff teams. 

Only three of six NFL playoff teams in 2017 had a 1,000-yard wideout. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles did not, but the Vikings, Saints and Falcons all did. 

In 2016, however, five of six playoff teams had 1,000-yard receivers. The only team that didn't, the Cowboys, deployed a heavy run offense that resulted in Ezekiel Elliott going for more than 1,600 rush yards. 

Added together, in the past two seasons, eight of 12 NFC playoff teams had a receiver on their squad go at least four digits. 

One more note: the New England Patriots played in the last two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one. Both years they had at least one receiver get to 1,000 yards (Julian Edelman in 2016, Brandin Cooks in 2017). In 2017, tight end Rob Gronkowski broke the 1,000-yard mark too.

Again, what's the takeaway? Having a 1,000-yard receiver is certainly good, but it's not a must for a playoff berth or a deep playoff run. The Eagles proved that. 

On some teams, an elite wideout makes a huge difference. Watch Giants tape and it's clear what Odell Beckham does for the offense. Watch Falcons tape and Julio Jones does the same. 

On other teams, an elite quarterback makes a huge difference. Duh.  

Of the teams examined, the 2016 Packers came the closest to the 2017 Patriots with having two players go for over 1,000 yards.

2017 New England did it with Cooks (1,082) and Gronkowski (1,084), 2016 Green Bay almost got there with Jordy Nelson (1,257) and Davante Adams (997). 

While Gronkowski and Nelson are excellent players, the common denominator is obviously the elite play of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. 

For the 2018 Redskins, what does it mean?

The Redskins don't have an elite wideout like Jones or Beckham. The Redskins don't have an elite quarterback like Brady or Rodgers. 

The best path for Washington's offense might be balance, and trying to emulate the Eagles model from 2017. Carson Wentz played most of the season at an elite level, but he spread the ball around to a number of targets and leaned heavily on his tight ends. It helped that the Eagles ran the ball very well too. 

Could the 'Skins do something similar? Alex Smith is known to spread the ball around, and if Jordan Reed and Derrius Guice can produce this fall, the offenses might be similar. 

The answer can't be force enough balls to one wideout to ensure a 1,000 yard season. That won't work. 

There might be another way to consider. Of the three NFC teams that made the 2017 playoffs without a 1,000-yard wideout, two found a lot of success throwing to a running back.

The Panthers leading WR was Devin Funchess with 840 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. 

The Rams leading WR was Cooper Kupp with 869 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Running back Todd Gurley.

See a pattern?

Before breaking his leg in November, Chris Thompson had more than 500 receiving yards. He still finished as the team's fourth-leading receiver despite playing only 10 games. 

The offensive path to playoff success for Washington might not hinge on a true 1,000-yard wideout like it does for many teams. Full, healthy seasons from Jordan Reed or Chris Thompson could make up for deficiencies at other skill positions. It also remains possible Doctson, Crowder or Richardson make the four digit leap. 

Having a 1,000-yard receiver seems like a nice option for a good offense, and that's proven by nearly 70 percent of recent NFC playoff teams. Still, other paths remain to the postseason, and increased production at tight end and running back can go a long way. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 22, 34 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins stock watch: Three up, three down

For some Redskins players, the outlook looks much brighter now than it did when last season ended. Others have seen their stocks decline. Here is a look at three players in each category.

Stock up

CB Quinton Dunbar—His rise started the day after the season ended when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It continued when the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland opened up more opportunity at his position. Then the only additions at corner were veteran Orlando Scandrick and seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. Dunbar has a clear path to a starting job, perhaps for the next few years. 

G Shawn Lauvao—At the end of the season, he was coming off of injured reserve. It was the second time in his four seasons in Washington that he finished the season on the sideline. He turned 30 last year and as the prime weeks of free agency passed, he didn’t get much attention. His fortunes started to turn when the team didn’t sign or draft a guard. Then on May 4 when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. Shortly after that Arie Kouandjio, his primary competition at left guard, was lost for the season with a quad injury. While there is no guarantee that the Redskins won’t look at other options at left guard, for right now it’s Lauvao’s job to lose. 

S Montae Nicholson—It was hard to make much out of his rookie 2017 season as he spent half of it on the sideline with injuries. But early in the offseason, Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was as important to the defense as Jordan Reed is to the offense. Given that Reed has made one Pro Bowl on his resume and could get more if he stays healthy and that his presence on the field tends to lift his teammates, that’s high praise. It means that Nicholson is at the top of the depth chart in Sharpie. He still needs to stay healthy, but he is not a player who is at risk of losing his job due to an injury. 

Stock down

RB Rob Kelley—This one of pretty obvious. He finished the year on injured reserve and a couple of the running backs signed as injury replacements, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall, looked pretty good. Then came the draft and Derrius Guice as the second-round pick. Right now, he looks like the No. 4 back and he will have to fight hard to keep a roster spot. 

DL Ziggy Hood—Most expected the Redskins to draft a nose tackle early and that’s what happened when they took Daron Payne in the first round. That didn’t hurt Hood’s stock much. But they followed up by taking Tim Settle later in the draft and that made the depth chart very crowded. Hood is the seventh D-lineman and they usually only keep six. Even if he makes it he could spend a lot of time on the game-day inactive list. 

S Deshazor Everett—Nobody expected the Redskins to draft a safety, but they found the speed and athleticism of Troy Apke too attractive to turn down in the fourth round of the draft. The rookie needs some work on his game, so it appears that Everett, who started eight games last year, will be the first safety off of the bench early in the season. But it’s likely that they will want to get Apke in games as soon as he’s ready and that could leave Everett on the bench. 

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

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Timeline 

Former Redskins Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey was born on this date in 1978. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 34
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 48
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 71

The Redskins last played a game 173 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 79 days. 

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