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Redskins preseason Q&A: Which rookie will have the most impact?

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Redskins preseason Q&A: Which rookie will have the most impact?

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.

Which Redskins rookie will have the biggest impact?

GM Scot McCloughan has forged a reputation for building strong teams through the draft. He did it in San Francisco. He helped do it in Seattle. Now, we wait to see if he can do a third time in Washington. In truth, it’s probably too early to say with any certainty which rookie will be a game-changer in 2015. After all, training camp is still a month away. But after observing five OTA and minicamp practices in recent weeks, we can definitely make some educated guesses. 

El-Bashir: I’m going to make two picks, both on the offensive side of the football: Matt Jones and Jamison Crowder. My gut feeling is that Jones will have a much more prominent role in Jay Gruden’s offense than originally anticipated. In fact, I now expect him to be a direct replacement for the departed Roy Helu Jr., meaning he’ll spell Morris when the workhorse needs a break and fill the role of third down running back. That could put him on the field for 25 or more plays a game. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones goes for over 400 yards rushing and hauls in 30 or more passes.

Crowder, meantime, was the other rookie that made observers say, ‘Wow,’ a lot during offseason workouts because of his burst, elusiveness and hands. At times, he looked like a big play waiting to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crowder push veteran Andre Roberts for playing time in the slot. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth rounder replaces Roberts as the punt returner and brings some much-needed production to the position. It would great if Crowder could break off a handful of field flipping returns and perhaps take one all the way. But given the Redskins’ struggles the past few years, I suspect Gruden and Co. would be pleased if he’d average 9.5-10 yards per punt return (as opposed to Roberts’ 19th-ranked average of 7.4 yards in 2014).

Tandler: I like those picks a lot but I think there could be a couple of additional players from McCloughan’s initial draft class who will make an impact. And I’ll set aside top picks Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith for this post. I’m on record saying that both could struggle initially but should have a pretty good handle on things by the time the midseason bye week comes around. I like the potential impact of two draft picks who will primarily contribute on the area of the team that arguably needs help as much as any other—special teams.

Prior to the college title game, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that Evan Spencer, who would become a sixth-round pick of the Redskins, was the team’s MVP. "Because whatever you want Evan to do, you just tell him once and he'll do it," said Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith. The Redskins are going to tell him to focus on special teams and he’ll do it. His blocking skills are very strong and he has the knack for making the clutch play, like when he made a fingertip grab to recover an onside kick that essentially clinched Ohio State’s national semifinal game against Alabama.

The other special teams demon I think will have an impact is Kyshoen Jarrett, a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech. Now, anyone who has watched the Hokies closely for a long period of time knows that the days of “Beamerball” with Virginia Tech having dominant special teams are history. But the kicking game is still strongly emphasized in Blacksburg and as a product of that system Jarrett will not have to be persuaded that playing teams will enhance his prospects for making the team.

Last year the Redskins tried to beef up their special teams by adding veterans like Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton. They both ended up being expensive additions to the injured list. The Redskins’ special teams “improved” from awful to merely bad. The approach of bringing in young players who don’t have to be taught the importance of special teams should pay off.  

Previously on Redskins preseason Q&A:

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Trent Williams will not report to Richmond to open training camp, per report

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Trent Williams will not report to Richmond to open training camp, per report

Trent Williams will not report to training camp this week when the Redskins head to Richmond to officially begin their 2019 season, according to NFL Network.

The news comes as no surprise, as Williams missed all of the Redskins voluntary offseason workouts and skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in June. Reports streamed out that Williams was upset about his contract and looking for a new deal -- not to mention reports that he was angry with the team's medical staff after a missed diagnosis with a growth on his scalp. 

Williams has made no official statements, and the Redskins organization offered very little in terms of a timeline for his return. Washington team president Bruce Allen said he knows "the truth" about Williams' situation, and head coach Jay Gruden said he hoped things would be resolved before Week 1 in Philadelphia. 

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Williams is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. He's an immensely talented offensive lineman with two years remaining on his deal. Beyond the medical situation, Williams could be upset that in 2020, the final year of his deal, there is hardly any guaranteed cash. The team could release Williams with less than $2 million in salary cap penalty and save nearly $13 million against the cap. 

Without Williams, the Redskins could be in real trouble. Second-year pro Geron Christian did not seem capable of playing at a starting tackle level last fall, and that was before a knee injury landed him on IR. Morgan Moses should be locked in as the right tackle, but opposite him in Williams' spot will be dicey. 

Multiple sources with the Redskins and around the NFL suggested more cash could change Williams' mind before Week 1, and for now, it looks like the 31-year-old will be waiting for that increased payday. If Williams missed actual games, he would begin to lose money from this year's $14 million salary.

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Does Adrian Peterson want Case Keenum to start at QB? Sure sounds like it

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Does Adrian Peterson want Case Keenum to start at QB? Sure sounds like it

The Redskins coaching staff intend to use their practice time in Richmond to determine the team's starting quarterback for the 2019 season, but for Adrian Peterson, that determination has been made. 

"Offensively, we really look good with Case Keenum back there. He’s a veteran," Peterson said last weekend at SportsCon in Dallas

Peterson's comments came just 10 days before the Redskins open training camp with what's expected to be an open battle at quarterback between Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins, not to mention Colt McCoy if he's healthy. Of that group, Keenum has had the most success in the NFL, particularly his excellent 2017 campaign in Minnesota where he completed 67 percent of his passes for more than 3,500 yards with 22 touchdowns against just seven interceptions in 14 starts.

It's important to point out that Keenum has only hit that level of play one year out of eight seasons in the NFL. The rest of his career has been marked with more interceptions and a lower completion percentage. 

Still, watching Redskins minicamp in early June when Keenum and Haskins got the majority of the snaps, it was clear the offense ran smoother with the veteran instead of the rookie.

"He’s been in the league for a long time. He’s a gunslinger. He’s a guy that’s going to throw the ball and spread it around," Peterson said of Keenum.

That doesn't mean the future Hall of Fame running back didn't speak well of Haskins, or more accurately, Haskins' potential. 

"I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do in training camp," Peterson said of the rookie from Ohio State. "Once he gets more under his belt and becomes more comfortable, he'll be able to play faster as well."

In minicamp, the pace of the NFL - calling plays, adjusting at the line of scrimmage, and most of all, the speed of the pass rush - seemed to overwhelm Haskins at times. Those are all things he can learn, and his arm is already the best on the team. Once the mental game catches up, his physical traits are absolutely capable of winning big in the NFL. 

What might make the most sense in listening to Peterson's comments is how he looked at the 2018 season. Last year, Washington lost a lot of talent to injuries, including their top two QBs in Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, and still finished in the playoff hunt. 

"The most important thing for us is guys staying healthy. Last year we had 22 guys on IR, and was still one game away from making the playoffs if we would've won the last two," Peterson said. "That's the thing that impresses me the most. We really went through a grind in losing our first-, second- and third-string QB throughout the year, and still had a chance to make the playoffs. I feel like the mindset is there."

For a team with the mindset of grinding wins and getting into the playoffs, Keenum makes more sense than Haskins. At least it does for Peterson. 

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