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: