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Redskins starters tune up in Chicago, backups fight for jobs

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Redskins starters tune up in Chicago, backups fight for jobs

What: Redskins vs. Bears
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
When: Tonight, 8 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet (exclusive HD broadcast), NBC 4After a full offseason, more than three weeks of training camp and one exhibition game, Coach Mike Shanahan already knows which players will take the field first for the Redskins on Sept. 9 in New Orleans.But that doesnt mean his job is done. In fact, its about to get tougher as he chooses the second and third stringers wholl comprise the special teams units and give the roster the depth it needs to survive the grueling regular season.We know who our starters are, Shanahan said Thursday, asked how his approach changes from week-to-week in the preseason. But theres a lot of competition in other positions where it could swing either way. Youre trying to find the top 53 and your practice squad with an additional eight.The battle for backup roles got off to an intriguing beginning in Buffalo.Rookies Richard Crawford and Alfred Morris, among others, impressed. Veteran Brandon Banks, meantime, surely seeks a second chance.Tonight, the competition intensifies.Here are four positions the crew at www.csnwashington.com will be scrutinizing in the Windy City:1) Few battles are as tight as the one at wide receiver. Pierre Garon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan will be Robert Griffin IIIs top targets, likely in that order.After that, its a free-for-all between Anthony Armstrong, Banks, Dezmon Briscoe, Aldrick Robinson and Terrence Austin.
In all likelihood, only two spots remain.Armstrong did not suit up in Buffalo because of a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, so he needs to make up for lost time.Banks, on the other hand, needs the coaching staff to forget about his disappointing performance in Buffalo, where he was targeted nine times but only hauled in two passes for seven yards. To be fair, Banks slipped at least once and Rex Grossman wasnt exactly on-target. But the pint-size playmaker must be better against the Bears on offense and as a returner, where suddenly finds himself under pressure from Crawford.As for Briscoe, since he doesnt contribute on special teams, he must earn a roster spot based on the merit of his pass-catching abilities. He was not targeted against Bills, but the 6-2, 210 pounder is expected to have a bigger role in Chicago.2) Madieu Williams and Brandon Meriweather appear to be the favorites to claim the starting jobs at free and strong safety, respectively. Hard-hitting Tanard Jackson, based on practice reps, also appears to be in the teams plans to help buttress a position that was seen as one of the Redskins biggest weakness last season.That leaves DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty and rookie Jordan Bernstine battling for one, maybe two spots. Against the Bills, both Gomes and Bernstine recorded four tackles, which was tied for third most on the team behind linebackers Bryan Kehl (6) and Chris Wilson (5). Bernstine also made a tackle on special teams.3) After his breakout performance in Buffalo, Shanahan figures to want another look at Morris.Shanahan already knows what he has in Evan Royster, and with both Tim Hightower (knee) and Roy Helu Jr. (Achilles tendinitis) are sidelined, it wouldnt be surprising to see Morris line up with the first team.A powerful, one-cut runner, Morris rushed for a game-high 54 yards on 15 carries against the Bills second and third stringers. But can he catch a pass? Can he pass block? If he plays with the first team, how will he fare against seven-time pro bowler Julius Peppers and a Bears defense thats a step up in class from Buffalos?4) Griffin isnt fighting for a job, obviously. But more will be expected from him in his second professional start. The touted rookie is expected to play 30-35 snaps, up from the 14 he took in Buffalo, where he impressed with his poise and ability to read the Bills defense and audible changes at the line of scrimmage.Griffin did not attempt any of the designed runs Shanahan has put into the playbook to accentuate his speed and elusiveness against the Bills. Griffin, who joked this week that he hasnt been tackled since the Alamo Bowl in December, could benefit from executing those plays at full speed, against opposing defenses. But will Shanahan expose his prized rookie to potential injury?Will Griffin attempt spread the ball around more effectively? Three of his four completions last week were to Garon.Will Griffin receive adequate enough protection from the injury-riddled offensive line to accomplish much? Trent Williams (foot) and Maurice Hurt (knee) are probable, according to Shanahan, while Chris Chester (ankle) is questionable.Answers to those questions, and more, will begin emerging a few hours from now at Soldier Field.

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5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

The Redskins have a quarterback battle. Repeat, the Redskins have a quarterback battle. This is not a drill. It is an open competition. 

When the team gathers in Ashburn on Monday for offseason training activities, it will be the first time that veteran passer Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins will be on the field at the same time. Incumbent backup QB Colt McCoy should be present as well, but not active as he works back from multiple leg surgeries this offseason. 

The team has plenty of questions for the 2019 season, and the answers will start coming as early as this week. No question is bigger than the signal caller though.

  1. QB Battle - Every major factor in the Redskins organization has been clear that Haskins will get a chance to compete for the starting job. That means every throw between Keenum, the presumed starter after the 'Skins traded for him in February, and the Ohio State rookie will be over analyzed. If McCoy was healthy, he would have a jump start in the competition because he knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense. McCoy isn't healthy though, and that means more reps and work for Keenum and Haskins. This battle will be ongoing throughout the summer, but on Monday with the media present, it will be very interesting to see what player gets more work with the first-team offense.
  2. Who's still hurt - Speaking of the first-team offense, a number of players will be working back from offseason surgery. Will Paul Richardson be out there? Trent Williams? How healthy is Jordan Reed, and what about Derrius Guice? Brandon Scherff? There are a lot  of questions, and some of them will be answered simply by seeing guys run around. Second-year wideouts Cam Sims and Trey Quinn both finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve; will they be ready to go? There are a lot of people to watch out for. 
  3. STARTING DEFENSE (LATIMER VOICE*) - Landon Collins was the prize of free agency, and Monday he will be on the field barking directions at teammates. How will he fit in with Josh Norman, and how does Quinton Dunbar look? When Dunbar went down with a leg nerve injury last season, the Washington defense fell apart. If he is all the way back would be big news for Greg Manusky's defense. There's also Reuben Foster. This will be the first time for the media to see Foster on the field in a Redskins uniform after his controversial acquisition last November. Presumably Foster will answer questions after the OTA session, stay tuned for that.
  4. Camp is over for the rookies - Beyond Haskins, the Redskins have nine other draft picks taking part in OTAs. The rookies went through their own private minicamp last week, but this will be quite different. Rookie minicamp is about letting the new players get acclimated to the new facility and team; OTAs are about real work. Will Montez Sweat take the field with the Redskins first-team defense? What about the two rookie receivers in Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon? There will be hiccups for the rookies, that's inevitable, but now is the time to prove they belong. With all the injuries on the offensive line, Wes Martin has the inside track on a starting job. 
  5. Absent, but not hurt - Never forget that OTAs are voluntary for players, and usually a handful of guys don't show up. That will likely happen tomorrow and some fans might react negatively. Don't be one of them. 

* If you don't get that reference, go watch The Program. 

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How did the Redskins end up as the favorites to be featured on Hard Knocks?

How did the Redskins end up as the favorites to be featured on Hard Knocks?

There's a solid formula to land on the HBO series Hard Knocks, and a rookie quarterback can play a big role. Last year, HBO picked the Cleveland Browns, and much of that was to showcase No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Three years ago, HBO did the same thing with the Rams and Jared Goff. 

This year, the No. 1 overall pick landed on a team that can't be shown on Hard Knocks, as Kyler Murray will play for new coach Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona. Teams with coaching changes are ineligible for the show, as are teams that made the playoffs the previous season. 

Well, the Redskins didn't make the playoffs last year and didn't make a coaching change. What other QBs were taken in the first round?

The New York Giants took Daniel Jones with the sixth pick, and the Redskins took Dwayne Haskins at 15. 

Hmmm.

For years, the idea of the Redskins on Hard Knocks seemed far fetched. Team president Bruce Allen is not particularly fond of the media or inside access for television cameras. Allen comes by that honestly, his father Hall of Fame coach George Allen liked to practice in complete secrecy. Like father, like son. And as much as HBO and the NFL can force a team to do Hard Knocks, if the team doesn't want to be a part of it, the access can be very limited. 

So, has that changed? Maybe. 

Oddsmakers have established the Redskins as the betting favorite to land on the show, with the Oakland Raiders and the Giants just behind them. Both the 'Skins and Giants have rookie QBs, but the reception around each rookie has been quite different. While generally, Washington fans are very excited about Haskins, the New York crowd seems non-pleased with Jones. 

The NFL rarely does things that upset the Giants, and in an offseason of turmoil for Big Blue, it's hard to see the team wanting the increased scrutiny of the documentary show. Between trading Odell Beckham, drafting Jones at six, and a series of odd quotes about Eli Manning's future, New York GM Dave Gettleman has become a national punch line. It seems highly unlikely Giants ownership wants their GM on national television, especially in an unguarded format like Hard Knocks, and usually, when Giants ownership wants something, they get their way. How many cold weather cities have hosted an outdoor Super Bowl again?

There's also the Raiders. 

Jon Gruden would be a star because he already is a star. The team traded for Antonio Brown, who is also a star. The Raiders would make great television.

But wouldn't they rather go on Hard Knocks next season when the team moves to Las Vegas? How glitzy is that? There won't be a coaching change — Gruden is armed with a 10-year contract — and the team should be better as their three first-round draft picks will have a year of experience. The Raiders on Hard Knocks in 2020 seems like a slam dunk. 

The Lions and 49ers are also options, but less appealing. Detroit is a perennial also-ran, and San Francisco lacks sizzle. 

So back to the Redskins. 

The team would be appealing for HBO. Washington has a huge fan base across the country, and the television network is already familiar with the team's Richmond training camp setup. In 2015, HBO chronicled the Houston Texans' training camp, and that included a trip to Richmond for joint practices. Everybody remembers that trip. 

But if the Redskins didn't want Hard Knocks before, why is this time different? Oddsmakers think things have changed, and digging in, maybe they're right.

By all accounts, the 'Skins had an excellent 2019 NFL Draft. They added their quarterback of the future in Haskins, and aggressively traded back into the first round to grab Montez Sweat, a potential beast of a pass rusher. The team also signed Landon Collins this offseason to an $84 million contract, and have pieces in place for a Top 10 defense. Offensively, Adrian Peterson is going into the Hall of Fame and second-year RB Derrius Guice should return from a knee injury to push for carries. 

Maybe, just maybe, the Redskins are willing to let HBO inside their walls because they want to brag a little bit. 

In the weeks after the draft, Allen did appearances on ESPN's First Take along with a host of national radio interviews. Stephen A. Smith interviewing Bruce Allen was wildly unexpected, and it corresponds to a noticeable increase in accessibility with the Redskins front office boss. Allen has conducted more media availabilities this offseason than he had in the previous two years combined. 

For all the talk of dysfunction that gets thrown around at Redskins Park, the reality is quite different. At least on the football side. The team did fire a number of high ranking business executives late last year after employing them for less than a season. That was an ugly scene.

On the field, however, things have been fairly steady for years. The team is aggressively mediocre in the Jay Gruden era, which is more stable than the franchise has been for the last 25 years. And Gruden would be hysterical on Hard Knocks, along with Rob Ryan and Jim Tomsula. 

Maybe going on Hard Knocks will change the perception around the team that owner Dan Snyder calls all the shots. Maybe going on Hard Knocks will get fans excited for the Haskins era, and get those fans to buy tickets. FedEx Field was noticeably empty last year. Maybe none of it happens too. 

Despite being the betting favorite, it is far from certain the Redskins land on Hard Knocks later this summer. But there are reasons to believe maybe this could be the year. 

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