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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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NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy

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USA TODAY Sports

NFL owners unanimously approve new national anthem policy

NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that allows players to remain in the locker room if they prefer but requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance.

This new policy subjects teams, but not players, to fines if any team personnel do not show appropriate respect for the anthem. 

Teams will also have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction separately though. 

The NFL Players Association released it's own statement after the news was made official.

 

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NFL implementing significant changes to kickoff rules in 2018 season

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AP Images

NFL implementing significant changes to kickoff rules in 2018 season

The NFL is not eliminating kickoffs altogether for the 2018 season. But at the NFL spring meetings in Atlanta, Ga., owners did agree to make significant changes to the third phase of football.

The NFL's new kickoff rules begin with having five players on each side of the ball (previously they could line up six on one side). Also, they cannot line up more than 1-yard from the restraining line, which is the line where the ball is placed on the tee. This prohibits the kickoff team from getting a running start downfield. 

At least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line numbers and at least two players lined up between the numbers and the hash mark. In years past, three players had to be lined up outside the inbounds line with one outside the yard-line number. At least eight players need to be in the 15-yard "setup zone," leaving three players outside of the "setup zone." Before, all kickoff return players had to be behind their restraining line. These changes will place players closer to where the ball is kicked in order to reduce speed and the amount of space on the play. 

Wedge blocks are no longer allowed. Players who were initially lined up in the "setup zone" are the only ones who can now come together for a double-team block. In the past, only 2-man wedge blocks were allowed and could take place on the field anywhere. The purpose of this change is to limit the possible blocking schemes by the kickoff return team. 

No player on the receiving side of the ball can cross the restraining line or block in the 15-yard area from the kicking team's restraining line until the ball is touched or hits the ground. Before, the receiving team could move past their restraining line and block as soon as the ball was kicked. This change gets rid of the "jump-set/attack" block.

Finally, a ball will be considered dead if it's not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone. In the past, the ball was dead once it was downed in the end zone by the receiving team. This change means there's no requirement for the kickoff returner to down the ball in the end-zone. 

If that was a lot to dissect, check out the video below. 

In addition to new kickoff rules, ejections are now reviewable. In March, a rule passed that officials can make an ejection after a replay, but not they can also undo an ejection after a replay. 

The league also adjusted the official language for Use of a Helmet rule. 

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