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RG3, O-line among things to watch in Redskins vs. Ravens


RG3, O-line among things to watch in Redskins vs. Ravens

The past couple of weeks have felt awfully familiar around Redskins Park. Controversy has been swirling around the team’s polarizing quarterback. There's hand-wringing, both inside and outside the organization, over the offense's continued struggles. A depth chart that couldn't really afford to lose anyone to injury has absorbed a few body blows. 

Indeed, the Redskins already have a lot to overcome. And it’s just the third week of the preseason.

Their next chance to quiet some the noise and build some much-needed confidence and momentum comes Saturday night when Robert Griffin III and Co. face Terrell Suggs and the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Redskins Kickoff begins at 6:30 on CSN, the game kicks off on our air at 7:30 and then Redskins Postgame Live gets underway at 10:30.  

Here are Tarik’s five areas to watch:

1-Griffin, of course. Does the fourth-year quarterback need a strong performance to cement his starting spot? Or will he be the Week 1 starter regardless of what happens in the dress rehearsal? No one outside of the inner circle at Redskins Park seems to know the answer. But we do know this: the starting offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in the preseason during the Jay Gruden era. If that drought continues, expect the hand-wringing to turn into panic. Remember what happened a year ago in this game? In retrospect, it was a sign of the struggles to come.

2-The offensive line. Last week, Griffin got hit six times by the Lions and was sacked three times before he was forced from the game with a shoulder stinger and concussion. The good news is three-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams will return to the lineup to help protect Griffin’s blindside. The bad news is the young right side of the line—and first round draft pick Brandon Scherff in particular—looks as though it could be a concern, at least early on this season. And, oh yeah, the unit will be asked to keep Suggs and Elvis Dumervil out of the backfield Saturday night. Those two accounted for 29 sacks last season. For comparison’s sake, the entire Redskins' defense had 36.

3-Jamison Crowder’s debut. After missing the first two exhibition games with a hamstring strain, we’re expected to get our first good look at the 5 foot 8, 185-pound rookie. The Duke product opened eyes during OTAs and minicamp with his ability to create separation as a wide receiver and leave opponents grasping at air as a punt returner. Could the pint-sized playmaker become the Redskins’ secret weapon in 2015? Gruden certainly hopes so.

4-The battle at outside linebacker. This was supposed to be the week that Ryan Kerrigan and Junior Galette joined forces and began wreaking havoc. That’s not going to happen; Galette became the fifth Redskins’ player to suffer a season-ending injury this preseason when he tore his Achilles’ tendon in practice Wednesday. But the injury also gives Preston Smith and Trent Murphy a second chance to prove they’re ready to contribute. Murphy has the edge in experience and has enjoyed a strong summer. Smith, however, has come on strong in practice lately as the game slows down for the rookie. Galette’s injury also opens a spot on the roster for training camp hopefuls Jackson Jeffcoat (two sacks in the preseason) and Houston Bates (three sacks).   

5-Tight end. Jordan Reed is expected to make his preseason debut after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. Even if he doesn’t play a whole lot, it will be good to see a healthy Reed back on the field. We also figure to get a look at the new guy, Derek Carrier, who said he hopes to contribute this season as a pass-catcher, blocker and special teams player. The challenge for Carrier, of course, will be his comfort level with the playbook. The Redskins kept three tight ends last season, which means the battle for that final spot will intensify between Je’Ron Hamm, Chase Dixon, Devin Mahina, D.J. Williams and Ernst Brun Jr. Based on play-time in the previous two games, Hamm and Dixon appear to be the leading candidates.        

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


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Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, May 24, 64 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What Jay Gruden and Alex Smith had to say from the podium

After yesterday’s OTA practice, Alex Smith and Jay Gruden took the podium. Here are some of their quotes and my comments on them:

Smith was asked about getting together with his new teammates:

So I think every guy these last two days has enjoyed just getting back out there and losing yourself in the game, right? To be limited, it does make you miss it, and I think it makes you appreciate it, so that’s been nice. 

Comment: This is a guy who loves football and everything that goes with it. Smith would start playing games tomorrow if they were scheduled.

Gruden was asked how Smith has looked in these first two days of OTAs:

He’s got good command of the offense already. Great command in the huddle. He’s just getting a feel for the receivers, the players around him, how we call things, but overall, the first two days, I would say I’m very pleased with his quick progression and learning. I knew that wouldn’t be an issue with as much as he’s played in a similar-style system.

Comment: It did seem that Smith was in sync with his receivers, Jamison Crowder in particular. He and Paul Richardson connected on a deep pass after giving each other a look at the line of scrimmage. The encouraging thing is that he is coming from a similar offensive system, so the learning curve should not be too long. 

Smith had a great analogy when asked about similarities to the offenses he has run:

Both from West Coast worlds, so it’s kind of like they are all Latin-based languages, you know, but they are not the same. There are some similarities, structure of the playbook, of how we call things, things like that. There are a lot of similarities but it’s not the same language. I guess that’s the best analogy I can make

Comment: If terminology is the biggest obstacle for Smith to overcome it will be a smooth transition for him. 

Gruden was impressed with the running backs. 

“I’ll tell you what, just today in general, you could see the competition. You could see Rob Kelley step up. Samaje Perine’s had a couple big days. Byron Marshall, I mean, he had a couple great routes today. He’s running the ball between the tackles. [Kapri] Bibbs had some big runs yesterday. Obviously, Derrius Guice has come in here and fueled the fire a little bit.

Comment: I think that the Redskins are going to have to release some good running backs. Rob Kelly never really earned the nickname “Fat Rob” but he looked particularly lean and quick running the ball. He wants nothing to do with being on the roster bubble. Marshall moved quickly and showed his speed. Although Gruden wouldn’t say it, Guice clearly was the best of the bunch; his ability to change direction while maintaining his speed will serve him well. It must be noted that they are not in pads and not getting tackled so more definitive opinions will have to wait until we are in Richmond for a few days. 

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

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Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 19
—Training camp starts (7/26) 64
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 78

The Redskins last played a game 144 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 108 days. 

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