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Still a long shot? Nico Marley turning heads at Redskins training camp

Still a long shot? Nico Marley turning heads at Redskins training camp

An average football play lasts just a few seconds, and success or failure gets determined by a series of flashes, where players fly around the field like violent chess pieces. One of those flashes came Monday, when, during 11v11 drills, undrafted rookie linebacker Nico Marley crashed down to the line of scrimmage, exploded into an offensive lineman, and thwarted a run play. 

It was the kind of collision that happens thoughout the NFL, throughout training camps, but rarely by somebody with Marley's size. 

Zach Brown, Will Compton and Mason Foster all seem like locks for the Redskins roster at the linebacker spot. Brown and Foster weight 250, Compton weighs around 235. All three stand 6-foot-1. Marley stands 5-foot-8. He weighs 200 pounds. 

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Yet, he keeps making plays in Richmond during Redskins training camp. Just like he did during minicamp, and OTAs, and rookie camp. Just like he did in college. 

Jay Gruden has noticed.

"You watch him at Tulane, he made almost every tackle. Then we brought him in here, said, ‘Let’s just bring this guy in for a workout for the rookie OTAs.’ Then at the rookie OTAs, he made almost every tackle and had two interceptions and a forced fumble," the Redskins head coach said of Marley. "I said if anybody deserves a chance to crack the roster, it’s somebody who’s that productive. So we brought him in here and he really hasn’t disappointed us, man."

It's not just coach speak. Perhaps it's more noticeable because of his size, or in spite of his size, or the fact that his grandfather is musical icon Bob Marley. 

Whatever it is, Marley is only focused on the next play.

"We still have four preseason games. I'm not getting ahead of myself. I'm focusing down on just today," he said. "When today's done, I'm going to watch the film, put today to rest and focus on tomorrow. Day by day."

It's the right attitude, as Marley still seems an outsider on the roster bubble. Veteran linebacker Chris Carter has also looked good in camp, and seems the type to fill the special teams role vacated by Terence Garvin.

Still, don't count Marley out. 

"He’s been running around here, making good plays and he’s very smart. We will see what happens when we get to live tackling, but he’s a fun guy to watch," Gruden said. 

As for tackling, Marley said that's his strength. The stats at Tulane would support it. As a senior last season, he made 86 tackles, with 13 for loss to go with three sacks and an interception. His numbers his junior season look nearly identical. 

"That's everything," Marley said of tackling. "You've got to get the man with the ball down. If you don't get him down, then you don't have any defense. You can have the best defense in the world and if guys are not tackling (you have nothing)."

In 2016, the Washington defense struggled with missed tackles. Many of the worst offenders are gone now, guys like Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton, though there will always be room for improvement. 

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Marley has much to do before he will be one of the guys that helps the Redskins defense. He will have a chance in the preseason to impress coaches, but a spot on the 53-man roster remains far away. He knows it, but won't let that slow him down. 

"Football. That's what I'm here for. I came to play football. I came here to play football, so that's what I'm going to do every play."

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The Redskins chose not to pay Jamison Crowder, and their offense is now paying for that

The Redskins chose not to pay Jamison Crowder, and their offense is now paying for that

Jamison Crowder's final season with the Redskins was injury-shortened and disappointing, so when the team ultimately let him leave and sign a three-year, $28.5 million contract with the Jets, there wasn't much pushback.

When Crowder takes the field this Sunday for the Washington-New York matchup, however, plenty of people on the home side will likely wish the receiver was doing so in Burgundy and Gold as opposed to Gotham Green.

The fifth-year pro has 48 catches in 2019 so far, which is 16 more than the Redskins' top target, Terry McLaurin, has hauled in. And if you want to compare Crowder to Trey Quinn, the guy who mans the slot now that Crowder's gone, Crowder has twice as many catches and nearly 300 more yards (486 to 189) than his replacement.

"Anytime we need a big play, he comes up with it," Jets coach Adam Gase said this week. "He's been very quarterback friendly."

Crowder will never be someone who generates a ton of game-changing plays — his yards-per-catch this year is 10.1 and his career average is 11.6 — but quarterback friendly is a perfect way to describe his game and it's a valuable quality, too.

His catch rate, for example, is 73.8-percent, a number that reflects how well he gets open and how much trust his signal callers have in him.

For an offense like Washington's, a unit that hasn't found the end zone in a month, one that is incapable of sustaining drives and one that's devoid of any dangerous wideouts beyond McLaurin, Crowder would make an enormous difference.

"Jamison, when he was here, was productive, outstanding," Bill Callahan told reporters on Thursday. 

Of course, the Redskins didn't just carelessly allow Crowder to depart without having a plan in place to fill in for him. They didn't want to compensate him at that price level and instead hoped a younger draft pick would mitigate the loss, which is what organizations do all the time.

Their plan, unfortunately, just hasn't succeeded.

Jay Gruden and Ike Hilliard were supremely optimistic in Quinn's ability to step up in his second campaign and become a legit threat, and while Callahan praised Quinn's versatility and dependability on Thursday, he just hasn't emerged as any kind of difference maker.

Quinn is far from the only pass catcher who's faltering for the Redskins, sure, but his catch rate is just 58.5-percent despite the fact that he's not running many deep routes. Coaches love his reliable hands, yet those hands aren't translating into enough completions.

Crowder likely won't have that issue in his return to FedEx Field in Week 11, by the way. Greg Manusky's defense allows an NFL-high 78.9-percent completion rate to slot receivers, and No. 82 is coming in off of two strong efforts.

That means you can expect Crowder to stand out versus his old teammates, while also reminding the franchise as a whole of a very simple truth: You get what you pay for. Washington chose not to pay for Crowder, and now, their slogging offense is largely paying for that choice.


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It's time for Dwayne Haskins to start matching the production of his rookie QB peers

It's time for Dwayne Haskins to start matching the production of his rookie QB peers

The Redskins made Dwayne Haskins the third quarterback taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft when Washington selected the former Ohio State star 15th overall. 

So far, he's only got one start, and the numbers were pedestrian. He completed 68 percent of his passes with no touchdowns or interceptions though he ended up with just 144 pass yards. The Redskins didn't give Haskins many chances to throw the ball downfield, and besides that, there was a fierce wind blowing in Buffalo that day which hampered both offenses. 

That said, it's time to let Haskins take some chances. A quick glance around the NFL shows that Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones are both averaging more than 220 pass yards-per-game, but so is Gardner Minshew, the only other rookie QB with at least two starts.

Here's a look at those three quarterbacks numbers so far this year:

  • Kyler Murray (1st overall) | 64 percent completion, 12 TDs, 5 INTs, 255 pass yards-per-game | 3-6-1 in 10 starts
  • Daniel Jones (6th overall) | 63 percent completion, 15 TDs, 8 INTs, 220 pass yards-per-game | 2-6 in 8 starts
  • Gardner Minshew (178th overall) | 61 percent completion, 13 TDs, 4 INTs, 254 pass yards-per-game | 4-4 in 8 starts

Based on the data, the numbers actually look fairly similar. All three rookie passers with significant experience are able to move the ball and score TDs, and none are throwing that many interceptions. 

For Haskins, it's tough to extrapolate too much from his first two appearances. He was bad in both, throwing four interceptions in just 22 pass attempts. But both games were relief appearances  - against the Giants and the Vikings - and came on the road with his team trailing. 

Sunday's contest against the Jets should look quite different. It's Haskins' first-ever start at FedEx Field, his second start of the year, and against a Jets defense that allowed Jones to throw more than 300 yards with four TDs last week. 

Jones, Minshew and Murray all impressed in their second start of the season:

  • Kyler Murray (Week 2 loss @ Baltimore) - 25 of 40 for 62.5 percent | 0 TDs 0 INTs | 349 pass yards
  • Daniel Jones (Week 4 win vs Redskins) - 23 of 31 for 74 percent | 1 TD 2 INTs | 225 yards
  • Gardner Minshew ( Week 3 win vs Titans)  - 20 of 30 for 66.6 percent | 2 TDs 0 INTs | 204 yds

Right or wrong, the bar has been set low for Haskins amid early season reports he was having trouble learning the offense and getting coaches trust. Haskins denied any of that, but on Sunday, it won't matter.

By the Jets game, Haskins will have been the Redskins QB1 for more than three weeks. He's talked about his growth in the offense and the coaches have too. This will be his second start and he's had two weeks to prepare for the New York defense.  

It's time for Haskins to put up some numbers, at least on par with what other rookie passers have done so far this year. The young passer seems ready for the moment, he just needs to seize it.