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Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

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Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

 In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 12

Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016? 

El-Bashir: Yes, I do think Cousins will be a better quarterback in 2016.

Why? Let’s start with this: Cousins’ work ethic and meticulous preparation have always helped him overcome the fact that he’s not 6-foot-5 with a cannon for an arm. And that insatiable drive will continue to serve him well, I suspect.

When Cousins was relegated to benchwarmer in 2014, we learned recently that he flew in a private quarterbacks coach to help him refine his game…after he practiced with his full-time employers. Cousins continued to work with that coach last offseason and even sought help from Jon Gruden. Cousins also spent hours each day studying defenses and top-tier quarterbacks in his spare time.

When I heard about Cousins hiring a Chicago-based QBs coach—on his own dime and time—and then working with him after that day's Redskins practice, that pretty much told me all I needed to know about his makeup. He’s a worker, dedicated to his craft and determined to be the best player he can be. At the pro level, that's half the battle.

Now that he’s on the verge of signing a lucrative, long-term extension, I know some will wonder if he’ll take his foot off the gas and enjoy the fruits of his hard work. I don’t suspect that will be an issue. If anything, I think he’ll double down and feel that he’s now got even more to prove.

And, finally, I think Cousins will benefit from an offseason that’s going to begin with him riding a wave of confidence and momentum. An offseason that’s going to begin with him taking all the first team reps. An offseason that’s going to begin with a playbook that the coaching staff has tailored to his strengths.

My only concern is that the negotiations could prove to be a distraction, particularly if the team ends up using the franchise tag on him and/or talks drag out into the summer. Athletes often say they won’t allow contract issues to detract from their focus. But anyone who has gone through the process knows that’s not entirely possible.

Tandler: I have no doubt that Cousins will work as hard as he can to get better in 2016. I also doubt that the contract situation will be a distraction; even if it goes unresolved past the franchise tag deadline, Cousins simply won’t put any entries into any of the color-coded 15-minute blocks in his daily planner.

But there are things that are out of his direct control that will affect how well he plays in 2016. One of them is the Redskins’ running game. It was not good last year as they ranked 20th with 1,566 rushing yards and a dismal 29th with 3.7 yards per carry.

Cousins’ ability to put together a solid year despite the team’s poor performance running the ball is one of the least appreciated aspects of his season. Of the eight NFL quarterbacks who averaged 7.7 or more yards per attempt, Cousins (7.7/att.) had less support from the running game than any of them in terms of yards per carry. Same for the six who had passer ratings over 100 (Cousins 101.6).

If Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan can make good on their 2015 vow to have a powerful, effective running game that will take a lot of the pressure off of Cousins. If the defense is guessing that makes the play action game more effective and opens up a lot of things that Cousins does well.

An upgrade in depth at receiver would help Cousins, also. At times it seemed that targeting Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant was the same as throwing the ball into the dirt; they combined to catch just 53 percent of the passes thrown their way. And Rashad Ross needs to figure out how to evolve from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL wide receiver.

25 Questions series

·  Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?

·  Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?

·  Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?

·  Will there be a surprise cap casualty?

·  Will DeAngelo Hall return?

·  Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?

·  Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?

·  Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?

·  Should Pierre Garçon return?

·  What should the Redskins do at tight end?

·  Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job? 

·  Today: Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?

·  Tomorrow: Who will start at inside linebacker?

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

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Associated Press

Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

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

 

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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