NFC East: Washington Redskins
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
- I don’t know if Robert Griffin III will return this season. I do know he’s waiting until his MRI Monday before he counts himself out. It didn’t look good, of course, but he really doesn’t want to speculate on any timetable. If he’s somehow able to return this season, there will be a lot of what-if scenarios discussed: as in, what if Kirk Cousins plays well (that’s what you want your backup to do, of course)? What if the Redskins are winning (also what you want, it’s about the team, not one guy)? Would you then put Griffin back in (not if the above two scenarios exist)? How will this impact his game? But there’s plenty of time to worry about the future later.
- The tough part for Griffin is that he needed a game like he felt he was going to have Sunday. It’s not as if he had lost confidence, but it could have been a springboard game, or at least one where he could remind everyone of his ability. Instead, people will focus on his durability -- a second major leg injury in three seasons. Injuries happen in football and this was a freak one. But Griffin did what anyone would want him to do: extend a play and make a throw. And he still got hurt. The old Griffin was emerging; now he must wonder what the future holds, though that really depends on what the MRI reveals.
- Kudos to Cousins for how he handled the situation. The Redskins never seriously considered trading him, nor should they have for this very reason. Having a quality backup means the Redskins can at least look at the next 14 weeks, if that’s how long he plays, and still feel they can accomplish something. Cousins, too, will get a better chance than at the end of a 2013 season in which the coaches knew they would be fired.
- I liked how Cousins handled most of his throws. I’ll get more into some of those Monday and Tuesday, but he does a good job getting off his first read and finding the open target. That’s what happened on his first touchdown pass to fullback Darrell Young. Cousins looked left, then came back right and Young was wide open. Cousins was able to go deep in his progression -- and did so while staying clean in the pocket.
- Also liked how Cousins reacted to negative situations. He turned the corner on a boot with a defender coming at him. Because he knows he can’t outrun anyone, he planted and threw to Niles Paul for 23 yards. Decisive reactions. I don’t know what Cousins will do going forward -- he’s decisive, but sometimes that gets him in trouble, too. He’s comfortable in the pocket and running this offense. Going forward he’ll need to be consistently accurate, but this is the opportunity he desired.
- In the last week, the Redskins had to replace a nose tackle, starting tight end, deep threat receiver and quarterback. Each player who entered for the injured player did well Sunday. That’s impressive. Chris Baker is a good nose tackle and Paul had his best receiving game as a tight end. The Redskins’ receivers were not dynamic; they were effective. Call it what you want -- good coaching, depth, whatever. It bailed out Washington Sunday. Doesn’t always go that way, especially here.
- Jacksonville is really bad. But the Redskins did more than what they should. It was the best they’ve looked since the 2012 season. They were dominant in every phase -- not sure last year they were ever dominant, or even good, in more than one in a game.
- I will get into this more Monday morning and Tuesday, but Jason Hatcher is better than I anticipated. Hatcher can be dominant inside and the trickle down impact is legitimate. Lines can’t slide to the outside like they could in the past -- and if they do, then he’s one-on-one inside. That’s a total mismatch.
- Brian Orakpo, for example, was being blocked by the backs a couple times. He won those battles, too -- he didn’t get many such rushes in the past. Credit to Hatcher. What surprises me about Hatcher is how quick he is; his game is not just about strength.
- Ryan Kerrigan had a record day and I gave him a game ball, but that was more symbolic because of what the defense did as a group. Ten sacks -- Jacksonville only had eight first downs and 148 yards total. The Jags were in John Beck territory. The Redskins knew Jacksonville’s line was weak and once they got the Jaguars into passing situations it was all over.
- Not a whole lot of activity in the open locker room period Thursday. Read: Not many players entered the locker room, so there wasn't a whole lot of information gathered. Just the way it was. Fortunately, a lot was gathered Wednesday.
- Defensive lineman Kedric Golston said he's hoping he can do some running in practice Thursday, testing his injured groin. There does not seem to be a great deal of optimism for his chances Sunday. And he's not going to be swayed by what the Redskins don't have. In other words, he said his decision comes down to this: "If you're healthy, you play." It's not about the fact that Washington already is down a lineman in Barry Cofield. Golston would back up Chris Baker at nose.
- Linebacker Keenan Robinson said the coaches compare Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne to Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a guy who's been around a little bit and can hurt you if given time. "If you let him get comfortable, he can hurt you," Robinson said.
- Center Kory Lichtensteiger talked about his game Sunday -- one of the best I've seen him play -- and why center suits him. It maximizes his strengths, as in his quickness. But Jacksonville plays a different style up front than Houston -- a 4-3 front vs. a 3-4 -- so it presents a different challenge. More on that later in the week.
- Returner Andre Roberts talked about making more plays downfield, as well as his mentality in the return game. As for the downfield part, my two cents: They'll have more chances Sunday to make those plays.
But the Redskins still want his legs to be a part of his game. And when he extends plays, they want to make sure they get better results. Like on the incomplete pass to Andre Roberts against Houston, when Griffin threw the wide-open receiver a pass that led him out of bounds. Roberts was ruled out of bounds and officials did not overturn it after a review.
“Those are plays that we need to take advantage of with an elusive, athletic quarterback,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, “if we are going to really take that next step. Pocket passing is one thing, but when he breaks contain, that’s when there is a lot of damage done, and you see the great ones do that.”
It’s not as if Griffin was bad in Sunday's 17-6 loss. He completed 29 of 37 passes for 267 yards. But the Redskins scored just six points and the third-year quarterback didn’t do enough -- like most of the Redskins' offensive players. The Texans took away the deep ball by playing their corners sometimes 8 and even 9 yards off the receivers. In fact, while the lack of a deep ball was lamented, the coaches wish they had thrown more comebacks and hitches -- they were easy gains all day.
Gruden said the same thing Wednesday about Griffin’s performance that he did Sunday after the game and again Monday. Griffin did some good things and some not so good.
“He was accurate with the football, which was good," Gruden said. "He was decisive with the football, which was good. But there were some other plays in there -- a couple of the sacks he took weren’t very good. Some of his out-of-the-pocket decisions weren’t very good, and that’s where we need to thrive as an offense.”
But really, it’s still about learning to be even more of a pocket passer. That’s not just throwing the ball, it’s learning when to throw it away, too. Whether this is the best usage of Griffin remains to be seen, but this is how the Redskins are using him, so it’s where he must improve.
“If you're going to be a professional football quarterback, you're going to have to learn to be a pocket passer at some point in your career, and he's learning,” Gruden said. “He's not a finished product yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he will get there. I know one thing: that if you keep telling Robert he can’t do something, he's going to do it and he's going to want to do it and he'll get there.
“I like where he's at mentally. I think he's starting to gain momentum and confidence every day out at practice. We just have to carry it over on the field and decisions have to be consistent at the quarterback position, especially when games are tight.”
Also, just because Griffin didn’t have any designed runs Sunday doesn’t mean he won’t in the future. Some games they’ll be a part of the game plan and others they won’t. Two years ago, there were games in which he rarely ran as well, but it was definitely a part of the philosophy. This summer, for example, they rarely used him on designed runs.
“It’s always a threat, it’s always there,” Griffin said. “I’m not trying to stay in the pocket to play quarterback. I’m trying to play a game at an efficient level, at a high level and be what my team needs me to be to win. If that calls on Coach calling more run plays, I’m all for it. If we continue to run the offense we have then I’ll do that, too."
The first two games of the Jay Gruden era for the Washington Redskins looked like they made for a quick start, with games against Houston and then Jacksonville at home, who combined for a 6-26 record last season. But suddenly, nothing looks easy for the Redskins as they try to rebound from a 3-13 season. This is not about whether they go 0-2 and can still make the postseason; it’s about re-establishing themselves and playing well.
Conversely, the Jacksonville Jaguars continue to look like a team ready to take that so-called next step only to stumble. A 17-0 lead in Philadelphia had them on their way; a 34-17 loss reminded them they’re not there. So they, too, view this as a game in which they can establish themselves.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's matchup.
Keim: Obviously the Jaguars did something right for a while in Philadelphia before collapsing. What’s different about this team –- and what still must change?
DiRocco: From what we saw in the first half of the Jaguars' game against Philadelphia, the biggest change is that the defense is better. The Jaguars sacked Eagles quarterback Nick Foles five times and forced three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone by cornerback Alan Ball. The team upgraded the front with the additions of ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and tackle Ziggy Hood, and that allows for a much deeper rotation and fresher bodies. For the most part, the Jaguars' defense played well. The Eagles’ two biggest offensive plays were the result of communication issues that occurred when the Jaguars' two best defensive players (middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Johnathan Cyprien) were off the field because of injuries. Those plays happened in the second half, which is an example of one of the two biggest issues the team must fix in order to become better: consistency. The Jaguars played well on offense and defense in the first half but not in the second, and that is the mark of a young team that isn't very good. (The Jaguars have the league’s second-youngest roster.) The other issue is a lack of a running game. The offensive line continues to be a work in progress and the Jags had new starters at left guard, center, right guard and right tackle. It was the first time that group had played together in a game. Still, that’s no excuse. The interior of the line, specifically center Jacques McClendon, has to get better quickly.
John, it seems to be open season on RG III. CBS’ Brandon Tierney called him a mental midget, Fox’s Terry Bradshaw said that he’s not ready to play pocket football and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller said that he’s not well liked in the locker room. Why is Griffin so polarizing and do you think he’s the right QB for this team?
Speaking of quarterbacks, when do you think Blake Bortles will take over? What does Chad Henne give them?
DiRocco: The Jaguars have been consistent in saying that they’re not going to put Bortles on the field until they believe he’s ready and that the ideal situation would be that Henne plays well enough so Bortles can sit the bench the entire season and take over as the starter in 2015. But based on the way Bortles performed in the preseason, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get on the field at some point this season, most likely in December after the Jaguars have been eliminated from playoff contention. As for what Henne gives the offense, it’s nothing spectacular. He knows the offense pretty well, doesn’t make huge mistakes and put the team in bad situations and is well-liked and respected in the locker room. He’s a game manager, which is all the Jaguars want him to be right now, although Gus Bradley said they’re encouraging him to take more chances down the field. Though the Jaguars have won just four of their past 17 games, Henne hasn’t been the reason for any of the losses. He’s not killing the team with turnovers or bad decisions, and he did help rally the Jaguars to a victory on the road at Cleveland last season.
How has the culture changed under Jay Gruden from the Mike Shanahan era? What’s the biggest impact he has made in his short time there?
Keim: Funny thing is, Mike Shanahan changed the culture from what he inherited from the Jim Zorn/Vinny Cerrato era. Four years later, the culture needed changing again. The difference now is that coaches feel they can do their jobs without a lot of interference -- for better or worse. The energy on the coaching staff is much different, partly because of who Gruden hired. You could see a difference in practices. I think that’s the change and it’s also the biggest difference. Shanahan liked to meddle; Gruden does not. Gruden has a good rapport with players. Of course, he’s coached only one game. Let’s see how great the rapport is if they keep losing. That’s the key. But, for now, the atmosphere has been a positive one for the Redskins and I credit Gruden and the guys he hired.
I read and heard good things about the Jaguars' offseason, then I would see predictions of 3-13 records. So where are they headed -- and how long is this going to take?
DiRocco: I think the first half of last Sunday’s game against Philadelphia is an indication of the kind of progress the franchise has made. They put pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz, forced turnovers and hit some big plays on offense. It all fell apart in the second half, but the bottom line is that what they did in the first half was something we didn't see from the team in the 2013 season, which was the first for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars should be much more competitive this season, thanks mainly to the upgrade along the defensive front, and that should keep them in more games into the fourth quarter. A lucky bounce or a play here and there and they might be able to steal a victory or two. That being said, this is the second-youngest roster in the league and there are still holes at certain spots (offensive line and linebacker are the most glaring), so getting to .500 this season isn’t realistic. I’ve predicted a 6-10 record and I’ll stick by that. Next season, with Bortles taking over, the Jaguars should compete for a playoff spot.
The biggest issue surrounding the Redskins for a while is the nickname. How has that affected anything, if at all, in the locker room? Have the players been somewhat outside the controversy?
Keim: Zero impact. Players are far more worried about their own jobs and who they play in a given week than they are about the name. I asked one veteran player if they ever discuss it among themselves. The answer: no. It comes up when they’re asked about it, but it’s not as if it’s asked all the time. The daily reporters aren’t, and can’t be, fixated on this issue. There are too many other on-field issues to discuss or storylines that pertain more to the inner workings of the team that have a much greater impact on their performance. Not every player is in favor of the name, but they realize it’s an issue far above their pay grade. And for the local media, there are only so many times you can ask this question to players who won’t, or don’t want to, discuss the matter.
- The Redskins are definitely preparing to play without tight end Jordan Reed, though that's not a big surprise. Quarterback Robert Griffin III said it would hurt not having him -- of course. They knew he would miss time, but they weren't sure how much time he would miss. More on that later; there's still no update from coach Jay Gruden. We won't talk to him until after practice, around 3 p.m.
- Griffin also said it's not as if he was making it point to stay in the pocket -- when he did get outside, the bootlegs weren't working at all. He also said, "You have to get your home run shots in every now and then."
- Jacksonville defensive lineman Red Bryant, during a conference call with reporters, said of Griffin, "It does seem like he's trying to stay in the pocket more."
- Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said he's not worried about the public's perception of him or his game and that he's not a "selfish" player. He's right; Orakpo does what's asked of him and Sunday, more often than not, Houston forced him into coverage by formation. The Texans would spread the field with their regular personnel so if the Redskins were in their base 3-4 front, then he would have to play in the slot. More on this later.
- A lot of talk in the locker room about avoiding an 0-2 start. Any talk about the Redskins possibly taking Jacksonville lightly would be ridiculous: As safety Ryan Clark said, the Jaguars were picking after the Redskins last season -- (or, would have been had Washington had its first-round pick). The Jaguars were 4-12 a year ago, the Redskins 3-13.
But a lot changed with one injury. With Cofield now headed for the short-term injured reserve list, and unable to play for eight games, the Redskins’ depth will be tested, as will their versatility.
Though Cofield did not have a strong second half last season -- certainly not as strong as his first half -- he remained a key part of what Washington did defensively. Also, he played well Sunday. With better depth, he would't be needed as much in their nickel packages, the way he had been in the past. They hoped to keep him fresh -- a necessity -- considering he had hernia surgery in the offseason and was dealing with a strained groin.
Players constantly point out how smart and intuitive he is, knowing offensive tendencies and reacting accordingly. It makes a difference and his penetration on two short-yardage situations was key. He had to learn how to be a nose tackle after never having seen the blocking schemes he did in his first season at the position in 2011.
Baker can handle the position, as it’s probably a more natural spot for him. He plays with excellent leverage and, when that’s the case, power. It’s a good time for him to take over because of his comfort level on defense, reading offenses and understanding his responsibilities up front. He’s developed into a solid player since joining the Redskins. But the Redskins were better off with Cofield in the middle and Baker on the edge. That gave them two quick players along the front to pair with Hatcher’s power.
They can use Kedric Golston at nose in a pinch, as they did Sunday. Even Jenkins played there for at least a snap Sunday. But it’s not the ideal situation.
It’s also another test for Washington’s defense. The Redskins are down one starter with safety Brandon Meriweather suspended for one more game. They have some age and, therefore, durability questions on that side of the ball as well. The defense got off to a good start with its showing Sunday, allowing only 10 points. They certainly can continue playing well without Cofield; it was a lot easier to do so with him.
Cofield suffered a high ankle sprain while Reed has a mild hamstring strain. Gruden said both players "could miss some time." But the Redskins won' t know exactly how much time they'll miss yet. Both players underwent MRIs. Gruden said they're still waiting to hear from doctors about the extent of the injuries.
Both players were hurt in Sunday's 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans. Cofield was using a walking boot on his right foot. Reed was going to be a major part of the game plan Sunday, especially in the red zone, Gruden said. But he lasted only seven plays.
"We'll see how it goes," Gruden said. "It's probably a week or two or three [for both players]. We'll see."
Until they know how much time the players will miss, it's hard for them to make any sort of roster move. Gruden said they were going to work out some tight ends in case Reed has to miss more than a little time. But he was not optimistic they'd find someone who could provide the necessary help. They also have Ted Bolser on the practice squad.
They currently have Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul as their tight ends. They used tackle Tom Compton as a tight end in some run packages. The Redskins can also go with a one tight end, three-receiver set. They used that formation 16 times out of 30 first-down plays Sunday.
"If we have to play with two we will," Gruden said. "To bring a guy in this late and get them ready, it'll be rough. We want to find out the severity of Jordan's injury before we go crazy. Hopefully it's not as long as we are dreading, but we'll find out in the next several days."
As for Cofield, the Redskins will start Chris Baker at nose tackle and Jarvis Jenkins at left end. Baker played nose Sunday and has played it in the past -- it may even be his better position. But the Redskins liked having Cofield inside and Baker outside. Cofield understands blocking schemes well and is adept in short-yardage situations. Baker had a good training camp, though that came mostly at the end.
Gruden said Cofield also continues to battle a sore groin, so the rest should help.
The Redskins kept seven defensive linemen on their 53-man roster.
"Our depth is being tested a little bit on the defensive line," Gruden said. "[But] Chris Baker is a very good nose guard so we'll be OK there."
Then, perhaps, the Redskins would have exited feeling much differently. Instead, Jay Gruden walked with a dejected look on his face, drained from the emotion of a 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans. The problem is, the if only game doesn’t work in this case. The Redskins once again made too many mistakes.
Yes, it’s a new season but the errors they made certainly made it feel a lot like 2013.
“You can’t make those mistakes and expect to win the game,” Redskins running back Alfred Morris said.
The frustrating part for Washington is that each of the mistakes was eminently preventable. But they added up to a rough debut for first-year coach Gruden.
It started with the extra point, the easiest play in the NFL. J.J. Watt penetrated the middle and Kai Forbath's kick appeared to be low. It was a bad combination and it resulted in a block and lost point.
On the Texans' next possession, crossed signals followed by a poor tackle attempt led to a touchdown.
Safety Bacarri Rambo did what he was supposed to do. He dropped to the middle and was supposed to read the quarterback. But DeAndre Hopkins, running in his area, turned to the outside. Rambo spun around and a huge gap was created. Another player was supposed to be there in coverage. They were not.
“They were hurrying up a little bit,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We had to get some things figured out before the play and we didn’t. It put Bacarri in an extremely bad situation. That was a team mess-up. That wasn’t just Bacarri. I know it will be played that way, but it wasn’t his fault.”
“Just blown coverage,” Rambo said.
But the missed tackle around the 35-yard line was his fault. Hopkins broke free from the attempt and completed the 76-yard score.
“A poor angle,” Rambo said.
“It was poor,” Gruden said. “We all saw it. It was poor. A poor angle, poor attempt at a tackle and it led to a huge play in the game.”
Then there was the blocked punt. Upback Roy Helu failed to block Alfred Blue, who raced inside and blocked Tress Way's punt, then returned it five yards for a touchdown.
“I didn’t step heavy inside and I should have,” Helu said. “I didn’t do my job. I feel terrible.”
But the Redskins could have overcome that block if not for two fumbles inside the Texans’ 10-yard line. First, quarterback Robert Griffin III was tripped by center Kory Lichtensteiger as he came out of his stance. Griffin tried to hand off to Morris, running outside to the right. But Griffin was fully outstretched and it led to a botched exchange, a fumble and the Texans ball.
Their next possession ended with tight end Niles Paul fumbling at the end of a 48-yard catch, having the ball knocked free from behind.
“It’s inexcusable to have turnovers in the red zone,” Gruden said.
For Washington it’s a line that was uttered quite a few times last season, when they also dealt with special teams mishaps and big plays allowed thanks in part to missed tackles.
“We don’t have that feeling,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “This isn’t the same team. We know it ain’t.”
He could be, and should be, right. I still think this will be an improved team. But if they wanted to let everyone know this was a new era, they went about it the wrong way. It felt too much like the old one.
However, corner Tracy Porter (ankle) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) are out.
Reed (sprained thumb) said he would play and Orakpo (sprained right ankle) said Thursday that he had no worries about playing Sunday. Porter said after visiting a doctor during the week, he’s day to day with his hamstring. He said doctors told him it was looking good.
Porter has played 16 games only once in his first six seasons (it happened to be last year). Durability issues have followed him throughout his career.
“Durability is the question mark,” he said. “Everyone has to put a label on somebody. That happens to be the label they want to put on me. They can do it. It happens. It’s a physical sport. It’s something I have to overcome. It’s a minor injury. I know what I can do once I’m out there and the coaches know what I can do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
E.J. Biggers has served as the primary nickel corner in his absence during the summer. Rookie Bashaud Breeland also has worked there, though it’s still a new spot for him.
For Houston, two players are probable: tight end Garrett Graham, who has not practiced all week because of a back injury, and safety Shiloh Keo, who was listed on the injury report for the first time all week because of a calf issue.
Meanwhile, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Bacarri Rambo would start at strong safety for the suspended Brandon Meriweather on Sunday. That’s no surprise, given that the only other option is Duke Ihenacho, who wasn’t signed until this past Sunday and still has a lot to learn.
Orakpo also said his sprained right ankle wouldn't prevent him from playing Sunday against Houston.
The Redskins need him to be, considering his importance to the pass rush. If Orakpo can’t play, rookie Trent Murphy would take over. That represents a potentially big drop-off considering how much the coaches ask of the outside linebackers, and it would be Murphy’s first game.
But the coaches expect Murphy won’t have to replace anyone.
“I expect [Orakpo] to play and play well,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He usually does play well when he plays.”
In other notes:
- Corner Tracy Porter was absent for a second consecutive day because of his hamstring issue, head coach Jay Gruden said. Linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) did not practice, either.
- For Houston, every player practiced in full except for tight end Garrett Graham, who did not practice for a second consecutive day because of his back.
This isn’t a surprise, but Andre Roberts will be the No. 1 kick and punt returner Sunday, Gruden said. The Redskins could use Santana Moss for an occasional punt return, but Roberts has the speed to threaten teams in both roles. Plus he has experience (though only 16 career kickoff returns and none in the past two years).
- Defensive end Jason Hatcher said his knee feels close to 100 percent, but it’s not as if he doesn’t feel some soreness in his knee. “I have my days,” he said. “It’s football; you’re going to be hurting. But not to the point where I have to miss practices. I just have to stay on top of it and rehab and manage it during the season and take it from there.” As far as his conditioning, Hatcher said he took all the snaps in practice this week and isn’t worried about that aspect for Sunday. “The momentum of the game and the adrenaline I have will take me through the game,” he said. “Once I get between those lines, I’m playing.”
- For what it’s worth, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the last player off the field Thursday. He spent a good 20 minutes working with tight ends Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen, with tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. On a side field, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw to receiver Leonard Hankerson. It’s hard to imagine Hankerson will need to stay on the physically unable to perform list for more than six weeks, but we’ll see.
- How much will Washington's offense change? Yes, it was vanilla in the preseason just like every other team in the NFL. But there's still a mystery to it because this is Jay Gruden's first season as a head coach and because it's hard to imagine him only having Robert Griffin III be a drop-back passer. Neither Griffin nor the line is built to win that way consistently. But how, exactly, will Gruden use Griffin? We did not see a lot of zone read this summer (two years ago we saw lots of read options in camp). But it may well be they need to use it because it has been an effective part of the offense the past two seasons (averaged 5.33 yards per zone read run in 2013, for example).
- How good is Houston's offensive line? That will be a key to this game so it's worth wondering about. Two years ago the Texans sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl after a 12-4 season. They were excellent not only in protection but in opening up cutback lanes for Arian Foster. Last year, though, Foster suffered a season-ending back injury. And the tackles, Duane Brown, and Derek Newton, dealt with their own injuries. The result? A bad season. But the line is supposedly healthy. If that's the case it'll be a good first test for the Redskins' line -- and their new-look pass rush.
- How will they handle Andre Johnson and Foster? For starters, Foster was held out of the preseason to protect him after his back injury. But he will play Sunday -- and the Redskins' improved tackling and faster defense will get a good immediate test. If they don't pursue well, Foster will make them pay. As for Johnson, they will not use DeAngelo Hall on him at all times, instead keeping the corners to their respective side. It's an indication of David Amerson's growth entering his second season. It's a good challenge for him. Johnson caught 109 passes last season, but only five for touchdowns. But: don't sleep on receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is not a fast player but runs excellent routes, has long arms and is a hard runner after the catch. He finished with 802 receiving yards as a rookie last season -- playing with bad quarterbacks.
Way played for Tulsa Union High School in Oklahoma whose nickname also happens to be the Redskins. They’ve received pressure to change their name but have resisted.
While Way didn’t want to discuss the team’s name, he did talk with excitement about one of his high school’s traditions. The topic arose because he was talking about what signing with Washington meant to him and those he played sports with in high school.
At football games, players ran onto the field through a teepee with smoke coming out, chanting, Way said, “All my life I want to be a Redskin.” Then they would chant, “Work, work, baby, work, work.” So, after signing with the Redskins last month, Way said he received 65 texts from high school buddies filled with the Redskin line.
“I had work, work, baby, work, work just copy and pasted to everybody,” Way said.
As for his high school, the National Congress of American Indians urged them last year to change their nickname, pointing out that 28 other high schools have done so. Tulsa Union declined.
According to the Oklahoman, Tulsa Union issued a statement in response, saying, “Union community members of all races tell us this is not an issue divided strictly on the lines of race. The debate appears to be between some people outside of this district who have a different opinion as to how people inside this school district should believe, feel, and identify themselves. It is those within the Union community that the district serves.
“Definitions need to be in context of time, place and usage. In this day and age, in the Union community, ‘Redskins' is not derogatory; rather it defines a diverse, yet close-knit community that exhibits great pride and spirit in its schools and programs as well as in its determination and traditions of success.”
Newcomers: Jackson, Roberts, Grant
Who they lost: Josh Morgan, Nick Williams (now on practice squad)
Where they’re better: Speed and play-making ability. That’s mostly from Jackson, who was second in the NFL with 25 catches for 20 yards or more last season (behind Cleveland’s Josh Gordon), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams will be wary of his deep speed, which should in theory open up opportunities for others. We saw it in the preseason when Jackson would run a deep post, clearing out a side for another receiver to run to off a shallow crossing route. Roberts is solid in the slot; despite his speed he’s never been a big-play guy with a career average of 11.7 yards per catch (yes, in a different offense). Roberts had only three catches for 20 yards or more last season, but he has the ability -- and speed -- for more. Garcon is the same, but he and quarterback Robert Griffin III have not clicked a whole lot this summer. Grant had a terrific summer and is a savvy route runner. Moss and Robinson are the same.
Overall: It’s an excellent group, especially the starters. With the first three -- Jackson, Roberts and Garcon -- the Redskins have the ability along with tight end Jordan Reed to create mismatches. What they have to hope is that someone from this group can win early, making it easier for Griffin. If not, then they’ll have to use more play-action than they would like. The big-play potential is obvious, and what helps Griffin is that Jackson is very good at adjusting routes when the quarterback scrambles. It sounds simplistic, but Jackson does that better than most. Roberts’ routes should enable quarterbacks to throw with trust to him. This is a good problem to have, but I do wonder how Griffin will handle two passionate receivers in Jackson and Garcon if they’re not getting the ball as often as they like.
Washington signed tight end Ted Bolser, corner Richard Crawford, corner Chase Minnifield, offensive lineman Tevita Stevens, safety Phillip Thomas, nose tackle Robert Thomas, running back Chris Thompson and receiver Nick Williams. They waived Akeem Davis from the 53-man roster after claiming safety Duke Ihenacho off waivers. They will sign Davis to the practice squad once he clears waivers, according to a source.
All of the eight signed players were cut by Washington in the last week. The player missing from the list: rookie running back Lache Seastrunk. The Redskins could add one more player to the practice squad for a total of 10.
Of the eight signed, four were former draft picks: Bolser (seventh round, 2014), Crawford (seventh round, 2012), Thomas (fourth round, 2013) and Thompson (fifth round, 2013). The latter two had their chances hurt because of injury issues: Thomas has a sore foot, the same one that needed Lisfranc surgery last year; and Thompson has had durability questions.