NFC East: Washington Redskins

2014 Predictions: New York Giants

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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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

The short week and Washington's stellar crew of offensive weapons prove too much for the Giants to overcome. Will Beatty still sees Brian Orakpo in his nightmares. Prediction: Loss


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

 

Redskins positional analysis: WRs

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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Over the next few days I'll take a look at each position on the Washington Redskins roster, analyzing how they're better, or worse, compared to last season.

Jackson
Who they have: DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Ryan Grant, Aldrick Robinson

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.

Hankerson
Where they’re worse: They’re not. But with Leonard Hankerson still on the physically unable to perform list, the Redskins have short receivers. Garcon is their biggest guy at 6-foot, 216 pounds, but for the most part it’s a short group. Griffin tends to miss high, so having a big target or two among this group would help. Not that Hankerson was the answer, and not that size alone is the answer, but eventually it would be good to have a bigger receiver. That’s not just to help in the red zone but to withstand the punishment of 60-plus catches.

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.
The Redskins signed eight players to their practice squad and will add a ninth once he clears waivers. Every player they signed was with the team this summer.

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.

Washington Redskins cut three RBs

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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The biggest question, or perhaps the most intrigue, involved the Washington Redskins' running back situation. They cleared that up fast in a hurry Saturday morning. Washington released running backs Chris Thompson, Evan Royster and Lache Seastrunk as it continued getting down to the final 53 cuts.

That means undrafted rookie free agent Silas Redd made the roster after an impressive summer. It also means the Redskins did not end up with a speedback as they had desired. But they could sign Seastrunk and/or Thompson to the practice squad. Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick this spring, showed impressive speed in the preseason finale -- and throughout the summer. But he also showed he had a ways to go in pass protection.

Royster's lack of speed hurt him, though he did show he can still be a move-the-chains type runner as well as help on special teams. Thompson entered camp with a strong shot at winning a roster spot but another injury, this time a sprained ankle, doomed a player with durability questions.

The Redskins, according to reports from ESPN.com, the Washington Post and NBC Channel 4, also cut receiver Nick Williams, kicker Zach Hocker, linebacker Everette Brown, corner Chase Minnifield and safety Phillip Thomas. The latter was a mild surprise but his inability to stay healthy the past two seasons was a problem. He's still sidelined with an injury to the same foot that had a Lisfranc sprain --and required surgery -- a year ago. But Thomas is eligible for the practice squad, as is Minnifield. Hocker's release means veteran Kai Forbath retains the job.

Receiver Nick Williams also was cut Saturday morning. An NFL source said the Redskins were trying to trade offensive lineman Maurice Hurt. If unsuccessful, he would be cut. The Redskins also have to decide what to do with receiver Leonard Hankerson and defensive end Stephen Bowen, both of whom could open the season on the physically unable to perform list. Also, linebacker Darryl Sharpton (ankle) will end up on injured reserve per the Washington Post. It's likely Chris Neild (knee) will be placed on IR as well.
It’s not a preview of life without Brandon Meriweather. Not when the first-team defense won’t be playing. But it is another chance for Bacarri Rambo, his likely replacement, to prove he can help as a fill-in.

If Rambo struggles, the Redskins will have to consider different alternatives. If he plays well, they can at least hope Rambo can get them through the first two weeks while Meriweather is suspended for two games for another hit the NFL deemed illegal.

[+] EnlargeBacarri Rambo
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins want to see safety Bacarri Rambo step up in Brandon Meriweather's absence.
The issue, though, is that Rambo mostly played free safety last season; Meriweather is a strong safety. Ryan Clark can play strong safety – the safeties must be interchangeable; occasionally Clark would have to play in the box based on a shift in formation.

But Clark is primarily a free safety. If he moves to the box, the Redskins lose his strength: communication. It’s the free safety’s job to alert the secondary to coverage changes or keep them alert on what might be coming. It’s an area Rambo needs to improve as this story discusses.

“He’s ready,” Clark said. “He’s worked on things coaches have focused on, which is tackling and being aggressive. For us it’s figuring out what he’s most comfortable doing. I played 10 years now so it doesn’t matter what position I play. He just has to do what he’s most comfortable doing, so I’ll let him do it.”

It’s more than just Rambo’s tackling. He has improved in that area this summer, understanding the angles he must take; that way if he misses his
help can limit the damage.

“If I need to play strong I can play strong, if I need to play free I can play free,” Rambo said.

What helps Washington in the first two weeks of the season: the opponents. Neither Houston nor Jacksonville is considered an offensive force. Meriweather missed the opener last season, which happened to be against Philadelphia’s new-look explosive attack.

The Redskins still need to look at safeties Trenton Robinson and Akeem Davis. Both could help on special teams; Davis in particular has stood out here. But neither likely is a solution from scrimmage at this point. Davis knows the defense, but when he’s on the field he struggles to apply that knowledge at the desired speed.

The Redskins could pick up someone off waivers after final cuts are made this weekend. They can also use corner E.J. Biggers at this spot in a pinch, as they did at times last season. It’s not his best role, but he at least knows what to do.

What they really need is Rambo to fill in and play at a decent level. A good pass rush can offset a lot, but certainly not all, issues. The tough part for Washington is that Meriweather was playing well this summer. Now, Rambo must do his part.

“I have grown a lot,” Rambo said. “Night and day. I have matured a lot and I see the game a lot different. I’m mentally prepared and the game has really slowed down and it’s allowed me to play faster.”

Phillip Thomas to visit doctor

August, 26, 2014
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins safety Phillip Thomas will visit Dr. James Anderson in North Carolina to see if he can determine the cause of Thomas' latest soreness.

Anderson performed the original Lisfranc surgery on Thomas last summer. Thomas, who missed two weeks with a hamstring injury, now is sidelined because of soreness in his left foot -- the same one that needed surgery.

“We’re going through all the avenues to make sure he gets checked out the right way,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Thomas won’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale at Tampa Bay. He’s become a more important player with Brandon Meriweather suspended for the first two games. The Redskins likely would start Bacarri Rambo with Thomas out -- and might have done so anyway.

The Redskins also used corner E.J. Biggers at safety at times last season and could do so now in certain packages.

Thomas' injury also makes this week's cuts interesting. If he won't be ready for the opener, the Redskins might have to keep an extra safety for a couple weeks. They will have a roster exemption for Meriweather. But it could mean one of the young safeties, Trenton Robinson and Akeem Davis, makes the roster.

No surprise on Brandon Meriweather

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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ASHBURN, Va. -- From the moment Brandon Meriweather returned to the Washington Redskins in free agency, this outcome was always a possibility. So when he was suspended on Monday for two games for another illegal hit, it's no surprise. There's just disappointment that this day arrived before the season even started. Not to mention more questions: How long will it be before his hits land him in trouble again? How many more games might he miss? Can he now play 14 games without another suspension?

Meriweather insists he has tried to alter his style. The Redskins, his teammates in particular and some coaches, insist it was not an illegal hit. But the problem is: Meriweather's history left him no benefit of the doubt. His teammates might see him lowering his shoulder and trying to change his ways; the NFL sees contact between his helmet and Torrey Smith's facemask. The NFL's judgment is the only one that matters.

Meriweather worked with fellow safety Ryan Clark on trying to alter his tackling. In the same game, when Clark drilled tight end Dennis Pitta, forcing his helmet off, the Redskins' safety turned his shoulder as he approached. There was no doubt he led with the shoulder. Meriweather's hit left too much doubt; the Ravens likely would say there was no doubt in the first place.

For Meriweather, though, he has been suspended once already for his hits and fined five times. He will not get the benefit of any doubt. It's a tough rule for safeties in particular, players coming up hard to hit receivers. But it's the rule and numerous players have adjusted to this new way of life. If Meriweather can't adjust more than he says he has, then this will arise again. He makes bang-bang plays and sometimes it's hard to fully think about what you're going to do; you react and old habits surface.

And the real problem for Washington is that its safety position is precarious. Meriweather was playing well this summer, having returned to strong safety. He had a big hit earlier against Baltimore running back Bernard Pierce off a well-timed blitz. Meriweather was playing fast. But for the Redskins, he's a cross-your-fingers guy because of his reputation. Playing 16 games was going to be difficult for that reason. That's a hard way to live for a team.

Which all leads us to, of course, that the Redskins needed a strong backup plan. Do they have one? The guy they hoped would be Meriweather's backup, Phillip Thomas, can't stay healthy. He missed two weeks with a hamstring injury earlier this summer and now has a bad foot. Oh, it just so happens to be the same foot that he had surgery on a year ago after suffering a Lisfranc injury. He has also never played in an NFL game.

The Redskins also have Bacarri Rambo, who has played much better this summer after struggling as a rookie. He started at free safety last season, but the Redskins' defense requires their safeties to be somewhat interchangeable. He filled in some with the first team when Meriweather missed a couple practices this summer.

It's not a great situation for Meriweather. But it's also not surprising -- nor will it be if it happens again.

RG III: 'can't worry about doubters'

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The criticism ranged from a former quarterback turned broadcaster to others questioning not only Robert Griffin III, but the Washington Redskins in general. A week ago he tweeted about the doubters. Monday, he said he's not worried about them.

Griffin's up-and-down performance this preseason, including a bad outing at Baltimore, led to more questions about him.

"We can't worry about what outsiders think," Griffin said. "You can't worry about what doubters or what anyone on the outside says. Everybody in this locker room is all we got and all we need. So what anyone says outside of it doesn't matter to us, doesn't affect us, doesn't affect our approach to the game, doesn't affect us on the practice field or the game field. We're the ones that have to go play so you just block all that stuff out and move forward."

That was the theme of the day: Moving forward. It's also still just the preseason, but after last season there was hope the offense would be further along, and Griffin in particular. The Redskins' No. 1 offense, through three preseason games, did not produce a touchdown in 10 drives.

A lot of the burden falls on Griffin, who two years ago was the future of the NFL but after last year people wonder about that same future. As a rookie, the Redskins used his legs a lot more -- on designed runs and also on the threat of runs with zone read play-action fakes (and stretch zone play-action). This offseason, new coach Jay Gruden was determined to turn him into a pocket passer.

"Every athlete progresses differently," Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. "Every individual progresses differently and for a quarterback it's a slow progression usually to develop a comfort level with a new offense. He's working against some good defenses. The progression is appropriate, and I think you'll see how much he's progressed Week 1."

Griffin said he does not feel like he's struggling. The coaches have said they've seen progress as a passer -- against Cleveland he had a number of good throws, though one very bad one.

"As an offense we put together a bad game and they go as I go," Griffin said. "So I have to play better. But I thought we did a good job the first two preseason games. We'll move forward whether it's this week or Week 1 ready to play offense at a high level."

The word time has been used in reference to Griffin quite a bit. As in, he'll need more of it to develop into the sort of quarterback both he and the team wants him to become. Griffin knows that could be the case; he also knows what he wants right now.

"We'll be as patient as we possibly can be, but at the same time we want to be great," Griffin said. "That comes with a lot of responsibility. It's going out to practice every day ready to go. We know it's not going to start clicking right away, but once again we still want to make sure it is. As long as we're working toward that we'll get there and put up some big numbers and do some great things."

RG III, Gruden defend progress

August, 24, 2014
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BALTIMORE -- The Redskins didn’t want this sort of a dress rehearsal. The last chance for quarterback Robert Griffin III to display his progression as a pocket passer resulted in more questions than points. Griffin hesitated on throws, was intercepted and struggled -- as did too many of his offensive teammates.

And as a result, Griffin and coach Jay Gruden were both defending his progress after a 23-17 loss to Baltimore on Saturday night.

Griffin
 Though he did not protect himself well against Cleveland the week before, Griffin generally threw the ball well -- except for one big blunder on an interception. Still, there were positives for Griffin and the Redskins to find.

That wasn’t the case Saturday.

“He is further along than it appears he is,” Gruden said. “Based on his production [Saturday], a lot of people would say he’s not further along. He’s a lot further along than he gets credit for. All you have to look at is practice and game tape, and it wasn’t very good from anybody. But I’ve seen him practice, and I’ve seen him come a long way. [Saturday] didn’t show how much he’s come forward.”

On the game broadcast, former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was adamant in saying backup Kirk Cousins had outplayed Griffin in the preseason. The Redskins are committed to Griffin; Cousins has made his own mistakes, though he’s more comfortable in the pocket at this stage.

“There will be overreactions all over the place,” Griffin said. “It’s our job to make sure we stay cool, calm and collected and keep fighting on. ... I won’t judge Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3 in the preseason as a regression on myself or on this team or the offense in general.”

Griffin finished the preseason completing 13 of 20 passes for 141 yards and two interceptions. The No. 1 offense did not score a touchdown in its 10 drives this preseason (though one was a kneel-down to end a half). Saturday, the Ravens generated too much pressure with four rushers, though sometimes they were helped by Griffin’s indecision.

Nor did it help that of the eight third downs they faced, five were for 8 yards or longer. Two of the eight third downs resulted in penalties, one by Washington negating a first down and one by the Ravens. On the third downs, Griffin was sacked twice and fumbled the shotgun snap another time. The Redskins continue to say it will take time for Griffin to improve in the pocket. Like the team’s fans, though, they get frustrated with the growing pains. But it wasn’t just a tough night for Griffin.

“Everybody is going to point at Robert, but it’s a total team thing,” Gruden said. “We had some chances to make plays, and we didn’t make them. Nobody played good enough in that first half to really talk about of note.”

Griffin was 0-for-3 on first-down passes with one interception. Another first-down pass resulted in a pass interference penalty.

“We have to do a better job of getting into a rhythm, get some completions early and get some first downs,” Gruden said. “We did a poor job of first and second down. It all starts with me the playcaller and on down to everybody else. We have to do a better job getting things going.”

Tackle Trent Williams, whose holding penalty wiped out a 29-yard catch-and-run, said of the game, “I don’t know if we can find a positive out of that.”

No, they could not. Not when the offense manages three points out of their first two drives despite getting the ball at the 50 and then the Ravens’ 42. But Gruden, with one preseason game left that will be devoted to backups, said he’s not going to let one game sully the preseason.

“They’ve done enough that I can take a lot of positives to draw from, not just the first half of a game,” he said. “We’re not going to panic and abort ship.”

Redskins OT Morgan Moses sprains knee

August, 24, 2014
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BALTIMORE -- Morgan Moses sprained the MCL in his right knee Saturday night and exited the Washington Redskins locker room wearing a brace and limping slightly. But he’s not sure how long he’ll be sidelined.

Moses will undergo treatment on his knee Sunday, but he said he wasn’t yet sure if he needed an MRI. Moses hurt his knee in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, when he said a defender rolled up on the back of his leg. Moses stayed on the ground for several minutes. Redskins coach Jay Gruden called it a mild sprain of his MCL.

“I knew it wasn’t my ACL or anything like that,” said Moses, a rookie third-round pick. “It feels all right. Obviously [Sunday] will tell the tale for how it feels.”

Moses worked at right tackle Saturday for the first time this preseason.

Also, linebacker Brian Orakpo sprained his ankle in the first quarter and left the game. Gruden called it a mild ankle sprain. Cornerback Chase Minnifield left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury.

Observation Deck: Washington Redskins

August, 23, 2014
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BALTIMORE -- It’s safe to say the Washington Redskins won’t be bummed about having their eight-game preseason winning streak snapped. It’s also safe to say they won’t be happy about what they showed in Saturday’s 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The first offense did not generate much, unless you include angst and impatience. The defense was hurt through the air. And there was a general blah to the Redskins’ starters performance.

Here are some other thoughts on the Redskins' third preseason game of the year:
  • The Redskins’ first-team offense continues to sputter, with zero touchdowns in nine full possessions (they also had a kneel down for a 10th possession). Their first two drives started at midfield and at the Ravens’ 42, and they managed just three points. There indeed are growing pains, but there were more pains than growing Saturday night. The line didn’t protect well enough and quarterback Robert Griffin III wasn’t good. There was too much indecision, which was exacerbated by protection that wasn’t good enough.
  • Griffin needed to have a game in which he calmed fears about his growing pains. Instead, he completed five-of-eight passes for 20 yards and did not always play like a confident quarterback. A lot will be made of backup Kirk Cousins, who looks more comfortable in the pocket -- it’s more his style. Cousins did lead two touchdown drives but fights bouts of inconsistency as well. The Redskins needed Griffin to show more this summer, just to prove he was developing in the pocket at the right pace. This really isn’t about Cousins, who has had good series and bad; it’s about Griffin and his development.
  • Rookie tackle Morgan Moses left the game with a third-quarter knee injury. He was down on the field for a few minutes, then walked off slowly with a limp. Moses had worked exclusively at right tackle Saturday and had started to show signs of development. There was no early word as to the extent of his injury. Linebacker Brian Orakpo sprained his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. The injury did not appear serious.
  • Washington’s first defense showed a better pass rush when Jason Hatcher was in the game. He played the first quarter and did a solid job for a guy who had not played yet this summer. But the Redskins’ pass rush didn’t do as much without Hatcher (or Orakpo).
  • The Redskins’ defense surrendered big plays in part because of missed tackles, one by Orakpo and another by corner DeAngelo Hall against receiver Steve Smith that turned into 30 yards. The Redskins had done a good job of cleaning up missed tackles with good pursuit to limit the yards after contact. That wasn’t the case Saturday. The Ravens did not run the ball well against Washington’s first defense (17 yards on 12 carries), but the passing game stung the Redskins (180 yards in the first half).
ASHBURN, Va. -- The indecision led to mistakes, which led to criticism and a questionable future. Washington Redskins safety Bacarri Rambo missed too many tackles, starting in the preseason and continuing into the season. He went from a good story -- sixth-round draft pick starting -- to a negative one.

It’s too early to say he’s completely turned his game around. Two preseason games do not reveal that much -- and no one knows this better than the coaches, who urge caution. But Rambo does look like a different player, one who appears worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. That is not how he looked at the end of last season.

[+] EnlargeBacarri Rambo
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsRedskins safety Bacarri Rambo has taken some positive steps forward from his rocky rookie season.
“He’s gotten a hell of a lot better all around,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “He’s been probably the best player on our team over the first two preseason games. He graded out great. He made plays we’ve asked him to make. He’s come up and tackled. He’s night and day from last year.”

Again, a word of caution: There’s a ways to go. Rambo’s on-field communication skills are not where they need to be (more on that in a moment). But there’s no doubt he’s playing more physical, more confident and more decisive.

In the preseason opener, he fought off a blocker to make a play, taking on a tight end, shedding him and then getting to the ball. Against Cleveland, he sprinted up to the ball carrier, drilled him low and the ball popped free. Rambo said that play was the result of tips he’s picked up from fellow safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather, as well as secondary coach Raheem Morris.

“It allowed me to make a good tackle and force a fumble,” Rambo said.

Rambo’s angle was solid: Had he missed the tackle, the ball carrier would have been forced back inside to other defenders. That’s what the Redskins want. If you miss a tackle, at least force the runner back inside where there should be help.

“He’s starting to understand angles, leverage,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “Sometimes [in the past] he’d get too much space between him and the ball carrier. He just has a lot more confidence.”

Rambo agrees.

“It’s knowing the scheme, knowing the coverages,” he said, “knowing where my help is at, knowing the depth I’m supposed to be at. I’m still learning, but it’s only going to get better."

Rambo was not ready to be a starter last season, but the Redskins had injuries at safety and not much depth. So a sixth-round rookie opened camp as the starter. Rambo now admits, “I was kind of nervous. Now I’m not. I’m ready to go.

“I was thinking too much,” Rambo said of 2013. “I have to just get out there and play and have fun and make everything simple and comfortable for me to play full speed. I was too worried about tackling and taking angles. Now I just find an angle and go. I don’t hesitate.

“I just have to go out and have fun and don’t worry about it. I start to talking and run around and laughing and enjoying the game. That’s what I wasn’t bringing to the game last year.”

The separator between Rambo and a player such as Clark is communication. Not to mention Clark has played with a certain toughness for a long time. Rambo must prove he can play a certain way against top quarterbacks -- Tom Brady picked on him a little bit in their dual practices.

But in practices there’s a difference with Clark on the field. He’s constantly telling the secondary what to look for, what’s coming and where the help is on the field. It’s a lot quieter when Rambo is deep.

“That’s the part he has to keep working at,” Haslett said. “He has to understand the free safety runs the back end. He’s getting better at it, but he’s not there yet. He’s concentrating on the other issues now. If he gets better at that other stuff, then this will come. It comes with confidence. The ball skills? He has those. He has good range and understands the scheme. It’s just having confidence and going out and doing it.”

Redskins uncertain on Bowen's return

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins still remain uncertain about whether or not defensive end Stephen Bowen will return for the season opener. With a little more than two weeks before that game, Bowen is on the physically unable to perform list.

Bowen continues to work his way back after having microfracture surgery on his right knee in early December. Bowen still says he’ll be ready for the opener at Houston, but he’s running out of time to make sure those words hold true.

Bowen
The coaching staff isn’t quite as certain.

“That’s hard to say,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Nothing would surprise me with him.”

The decision, Gruden said, will be up to Bowen and trainer Larry Hess. But if Bowen wants to have a realistic shot at being ready for the opener, Gruden said he would like him to practice as soon as possible after the fourth preseason game to see if he’s ready.

“Watching him out there today, he looked better,” Gruden said. “He looks better than what I’ve seen him, but how he feels after the workout, with the soreness, does it swell up, how he’s doing with the more workload he gets, how he can handle contact -- that’s to be determined. ... We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Bowen had his contract reduced last week, taking his cap hit from $7.02 million to $4.69 million this season. He gets a roster bonus of $46,875 for every game he’s active (up to $750,000).

Redskins injury report: Cofield sits

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
5:20
PM ET
ASHBURN, Va. -- Here's a look at the Washington Redskins' injury list, including two new ones: nose tackle Barry Cofield and cornerback Tracy Porter. The latter was easing back into playing after after having shoulder surgery in the offseason, though he did play against Cleveland. Porter's durability has been an issue throughout his career.
  • Cofield (groin) sat out practice Wednesday. Gruden said Cofield could have practiced, but they opted to hold him out.
  • Running back Chris Thompson (ankle) was limited, as expected. Gruden said he still “has a ways to go.” Thompson hurt his ankle in the Aug. 7 preseason game vs. New England. He was in a good position to win a roster spot before his injury. Here's a story on Thompson from earlier Wednesday.
  • Porter (hamstring) sat out practice and Gruden called him questionable-to-doubtful for Saturday’s game at Baltimore.
  • Linebacker Darryl Sharpton (high ankle sprain) remains sidelined and is doubtful for Saturday.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Alfred Morris looked strong a year ago, coming off a record-setting rookie season with the Washington Redskins. He was a little quicker, shiftier and understood defenses better. Morris always was a player who could set up defenders and read them. Now he could still do that -- and he was improved.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris will get plenty of opportunity to run the ball in Jay Gruden's offense this season.
Then in his first game he fumbled. Then he lost a pitch. And, while Morris still had a good season, it wasn't the same as his rookie year. Nor was it the sort of season Washington needed. It clearly wasn't all on Morris: The passing game struggled, the team fell behind a lot and needed to throw more than desired.

That's a long-winded way of saying: If the Redskins are going to make noise this season, it will be because of Morris. And Morris did not take a step back as a runner in 2013 as much as the offense around him did.

Morris remains an excellent runner and the Redskins have kept the pieces in place to sustain whatever success he's already had. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has made it clear Morris will be the center of their attack. Gruden did not have a back such as Morris in Cincinnati -- nor does he now have a third-down back like Giovani Bernard. Therefore, Morris will have to handle the bulk of the run duties.

The Redskins' passing game is in transition. They have the pieces to be dangerous, but quarterback Robert Griffin III is still adjusting to life as a (mostly) pocket passer. It's hard to imagine they don't incorporate his legs some, but it won't be as much as in the past. Which means that the run game belongs mostly to Morris.

Morris, in a supposed off year, still averaged 4.6 yards per rush. He's still the Redskins' best offensive weapon -- or at least most consistent. His problem is the fumbles that stem from focus (dropping a pitch in the opener vs. Philadelphia last season and again in the second preseason game this month).

But Morris is still a good fit for this offense. He runs with power; Morris broke a tackle attempt vs. Cleveland when a linebacker tried to grab him up high from behind and gained 6 yards. That's routine for him. Morris is not one of the top three or four backs in the NFL, but he is a good one in a good run system. If teams are too concerned about the Redskins' weapons in the pass game, then Morris could face more seven-man boxes -- or even six -- and that's always good for a back. He understands how to press the hole and con defenders into overpursuing, leading to cutbacks and arm tackle attempts.

"For a while, we didn't have the pieces in place to run it [like this]," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "Now everything is here and we're established, and that's something we've taken a lot of pride in.

"As we get in the season the [passing game] will become a bigger part. We have outstanding playmakers. But it will be nice if this carries us forward."

The Redskins say they know their identity; it's the run game. That means Morris.

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