Redskins mailbag: Part 1

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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ASHBURN, Va., -- In the first Washington Redskins mailbag, there is a little talk about defensive needs, some Robert Griffin III and Ryan Grant, and also Trent Murphy. Enjoy.

John Keim: No. I liked how Bashaud Breeland had developed before that game; the win just confirmed what I had been seeing. Same with Keenan Robinson and even David Amerson. They needed safety help before the game; they need it after. Brandon Meriweather played a terrific game, but it's the first one he's played in a long time. They still need some youth up front, and I'm still not sure how disruptive a linebacker Trent Murphy will be, though one game does not provide a measuring stick of his game. The defense has played better than given credit for this season, especially given some of the injuries it has endured.

Keim: Honestly, if I say they are not rushing him back, half the people won't believe me. Whether he's mentally ready I don't know. But physically? They are not putting him out there unless he's cleared by the doctors and is 100 percent. If he doesn't play well it won't be because of his physical condition, it will be because he remains a young quarterback learning a new system coming off a six-week layoff. They still need to win and can rightly consider themselves in the playoff race, regardless of what anyone else thinks. But, yes, they need to see what they have in Griffin. But he is also their most talented quarterback and deserves to be the starter. If he's ready, then he needs to play.

Keim: Nothing. The coaches didn't think Grant would have a big role this season and nor should he. Put it this way: He is not as good as DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon or Andre Roberts. So the more Grant plays, the less one of them see time. I like Grant and the way he runs routes, but there's no way I'd rather see him on the field than the other three. They're just better right now. He's a player I'd definitely want to develop and he's someone I think has a good future because of how he works. He's played a little bit, but that's about all he should at this stage.

Keim: They liked what they saw of Murphy against the run; liked it quite a bit. Murphy has adjusted to playing the run -- he must attack it differently than he did in college. But his pass rush was non-existent. Going against Tyron Smith certainly didn't help Murphy's rush. Murphy is still learning himself as a pass-rusher in the NFL, needing to see what works and how to set up defenders. He plays with good leverage for a taller player. I have not seen him blow past defenders, whether in games or even training camp practices. He will be a technician. But I do see him rush well to a blocker's inside. They like him, but I think it will take the next eight weeks to determine if he's a future starter -- or what level a starter he can become.

Keim: There is no doubt Griffin and the Redskins have a lot at stake over the next eight weeks. I don't know if they're sitting there saying "what if he looks bad?" I think it's as much, "Let's see what we have." They still view him as the quarterback they must develop -- I think that is sort of obvious. But they will have a decision to make on him after the season, so they definitely need to see what they have in him. They have to decide in early May whether to offer him a fifth-year extension. I don't think, based on what I know, that he can get one without playing well. And I'm sure if he doesn't play well there will be concern. It makes the final half of the season interesting..

ASHBURN, Va., -- Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland injured his knee near the end of practice, but coach Jay Gruden said the rookie should be fine. However, they probably won’t know until Saturday whether he will play against Minnesota.

Breeland
Breeland is starting for the injured DeAngelo Hall and is coming off his best game of the season, with several key plays in the win against Dallas.

Gruden said during his news conference that the injury was not serious. Later, during his weekly appearance on ESPN980, Gruden said Breeland had the knee checked out and that "it looks like it’ll be OK." Gruden called it a sprain and said they will find out more Saturday. They want to make sure it doesn’t swell overnight.

The injury occurred late in practice when Breeland’s foot got caught in the grass.

If Breeland can’t play, then the Redskins could turn to veteran Tracy Porter or second-year player Chase Minnifield.

"We have other guys, but obviously we want Breeland," Gruden said.
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Christopher Harris analyzes the Redskins' passing game for Week 9.

RG III: You're always working hard

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III was ready to return a week ago. Jay Gruden was close to putting him back in the lineup. Then they decided to wait one more week.

Maybe it wasn't a direct nod to Griffin's injury past, but the Redskins didn't want to put him back in before he was fully ready.

"We wanted to give it more time and be smart about it," said Griffin, who will start Sunday at Minnesota for the first time since dislocating his left ankle in Week 2. "With the past, you learn from that and you learn from those mistakes. You learn from those trials and tribulations.

"I thank Coach for keeping me sane and allowing me to be involved with the game plans and everything. I had to keep my mind working when my body wouldn't."

Gruden said Griffin again received the majority of first-team practice reps this week, as he did in the lead-up to the game against the Cowboys, and that he will start Sunday barring a setback. Gruden added that there was no consideration given to resting Griffin another week, then having him face 1-6 Tampa Bay on Nov. 16 after a bye week.

"We [already] waited a week to get him ready," Gruden said. "He's had his time, he's had his rehab. There's no easy team on our schedule."

Like the other quarterbacks, Griffin is playing in a new offense in Gruden's first season. That's why Gruden wanted to make sure he was mentally ready to return, knowing that it was not only a new offense but that the offense had evolved since Griffin last played.

Griffin has stayed in the meeting rooms, so he is up to date on the changes.

"I think he's going to be fine," Gruden said. "Will he show some rust? Will he be perfect? No. But like I said before, Robert at 100 percent gives us the best chance to win Sunday."


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Prediction: Vikings will beat Redskins

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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The Washington Redskins have struggled to generate any sort of momentum in recent seasons – good wins precede ugly losses. It’s not just about handling prosperity poorly; it’s also about just not being very good, for the most part. So the question becomes: Do you trust them to follow a big win at heavily-favored Dallas with a win on the road against a team with the same record?

Washington played its best all-around game Monday night since the 2012 season, but the Redskins still have plenty to prove. The Redskins are playing on a short week and have made a change at quarterback, returning Robert Griffin III to the starting lineup.

Griffin is still their quarterback of the future. But how good is he right now? He’ll be facing the NFL’s eighth-ranked defense – and 12th overall in points allowed. The Redskins excel at big plays, with 34 pass plays of 20 yards or longer (third in the NFL). Minnesota takes those plays away, with only 22 (tied for 10th). The Vikings have recorded 25 sacks; Griffin has been sacked 28 times in his last seven games, dating to last season. He’s also making his first start since Week 2. Rust is expected. The Vikings don’t have to blitz to get pressure, and if they can cover with seven, they'll limit the big plays. If the Redskins were running more consistently, then it would alter Minnesota’s defensive plans.

The tough part is that Minnesota is starting a rookie quarterback. If this game were at home, the Redskins would be my choice. But they’re on the road, and the Redskins have had a habit of stubbing their toes every time it appears they’ve turned it around.

Prediction: Vikings 17, Redskins 16

Three things I learned: Vikings

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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What I've learned about the Vikings from film study, reading and talking to players/coaches:
  1. The Vikings can rush the passer. It’s not just about blitzes because only nine of their 25 sacks have come against the blitz. But they have blitzed a combined 29 times the past two games. They’ll also show eight at the line of scrimmage, rush only four but still have the effect of a blitz by running a stunt and taking advantage of a running back expecting something on the other side -- which is how they got a sack against Buffalo. They’ll run a stunt with linebacker Anthony Barr and end Everson Griffen. Saw that against Buffalo, too. It resulted in Barr hitting quarterback Kyle Orton, who hurried his throw. Griffen has blossomed as a pass-rusher, with eight sacks. He’s added some weight and is fast so he’ll get tackles to set a little wide at times, take them upfield, then cut inside. It’s an effective move. He abused Tampa Bay’s left tackle a week ago. Griffen also will use a spin move. He’ll have a tougher time against Redskins left tackle Trent Williams; his pressure may come more off stunts than a direct rush at Williams. Griffen showed good closing speed on a reverse.
  2. Barr was a terrific pick. The ninth pick in last spring’s draft is making an impact at outside linebacker in Minnesota’s 4-3 front. He’s very athletic and is turning into a playmaker (I’d love to see how he’d do as a 3-4 outside linebacker), with his strip/fumble/return for a touchdown to beat Tampa Bay. Barr blitzed on 11 of Minnesota’s 16 blitzes a week ago. He’s still learning to play in coverage, though he seems to do better in zone because of his athleticism and quick reactions. Against Buffalo, he made a diving deflection of a pass while in zone coverage and has worked well in this area at other times. Barr’s three sacks lead all rookies. The line, in addition to Griffen, has applied solid pressure (tackles Tom Johnson and Sharrif Floyd have combined for eight sacks). The safeties are solid; Harrison Smith has three interceptions. In case you’re wondering, when Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, he only blitzed Robert Griffin III two times in their 2012 meeting. But at that time teams feared blitzing Griffin. Instead, Zimmer played a lot of two-deep zone, occasionally switching to a Cover 3 look after the snap. It mostly worked, though the Redskins used more exotic sets in the zone-read game to force Zimmer out of some looks. I’d expect more blitzes Sunday.
  3. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is enduring growing pains. Bridgewater, a first-round pick, shows some good and bad. Bridgewater is comfortable in the pocket, though, and though he’ll run on occasion he goes through his progressions. He will move up in the pocket or slide to avoid pressure. On the game-tying drive vs. Tampa Bay, Bridgewater stepped up and completed a 17-yard out. He showed good poise on the drive, doing a nice job getting his feet around before he threw. But he does stand upright at times and his passes will sail; sometimes he holds the ball low and when he brings it up, his passes tend to go higher. Bridgewater showed improvement against the blitz last week, completing a touchdown pass against one five-man pressure. He also displays a nice touch on other throws, but you can also see some hesitation caused by various looks. Running back Jerick McKinnon, only 5-foot-9 and 208 pounds, averages 5.2 yards per carry and is third in the NFL averaging 2.46 yards after contact. He used a nasty stiff-arm to knock aside one Bills defensive back on a 29-yard run after slipping free from an end. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has play-making skills but remains inconsistent. He'll get the ball on jet sweeps and, in the red zone, on bubble screens. Veteran Greg Jennings averages 13.2 yards per catch. The Vikings have allowed 28 sacks. Right tackle Phil Loadholt sometimes plays too upright -- he’s 6-foot-8 -- and defenders can get into his chest and control him.

Redskins vs. Vikings preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
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The Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins will meet for the fifth consecutive season on Sunday, continuing a series that has included some memorable moments recently.

On Nov. 28, 2010, the Vikings played their first game under Leslie Frazier after Brad Childress had been fired. Adrian Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve in 2011, with backup quarterback Joe Webb leading the Vikings to a win at FedEx Field that effectively took the Vikings out of the running for the No. 2 overall pick. That pick wound up in the hands of the Redskins, who selected quarterback Robert Griffin III, and Griffin's 76-yard touchdown run helped the Redskins beat the Vikings in 2012. And last year, in a Thursday night game at the Metrodome, the Vikings used two quarterbacks and scored 20 unanswered points on their way to a 34-27 win.

This year's game could be memorable, as well. Griffin is expected to make his return from a dislocated ankle, while the Vikings' and Redskins' new coaches -- Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden -- square off after three years together in Cincinnati.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's matchup.

Goessling: John, the big question for the Redskins, of course, is how their quarterback situation will shake out this week. Do you expect Robert Griffin III to be back in there this week, and, in light of how well Colt McCoy played against Dallas on Monday night, should Griffin get the job back right now?

Keim: It’ll be Griffin as long as there’s no setback between now and game time. The organization feels strongly that Griffin provides the best chance to win and, in fact, he was a lot closer a week ago than the coaches anticipated. If you want players to trust your word, then you have to follow through and play them when they’re ready. It must be obvious, though. McCoy played well in the second half of Monday’s game, but if the defense had not played great then I think there would have been a different narrative on McCoy’s night -- the first-half rustiness and missed opportunities. They had only three points in the first half despite great starting field position. McCoy gives them a calm presence, someone who responded well to adversity and made plays as the game unfolded. But they know developing Griffin is crucial to their future. It looks like that that future will resume Sunday.

Speaking of young quarterbacks, what have you thought of Teddy Bridgewater? Are his stats (only two touchdowns, 16 sacks) a byproduct of his youth or those around him?

Goessling: He’s had his moments, though I think any impressions of him have to be heavily influenced by all the uncertainty around him. He doesn’t have Peterson or Kyle Rudolph. Brandon Fusco (who was probably the Vikings’ best run-blocker and might have been their best lineman overall) is out for the season. A line that was supposed to be a strength has been abysmal in pass protection. It’s not anywhere close to the environment the Vikings thought they’d have for Bridgewater, and none of this mentions the fact they had planned to keep him on the bench longer than they did, until Matt Cassel got hurt in Week 3. All things considered, I think he’s done about what you’d expect. The encouraging thing about Bridgewater is he doesn’t seem overtly rattled by the pass rush. He’s been willing to stay in the pocket and go through his reads rather than bailing at the first sign of trouble, like we often saw Christian Ponder do. He’s athletic enough to make plays with his feet, but I think he knows that’s a skill best used to extend plays rather than an alternative to finding his receivers.

The Vikings look like they’ll be in for a tough test against the Redskins’ blitz package on Sunday, although it seems like the teams that solve it find plenty of room to operate against that secondary. What’s the key to beating the Redskins’ defense right now?

Keim: The Redskins’ defense has done a pretty good job this season -- 11th in total yards but 22nd in points. The latter is in part because of offensive turnovers, putting the defense in bad spots. The big issue for them often stems from youthful mistakes in the secondary -- they start a second-year corner and a rookie. Safety Ryan Clark hasn’t been a security blanket deep, and safety Brandon Meriweather, coming off a terrific game, will make mistakes in coverage. So, too, will linebacker Perry Riley (when in zone coverage). The key is to take advantage when those issues arise -- they happen a couple of times a game. The Redskins do a good job of being creative with blitzes; Dallas did a poor job of anticipating what was coming. If a team blocks it right, big plays will follow, especially if a quarterback can buy himself a little time. Heck, Tennessee’s Charlie Whitehurst missed a few guys who were open for what should have/could have resulted in touchdowns. But it’s the offense that usually hurts the Redskins’ defense -- it has given up 54 points off turnovers.

I know Mike Zimmer is a defensive coach, but it seems like he’s turned that group around rather quickly. Why is that, and what’s gotten into Everson Griffen? The guy looks great.

Goessling: It’s not a finished product yet -- the Vikings still have a young secondary prone to some lapses in coverage, and they’ve struggled to stop the run at times -- but the defense certainly is in a different place than it was last year. Part of it is a change in personnel; the Vikings added Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn, drafted Anthony Barr and got Harrison Smith healthy. Those four players are probably among the six most important in the Vikings’ defense, so that has to be considered, too. But Zimmer’s system, and his attention to detail, has made a big difference. We’re not seeing the busted coverages we saw last year. The defense is getting off the field on third downs, and though young corners such as Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson still have a ways to go, they’ve been much better in man coverage than they were last year. As for Griffen, he’s finally playing in one spot after the Vikings moved him around the last couple years, and he made a point to bulk up this spring in preparation for an every-down role. He used to disappear too easily, but he’s got the strength now to punish left tackles when they try to compensate for his speed. The Vikings took a risk in giving him a five-year deal, but the confidence they showed meant a lot to him, and he’s certainly proving them right so far.

While we’re on the subject of Griffen, he leads a pass rush that’s tied with the Jaguars for the second-most sacks in the league. How effectively do you think the Redskins will be able to protect their quarterback on Sunday, and how much does whatever familiarity Jay Gruden has with Mike Zimmer’s defense help in that regard?

Keim: Well, that all depends on the situation. Are they running the ball well and avoiding third-and-longs? If so, then I think they’ll be OK. If they aren’t, then it could be a long night. You have a quarterback in Griffin who has not played since Week 2 facing a team that shows a lot of creative looks and likes to blitz. So this is as much about the quarterback being able to help himself with quick reads and decisions and avoiding danger. Griffin didn’t always do this in the past, so I’m not sure how much that will change when he hasn’t played in a while. One positive for Washington is that left tackle Trent Williams will face Griffen. But the Redskins have had issues on the right side all season; that’s an area Minnesota likely should, and will, attack. The fact that Gruden knows Zimmer’s defense helps from the standpoint that he knows how aggressive he likes to play and how he might handle certain looks. But the flip side is true, as well; Zimmer knows what Gruden likes against certain looks. So I don’t know who has the advantage -- and smart coaches always tailor different things to personnel anyway. What they both might have done in Cincinnati has been tweaked to fit the talent, though their philosophies have not.

Zimmer was presented a huge issue right away with the Peterson case. How has Zimmer handled this, and what sort of difference has he made overall?

Goessling: He's handled it well, from my perspective. He's admitted how much it was to deal with in September, but the Vikings have found a running game with Jerick McKinnon and are starting to forge an identity away from Peterson (which will probably be important going forward). Their defense has improved markedly, which is a credit to Zimmer, and I think the defense will eventually be the key to this team, which hasn't been the case in quite a while. Zimmer isn't one to feel sorry for himself, and that was evident during the first stages of the Peterson ordeal.
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DeAngelo Hall tears Achilles again

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who tore his Achilles tendon last month and underwent surgery to repair it, tore it again this week and will have to redo the surgery, coach Jay Gruden said Friday.

"He had a late night getting some pizza or something in his kitchen and slipped and re-tore it," Gruden said, describing how Hall was injured. "He has to go back in and get it fixed. That just is going to delay his rehab obviously and unfortunately, but hopefully we will still be able to get him back by the start of the season next year. It might impede his progress as far as OTAs and maybe training camp and all that."

The date of the surgery is unknown.

Rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland has replaced Hall in Washington's lineup and has shined, collecting 26 tackles so far this season. However, Breeland tweaked his knee at the end of Friday's practice and is questionable for Sunday's game.

Hall is signed through 2017 and will count $4.8 million against the salary cap next year. The Redskins, however, would save $2.375 million if they don't feel he can return and subsequently release him.

ESPN.com's John Keim and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.


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Redskins wake-up call

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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ASHBURN, Va., -- The Washington Redskins return to practice for D-Day (aka Decision Day) with an 11:10 a.m. workout followed by an open locker room session. Here are three areas of interest:
  1. Robert Griffin III: Yes, he's the guy again Friday. As long as he survives practice Friday, Griffin will start Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. We'll also get a chance to ask questions to him for the first time since we learned he'd be starting. Some of us spoke with Griffin after Monday's game, but it was brief and not much was learned about what he'd been doing. I know some fans get tired of hearing from Griffin because they somehow think he can only talk if he starts winning. Wrong. I want to know what he's been doing, how he's preparing, how ready he is to play. It's sort of important. He remains the future of this franchise.
  2. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay: He'll talk to the media Friday and one topic likely will involve the play-calling and how he's adjusted to calling in plays via the headset. There have been issues, though it's not always on the coaches' end. But there have been times players have asked them to speed up sending in the play. Yeah, it's on my list of things to ask him about.
  3. On the blog: My Minnesota colleague Ben Goessling and I discuss Sunday's game in a post that will pop up at 8 a.m. ET. Then we'll offer our predictions in a post later in the day. Yes, I'll also have Three Things I've learned about the Vikings sometime Friday morning and a mailbag later. Busy day.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Even Jim Haslett admitted that what happened Monday night was, well, different. Yes, they like to blitz and do so quite a bit.

But on 60 percent of the time Monday?

"That was a little over the top," Haslett said.

Romo
The blitzes worked, though, as the Washington Redskins recorded five sacks. They will now be facing a team that has surrendered 28 sacks and starts a rookie quarterback. But don’t assume they’ll blitz the same amount. Washington entered the Dallas game having blitzed 39 percent of the time, so a number
closer to that would be anticipated.

They kept blitzing vs. Dallas in part because of how well they timed their adjustments. Dallas center Travis Frederick would call out the protection and then quarterback Tony Romo would call it out, figuring the defense had adjusted. But the Redskins waited until Romo adjusted the protection to move. That is why defensive tackle Frank Kearse, on three of the five sacks, would flip sides right before the snap. By then, it was too late for Dallas to adjust.

"We’ll switch based on who we’re playing and their protections," Haslett said, "what type of guy you’re playing, the team we’re playing. We thought [Dallas] was a heck of a team. I’m not sure we matched up with them all the way across the board."

Bridgewater has made four NFL starts, so there is a lot he hasn’t seen. But in the past two games he has been blitzed 26 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. During that time he’s completed 14-of-23 passes with one touchdown, no interceptions and three sacks.

"He’s very talented and has a big arm," Haslett said. "He’s athletic and can run around. He’s coming into his own right now, and I think he’ll be a heck of a player for that team."
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ESPN Redskins reporter Mike Reiss discusses why the Vikings' defense could make it difficult for Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to connect with wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the deep pass.

Coach: Planning to start RG III

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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ASHBURN, Va., -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said quarterback Robert Griffin III will start Sunday, barring any setbacks. But before Gruden fully committed to the QB's return, he said he wanted to see Griffin in action another day.

Griffin hasn't played since Week 2 because of a dislocated left ankle. But Gruden said as long as he doesn't re-injure the ankle in practice and makes the same level of progress he's made to this point, he will open against Minnesota on Sunday.

Gruden said it would take Griffin re-injuring his ankle or telling him he's not yet comfortable in order for him not to play.

"We have every intent of him starting," Gruden said. "Everybody's on board as far from a physical standpoint. Last week he was running around like a banshee. He's healthier than most of the guys we have playing. From a physical standpoint he's ready, but for a young quarterback who missed this much time in a new system, the big thing is getting back from a mental standpoint."

Griffin started taking first-team reps Wednesday, splitting time with Colt McCoy, and increased his workload Thursday.

The 3-5 Redskins have won two consecutive games, with McCoy leading a comeback against Tennessee and then a dramatic overtime win at Dallas. McCoy put up impressive numbers in those two games, completing a combined 36-of-42 passes for one touchdown and one interception.

"We feel Robert gives us the best chance to win, that's the bottom line," Gruden said. "If all three are healthy, who gives us the best chance to win, and we made the decision in training camp that it was Robert, and he deserves a chance to prove us right."

The Redskins have a bye next week, but Gruden said they don't want to wait just to give Griffin another week. Besides, he said, they only practice once during the bye and then have five days off, per the collective bargaining agreement.

"There are no cons to playing him now if he's healthy, which we think he is," Gruden said. "Physically, we think he's ready, and we want to make sure he's comfortable in the pocket with all the throws and all the reads, the plays we've added, some new concepts we've added. ...There's no benefit to if he's healthy to sitting him and waiting for the bye. It's not like his leg will get stronger. His leg is fine, so what the heck."

Gruden said after his press conference that Griffin was closer than people realize to returning a week ago, but he had enough doubts that they wanted to wait another week. They wanted to be 100 percent certain that he had fully recovered, keeping in mind, too, his injury history.

But if Griffin plays, then Gruden said he will be able to run the entire offense.

"If there was any hesitation as far as that's concerned, I wouldn't be thinking about playing him," Gruden said. "That's part of my decision. He has to be 100 percent, and by 100 percent I mean be able to do everything -- run all the plays, the boots, whatever he has to do, the quarterback draws. That's what makes Robert, Robert. When he's cleared to do everything, you can't hold him back because of past injuries. He has to play the position the way he has to play it."

That's what Griffin's teammates are expecting.

"He's a playmaker," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams


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ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Washington at Minnesota.

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