Sunday, August 30, 2009

The first 5 cuts

Well, my 53-man roster prediction didn't even make it through the first cuts. The first five casualties of the preseason turned out to be DT Michael Marquardt, WR Marques Hagans, S Michael Grant, OL Devin Clark, and LB Alfred Fincher. Of these, I had the last two on the team.

The demise of Devin Clark probably means that Jeremy Bridges is the Redskins top backup tackle (I'm still not expecting anything from Mike Williams).

Cutting Fincher, however, opens up an even bigger hole. In my linebacker position overview I had Fincher getting the bulk of the playing time at strong-side linebacker when Brian Orakpo was up on the line at DE. Now that spot is wide open. H.B. Blades is one option, but I haven't seen him getting a lot of work there. There's free agent Robert Thomas, who I thought had been made obsolete by the draft, but now he looks to have more of a chance. I've seen no evidence low draft picks Cody Glenn and Robert Henson will be trusted with more than special-teams work as rookies. This could mean that former DE Chris Wilson has made a convincing conversion to linebacker and could stick with the team.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Redskins impress in an almost-meaningful performance

It was preseason, with all that entails, but is okay to feel good about what we saw from the offense Friday night. The Redskins went toe-to-toe with the best team of our era and more than held their own. Game notes:

- The first offensive drive was exactly what we’ve been looking for from Jason Campbell and the offense. Quick releases, confident reads, perfectly placed balls. That was a passing offense that stretched the field and threatened the defense. And don’t discount the drive because a pass interference call got us to the 1 yard line – that penalty was the result of the secondary being crossed up, on their heels, and knowing they were about to get beat.

- And then the three consecutive 3 and outs… Just when we thought the offense was really making a statement, they almost managed to make it look like an aberration. No running holes were ever opened up, the protection broke down, and it the receivers stopped getting open.

- Then the fifth possession – on a 3rd and 9 deep in our own territory, Campbell makes the kind of confident play he opened the game with and hit Moss for a first down. That set up the wide-open pass to Cooley, who then got to show off that remarkable open-field running ability I raved about in the tight end position overview. Great run by Campbell to finish off the drive – he didn’t go to the run until he clearly did not have any passing options, but then he sold the fake pass brilliantly to beat the one defender between him and the end zone.

- Last possession of the first half the offense was back to the form it displayed to start the game, even though they didn’t score. Campbell making confident throws from the top of his drop and rifling balls to receivers right out of their breaks. If you look at the three good drives, this is what the offense is supposed to look like.

- On one of Colt Brennan’s first plays a rusher came at him untouched and he showed great awareness to find Marcus Mason while under threat. On the whole, on his first drive was looking much better than the last two weeks, and was getting the ball out quicker. But that interception was inexcusable, and may have handed Chase Daniel the #3 job. The throw clearly wasn’t there, and he forced it. That’s the kind of play he got away with last preseason, but this year he ash paid for his lack of discipline. He partially redeemed himself with a gorgeous touchdown pass to Marko Mitchell while the pocket collapsed around him, but I don’t know if it was enough to overcome the weaknesses he has displayed this preseason.

- The first drive in the second half featured a Redskins rarity: a poorly executed screen in which the blockers never got set up to give the receiver holes.

- They tried two end zone fades to Malcolm Kelly, just like the one Marko Mitchell scored on last week. I think Zorn is serious about incorporating larger receivers into the offense.

- On the second Patriots drive, Horton blitzes from the offensive right and wraps around the line to bring down Lawrence Maroney from behind. Straight out of last year.

- DeAngelo Hall showed off his renowned tackling ability as he took on Randy Moss in the open field by standing up straight and giving him a two-handed shove.

- The fact that the defensive backs couldn’t cover Randy Moss is irrelevant. He’s Randy Moss. The real concern is that the relentless pressure the Redskins D-line generated in the first two weeks seems to have vanished. Not even a hint of pressure until 2 minutes left in the first half, when Haynesworth finally put Brady on the ground.

- Fred Smoot, who I have been regularly trashing, had a very good game. He played aggressively and consistently, and was the only part of our defense that caused Tom Brady problems.

- If Hunter Smith keeps the 50 yard punts coming our defense will be under much less pressure compared to last year. He’s a keeper.

- The punt coverage was outstanding until late in the 4th quarter. That may be largely due to Hunter’s hang time.

- I continue to like what I see of Dorsey as a punt returner. He has a decisive first step and while he is agile and elusive, the movement is still consistently downfield. I think he may be worth hanging on to.

- Rayner opened the game with three very strong kickoffs (including the re-kick due to the penalty).

- Anthony Alridge finally got onto the field in the 4th quarter and ran well, but it may be too late for him to make up for lost time.

- It says something about preseason that I was rooting for New England to make the game-winning field goal so we wouldn’t have to watch a 5th quarter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Non-homers like Orakpo too

This is comforting. Football Outsiders' Doug Farrar covers three rookies in this week's column, and the Redskins' own Brian Orakpo is the second one featured. Objective analysis is the goal of FO, and given the rather damning Redskins team chapter Farrar wrote for this year's Football Almanac it's clear he's not a Redskins fan. That's why I think his optimism about Orakpo should be taken seriously:

"He's not just an extremely effective pass-rusher off the edge; he also closes a gap with amazing quickness out of the linebacker spot. What he hasn't done, and what he'll have to learn, is the coverage aspect of the linebacker position. He seems lost in space at this point, but that's understandable. What I didn't see was any of the hesitation that puts some rookie ends behind the 8-ball. More than once, I saw Orakpo making sure his teammates were lined up in defensive motion sets before he put his hand down. The Redskins are asking a lot of Orakpo to be an effective edge rusher and strong-side linebacker, but early indications tell me that he's up to the challenge."

This piece also illustrates concrete examples of how Albert Haynesworth will help the performance of the entire line.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brennan and Daniel on their very different performances

Chris Cooley's blog has an interview with both Colt Brennan and Chase Daniel from right after Saturday night's game. Colt, in particular, is very open about the embarrassment that accompanies throwing an interception. The potential ramifications of Colt's poor play and Daniel's impressive performance were noted earlier, but hearing it out of the mouths of the men who are fighting for the chance to have NFL careers makes it a much less abstract issue.

More reaction to the Steelers game.

I'm going to make an honest effort to never use the word "blogosphere," so here's some good analysis of the game from, well... other blogs. They make for good quick reads and are a great way to digest what you watched on Saturday.

Here's John Keim with Redskins Confidential.

Ben at The Curly R loves the defense. Hard to blame him.

Namaste at Post-Game Heroes has a quick, but good, summary. PGH is written primarily by and for Steelers fans, but they have a couple Redskins fans who write for them as well. This link is from the Redskins perspective, and during the season I will probably be linking to a lot of their very good pre- and post-game breakdowns.

Rich Tandler keeps it medium, unlike two Washington Post writers who he rightfully rips.

Collins has a job, Colt is under the gun

Jim Zorn has announced that Todd Collins is officially the Redskins backup quarterback for the season. Not only that, but he described the #3 spot as an open competition between Colt Brennan and Chase Daniel, and went on to praise Daniel's performance in Saturday's preseason game:

"He had a very productive game. He did a lot of good things. He had a big scramble for a first down and showed he could move around out of the pocket. He was accurate with most of his throws. He knew what to do and I think he'll continue to improve. So, yeah, he helped himself, and there's a real battle going on right there."

Brennan's shaky performance in each of the first two games has clearly disturbed Zorn. Daniel, who initially was thought to only have a chance to make the roster if Colt beat out Collins, very suddenly looks like he's in a position to put up a fight for a job.

And while I have nothing at all against Colt Brennan, I'm rooting for Chase Daniel. When Colt played will last year it always appeared that he was improvising and getting away with things. This indicates that he has enough natural talent to be worth keeping around, but does not prove he can develop into a reliable NFL quarterback. Daniel, to my untrained eye, looked like he was running the offense. In Fred Davis' words, "It's like he knew what he was doing." Combine that with the athleticism he displayed and I already have an easier time picturing him stepping onto the field during the regular season. And yes, I am fully aware that it was one preseason game and Daniel is very likely to disappoint me against New England before quietly fading into football oblivion. But my interest has been peaked.

And for the record, Tandler called it weeks ago.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reactions to a win, of sorts

Well, by preseason standards that was rather pleasant. All the usual caveats about the futility of reaching conclusions from preseason "games," but here are some reactions in no particular order:

- Both the starting line and the backups generally protected the quarterbacks well, despite facing one of the most dominant pass rushed in football.

- Jason Campbell’s stats were lousy, but remember two of the incompletes were on screens that got thrown away, and two more were on bombs. He showed very good pocket presence and avoided what little pressure got through.

- Colt Brennan’s goal line interception was just awful. He stared down his receiver and totally missed the lurking DB who jumped in front of the throw.

- Dominique Dorsey played pretty well on the whole. His runs all came against scrubs, but nonetheless he showed off some very nice cuts and speed. His punt return abilities looked exciting too, although he initially dropped one of them.

- On the first play of the game the defensive line utterly crushed the pocket, and they didn’t let up for the rest of the night. I am, of course, staying medium on this, but it is looking more and more likely that we have something special on defense.

- On a 2nd and 13 in the second quarter Kedric Golston drove his man 3 yards into the backfield, then shed him to make the play on the ballcarrier.

- Marcus Mason was unimpressive last week, but this time around looked more like the Mason from last preseason.

- Last year I though Colt Brennan showed that he was worth keeping around to develop, but I never totally swooned for him like many others. But this time I have to admit I developed an immediate crush on Chase Daniel. It’s a harmless infatuation and it will pass.

- Not sure what to make of the fake punt. The most obvious explanation is simply that Zorn needed to sustain the starting offense’s first drive. If we hadn’t gotten that first down, we wouldn’t be talking about the scoring drive and getting stuffed at the goal line.

- Speaking of getting stuffed, that was all on Sellers. He blew the lead block.

- The broadcast was once again terrible. On three different kicks the cameraman didn’t pan over fast enough to see where the ball was fielded. Once the starters came out, we spent half the time watching soft sideline interviews with the game action on a split screen too small to make out the players. The commentators did not feel the need to keep us apprised of who was coming in and out of the game, so I have no idea if D’Anthony Batiste can block at all. Which is really the only point of watching preseason games in the first place.

My God, do we really have two more of these things to sit through?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tension between Portis and Cooley finally boils over

No, not really. Matt Terl of the Offical Redskins Blog has the video from Channel 5.

Redskins try to show progress against Steelers

Another glorified scrimmage against another strong opponent tonight, and this time Haynesworth and Portis will be playing, although I wouldn't expect much out of either of them.

Most of the points from my preseason viewing guide still stand, but here's a couple of notes of what I'll be keeping an eye on tonight:

- I had been planning to say that the performance of the first string offense would not be all that relevant until the third preseason game, but Zorn has other ideas. The starters are going to be left out there and will be expected to produce against one of the NFL's top defenses. If they fail to at least string together a few first downs, you can expect the DC region to go into full panic mode.

- Getting shut out last week did nothing to help clear up the kicking competition. Hopefully we will have more than one kickoff this time around to see if Rayner can provide an upgrade.

- It would be really, really helpful if Fred Davis could fumble less than twice. Zorn seems determined to run his two tight end sets, and I'm hoping David becomes serviceable so I can see what Zorn has in mind.

- If Chad Rinehart plays well again, Randy Thomas should worry.

- The tackling last week was atrocious. I'm assuming that was mainly due to rust and was nothing that couldn't be fixed by a little bit of Greg Blache's old fashioned encouragement.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Betts takes over 3rd downs

The Post reports that Zorn has officially handed over the third down job to Ladell Betts. As I mentioned in the running backs position overview, it is critical that we reduce Clinton Portis' workload, if only to extend his career by a couple of years.
Given that Portis can be a little, shall we say, dramatic, its probably best to formalize the shift ahead of time to avoid any misunderstandings. Portis has never been averse to sharing the load with Betts in order to keep himself fresh, and by laying this out ahead of time there is less risk that increased playing time for Betts will be interpetreted (by both Portis and the media) as a "benching" based on performance. With a little bit of ego massaging, I don't think this will get dicey.
From a football standpoint, I have mixed feelings. Betts is a capable receiver, and while his pass blocking doesn't quite rise to Portis' level its still better than most backs in the league. But there are few runners who fight as relentlessy as Portis for every last yard that this there to be had. On a critical 3rd and 2, I want Portis carrying the ball.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why we need two 21st century tight ends

I've been trying to wrap my head around the use of a 2008 second round pick on a tight end for well over a year now, but Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats has made me feel a bit better about it. It's no secret that tight ends are featured more in the NFL passing game than in the past, but I never would have guessed that receiving yards by tight ends had increased by 40% since 2001.

Suddenly, investing in two playmakers at the same position doesn't seem quite as gratuitous.

Starters have a real workday coming up

According to the Post, Zorn is expecting the starters to get some work done this Saturday:

"'I want to see how it goes. I want to see production. That's what I'm looking for,' Zorn said. I want to see the offense come together and really move the ball. It's going to be difficult.

'We're facing a really difficult defense, and yet we need to be successful. It would be either the length of time or series [for the first-team offense]. That's what it's going to be, more than a specific amount of plays.'

Even if Campbell led the offense on a long drive, 'I'd put 'em out there again,' Zorn said. 'I want that to kind of repeat itself.'"

Does Zorn know we're playing the Steelers this week? I'm not so sure this is the best time to be raising expectations for preseason perfomance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thrash's role finally defined

Ever since Redskins special-teams warrior (and one of my personal favorites) was forced to retire with a neck injury during the offseason, the media has often suggested that he would be maintaining some sort of role with the team - but I could not for the life of me find out what that role was. He's been spotted at training camp multiple times, and I got the impression that the Redskins knew he was a good guy to keep around but just couldn't figure out what to do with him.

I finally learned from Larry Weisman on Redskins Nation today that Thrash has been given a "player development" role, meaning he is something of a life coach for the players, to generally keep them out of trouble, help them manage their finances to prepare for their inevitable departure from football, and so on.

I have never heard one negative word about Thrash and the fact that he has such universal respect among players and the organization probably means that he is perfectly cut out for this role. Although I'd love for him to have a job that was directly involved with football, I'm glad that it looks like he'll be sticking around. The Redskins will be better off for having him in any capacity.

"A 5 second street fight"

Chris Cooley posted an image on his blog of an interview he gave for a recent issue of Maxim. The interview was the standard Cooley fareAlign Center that makes him so popular for this sort of thing, but I'm actually linking to it because I enjoyed the sidebar quite a bit more. It is very brief - a sidebar after all - but includes short snipets of interviews with a guard (Minnesota's Steve Hutchinson), a punter (Buffalo's Brian Moorman, and I've already shared my unhealthy interest in punting), a left tackle (Giants' Dave Diehl), and a long snapper (Denver's Lonnie Paxton).

Now for the record, I don't think left tackle is any longer a "thankless position," as Maxim describes all of these, but it was great to have two specialists on there. My favorite part, however, was Steve Hutchinson's description of life on the line of scrimmage:

"As a guard you're in a 5 second street fight 65 times a game. Every play you hit heads - 300 pounds coming one way, 300 pounds coming the other. It's a hand-to-hand war. You've got linemen clubbing your head, trying to grab your throat. The receiver scores the touchdown, but you don't get too much credit for being the guy who got poked in the eye."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reactions to the first preseason game

Sure it was disappointing to get shut out, but I found nothing to panic about in the Redskins first preseason game against the Ravens. Here are a few notes from the game. Go ahead and assume that I had written the following after each one: "Of course this was the just the first preseason game, so this is a very preliminary observation and it's way too early to know if this will carry over into the regular season."


Campbell was generally well protected (the one hit he took came from a horribly blown block by Chris Cooley), and showed confidence going threw his progressions. As soon as he hit the top of his drop, he quickly went through his progressions and made the throw without hesitation. The starting offense may have lacked results, but they appeared to be on the same page.

Chad Rinehart looked pretty good starting at right guard. There was one play where I thought I was going to nail him because it looked like the defender got by him to take down Betts at the line of scrimmage. On replay, however, it looks like a zone play. Casey Rabach and Rinehart took on a lineman, and then Rinehart slid past him to get to the second level and square up a linebacker, which he did quite well. It would have opened up a nice alley had Rabach done his job and held the original guy.

There were only 16 carries by running backs: 6 for Rock, 6 for Marcus Mason, and 4 for Ladell Betts. That leaves zero for Dominique Dorsey, who was also only targeted with one pass.

I noticed two occasions on which Marcus Mason picked up pass rushers who otherwise would have hit the quarterback. That was a huge weakness of his last preseason, so hopefully this is a sign of progress.

Todd Collins looked pretty comfortable in the offense, unlike last preseason. He looked like a consistent though unspectacular veteran backup who could run things effectively if called upon. That doesn't sound surprising, but I had doubts of his ability to be that guy outside of the Al Saunders offense. If he maintains that, Colt Brennan is probably looking at another season as the #3. Brennan, meanwhile, did not look impressive, but in fairness he was poorly protected.


I saw nothing to make me less optimistic about the defensive line. The starters, even without Albert Haynesworth, generated consistent pressure, and Orakpo looks like he can be a pass rush threat immediately.

Neither Justin Tryon nor Kevin Barnes demonstrated an ability to cover NFL receivers. Fred Smoot can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment.

The tackling on defense was consistently awful. I have a feeling Greg Blache will be addressing this issue in an aggressively colorful way. I don’t envy the Redskins’ defensive guys in the upcoming week of practice and film work.

Jeremy Jarmon got a ton of playing time and spent a lot of it in the backfield. That at least raises the possibility that he’s farther along than we thought and just might contribute in 2010.

Special Teams

I don’t like the post-wedge kick returns. On every kick there appear to be two successive pairs of blocker separated by about 5 yards. On both of Rock’s kick returns he was taken down behind the blockers by a Raven who slipped through where the wedge was supposed to be.

Dominique Dorsey bobbled his one kickoff return, which didn’t help his chances. He gained nothing on his one punt return, but didn’t really have anywhere to go.

Hunter Smith had nine punts for an average of 45.2 yards. I didn’t have the presence of mind to run a clock on his hang times, but with the exception of one line-drive 38 yarder I think they were pretty good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A preseason viewing guide

First of all, preseason results are every bit as meaningless as you've heard. Players not fighting for a roster spot will (rightfully) not be playing at full effort. No gameplanning will be done to exploit the opponent's weaknesses and tendencies. Playcalling will be based not on game situation but on what the coaches want to have on film to guide the next week's practices. With that in mind, here are brief notes on what I think should be ignored during tomorrow night's preseason opener against the Ravens and what may be worth paying attention to.



Almost everything about the performance of the starting offense - There is no reason to think they will have their timing down at this early stage, and many of the aging veterans will have limited playing time and will be going at half speed. Also, they are going against one of the best defenses in the NFL with no gameplanning. If the starting offense has nothing but three-and-outs, it's not yet time to panic. And it most certainly is not time to declare that Jason Campbell is an ineffective starting quarterback.

Closely Watch:

Chad Rinehart - It's looking more and more likely that he will be starting in place of Randy Thomas for this game, and Thomas' injury concerns make it a very real possibility that Rinehart could be our starting guard this season. Rinehart struggled mightily as a rookie, but reportedly the difference between this year and last is night and day. Don't worry if he doesn't distinguish himself - this is the Ravens defense after all - but if he looks totally lost we could have a problem.

The role of the new running backs - Anthony Alridge is hurt and apparently won't be playing. But watch how Dominique Dorsey is used to see if Zorn is seriously trying to integrate one of these guys into the offense. Also watch if Eddie Williams is used as all, and if he is being used to add to the offensive repetoire or if he is more of a roster-filling afterthought.

See if Marcus Mason actually picks up a blitz or two - If he does, then we can discuss his merits as a ballcarrier

The backup quarterback competition - See if Colt Brennan is just given the requisite reps for a third stringer, or if he's being given a real look to unseat Todd Collins. If Collins' playing time is already down, Colt could be moving up the depth chart.

Devin Clark and Jeremy Bridges - Which one of these guys is going to be our primary backup at tackle? Or does one of them even have a chance to unseat Stephon Heyer?



The performance of the starting defensive line - Especially since Haynesworth won't be playing.

Closely Watch:

Brian Orakpo - His pass-rushing skills have drawn rave reviews in camp. Is that because he's a prodigy or because our line is collapsing? If he succeeds against another opponent we can not only be optimistic about Orakpo but also feel better about Chris Samuels. It will also be worth noting whether he looks comfortable playing in space as a strong-side linebacker.

Jeremy Jarmon - In all likelihood, he will spend '09 merely developing his strength and skills for next season. He is supposedly surpassing expectations. If he is given a lot of snaps and holds his own against quality players, he might have an impact sooner than we thought.

The young cornerbacks - Are Justin Tryon and rookie Kevin Barnes trusted with responibility? If so the Redskins might be working towards upgrading the nickel back position and finding a starter for next year (after Carlos Rogers leaves in free agency). If not we have a whole lot of Fred Smoot ahead of us.

Special Teams


Field goal accuracy - Unless either Shaun Suisham or Dave Rayner is clearly choking under the pressure, the sample size in preseason will be to small for individual made or missed field goals to really mean anything.

Closely Watch:

Kickoff distance - This tends to be repeatable and, although it often goes unnoticed, leads directly to reduced points scored by the opponent, not to mention better field position when our offense gets the ball back. In my opinion, whichever kicker shows the ability to consistently get kickoffs to the five yard line or beyond should win the job.

Hunter Smith - Is he as good as they say he is? Zorn has talked up Smith's hang time and placement. Let's see if it's legit. With our supposedly strong defense, a punter who can pin the opponent deep in their own territory could be a huge advantage.

Kickoff returns - The NFL has outlawed the wedge on kickoffs returns. Will the new technique look significantly different?

Punt returner - Antwaan Randle-El, Marques Hagans, Keith Eloi, and Domique Dorsey are all going to return punts Thursday. First, see who is given the most serious look. Also, see if any of them demonstrate a decisive first step and show that their first priority is to gain whatever yards are available, rather than to risk a return for zero or negative yards in an attempt to break a big play.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A football eulogy

Football Outsiders remembers late Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson by breaking down three games that illustrated his genius. I can't imagine a better eulogy.

Taking a stab at the final 53-man roster

This seems like the right time to take a first whack at predicting the final 53 man roster. I am intentionally doing this before the preseason games start up because the point is to lay out my preconceptions as a baseline so we can track developments and see what turns out differently and why. While I’m picking the down-depth chart guys based on extremely limited information, I will at least try to let you know my rationale. We will probably revisit this post after each preseason game to see if any of these predictions need to be revised. If you haven’t read my earlier position overviews, you can get to them by clicking on the position name at the beginning of each section to get introduced to all these guys who I’m keeping and cutting.

Offensive Line: Chris Samuels, Derrick Dockery, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas, Stephon Heyer, Jeremy Bridges, Chad Rinehart, Devin Clark, Edwin Williams

Bridges has significant playing experience and can play either guard or tackle, so he’s a no-brainer. Rinehart is the succession plan for Randy Thomas, and could start getting the playing time sooner rather than later. Clark is our primary tackle prospect, so he gets kept. Finally, I’m going to throw Maryland product Edwin Williams on there mainly because he’s a center, and you always need a backup center. I have tremendous respect for the dedication Mike Williams has shown to make it this far, but he hasn’t played in three years. If he makes it he just might be the comeback story of the decade. I’m rooting for him, but won’t hold my breath.

Running Backs: Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Mike Sellers, Rock Cartwright, Dominique Dorsey

There is so clearly an intention to add a running back that I would be shocked if one of the new guys didn’t stick. I was tempted to keep Eddie Williams simply because it’s easier to imagine how he would be used in the offense, but it’s equally easy to see him on the practice squad for the year. So far neither Dorsey nor Anthony Alridge have done anything to distinguish themselves (and both have been fumbling in camp) but there’s been too much attention focused on the proverbial “home run hitter” back to think they would both be cut. Also, the need for a punt returner favors these guys. I’m going with Dorsey based on his punt return exploits in Canada. And sorry Marcus Mason fans, I still need to see him block somebody before he even gets consideration.

Wide Receivers: Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle-El, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, D.J Hackett, Trent Shelton

The first four are of course set in stone. Hackett can probably win the fifth spot due to his past performance in Zorn’s offense (he’s been considered a potential starter at his previous NFL stops but keeps getting derailed by injuries). Due to Hackett’s injury tendency, the track record already racked up by Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, and the fact the Santana tends to get tweaks a couple times per year, I think it’s likely the Redskins will keep six receivers. I’m giving that sixth spot to Shelton, also due to his familiarity with the offense from his time on Seattle’s practice squad.

Tight Ends: Chris Cooley, Fred Davis

As I said in the overview, Davis is probably driving Todd Yoder out of a job. If we have two competent tight ends Yoder is just not needed, especially since Sellers is frequently used in an H-back role when extra blocking is needed on the line. Of course that can change if we don’t add a running back, if we only go with five receivers, or if any number of other factors turn out differently.

Quarterbacks: Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Colt Brennan

If this was the 53 man roster I was rooting for, it would be Campbell, Brennan, Chase Daniel, but that’s not what we’re doing here. As much as Zorn seems to want to give Brennan the #2 job, come decision time I think very few NFL coaches will want to run without a backup who has thrown even one NFL pass. Unless Colt totally lights up the preseason, cutting Collins would be a tough move for Zorn to make. Of course if that comes to pass, I’m not looking forward to people screaming for Colt to start the first time we lose a game (or even before).

Defensive Line: Albert Haynesworth, Cornelius Griffin, Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery (tackles); Andre Carter, Philip Daniels, Lorenzo Alexander, Jeremy Jarmon, Rob Jackson (ends); half of Brian Orakpo (hybrid)

Not much mystery at tackle. At end, Orakpo and Alexander will probably be the primary rotation partners with Carter and Daniels. Jarmon is obviously guaranteed a spot due to the investment in him. I feel like one more is needed for depth, and that creates a competition among Jackson, Alex Buzbee, and veteran Renaldo Wynn. Buzbee’s big chance was last year after Daniels went down, and blowing out his knee a few hours later was a lousy bit of luck but his window may have passed. I think the team is finally recognizing the need for a youth movement, and Wynn is just not good enough to overcome his age. Because a year has already been invested in Rob Jackson’s development, he seems like a reasonable bet to hang onto the last DE spot.

Linebacker: London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh, Alfred Fincher, H.B. Blades, Cody Glenn, Robert Henson, the rest of Orakpo

I keep hearing about Chris Wilson’s skills and how Blache regrets that they haven’t been able to get him more playing time in the past, but I can’t see how that would change in this roster. Because I can’t figure out a way to use him, I’m saying his clock runs out and both draft picks make the roster, although we’ll probably see them on special teams only (if they’re even activated on game days).

Defensive Backs: Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall, Fred Smoot, Justin Tryon, Kevin Barnes (corners); LaRon Landry, Chris Horton, Reed Doughty, Kareem Moore (safeties)

Didn’t have to put much thought into this one – the only real competition is the race between Barnes and Tryon to move up the depth chart and replace Smoot (and possibly line up a starting spot for next season if Rogers leaves). There’s other depth guys in camp, but I think they’re counting on an injury to have any chance.

Specialists: Ethan Albright (long-snapper); Shaun Suisham (kicker), Hunter the (Punter).

Suisham’s the only one facing competition, and so far as I can tell Rayner is not particularly impressive. We also can’t rule out that Rayner will wash out early and an entirely different kicker will be added at some point during the preseason.

So there's 53 guys. Did anyone get left off who you think has a good chance to make it? Does this roster leave any position to thin or pile up depth where it's not needed? Did I piss you off by disrespecting Marcus Mason again? Suggested changes are welcome.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jeremy Jarmon, International Thespian

I hope you take a moment to read Tracee Hamilton's feature on Jeremy Jarmon in last Wednesday's Washington Post. The highlights:
- Before a positive test for a banned substance changed his plans, Jarmon was going to travel to France over the summer to work on his French language skills.
- He lived in the international dorm at the University of Kentucky to help develop his conversational French.
- Despite having graduated in three years with a political science degree, he was going to use his fourth year to pursue a second major: theater.
- He plans to enroll in the NFL's continuing education programs, because he realizes that at some point his football career will end.
The implications of all this for his on-field success or failure? Probably very little. But it's always nice to find evidence that many football players are not the meatheads we often presume them to be.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The schedule, and predicting (guessing) a record

Predicting a record, while probably a futile endeavor given the unpredictable nature of the NFL, just seems like the kind of thing you have to do when you write a football blog, so here I am doing my duty. With some exceptions, I’m going to avoid going down the schedule and picking individual games. I’ve found that makes it too easy to be a homer – each individual week, you can think of some reason why a win is conceivable, and it’s easy to persuade yourself to put down a W, and before you know it you’re 13-3 every year. Instead, I’m going to split the schedule into three categories (division games, the games we “should win,” and the tough opponents outside of the division) and come up with what seems to be a reasonable record for each.

The Division Games

Week 1 @ Giants
Week 7 vs Eagles
Week 11 @ Dallas
Week 12 @ Eagles
Week 15 vs Giants
Week 16 vs Dallas

This is probably the most competitive division in the league, and there are no unwinnable games here. But the unavoidable fact is that the three best pass rushes in the NFC are packed into our division, and our biggest weakness may be the offensive line. For that reason alone, it would be irresponsible to expect a .500 division record. It would be far from shocking if we pulled out three or even four, but it would involve some overachieving or luck. On the other hand, we are perfectly built to stop the running games of Dallas and New York, so we should be able to pull out a couple. Let’s call our division record 2-4.

The Winnable Games

Week 2 vs Rams
Week 3 @ Lions
Week 4 @ Buccaneers
Week 6 vs Chiefs
Week 10 vs Broncos
Week 14 @ Raiders

This group is the reason I’m picking by category rather than by individual opponent. Theoretically, each of these games is one that we should win. As we all know, none of these is certain. At least one of these teams will turn out to be much better than one would expect going into the season (maybe Matt Cassell really is that good). In one of these games, a ball will bounce the wrong way and allow an inferior team to pull off an upset (ask the Rams about this possibility). Even if we turn out to be pretty good, we’re going to play a clunker of a game at some point (remember the Bengals game last year?). These things just happen in the NFL. It seems pointless to me to try to guess which of these seemingly weak opponents will get the benefits of one of the above, or something else unforeseen. For that reason, I’m putting us down for two disappointing losses, without specifying which ones they will be. So among the games we should win, let’s give ourselves a 4-2 record.

The Tough Games

Week 5 @ Panthers
Week 9 @ Falcons
Week 13 vs Saints
Week 17 @ Chargers

This is the exception. I’m calling these by game, but that’s because I have specific reasons for each one. The Panthers and Falcons were both in the playoffs last year, and both have very powerful running games. But of course we are built to stop the run, and both of their defenses are average at best. We match up well against each team, so I’m giving us both of these games.

The Saints offense is once again going to be explosive, and might be too much for even our defense to handle. Meanwhile, between the development of young talent and the addition of our old friend Gregg Williams, I have a feeling their defense is going to take the step from horrendous to at least marginally competent. If our offense is anything less than outstanding this year, I just don’t see us winning this game.

Finally, San Diego to end the year. The Chargers are almost certainly a more talented team, but I’m giving us a win here for the simple reason that they are in a terribly weak division and they likely will have wrapped up the playoffs weeks before. There’s a good chance we will be playing against backups.

Despite the fact that these are the “Tough Games,” I’m giving us a 3-1.


So you’ve probably already done the math: I’m predicting a 9-7 record. In the brutal competition of the NFC East, I’m not confident that gets us a playoffs spot. There’s only two wildcard spots these days, and the two other NFC East non- winners will be gunning hard for them. Unfortunately the other divisions may be competitive too this year, and that means a lot of narrow losers who could be in the wild card running:

NFC West – rebounding Seattle should challenge Arizona
NFC North – Viking vs Packers vs Bears with Jay Cutler
NFC South – Saints and Falcons (and possibly Carolina, but I think they may regress)

By my count, aside from division winners, that leaves up to seven teams (including the NFC East) pushing for those two wildcards. In other words, 9-7 doesn’t guarantees us nothing. If we’re going to make a run, we may need to be perfect against the weak teams or knock off a couple extra division wins. The latter is more likely than the former, in my opinion.
One other thing to consider. Note how the weeks are distributed in each category:

Winnable: 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 14
Tough: 5, 9, 13, 17
Division: 1, 7, 11, 12

There’s good odds that we get off to a hot start, but obviously most of the dangerous games are concentrated in the second half of the schedule. In fact, check out the schedule starting the week before Thanksgiving and going for the rest of the year:

Week 11 @ Dallas
Week 12 @ Eagles
Week 13 vs Saints
Week 14 @ Raiders
Week 15 vs Giants
Week 16 vs Dallas
Week 17 @ Chargers

That is absolutely vicious. Only one of those games – Oakland – was in our “should win” category. And San Diego could be very dangerous if they have something to play for. If home field advantage in the AFC is at stake, they’re going to have plenty of motivation to play their starters and avoid having to go through Boston in January.

Two conclusions here, both of which go back to the title of this blog:

a) No matter how good we look in the first half, please keep looking at that back end of the schedule after each win. If we’re racking up wins in September and October, I will be repeating the following to myself ten times each night before I go to bed: We will not know if the Redskins are a truly good team until December.

b) If we do get pummeled in November and December, assuming we did well until then, the media will characterize it as a “collapse.” In all likelihood, it is not. It is merely what it looks like when a good but not great team plays a series of weak and strong opponents that are distributed like these are.

In other words… stay medium, kids.

Rich Tandler Saves the Offensive Line

Rich Tandler, on his Real Redskins blog, has unveiled his 5-point plan for the offensive line. My thoughts on some them:

- I have to say I share his skepticism on the Mike Williams experiment, but I don't see how it hurts to at least give him a chance. Why cut him now if there isn't someone else out there we really want to add?

- I agree enthusiastically with his desire to put Chris Samuels on the bench for almost the entire preseason, both to keep him safe and to determine conclusively if we have an adequate backup on the roster. The trade-off , of course, is that we might be endangering one important player (Campbell) to save another.

- Also agree about Chad Rinehart. Bugel keeps expressing concern over Randy Thomas' multiple injuries, and supposedly Rinehart has improved dramatically after almost washing out his rookie season. A few weeks ago Thomas mentioned on Redskins Nation (that god-awful Larry Michael show) that "Rinehart's on my butt." It's time for Chad to make his move.

- If you've been reading, you can probably guess how I answered the poll at the bottom of his post.

Position Overview: Special Teams

Confidence Level: 6 out of 10
You know you’re a football nerd when you get excited over good punting. I get very, very excited over good punting. That’s why Hunter Smith, who is already known by most everyone as Hunter the Punter, could turn out to be a very important offseason addition. He is most known for his consistency, which we have lacked since Tom Tupa’s great year in 2004. If his directional kicking skills are as good as advertised, we should be frequently putting the defense on the field deep in the opponent’s territory. This field position advantage should not be underestimated.
The other place Smith may be an upgrade is in the placekicking game. He is supposedly an excellent holder who places the ball exactly the same every time. Despite my mocking tone when Shaun Suisham threw pudgy-fingered Ryan Plackemeier under the bus (and in fairness that was in private conversation and it was Cooley’s decision to put it on the internet), holding is obviously a critical part of every kick. So between Smith and the league’s most consistent long-snapper in the Ethan Albright, there will be no excuses for kicking performance. Speaking of which, Suisham is facing competition this year from Dave Rayner, who has bounced around the league for a few years but never really distinguished himself. But if Rayner show a more consistent ability than Suisham to get kickoffs past the ten yard-line, I hope the change is made. Our kick-off coverage unit was outstanding last year, but that was despite Suisham’s kickoffs rather than because of them. And given that special teams performance tends to vary widely from year to year, there’s no guarantee that we can count on the coverage guys to hide our kicker again (especially considering that over the last calendar year we have lost special-teams standouts Leigh Torrence, Khary Campbell, and James Thrash).
Rock Cartwright is one of the better kick returners in the league, even if he’s not flashy enough to garner national attention. He consistently gets us past the thirty yard line, and is always a threat to get more if you give him enough of a seam. And let’s not forget that he plays on every other ST unit as well. Hog’s Haven has predicted that he will be cut in favor of Anthony Alridge or Dominique Dorsey (sorry, can’t find the link to save my life), but I imagine special teams coach Danny Smith would have something to say about that. If they take away Rock in addition to the recent losses I just listed, Smith should up and quit.
The punt returner job, of course, is something to watch in preseason. Antwaan Randle-El was just awful in the role last year, and don’t try to blame the blocking – there were yards to be had and he didn’t take them. Apparently the coaches also intend to put in Santana and DeAngelo Hall in certain big situations, but they are both irreplaceable on their regular units so we can’t expose them to too much risk. Alridge and Dorsey were both brought in at least in part to compete for the return spot, and Dorsey was a star returner in Canada, but a speedy big play threat isn’t really what I was hoping to add here. You’re never going to break long punt returns consistently enough to count on. I’d rather find someone that will cut out all the dancing about and be sure to take the eight or ten yards that the opposing coverage unit might be giving us.

Postion Overview: Defensive Backs

Confidence Level: 7.5 out of 10
This is the one position on our team that is well-stocked with both youth and talent. Our two starting safeties are going to be together a long time. Landry has filled Sean Taylor’s deep coverage role admirably. His range is very good, though not Taylor-good, and it could be that he is on the way to developing into a full-blown star. Chris Horton, meanwhile, has a preternatural ability to read plays and blow them up before they can fully develop. His aggressiveness is his strength, but of course it can also be exploited, and I really don’t trust him in coverage. That’s where Reed Doughty comes in. Doughy is an utterly unspectacular player, but he’s the kind of guy who can be counted on to know the defense and execute the scheme properly. I’ve always been down on Doughty because I can’t erase the memory of those four Terrell Owens second-half touchdowns from 2007, but in fairness he recovered from that debacle to become the kind of reliable player who will never blow his assignment but will also never do anything extraordinary. Those guys have real value.
There’s a lot of intrigue at corner. DeAngelo Hall was brought in last year, played extremely well, and was immediately re-signed to a very rich contract. This was a risky move, as a major commitment was made on the basis of a half season of good play after he was so terrible in Oakland that the Raiders ate his large contract after deciding he was a total bust just a few games in. He certainly adds a big-play ability to our defense, and the scheme seems to fit him comfortably. I’m open to the idea that he can continue to be a good player, but I need to see a full season before I’m convinced.
That signing could mean this is Carlos Rogers’ last season as a Redskin. Despite being much-maligned for his dropped interceptions, Rogers is an excellent cover corner who has demonstrated a lot more consistency than Hall. These two make for a very strong pair of starters for 2009, but with Rogers is a free agent at the end of the year and we’ve already invested a ton of money in Hall. I hope we bet on the right horse in the long-term. I’m not sure we did.
Nickel back may be the only real hole on our defense. Fred Smoot is no longer a quality NFL corner (and he was never as good as he thought he was), so the hope is that either Justin Tryon or Kevin Barnes progresses quickly and can steal the job. Given our good safeties and potentially dominant pass-rush I’m comfortable that we can hide the nickel position effectively, but if either Rogers or Hall goes down and Smoot becomes a starter we could have problems.
(One final note on DeAngelo Hall: Through the early years of his career he developed a reputation as a troublemaker who regularly clashed with both coaches and teammates. He has caused absolutely no problems since joining the Redskins, who have a very strong locker room, and I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt until he gives us reason to think otherwise. Remember that his last two jobs were in the two most dysfunctional cultures in football: the Raiders and the Vick-Petrino era Falcons. It’s just possible that Hall wasn’t the problem.)

The final position overview – special teams – will be up shortly.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Redskins add a WR

Roydell Williams broke his finger on a football last week, and we lost the one depth receiver who had any meaningful NFL experience. D.J. Hackett had attended our minicamp in April but turned down our contract offer at the time, presumably to try to find a team with a less crowded depth chart. Lucky for us he failed, as Hackett could turn out to be pretty useful. He has played in Zorn's system and Seattle, and on the rare occassions he was able to stay healthy he performed very well. That in itself makes him a favorite to win the fifth receiver spot, and as such it's pretty likely he'd end up getting significant playing time when someone gets hurt. This is one of those signings that could be utterly insignificant but just might end up keeping our passing game afloat when receivers start going down.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hog's Haven ranks the 10 most irreplaceable Redskins

Hog’s Haven has a post giving their take on the 10 most irreplaceable Redskins for this season. I will let you go to the post to get the rationale for each, but here’s the list:

10 – Hunter Smith
9 – Derrick Dockery
8 – Fred Davis
7 – Brian Orakpo
6 – Santana Moss
5 – Jason Campbell
4 – Mike Sellers
3 – Clinton Portis
2 – Chris Samuels
1 – Albert Haynesworth

Sugar (the author’s handle) put a lot of thought into this and I think it’s a pretty good list, but below are the players I would comment on:

Hunter Smith – I love that the punter made it. If the relative qualities of the defense and offense play out as they look right now, we’re going to be in a lot of close games. Pinning the opponent deep a couple of times and turning the defensive line loose on them might tip the balance.

Fred Davis – I don’t think this one is in keeping with the premise of the post. I hope that Sugar’s optimism is justified. If Davis turns out to be that good it will only help, but it’s not like the TE position will be a weakness if he disappoints. Davis is potentially very exciting, but not essential.

Carlos Rogers – He needs to be elevated from Honorable Mention to the Top 10. There is no way to be sure if DeAngelo Hall will play as well as he did in a very brief audition last year, so if he struggles and Rogers is unavailable we’re stuck with Fred Smoot – who isn’t half the player he was during his first Redskin career – as our top corner. That is a disaster scenario. Rogers is an elite cover corner, despite his lousy hands, and behind him we have only unpredictability.

Albert Haynesworth/Chris Samuels – These two should be flipped, putting Samuels at #1, and Haynesworth might also be moved a couple notches down the list. Haynesworth is the factor that may elevate our defense from good to excellent, but without him our defense would still be decent. If Samuels goes down, on the other hand, the entire offense might fold and any progress made by Campbell or the receivers would be irrelevant.

If you think anyone should be added to the list, the ranking should be re-ordered, or if you disagree with any of the notes I tacked on, say so in the comments below.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Position Overview: Linebackers

Confidence Level: 7 out of 10
Weak side and Middle are, of course, set. I have a hard time thinking of a better MLB in football than London Fletcher, even though he doesn’t get much national recognition. And I don’t care how old he is – he never comes off the field and is showing no signs of slowing down. The fact that he wasn’t in the Pro Bowl last year just proves beyond any remaining doubt that the whole production is a total farce. Rocky McIntosh plays very well at times, and he and Fletcher combine for some very good range, but each year like clockwork his bad knees start giving out on him and he gradually makes less and less impact. Hopefully H.B. Blades, who has proven himself to be a very competent back up at all positions, will take a lot of snaps at WLB to help extend Rocky’s effectiveness in December.
We are clearly looking at Sam-backer by committee. Orakpo will be getting a lot of the snaps on run downs, and so far in camps it appears they are not easing him in at all – they expect him to play and contribute immediately. On passing downs when Orakpo will be rushing as a DE, Albert Fincher will probably be the primary fill-in. He did not get enough playing time last year for me to really have an opinion on his abilities, but the coaches have made it clear that he has their confidence and he is much more than just roster filler. That leaves Chris Wilson, and I’m still not clear where his playing time will come from. He transitioned from DE, and his role basically duplicates that of Orakpo. He apparently played some LB in Canada, so playing in space shouldn’t be totally new to him. Until camp opened I had assumed Blades would be getting a lot of playing time in the strong-side rotation, but the three guys I mentioned here are the only ones I’ve seen mentioned in the press, and at the one open practice session I attended I only ever noticed Blades lined up as the second team Mike.
Given the confidence that Orakpo has already instilled, and that Fincher had to begin with, I am no longer panicked about the strong-side. I’m reasonably confident that we will have competent play here, and given the fact that our safeties and Fletcher have great range and that I expect our D-line to be dominant, I don’t think we’ll have serious problems. Technically SLB may be the weakest point in our defense, but that mostly speaks to the excellence I expect from the rest of the unit.
Our two draftees, Cody Glenn and Robert Henson, are probably competing for one roster spot. But given that we have Blades as a primary backup and Fincher with only limited snaps, it seems likely the winner would be purely a special-teamer for his rookie year. We also brought in mediocre veteran OLB Robert Thomas in the offseason, but that was before we drafted Orakpo and I don’t think he’s going to find a spot here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The WR positions

In my wide receivers position overview, I stated definitively that Santana Moss was the starting flanker, and the imperative in camp was to find a starting split end. I based this on the fact that Zorn made clear that was his intention last year (it didn’t pan out, obviously) and that conventional wisdom has it that smaller, faster guys make better flankers while the split end is often your bigger, more physical receiver. However, in two separate Redskins Insider posts Friday Jason Reid referred to Kelly and Thomas competing to start at flanker, across from Moss at split end. I thought at first Reid may have been confused, but Zorn mentioned in his post-practice press conference that flanker was the open competition. And at the practice session I attended this morning, Thomas was lining up at flanker exclusively. Does anyone have any explanation for this shift?