Fantasy land: RBs

Fantasy land: RBs

There is always dread in the fantasy football world when it comes to a Mike Shanahan backfield. Clearly 2012 is no exception yet in fairness to the Redskins head coach, the setup is not his doing. Sure, there mightwill be random changes made seemingly on a whim three plays into a game, three games into the season, three-quarters of the way down the road. Right now, we dont even have a viable depth chart not from a fantasy perspective anyway to work with. For those still gearing up for their drafts or are debating future trade or free agent pickups, heres one mans best attempt to decipher the mind field known as the Redskins backfield.Roy Helu The upside option you dont need for now guyLast season the Nebraska rookie outran expectations with a dazzling second half stretch including three straight 100-yard rushing games plus a team-record 14 receptions for 105 yards in another. Helus campaign ended early with injuries and perhaps overuse; his body and playing style speak of a change-of-pace guy, which figures to be his role this season. That is once he recovers from his Achilles tendon woes. The main question is when Helu starts playing again will he return as the starter. The ancillary query is will someone else have emerged as the Bell Cow back by then. Best drafted as a fantasy reserve, as his plummeting average draft position (96) indicates, and by an owner not looking for immediate help.Alfred Morris Fill in the early missing lineup gap and see what happens guyThere was some early love out of OTAs for the Florida Atlantic rookie, but not sure anyone could have imagined the sixth-round pick as a possible if not likely opening game starter. Not an elite talent, but Morris runs with power and a hint of shiftiness. It would be unfair to suggest he has a chance to run away with the job, but if Morris turns in a credible if not stellar performance against the Saints (should he get the starting nod), whos to say he heads back to the bench when the others return. Dont overdraft based on the potential start, but at this moment in time Morris should be the second Redskin back coming off the board and in a double digit round.Tim Hightower His aggressive running style makes him fun to own for as long as it lasts guyNot a bad showing last week from the veteran back recovering from a major knee injury suffered last season. Does that make me trust Hightower going forward? Um, no. If this truly turns into some undecipherable running back by committee, imagining No. 25 being the leader of the pack isnt a stretch, but the role only works if the Redskins dont overuse him. If we start talking about 15-20 touches a game, the wear down factor rises dramatically. Shanahan wants Hightower around for his veteran presence and pass blocking prowess more than his yard gaining ability. Draftable in 12-14 team leagues, but as a flyer. In my opinion, if youre taking a sleeper, go with the younger legs on with whatever team they exist.Evan Royster The former sleeper whos now the guy behind the guy behind that other guy, guyPerhaps the true wildcard in the mix as recent injuries to last years other rookie surprise derailed Roysters rising status as possible starter and fantasy darling. Now he may have been passed by Morris as the Flavor of the Month, though the former Penn State rusher hopes to crack the field in tonights preseason finale against the Bucs. Is he worth drafting? Yes, but in the late round and in a lottery ticket sort of way.Of course, if Royster or Hightower or Morris or Helu stand out against Tampa Bay, then another revision of the RB depth chart is in order. Get used to it.

Redskins guard Spencer Long has been getting some work at center, too

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Redskins guard Spencer Long has been getting some work at center, too

Although it’s a little early in the offseason to handicap position battles, it’s definitely worth noting that guard Spencer Long has also been getting some work at center.

“Getting more and more comfortable,” Long told me on Monday at the Redskins charity golf tournament. “Obviously, I’d be lying if I told you I was as comfortable [at center] as I was at guard, but that comes with time. The more practice I get at it, the better I’ll be. I’ve been working at it daily.”

“It’s something that I’m definitely prepared to do if I’m asked,” the 25-year-old added. “It’s something I’ll continue to work at.”

What does it mean? That’s unclear…for now.

Starter Kory Lichtensteiger along with backups Josh LeRibeus and Austin Reiter are the three centers currently listed on the Redskins’ roster.

Long, meantime, made 14 starts in 2015 at left guard after replacing Shawn Lauvao, who was playing well when he went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. Lauvao, though, is expected to return at some point and, assuming that he does, it could create an opportunity to reshuffle the line.

But that doesn’t mean it is going to happen. Lichtensteiger is by far the most experienced center on the team. It’s also important to point out how quickly Jay Gruden reinstalled Lichtensteiger as the starter last January after he missed most of the season with a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Long, on the other hand, is more than five years younger and has a big size advantage but has played in only 18 games, all as a guard.

On Wednesday, the Redskins will open practice to reporters for the first time this spring, giving us a better picture of the pecking order at a number of positions, including those along the O-line.

We’ll also get a better feel for exactly how much work Long is getting at center—and how much progress he's made.  

“You’re the guy that has to be orchestrating everything up there,” Long said, asked about playing center vs. guard. “While making the calls, you have to focus on your snaps, too. ...You have to have a certain poise, to make the right calls confidently and also get the snap off when you’re exhausted. It’s just a different position; you’re at the head of it.”

OTAs to-do list: How much work remains at safety?

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OTAs to-do list: How much work remains at safety?

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin today, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Safeties to-do list

Tandler: In many areas what needs to be accomplished during OTAs is somewhat subtle, a tweak here and there. But at safety there are two glaringly obvious things that need to be done at safety this spring.

One is to get DeAngelo Hall fully acclimated at free safety. Last year veteran made an in-season change from cornerback, the position he played for his first 11 NFL seasons, to safety. Now he is starting the offseason program at the still somewhat unfamiliar position. It’s no longer an experiment and he needs to master the nuances of safety starting today.

The other item here is to figure out who will start at strong safety and what roles the reserves will play. Duke Ihenacho won the job last year but he lasted only a few snaps into the season before a wrist injury ended his season. David Bruton was mostly a reserve in seven seasons in Denver but he signed here with assurances that he would get to compete for the starting job. And while rookie Su’a Cravens is starting out as an inside linebacker it’s only a few steps back from there to an in-the-box strong safety spot. It will be interesting to watch who gets how much action at the position as they begin to sort it out.

El-Bashir: One of the more scrutinized positions in the coming weeks figures to be the safety spot next to DeAngelo Hall, whom I suspect can be safely penciled in as one starter.

As for everyone else? We’ll get our first look at the pecking order tomorrow, when the Redskins open practice to reporters for the first time this spring.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

  • Is there a rotation opposite Hall? Or is someone (David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho or 'other') clearly working as a first-teamer?
  • How is Will Blackmon deployed? Listed as a corner last season, the veteran was signed to a two-year contract extension and is now listed as a safety.
  • Su’a Cravens worked with the inside linebackers during rookie minicamp. But he’s listed as a safety. Does he get some work as a defensive back?
  • And what about special teams standout Deshazor Everett? Like Blackmon, he's also moved from corner to safety. Where, and with whom, does he work?

My sense is that there’s a lot of work to be done at this position. We’ll get our first glimpse of exactly how much work remains tomorrow afternoon.  

OTAs to-do list: Is it Matt Jones' job to lose?

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OTAs to-do list: Is it Matt Jones' job to lose?

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin today, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Running backs to-do list

Tandler: The Redskins’ depth chart seems to be missing a running back. The “lead dog” will be Matt Jones but there really isn’t a Plan B there. Maybe seventh-round pick Keith Marshall can contribute but if Jones is injured or ineffective for any significant amount of time—and he experienced stretches of both during his rookie 2015 season—it’s difficult to see Marshall carrying the load.

Perhaps the coaches will give Mack Brown a shot. He bounced on and off of the practice squad last year. The 24-year-old former Florida Gator might get a chance during OTAs to earn some significant snaps during training camp. He’s a long shot but part of OTAs is figuring out which players on the fringe of the roster might be able to make a legitimate push to make the team in July and August.

Still, it really feels like they are waiting for another running back to arrive. There has been plenty of talk about bringing back Pierre Thomas, who contributed during the last four games of last season. However, the 31-year-old veteran remains unsigned. Many have speculated that Arian Foster, released by the Texans, would be a good fit. But he is recovering from a torn Achilles and he can’t yet pass a physical so the speculation remains just that.

The process of identifying Jones’ backup is going to start in OTAs but I get a feeling it will continue into training camp.

El-Bashir: As the roster stands now, the Redskins’ plan for an improved rushing attack appears to revolve around Matt Jones staying healthy and making a huge leap production-wise in his second season.

To me, that seems like a big ask. Jones does boast impressive size for a runner and he possesses loads of talent. But he had a rough rookie season, one marked by injuries (he missed four games), fumbles (five on 169 touches) and inefficiency (league-worst 3.4 yards per carry among qualified rushers).

The good news is Jones should be fully recovered from the toe and hip ailments that sidelined him in '15. And, based on the second half of last season, he appears to be recovering from an acute case of fumble-itis. 

But what’s the backup plan if Jones' anticipated improvement stalls? Oft-injured Chris Thompson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery? Speedy seventh round draft pick Keith Marshall? As Tandler said, it seems like there should be a 'TBD' listed on the running back depth chart entering OTAs.

Over the next month, though, Jones will get the chance to quell any concerns about his ability to shoulder the load. But it can also go the other way. If there's any doubt, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins turn to the free agent market for some veteran insurance.