Redskins-Saints game preview: The moment is here

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Redskins-Saints game preview: The moment is here

What: Redskins vs. Saints
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT
TV: Fox WTTG-5 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)The moment a floundering franchise and a famished fan base has awaited for months finally arrives Sunday.Robert Griffin III wont end Washingtons stretch of four consecutive last place finishes in the NFC East in a single game. But how the No. 2 overall draft pick shows against the Saintswillhint at how quickly a turnaround might begin.Coach Mike Shanahan has tailored the Redskins offense to accentuate Griffins ability to tuck the ball, take off and leave defenders grasping at air. The extent to which Griffin does that, however, remains unclear after a 3-1 preseason in which Shanahan shielded his playbook from rest of the NFL and his prized rookie from potential harm.Griffin attempted only 31 passes and five rushes scattered over parts of three preseason games, which has left more questions than answers about the 22-year-olds comfort level and, more important, how Shanahan plans to deploy his most dangerous weapon.Asked directly how he intends to use Griffin against the Saints, Shanahan flashed a wry smile and said: Youll have to show up and come to the game.Well be there, Coach. But Griffin wont be the only player the CSN Washington team will be monitoring. Heres what else well be watching:Redskins returning to healthThe Redskins open the season as healthy as theyve been in recent memory. In fact, only one starter on the active roster strong safety Brandon Meriweather will miss the game if left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (knee), linebacker Brian Orakpo (shoulder) and cornerback Josh Wilson (abdominal strain) suit up as expected.The loss of Meriweather, though, could be a significant one against a vaunted air attack directed by one of the games best passers in Drew Brees, who last season broke Dan Marinos record for passing yards in a season.The Redskins depth chart lists Reed Doughty as Meriweathers backup, but it seems more likely that DeJon Gomes will pick up the slack. Gomes is more mobile than Doughty and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week that Gomes coverage skills have shown great improvement entering his second NFL season.But will that be enough against Brees and targets like tight end Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston? (Colston is listed a questionable with a left foot injury after being limited in practice Friday.)They have a whole crew of guys, Gomes said. And they have a good running game to complement their passing game. We have be on our Ps and Qs.Mystery surrounds running back positionThe Shanahans have been elusive about how they intend to implement running backs Evan Royster, Roy Helu Jr. and Alfred Morris.Will they ride the hot hand as Kyle indicated this week? Will they allow the situation to dictate their choice? Will they rotate them?Royster joked Monday that he might know the plan and whos starting until after kickoff.So, it seems, theres only one way to find out. More important, though, what unfolds Sunday might provide a glimpse at how the trio will be utilized the remainder of the season.Redskins prepare for Supdome noise in their own domeNew Orleans is home to Griffins parents, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, and hell have three-dozen members of his extended family in attendance at the Superdome. The other 72,000 on hand, however, will be bent on making Griffins first career start as difficult as possible.To say the aging arena in downtown New Orleans is loud would be understatement. Its deafening and a big reason the Saints went 9-0 at home last season.Griffin and the rest of the Redskins offense has spent the past three weeks preparing for the challenge in Ashburn, where faux crowd noise was blasted during at least two practices inside the teams practice bubble. Practice, though, is no substitute for experience.Weve got to go out and make sure we can communicate non-verbally, Griffin said. Make sure guys arent making little mistakes because they cant hear.As if going toe-to-toe with Brees, reading an NFL defense in the regular season for the first time and controlling his own emotions werent enough for him to worry about.Good news on bounty suspensions won't have much effectAfter a tumultuous offseason that included the bounty scandal and Brees sometimes testy contract negotiations, the Saints scored their first victory of the 2012 season on Friday.A three-member appeals panel overturned the suspensions of the players implicated in the pay-to-injure scheme, clearing the way for them to return Sunday.Its expected that Saints defensive end Will Smith will play against the Redskins, while linebacker and emotional leader Jonathan Vilma will watch from the sidelines. Vilma is still recovering from a knee injury.The Saints didnt need another reason to get fired up. But now theyve got one.Victory is mine!!!! Vilma tweeted.

Redskins' Kirk Cousins consults current and former NFL starters for advice

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Redskins' Kirk Cousins consults current and former NFL starters for advice

A year ago, Kirk Cousins spent the spring and summer months competing for a job on the Redskins’ roster.

This offseason, he’s working to refine his routine as the Redskins' starting quarterback.

And that work, he revealed recently, has included reaching out to current and former NFL quarterbacks and asking them about their approach to the seven months between games.

"Basically, I’m trying to figure that out still,” Cousins said. “I feel like I’m still in [that] process."

"I’ve called a few of the starting quarterbacks around the league, a few of the retired guys who had great careers," he added, "and just asked them what worked for them in the offseason."

Cousins didn’t specify which quarterbacks he’s called. But he didn’t need to. The simple fact that he’s consulting them is interesting. And telling, even for a guy known for his meticulous preparation. (Last December, Cousins said he parsed each day into 15-minute increments using a color-coded spreadsheet.)

So what did Cousins ask? A little bit of everything, from football to family.

"What was their rhythm in January, February, March?" Cousins said. "When they went back in April, May, June, what’s their rhythm? What’s their rhythm in the summer? How do they handle family? How do they balance travel and opportunities?"

Seeking information from vets who’ve handled one of the most pressure-packed jobs in sports is a wise move for the 27-year-old Cousins as he navigates his first offseason as the Redskins' most important player. Because in addition to facing increased pressure and scrutiny on the field in the coming months, there no doubt will be more people vying for Cousins’ time, as well.

More media appearances. More marketing opportunities. More, well, everything. Dealing with the increased pressure and blitz on his time will be paramount, and the fact that Cousins has gotten out in front of it all should help.

"I’m still figuring that out, so I don’t know that I have a great answer," he said. "I’m trying to get to a routine that works for me and my wife and our family. Once we start in mid-April and go ‘til mid-June, football’s a huge priority and I’m trying to get as much done here as I can."

Kirk Cousins is excited about Jamison Crowder's growth, Josh Doctson's potential

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Kirk Cousins is excited about Jamison Crowder's growth, Josh Doctson's potential

Kirk Cousins says he's excited about up-and-coming receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson and what they'll add to the Redskins’ offense in 2016.

Cousins expects Crowder, who turns 23 next month, to make a significant jump in his second NFL offseason following a breakout rookie campaign.

“It’s a little bit of confidence and common sense, but when it’s your second year and you caught [that] many passes in your first year, you come in a little more confident and sure of yourself and you know what it means to be a pro now,” Cousins said.

A year ago at this time, Crowder was competing with veteran Andre Roberts for the slot receiver role. This offseason, all of those reps will belong to Crowder, who finished third on the team in catches (59) and receiving yards (604) in 2015.

The chemistry between Cousins and Crowder was apparent during Wednesday's practice, the first session of the spring open to media. On multiple occassions, Cousins completed tough passes to the shifty, 5 foot 8 playmaker as he was in full stride.

“All of that lends itself to taking another step forward,” Cousins added. “He’s a great teammate, smart player, has a natural sense of how to get open, how to run different option routes and choice routes, great natural hands and is really good after the catch pulling away from people. So, just add him of guys who we are excited about being able to throw to.”

The newest addition to that list, of course, is Doctson. Although Doctson, 23, was limited a bit this week due to a sore Achilles’ tendon, Cousins is already well aware of what the TCU product will bring to the Redskins’ offense.

Last season, tight end Jordan Reed was Washington’s biggest red zone threat. Now, Cousins will have Doctson, who is 6 foot 2, 206-pounds with a 41-inch vertical, as an option, as well.

“I went back and watched some of his highlights from TCU, and he is a special player,” Cousins said. “Looks like he can make the contested catch. It’s very natural for him to go up and catch that type of pass. He can run well. He has got great size. I almost thought he was a tight end when he showed up because if his size …having a guy like Josh could also be a great weapon in the red zone.”

The challenge for Docston over the remaining seven OTA practices will be getting more comfortable with the playbook so he can hit the ground running in Richmond. The challenge for Cousins will be identifying Doctson’s strengths and weaknesses, so he can develop the type of connection he already has with the other pass-catchers on the roster. 

“We’ll try to build that chemistry as he’s here and as we can work together and just learn what he does well and what fits him, what he is natural at and try to get him the football,” Cousins said. “We certainly can spread it around with all the talent at the outside positions.”

Which, obviously, is another challenge for Cousins, who now must find a way to keep Crowder, Doctson, Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon happy. That, however, is an issue for another blog post. 

Redskins teammates give Jordan Reed a hard time for new big-money contract

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Redskins teammates give Jordan Reed a hard time for new big-money contract

It all happened for Jordan Reed in 2015. He mostly stayed healthy - able to start 14 of 16 games - and played every game with the same quarterback in Kirk Cousins. The results broke Redskins records, as Reed hauled in 87 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Reed put up elite numbers for the tight end position, and in early May, the team paid Reed like an elite tight end. He signed a five-year, $46.5 million extension that will run through 2021, numbers that place Reed with the third-highest annual salary in the NFL.

His Redskins teammates noticed. It's common practice around the NFL for players to congratulate a new contract, and then promptly go into razz mode. It's part of the deal with getting a large contract extension, and Reed was no exception.

Asked if he had heard about his new contract during the Redskins OTA sessions this week, Reed smiled and confessed (full video above).

"I fell down yesterday and they were talking junk, ‘We ain't pay you 50 to fall down’ and things like that," Reed said on Wednesday. "They all over me man but it’s all fun."

The "50" in reference would be $50 million, so looks like the Redskins players are rounding up on Reed's deal. Plus, saying 50 is a lot easier than 46.5. More importantly, Reed knows the extra attention is meant in a fun way, and as other players have been asked about Reed's deal, all say the young tight end deserves it all.

"With Jordan Reed, you know he was so talented last year I mean how do you build on a season where you were as successful as he was?" Cousins said. "We would love to be able to develop sustained success where it is not just a one year flash in the pan and I think that is the challenge and message not just to Jordan but a lot of people."

Cousins' statement echoed the voices of many at Redskins Park. This team wants to prove that the success of 2015 was not a fluke, from GM Scot McCloughan and head coach Jay Gruden all the way down to the bottom of the roster.

And Reed is no different. On Wednesday Reed went deep on a wheel route, at least 30 or 40 yards downfield, and Cousins threw to him. The ball was slightly out of reach, yet Reed still fully extended and dove for the ball. In May. In OTAs.

"I can’t help it," Reed said when asked if the coaches and front office would want their new highly compensated tight end laying out for a ball in the offseason.

"I see the ball in the air and my instincts take over," he said. "I'm gonna go hard in practice."

Certainly Reed's size and skill were key to his new contract, but that attitude played a large role as well.