Donnell "D. J." HoltLinebackerCalifornia6-0 34, 209The need: 37-year-old London Fletcher is as durable as they come and continues to corral anyone toting a football, but father time eventually wins all battles. The reserve options are a collection of players learning new positions, those coming off injury or special teamers who also play linebacker. The situation is hardly dire, but there is an opening for a training camp unknown to emerge, especially if the Redskins keep more than eight linebackers.The fit: An experienced and instinctive inside backer, Holt racked up 168 tackles thepast two seasons starting at Cal, 14for a loss. He also played on special teams, an area he must excel in for any shot at the opening game roster. Along with wide receiver Lance Lewis and corner Chase Minnifeld, SI.com highlighted the trio as potential undrafted free agent finds. Consistency and aggression more than skill dropped Holt in the eyes of draft evaluators. Finishing his senior season without an interception or forced fumble did not help his draft stock either.The depth chart: At one point this offseason, theslots behind starters London Fletcher and Perry Riley had a vacant sign on them. Then theRedskins shifted Lorenzo Alexander inside. Then they drafted Keenan Robinson in the fourth round. Then they signed free agents Jonathan Goff, a noted run defender who missed last season with a knee injury, and Bryan Kehl. There is a touch of uncertanty with how the reserves hierarchy shake out, but there are also enough pieces to make one think the Redskins should be passable barring the unforseen.Holt'supside: Last season the Redskins started with nine linebackers, five on the outside.If that final slot goes toone of the inside options, then Holt's chances increase. Even then,he would need to best Kehl on special teams, hopetaking more snaps in the middle than Robinson on the college level helps his causeand perhapsget lucky should theversatile Alexander get placed elsewhere on the roster. Obviously, injuries do and will crop up, so there is also that angle. Cracking the practice squad would be a good start.Pro Football Weekly on Holt: Stoutly built and thickly muscled. Secure clear-path tackler. Can drop into short zones. Football smart. Has special-teams experience. Good character...Catches too much contact and is not strong at the point of attack. Pedestrian speed and suddenness. Limited range (can be beat to the perimeter). Struggles to break down in space. Can play with more urgency. Has underachiever traits...Compact, inconsistent inside linebacker who looks the part of a thumper but does not play downhill or with a lot of strength. Intermittent violence, explosion and intensity are concerning."
It took three games but last Sunday in New York Redskins rookie running back Rob Kelley finally hit the field with the offense. His effectiveness was middling as he ran four times for seven yards, but Kelley showed himself to be capable of backing up Matt Jones as a conventional runner.
The rookie from New Orleans also explained why a few of his runs were cut short.
"I think I was too excited, I kept slipping around or something," Kelley said on Wednesday.
Twice Kelley lost his footing on the Giants Stadium turf, and the slips ruined what could have been opportunities for solid gains. In preseason action Kelley did a good job of identifying holes to run through, and despite the footing issues, that skill showed in New York as well.
"We hadn't been on turf in a long time. Even in pregame, we had a little trouble keeping grounded on the turf," Kelley explained. "I think I saw the holes pretty well, I think I was making the cuts I needed to make, I just got to stay on my feet next time."
Kelley has been active for all three 'Skins games this season but did not record a carry until the third, coincidentally the team's first win. His first game action on offense was quite a jolt for the rookie.
"It was more exciting. Preseason is cool but you go out in a real game it's different," he said. "Once I got out there I thought I was going to be nervous. I wanted to make some plays. I was actually shocked I wasn't kinda nervous, I was more excited than anything."
While Kelley's performance was not the spark responsible for victory, getting carries to a third running back - after Jones and Chris Thompson - shows a true commitment to the run game from Jay Gruden and Sean McVay. That commitment was missing the first two games.
"When Matt Jones get a few more carries I think it's a good sign for me to get some," Kelley said. "I think coach has put together a good game plan for us."
For Jones, he was happy to see Kelley get rush attempts. Just last season, Jones was the rookie hitting the field for the first time.
"It was good to see him get some carries and get downhill," Jones said. The 'Skins starting runner added of Kelley's footing, "He knows he's got to stay on the ground."
Committing to the run for Washington means committing to Jones primarily, yet it could also mean more carries for Kelley. Odds are in his next NFL action he can keep his feet on the ground.
It’s a story that happens all around the NFL every week. Players get injured on Sunday, calls go out to veterans on Monday, they try out and sign on Tuesday. Then the hard work of learning a new team’s system begins, a task that is especially tough when the new player is a center with all of the protection and other calls that have to come from that position. Other than quarterback it’s the toughest transition in the NFL.
But new Redskins center John Sullivan doesn’t seem to be that worried about it.
“It just takes time to get calls down,” said the former Viking. “Essentially, most football’s the same. There are certain changes here and there I’ve played in a few systems so there’s some carry over more from the first system I was in in Minnesota. But it’s just getting Bill [Callahan’s] calls down, Bill’s techniques, all that stuff. The guys are helping me along and Bill is doing a good job so I think I’ll have them pretty quick.”
Sullivan certainly has a lot of experience in football. From 2008-2014 he started 93 of a possible 96 games at center for the Vikings. But he missed all of the 2015 season after having back surgery. He returned to Minnesota this year but he was released on August 30. He says his health hasn’t been an issue going back to the start of offseason work in April.
“At that point, you get through a couple of days not feeling any restrictions and you start to really forget about it,” he said.
Now it’s time for the crash course in Gruden/McVay/Callahan Offense 101.
“I feel like I’m back in training camp, trying to learn an offense, spending a lot of time here at the facility and staying in a hotel room close by,” said Sullivan. “It’s a little bit different but it’s exciting all the same.”
It remains to be seen what role Sullivan will play. With Kory Lichtensteiger out for at least eight weeks the starting center job is vacant. Spencer Long can start there and he may be the long-term answer at the position. But while left guard Shawn Lauvao is sidelined with an ankle injury the logical move is to have Long, who started 13 games at left guard last year, play there. That would open up center for Sullivan.
Stay tuned. For strategic reasons there is no reason for Gruden to announce anything about his starting offensive line in advance of when the offense takes the field for the first time against the Browns. We may not know until then.