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Behind Enemy Lines: The Patriots

Behind Enemy Lines: The Patriots

I received an invitation from Bruce Allen of PatriotsDaily.com, an outstanding independent blog covering New England, to exchange a few questions about the respective teams that we cover. I was happy to oblige. Here are Bruce's answers to my queries about the Pats. As soon as I get it I will post a link to my answers to his questions.

Rich Tandler: Does Belichick seem like a lifer as coach of the Pats? Or is there maybe a surprise retirement announcement out there in three or four years?

Bruce Allen: His contract is always a subject of discussion by the media here. The last we had heard was that his current deal took him through 2013. Coaching really seems to be his life, and I'd say the job is his as long as he wants to keep doing it. At this point I can't imagine him coaching anywhere else, nor can I really see him doing what Bill Parcells is going with the Dolphins right now, being strictly a front office type. My guess is that he'll be here at least as long as Tom Brady is.

RT: Some key members of the defense, the guys that won the Super Bowls, are getting up there in age. Give me a couple of players who will be the next generations of anchors on the defense.

BA: Two names come immediately to mind - linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Brandon Meriweather. Mayo is already a leader on the veteran defense, will be handling the play calling and seems to be the type of student of the game that Belichick loves. One school of thought has the Patriots toying with a 4-3 defensive front this season just to free up Mayo to be able to go out and make plays. He's all over the field.

The 2008 Patriots defense didn't have many big plays in the course of the season. On the rare occasions that they needed a play made and someone actually stepped up and made it, it was Meriweather. A last season 4th down sack of Seattle QB Seneca Wallace which sealed a victory for the Patriots comes to mind. His rookie year he couldn't catch a pass thrown directly at him, last year he lead the team in interceptions. He's not the big, hard hitting type of safety, but he's a playmaker.

RT: What's the concern level about Brady's knee? And, should he have to sit out a game or two, is there another Matt Cassel on the bench?

BA: Brady had a couple of awkward throws off his back leg in the previous preseason game, and the timing on his throws has been a little off at times. Generally though he seems to be ready to start the season, and he has yet to miss a practice session in training camp - including a ridiculous stretch in which the team had double sessions seemingly every day for two weeks. The backups seem a little shaky at the moment. Kevin O'Connell was a third round pick last year, has a good arm and is mobile, he would seem to be the QB to call on, though the team did sign former Raider Andrew Walter in camp and seems high on his potential. I don't know if there is a Cassel there, but then again, Cassel looked absolutely dreadful in the preseason last year. There was a lot of surprise around that he even made the opening day roster.

RT: Give me someone on each side of the ball who will be fun to watch after the starters have departed.

BA: On Offense, seventh round pick Julian Edelman has been the talk of camp. A converted QB from Kent State, Edelman has been in at wide receiver and punt returns, and has been electric, running back a punt 75 yards for a TD in the first preseason game. He seems a lock to make the final roster. A longer shot to make the roster is undrafted WR Terrence Nunn, who has made a big impression in practice, catching everything thrown his way, and should end up on an NFL roster somewhere.

On defense, check out second round pick Pat Chung, who seems to have a little Rodney Harrison in him. He's a hard hitting safety who has also made some plays on special teams, blocking a field goal. Sixth round pick Myron Pryor has also been active on the defensive line, getting into the backfield on a regular basis.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.


Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:


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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.


The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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