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Colt Brennan a modern-day Babe Laufenberg?

Colt Brennan a modern-day Babe Laufenberg?

The Washington Redskins with a sixth-round quarterback with a cool-sounding name fighting for a roster spot and creating a stir by leading the Skins to dramatic wins in the preseason?

Been there, done that. The Cult of Colt was preceded by Save the Babe.

Twenty five years ago Babe Laufenberg played the role of underdog fan favorite, fighting against the odds for a roster spot.

It may be a stretch to call Laufenberg a DC legend, but he is probably the most famous Redskin never to play a down in an NFL game in a Washington uniform. The quarterback thrilled big crowds in sweltering weather during the preseason, but he never got the chance to show the RFK faithful what he could do when the games counted.

Laufenberg's prospects for ever being heard of at all looked slim when the Redskins drafted him in the sixth round of the 1983 draft. Ahead of the Indiana Hoosier on the depth chart was Joe Theismann, who had just quarterbacked the Redskins to a win in Super Bowl XVII. Bob Holly was the backup, but that job saw as little action as the Maytag repairman. Theismann prided himself in being durable and he rarely left a game.

Still, Laufenberg managed to draw a regular paycheck in 1983, landing on injured reserve with a mysterious ailment. The next draft, the Redskins showed how impressed they were with Laufenberg's potential when they took a quarterback in the third round. Jay Schroeder was a UCLA product who hadn't played football in two years, having played minor-league baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays organization. In addition, Washington signed an experienced veteran, former Cardinal Jim Hart, as its second-team signal caller.

The battle for third string behind Theismann and Hart was joined in the third preseason game when the New England Patriots paid an August visit to RFK. Theismann played in the first half and turned a 17-10 lead over to Schroeder. The rookie's first pass attempt was tipped and intercepted deep in Redskin territory, leading to a Patriot TD. In four series, Schroeder had nearly as many of his passes caught by Pats (2) as by Skins (3).

In came Laufenberg with the Redskins trailing 31-17. He led a drive to a field goal and then passed Washington into New England territory again. A 36-yard TD pass to Steve Stapler got the Redskins within striking distance. Even though a last-gasp drive to the Patriot 30 ended with Laufenberg throwing an interception the gusty performance made the underdog QB a fan favorite.

It didn't quite make him enough of a favorite of the organization to win him a roster spot, but his peculiar arm ailment returned and he again got a spot on injured reserve. Laufenberg would get one more chance in 1985.

He gave it his all in training camp. "I've got a world of respect for Babe," said Joe Gibbs. "No one we have has worked harder or had a better attitude. He deserved this opportunity."

The Patriots again visited RFK in August and Laufenberg knew he would have, as he put it, his "one big chance" to unseat Schroeder for the last QB roster spot in the second half. He made the most of it, although there were some shaky moments.

He was 12 of 21 passing and the home team had trouble moving the ball for much of the half. Midway through the fourth quarter, Laufenberg found his stride, scrambling and launching a 75-yard TD bomb to rookie wide receiver Gary Clark, giving the Redskins a 30-26 lead.

The Patriots responded with a touchdown and a field goal to take a six-point lead. Laufenberg's fumble had set up the field goal. When the Redskins got the ball back at their own 26 with 1:04 left, one big chance for Laufenberg had come down to one last chance.

He made the most of it. Going four for five for 59 yards on the drive, Laufenberg earned a loud roar from the crowd when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Clint Didier with four seconds left to give the Redskins the win.

His status as a cult favorite was sealed. Around town many men ceased shaving, growing "Save the Babe" whiskers to show their support for the bearded Laufenberg.

As cut down day approached, Laufenberg made his case. "They (Redskins) can do what they want now," he said. "I felt that if I got a chance, I'd produce. I realize that this might help me with another team if I don't fit into the plan here, but I'll say right now that here is where I want to play."

"I've got some very tough decisions to make," Gibbs said, "including the one at quarterback. I'll probably just wind up going with my heart."

Gibbs' heart told him to cut Laufenberg and stick with Schroeder. The Babe was brought back after Theismann suffered a career-ending broken leg in November of that year, but Schroeder played well taking over for Theismann and Laufenberg saw no action. The next year the Redskins decided to go with a more experienced player as their backup quarterback, a USFL refugee named Doug Williams.

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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