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Coming and Goings: Redskins cut roster, add punter

Coming and Goings: Redskins cut roster, add punter

Some lockers were emptied at Redskins Park today and someone came in to fill one of them.

Among those who bade farewell to Ashburn was Darnerien McCants, the wide receiver who was the last of the Redskins’ 2001 draft class who was still on the roster. It appeared that “Darkerien” (that was the way that Steve Spurrier would constantly mangle his name) was, if not a rising star on the team, was at least secure in his spot on the team after he tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches in 2003. Even with a regime change from Spurrier to Joe Gibbs, McCants appeared to be a valued property by the Redskins. Gibbs compared McCants to Art Monk, high praise indeed. Gibbs put the Redskins’ money where his mouth was by signing McCants to a three-year, $4.5 million contract that kept the receiver off of the restricted free agent market.

That pen scratching on that paper was the high point of the Gibbs-McCants relationship. Gibbs became disenchanted with McCants’ practice habits and with his reluctance to participate on special teams. Those factors earned him a spot on the inactive list for 10 games last year.

The handwriting seemed to be on the wall for McCants’ imminent release for most of the summer and it became a little bit more visible when the team signed receiver Kevin Dyson, another big receiver, just before minicamp. The handwriting turned bolder as he dropped pass after pass early in camp and in the Carolina preseason game and the ink turned indelible as he continued to sit out special teams plays in the preseason games.

I knew that he was gone as he spoke with a few of us after a training camp practice. When asked about playing special team, he said that he was lining up as one of the gunners on punt coverage. The only aspect of doing it he didn’t like, he said, was the hitting part. “If I get to him (the returner) I’ll just wrestle him to the ground or something.” That’s kind of like saying that you like to go swimming, but you hate getting wet. Such an attitude will not earn too many points with special teams coach Danny Smith, who is as old school as they come.

Oddly, McCants was the first to break the news of his release, doing so via his own website:

ITS OFFICIAL!!!
I AM NO LONGER A REDSKIN! I thank everyone for there support and love through out the years. I want you to know this is my home and always will be, if God see fit for me to play again i'll give it my all like always. I wish my Redskin family the best and to all my brothers stay healthy and win. I love all of you because without you i dont exist, thank you i wish you peace and many blessings... (sic)

It was rather classy but rather odd farewell from a rather classy but rather odd player.

Along with McCants, the Redskins released TE Billy Baber, DB Charles Byrd, K Jeff Chandler, RB Jonathan Combs, RB Brock Forsey, WR Steven Harris, DL Charles Howard, LB Jared Newberry, DL Jerome Nichols, LB Clifton Smith, QB Bryson Spinner, and OL Josh Warner.

Baber’s long odds of making it were made much longer when the team signed massive TE Robert Johns, who, unlike Baber, has been getting himself noticed. Byrd was caught in a numbers game in a very crowded defensive backfield. I really thought that Chandler would challenge Jeff Hall for the placekicking job, but the “competition”, such as it was, ended in the first preseason game when Hall nailed a field goal from 40+ while Chandler was wide on an attempt from virtually the same distance. Combs fumbled away his chances in the Carolina game and Forsey and Harris never really had a chance. In the early going in camp Howard was a chic pick among the media types and others to be a dark horse for a roster spot, but he faded as camp wore on. Newberry is the first of the team’s draft picks to be shown the door; he’s a good bet for practice squad duty. Like Howard, Nichols found himself with too many good, experienced players at his position and, like Newberry, Smith found the same situation. Smith was on everyone’s list of the final 53 on the roster, but with rookie Robert McCune showing promise in the middle and proving to be a special teams demon, Smith became expendable. Spinner’s release was inevitable as the need for four QB’s went away when two-a-days ended. Apparently Cory Raymer and Lennie Friedman listened to those who said that their spots one the roster were at risk as they have responded with solid play so far, a development that cost Warner a chance at stealing a spot from one of those two.

The only person at Redskins Park who was feeling as bad as those listed above was Tom Tupa. That’s because one of the newly vacant lockers was quickly filled by the belongings and #15 jersey of one Chris Mohr. He’s a punter with 16 years of NFL experience. After having an excellent 2004 season, Tupa developed a back problem while warming up for the Cincinnati preseason game. He missed all of that game and the next one. Tupa’s once rock-solid grip on a roster spot is now quite tenuous for two reasons.

One is the signing of Mohr, the other the play of Andy Groom. The first-year punter out of Ohio State has been booming the ball both in practice and in the punts he has made in the preseason games. He has shown not only power but touch as well, putting four punts inside of the 20 last Friday against Pittsburgh. In light of Mohr’s arrival, he must be wondering what a guy has to do to get a roster spot.

It would be uncharacteristic of Gibbs to go with an inexperienced punter, but such a move would not be unprecedented. During his first season as head coach, veteran Mike Connell handled the punting duties. In camp the following year Jeff Hayes who, like Groom, had never punted in a real NFL game, won the job over Connell. That move worked out OK as we all remember how Gibbs’ second season ended.

There was a key difference between then and now that might make Gibbs less likely to go with a younger player. Back then, Joe Theismann was the holder for kicker Mark Moseley. The coach has decided to go with the punter in that role this time around. It is here that Gibbs might be nervous about going with inexperience. The occasional shanked punt or misplaced directional kick due to inexperience is one thing. Handling the snap on a game-tying extra point in the fourth quarter in the rain in October is quite another. If Tupa is unable to go or if his situation is iffy, that could be the deciding factor between Groom and Mohr.

For his part, Mohr is confident, perhaps to the point where it seems the Redskins have told him that the job is his as long as he performs decently in practice. "At this stage of my career I don't want to come in and compete," Mohr said. "You know what I can do."

Well, we don’t really but I guess we’ll find out.

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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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