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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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You probably don't realize how effective Kirk Cousins is as a runner

You probably don't realize how effective Kirk Cousins is as a runner

Back at the 2012 NFL Combine, Kirk Cousins ran his 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds.

Now, as far as QB 40-yard dashes go, that's not a bad number at all, but it's definitely not blazing, either. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, for example, ran his in 4.77 seconds that same year (while weighing 84 pounds heavier than the Michigan State signal caller), and 13 out of the 20 passers invited to the event topped Cousins' time.

That, plus the facts that Cousins isn't physically imposing and he clearly prefers to operate within the safe confines of the pocket, would lead you to believe that he's not much of a threat as a runner. But a stat — and this stat is far from an advanced one or a hidden one — indicates otherwise.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER ON SOME KEY KIRK COUSINS STATS

Over the last two seasons, Cousins has the third-most rushing touchdowns amongst quarterbacks. Cam Newton has 15 (not surprising), Tyrod Taylor checks in with 10 (also not surprising), and then there's Cousins, who rushed for nine scores in 2015 and 2016, which is good enough for a bronze medal on this particular podium (that's quite surprising).

Washington's starter has actually found the end zone with his legs more than peers like Andy Dalton (7), Alex Smith (7) and Aaron Rodgers (5) since taking over the primary gig in D.C., and all of those guys have reputations as runners that exceed Cousins'.

In fact, no one on the Burgundy and Gold has crossed the goal line as a ball-carrier more than the 28-year-old in the past 32 contests; Rob Kelley and Matt Jones are both three short of the man who lines up in front of them on Sundays.

Of course, Cousins isn't going to flatten defenders like Newton does, and he won't run around them like Taylor does. He also won't rip off big-gainers down the sideline when opposing team turns their back on him in man coverage.

But as the following highlights show, he hasn't just cashed in on one-yard sneaks the last couple of seasons, either:

All three of those plays were designed runs, and Cousins, while not exactly resembling Madden 2004 Michael Vickexecuted them perfectly. He doesn't really rack up yards — the numbers vary depending on which site you use, but the consensus is he's picked up about 150 total since 2015 — but Jay Gruden and Co. have developed a tremendous feel of when to use Cousins' feet instead of his arm in the red zone.

Sure, he's not going to show up on your Twitter timeline juking out a corner, and he won't scamper for much more than 10 yards at a time. But in a few games in 2017, Kirk Cousins is going to finish a drive with an impressive touchdown run instead of a throw, and that might shock you — even though it really shouldn't.

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins talk, back end of D

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins talk, back end of D

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, July 22, five days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 202 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 50 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 19
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 28
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 42

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics from the past week on www.CSNmidatlantic.com and on www.RealRedskins.com.

What would a fair Redskins contract offer to Kirk Cousins look like?  As it turns out, the offer the Redskins made fell below “fair” territory. But perhaps they recognized that a deal never was going to get done, not this year anyway. Cousins is content to see things unfold in 2017 and decide on a longer-term destination next year. So, the team’s offer was not high enough but there really wasn’t an offer that was going to be sufficient.

Cousins explains why he's not offended by Redskins statement—Bruce Allen raised plenty of eyebrows by detailing some of the team’s contract offer in a statement. Clearly the intent of the statement, which revealed some details that weren’t very impressive under closer inspection, was designed to turn public opinion in their favor. Cousins, appearing on the radio the next day, didn’t have a problem with it and said that Allen had told him that he would do it. As expected, plenty of fans and media types decided to be outraged in his place.

Redskins have plenty of 2018 cap room for possible Kirk Cousins offer—With the focus turning to 2018, the fact that the team will have about $60 million in cap space becomes relevant. It’s enough to give him the $35 million franchise tag and perhaps enough to match a front-loaded offer sheet if the Redskins use the transition tag. But the cautionary word is that they have at least a dozen starters and key contributors who also are set to be free agents next year. They will have to find money for them or their replacements somewhere.

Redskins depth chart preview--Safety—Cousins talk dominated the week but other topics did draw plenty of interest. The back end of the defense, with Su’a Cravens converting from linebacker and free agent D. J. Swearinger moving from being mostly a strong safety to playing free, will be under the microscope this year. Whether the defense gets better may hinge on the safety position. 

11 predictions for the 2017 Redskins offense—Does Trent Williams make the All-Pro team? How many yards for Rob Kelley? One prediction for each projected offensive starter here including how many non-receiving touchdowns for Jamison Crowder.

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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