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Gibbs' Redskins Take It Easy

Gibbs' Redskins Take It Easy


We may lose and we may win though
We will never be here again
So open up, I’m climbin’ in,
So take it easy

--The Eagles

As we approach mid August, NFL training camps are in full swing. Across the country from Flowery Branch, Georgia to Albany, New York to Oxnard, California, and many points in between two-a-days in full pads are the order of the day. The sights, smells, and sounds of grass drills, Oklahoma drills, and full-contact 11-on-11 drills are abundant all across the landscape.

That is, except in Ashburn, Virginia. The Redskins finished their last two-a-day practice on Tuesday. They were given a day off on Sunday, a luxury that very few of their counterparts on other teams have enjoyed. Just a handful of practices have been conducted in more than half pads. The starters participated in some activities prior to a scrimmage against the Ravens last weekend but most of them, including every starter on the offensive side of the ball, sat out the full 11 on 11 action. By comparison to, say, the Atlanta Falcons, who have gone for 14 days without a day off with two-a-days every other day, the experience in Ashburn has been more like Club Gibbs.

According to Joe Gibbs, the Redskins earned their relatively light camp schedule with an attendance rate of 98% at OTA’s and other voluntary offseason activities. Certainly, the players, with very few exceptions, seem to be in excellent condition. Six-pack abs are much more prevalent than the hog bellies around Redskins Park.

Still, most players are in shape around the NFL and they’re doing gassers while the Redskins are in an air-conditioned meeting room. Is Gibbs taking a chance in going with a much lighter physical workload?

The evidence says that Gibbs knows what he’s doing. Here is his record month by month, including playoffs:

September: 31-20 (.607)
October: 33-21 (.611)
November: 36-23 (.610)
December: 39-14 (.735)
January: 19-5 (.791)

Gibbs’ teams start off pretty well, a 60% winning percentage being about a 10-win pace over the course of 16 games. After the falling leaves give way to falling snow, however, the winning percentage shoots up to the point where his teams are winning three out of every four games. His theory is that the team will be fresher towards the end of the year if they don’t take too much of a physical toll in August. It’s clear that the Redskins have their legs under them in December and January.

In contrast, the tough camp that Jim Mora ran for the Falcons in 2005, which was similar to the one he’s running this year, had Atlanta set up in good shape up until the middle of the season. A 6-2 start, however, was turned around as the Falcons went 2-6 the second half of the season and missed the playoffs.

To be sure, this is just a snapshot and the link between the tough camp and the late collapse is a hypothesis, not a proven fact. But the human body can only take so much hard physical activity before it begins to break down. It’s too much to ask the players to hit the weight room hard starting in March, conduct OTA’s through May and June, hold a minicamp, pound them in training camp in August before going through the grind of the 16-game NFL schedule. Something has to give somewhere.

It’s a marathon and Gibbs has decided that the strategy will be to take it easy in the middle of it. They jump out strong at the start, getting a lead on the pack with hard work in the spring and early summer. In the middle, they conserve their energy, keeping a steady pace while others are sprinting by them. The Redskins save up for the finishing kick, the last quarter of the race when they are able to keep in cruising while the rest of the field is gasping for air.

The danger is that you just may let one or two of the other race participants get too far ahead of you to catch up. You can’t rely on pulling out a 5-0 finish to the season every year in order to make the last Wild Card playoff spot as the Redskins did last year if you want to make it to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins have upgraded their talent this year in an effort to stay close enough to the leaders so that their annual December run will put them over the top instead of just barely nudging them into the postseason. We will see if that talent improvement will have them poised to make their run when Thanksgiving comes around. We know from history that the finishing kick will be there.

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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.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

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:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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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.

Timeline

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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