Special teamsGrade vs. Rams: C-Comment:The big concern entering Sundays game was whether long snapper Justin Snow would find a rhythm with holder Sav Rocca and kicker Billy Cundiff after signing in Washington on Tuesday.As it turned out, the Redskins field goal operation was the least of the unit's problems at Edward Jones Dome. It was the punt team again.For the second consecutive week, Rocca had a punt blocked and the opposing team promptly parlayed the miscue into a touchdown. Facing a fourth and six at the Washington 24, Rocca received a perfect snap and, by the time he looked up, Matthew Mulligan already was in his face. Four plays later, the Rams had a 31-28 lead they would not relinquish.Its not like the 6 foot 4, 265-pound Mulligan used an elite burst of speed, outmuscled a lineman, raced around the corner, laid out and got a finger on the ball. He came right up the middle and stuffed Roccas attempt.Just like New Orleans Martez Wilson seven days before.The blocked punts, of course, come a season after the Redskins had five field goal attempts knocked down.So what the heck is going on, Coach?Last year, if you take a look at the blocked field goals, we lost a number of offensive linemen, Mike Shanahan said Monday. In every scenario, theres a different person at fault. You just keep on working to eliminate those problems. What happened in St. Louis is what I told you after the game some person was more concerned with coverage than they were with protection, and all of a sudden, you take off to quick and theres another mistake.Shanahan went out of his way to not name the player(s) at fault. But youve got to wonder whether Shanahans patience is also running short with popular special teams coach Danny Smith.The only reason special teams did not receive a failing grade is Cundiffs continued execution on kickoffs. Four of his five kickoffs Sunday resulted in a touchback.
Over the next few weeks, Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ 2017 depth chart as the team enjoys some R&R ahead of training camp. Some positions are easy to handicap. Others have moving parts and, thus, are more complex. So, who’s in? And who’s in trouble?
Position: Defensive line
On the roster: Jonathan Allen, Stacy McGee, Terrell McClain, Ziggy Hood, Anthony Lanier, Phil Taylor, Matt Ioannidis, Joey Mbu, A.J. Francis, Ondre Pipkins, Brandon Banks
Locks: Allen, McGee, McClain, Hood, Lanier
Allen still has plenty to learn. Don’t expect him to dominate from Week 1 on. But he will be a good one, both against the run and rushing the passer.
Maybe, just maybe, the Redskins signed a player on the rise in McGee. Despite missing seven games last year (a red flag, to be sure), he forced the first two fumbles of his career and had 2.5 sack after getting just half a sack in his first three seasons combined. He’s just 27 and perhaps the Redskins can get a good, productive, multi-year run out of a defensive line free agent signee. They are due, that’s for sure.
McClain is the more experienced of the two free agent D-linemen. He also posted career bests in forced fumbles (2) and sacks (2.5). The seven-year veteran stayed healthy last year but he missed 14 games in 2015 so that is something to keep an eye on. He will turn 29 next month.
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Hood seemed to be on the bubble all last offseason but the struggles of free agents Stephen Paea and Kendall Reyes opened the door for him. He played out of position at nose tackle for much of the season and he struggled. If things work out as they should he will be a rotational D-lineman, a role better suited to his skill set.
The coaches seem to be very pumped up about Lanier, in part because he pumped iron all offseason. He was listed at 270 pounds last year. Jim Tomsula said that he is now up to 291, a proper weight for a 3-4 defensive end. He will play some in the 3-4 but it’s likely that most of his snaps come lined up inside with Allen when the Redskins go into nickel.
On the bubble: Taylor, Ioannidis, Mbu, Francis, Pipkins
The fact that there are so many on the bubble is a result of the huge question mark that remains at nose tackle. All four of these players are candidates to make it if they can perform when the pads go on in Richmond and when the preseason starts up. Yes, even undrafted free agent Pipkins.
The best-case scenario is that Taylor stays healthy and has enough skill left to make the team and start at NT. Injuries have derailed his career after he had a couple of promising seasons as a first-round draft pick of the Browns. He hasn’t played a snap since 2014 so the 335-pounder is far from a slam dunk solution at nose.
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Ioannidis was a fifth-round pick last year who was released in the cut to 53, signed to the practice squad, then later promoted to the active roster. The Temple product played sparingly, baby steps, really. The final tally was just 103 snaps, more than 16 in a game just once. He needs to step up in training camp to make the team.
Their resumes say that Mbu and Francis should be competing to stay on the practice squad, where both spent time last year. But the nose tackle situation opens the door for them. They may be more long shots than bubble players but opportunity is there.
Long shots: Banks
If you put down the odds that all 90 players under contract have of making the 53-man roster, Banks just might be the longest shot. He’s undersized at 285 pounds and he’s an undrafted rookie out of Charlotte. But he is under contract and he will be in camp, giving him a better shot than the guys who are at home wishing they were in camp.
The point here is not to suggest Robert Kelley is a better running back than Ezekiel Elliott. Both players were rookies last season, Elliott drafted in the top five out of Ohio State and Kelley undrafted out of Tulane.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing, gaining more than 1,600 yards and averaging more than 5 yards-per-carry. Kelley did not take over the Redskins No. 1 RB job until mid-season, and while he didn't even rush for 1,000 yards, he gained 700 yards in nine starts and averaged more than 4 YPC.
There was one stat, however, where Kelley stood out. Pro Football Focus provides the baseline.
No rookie running back forced more missed tackles on running plays than Jordan Howard in 2016. pic.twitter.com/FqD9mUgEoh— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 26, 2017
The statistic stands out for Jordan Howard, a star rookie runner for the Bears. Howard ran for more than 1,300 yards last season on 252 carries to get to his 40 misses.
Elliott's run totals were much, much higher. The Cowboys star ran the ball 322 times, resulting in 36 missed tackles. Kelley ran the ball just 168 times, and made 35 defenders miss.
Using basic math, Elliott made a defender miss about every 8.9 carries. Kelley made a defender miss about every 4.8 carries.
Redskins coaches talked repeatedly about Kelley's vision and ability to make defenders miss as a big part of his ascension to the top running back spot. Ends up, they were right.
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