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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

Jay Gruden seems to be happy with all 10 of the Redskins’ draft picks but he seems to like two in particular. It looks like the team already has specific roles carved out for the two receivers the team took.

Appearing on ESPN 980 on Monday, Gruden was asked by host Kevin Sheehan what draft picks other than top selections Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith would have the earliest impact on the team. After first saying that he was excited about all of them and that it was hard to name one player, Gruden named three—receivers Jamison Crowder (4th round) and Evan Spencer (6th) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (6th).

He didn’t go into any detail about what kind of impact Mitchel would play. “He’s an exciting player, he can play nickel, he can play corner, he’s an exciting guy,” said Gruden. Apparently we’ll have to wait to see what all the excitement is about.

Gruden apparently has plans for Crowder to play a role in bolstering the return game, a weak spot on the team for the last several years.

“Crowder has a skill set where he can be a slot receiver and a return guy from Day One, which is exciting,” he said. “So he has a chance to get the ball in his hands and make an immediate impact, quickly, if he can handle it.”

Andre Roberts was the team’s returner last year and his performance there was pedestrian at best. His average of 7.4 yards per punt return was 24 among qualifiers in the NFL and his kickoff return average of 23.7 yards was 21st.

It was interesting to note that Gruden said Crowder can make an impact “if he can handle it” and not something like “if he can beat out Roberts”. It would be a major upset if Crowder is not back there to field the first punt in Week 1.

Gruden envisions a role for Spencer in two phases of the game.

“Evan Spencer, he’s a special teams monster,” he said. “He can block . . . You want to run a power running game you’ve got to have a receiver who can block and do all that . . . But also special teams. You’ve got to have a guy who can cover punts, cover kickoffs we didn’t really have that at our receiver position. Adding him, he’s going to have an immediate impact.”

The Redskins’ backup receivers have not contributed much on special teams. Leonard Hankerson never developed much enthusiasm for kick coverage or blocking and Ryan Grant played a very limited special teams role last year despite being active for 16 games and played only 187 snaps on offense.

We knew that a contribution on special teams would be expected from Spencer but the role as a power running game blocker is interesting. That would mean that he will get snaps on first and second down and those reps will have to come from Roberts, Pierre Garçon, or DeSean Jackson. And they would have to throw the ball to him on occasion so that his presence on the field doesn’t automatically tip off a run. And like the snaps, those targets in the pass game will come at the expense of another receiver.

If Spencer and/or Mitchel can contribut at all it would represent a step in the right direction for the Redskins when it comes to getting something out of the last rounds of the draft. Last year they had one sixth-round pick, RB Lache Seastrunk, and two seventh rounders, K Zach Hocker and TE Ted Bolser. None of them made the 53-man roster and none are currently with the organization.

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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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