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It's not who starts the season for the Redskins at QB, it's who finishes

It's not who starts the season for the Redskins at QB, it's who finishes

INDIANAPOLIS—Jay Gruden’s almost casual announcement at the NFL Combine that Robert Griffin III will be the Redskins’ starting quarterback came as a surprise to just about everyone.

“We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No 1 guy and, you know, it’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person,” he said to reporters at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”

Here is what Gruden said on Dec. 29, the day after the Redskins’ regular season ended.

“Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition,” he said at his postseason news conference. “And I anticipate us having a competition at a lot of spots and quarterback is no different next year.”

So, what changed in the last seven-plus weeks? Unfortunately Gruden’s press conference was cut short so we didn’t have the time to probe into the reasons why the competition was called off.

All we can do is speculate. Perhaps Gruden and new general manager Scot McCloughan got their heads together, watched some film of Griffin, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy and decided that Griffin gave them their best shot. Perhaps front-office politics was involved, with team owner Daniel Snyder and president Bruce Allen, who are said to have pushed for the blockbuster deal that allowed the Redskins to move up in the draft and take Griffin in 2012, persuading Gruden and McCloughan to give Griffin, who struggled mightily at times last year, another shot at the job.

The question now becomes how long a leash Griffin will have. Last year Gruden benched a healthy Griffin in favor of McCoy just three games into Griffin’s return from a dislocated ankle. Will Gruden hesitate to pull a similar move if Griffin struggles again?

The critical thing here is not going to be who starts the season at quarterback, it will be who finishes the season. If Griffin starts the season opener and shows that he can get rid of the big issues that plagued him last year, he could start all 16 games. That is likely to lead to a new contract for Griffin and perhaps his career can get back on track. If it is Cousins, McCoy (who is currently a free agent), or any other QB the Redskins may acquire during the course of the offseason, Griffin could well be headed elsewhere.

A lot of how successful this plan will be depends on how Griffin views it. If he views it as the status quo and keeps preparing the way he has been preparing, with more of an emphasis on strength training and not enough time in the film room (according to multiple reports), he might find himself in a battle sooner rather than later. If Griffin thinks that he’s in for the fight of his life he may raise his level of play to meet the challenge.

There are advantages to not having a competition. Naming Griffin the starter gives him all of the first-team reps during the offseason program and training camp and he can use all of those he can get. Cousins, or whoever the backup ends up being, will have to do what backups do and get ready to play with only very limited first-team reps.

And if Griffin falters, there is a good chance that the backup will get a shot. And that is when the competition will begin.

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Redskins RB Thompson still nervous for impending cut down day

Redskins RB Thompson still nervous for impending cut down day

You would think that after spending two years as the team’s third-down back, playing more snaps than any other running back last season, and getting a second-round restricted free agent tender that will pay him $2.7 million this year, Chris Thompson might feel comfortable as the Redskins start up the final phase of their preseason program.

But Thompson says that he is as nervous about making the team as he was when he was a fifth-round in 2013.

“Even after the last preseason game when you guys talk to me I’m going to still be nervous when that time comes around because I never forget that feeling,” he told reporters on Monday prior to the Redskins charity golf tournament at Army-Navy Country Club.

“For me, I’ve just got to come out here and work every day to try to secure my job.”

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

The approach has worked for him in the past. He struggled with injuries his first two years in the league, playing a total of just six games. In 2015 he found his niche as the third-down back and he hasn’t given it up.

In fact, he may get more opportunities on first and second downs.

“I have a feeling that I might get a little more this year,” he said. “He [coach Jay Gruden] knows that I’m healthy and I can stay healthy. I think that was one of his biggest concerns, that I can handle the load. I think I’ll get a lot more opportunities.”

Rob Kelley is expected to be the starter and fourth-round pick Samaje Perine should get a significant number of carries. If Gruden plans on Thompson getting more work on the ground, that likely means that the Redskins anticipate running the ball more ofent than they did in 2016, when they were 27th in the NFL with 379 rushing attempts.

Health is key for Thompson. He not only played in all 16 games for the first time in his career last year, he came out of the season in good health. Not having the need to rehab is allowing Thompson to work on refining his game.

“[Being healthy] helps me to get away and focus on the little things that I need to work on,” he said. “Having a full offseason, being able to get away, I’ve been able to focus on those things. Just like my quickness, my route running. I know my route running is big for me to make it in this league so I work on that. . . that was my main goal.”

Thompson’s work ethic and his mindset where he takes nothing for granted have served him well. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and if he continues to produce he will be setting himself up for a nice payday. 

RELATED: OFFSEASON NFL POWER RANKINGS

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RB Matt Jones reportedly not part of Redskins' 2017 plans

RB Matt Jones reportedly not part of Redskins' 2017 plans

Matt Jones entered the 2016 season as the Redskins undisputed starter at running back.

That lasted seven games.

By Week 8, Jones landed on the inactive list, and he never took another snap all year.

With OTAs beginning for the 2017 season, it looks like Jones might not play with the team. 

NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT?

In April at the NFL Draft, reports surfaced that Washington was trying to trade Jones.

Weeks before that, at the NFL Owner's Meetings in Arizona, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden had to be reminded that Jones was still on the roster as the coach talked about the running back situation for this fall.

Robert Kelley surpassed Jones as the top running back on the team last season with Chris Thompson secure in his third down back role. 

Mack Brown even moved past Jones on the depth chart. When the Redskins drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round, that signaled even bigger trouble for Jones' roster situation.

The Redskins will likely only keep four running backs this fall, and with Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Brown, it sure seems like Jones is the odd man out.

It's remarkable considering Jones has size, speed and an NFL resume that has three 100-yard games on it in just 20 games. The Redskins spent a third-round pick on Jones in 2015, and he largely ousted fan favorite Alfred Morris from the RB1 role as a rookie. 

Life comes at you quick in the NFL.

Jones is a clear example of that. 

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ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back