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Jay Gruden looking for Redskins DE Anthony Lanier to take a second-year jump

Jay Gruden looking for Redskins DE Anthony Lanier to take a second-year jump

When we look at if a team will improve from year to year we often make the mistake of focusing on players brought in from the outside. Who did they sign? Who did they draft? That ignores the fact that teams often make their greatest strides through improvement from the players they already have on their rosters. In particular, players often made great leaps from their rookie seasons to their second years and that improvement can make a team better without adding a new player.

One of the players the Redskins are hoping can make that leap is defensive end Anthony Lanier.

“We’re really, really excited about Anthony Lanier,” coach Jay Gruden said during the NFL meetings in Phoenix this week.

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A double “really” from the head coach warrants a closer look. Nobody was particularly excited last year when the Redskins signed Lanier as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama A&M. While there was some buzz about him during the offseason program and in training camp he was thought to be a practice squad candidate at best. It was a major surprise when he made the 53-man roster in September. The team cut defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, a fifth-round draft pick, and used the roster spot for Lanier.

“We didn’t want to risk losing a big defensive lineman that has some pass rush ability,” Gruden said last September on the decision to keep Lanier. “We’re going to try to keep him here to develop him.”

Lanier’s development came along slowly. He was inactive the first seven weeks of the season before taking the field for the game against the Bengals in London. Over the next three games he played 48 snaps, most of them in nickel situations. He got three QB pressures and recovered a fumble. While he didn’t have a huge impact, he was showing that he could learn on the job.

He played a few snaps in the Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas before he got kicked in the leg, causing an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

The early end to his season did not prevent Lanier from making a big impression on Gruden.

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“We do one on ones almost every day,” said Gruden. “That’s one drill that I watch diligently every day. One on one pass rush so I get to see how our offensive line is doing, that’s how games are won in my opinion. He was a guy who was most difficult for our guys to block. He was not a very natural rusher, either, he was just doing it on pure power, length.

“I think the more he works coming out of his stance, getting off on the snap count, hand usage, all these things that [new defensive line] coach [Jim] Tomsula will work with him, he’s got a chance to be really, really good.”

Another double “really” from the coach. It’s unrealistic to expect huge production out of Lanier, who still will be learning on the job. But if he can stay on the field and pick up four to six sacks and draw some attention away from edge rushers Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette, and Preston Smith he could be quite an asset.

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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Should the Redskins hit more in practice? Doug Williams explains the situation

Should the Redskins hit more in practice? Doug Williams explains the situation

The Redskins do not hold live tackling drills in training camp. In fact, they don't do it all season. Head coach Jay Gruden has been clear that he doesn't think his players need that additional contact in the middle of a grueling season that stretches from late July to the beginning of January.

Doug Williams, promoted to the Redskins head of personnel this offseason, played for the organization in the days when all teams did was live hitting and tackling. In the 1970s and 1980s practices were much tougher, and Williams was asked to compare that era when he played to the current era. 

The former Super Bowl MVP explained that there was no comparison between the eras, but also dispelled any notion that the Redskins run a soft camp. The franchise simply operates within the rules of the agreement between the NFL and the NFL Player's Association.

"I think we have got to be fair because the same rules apply to every team in this league. So, we can’t use that as an excuse and I’m certainly not going to compare it to the days when I played," Williams said last week in Richmond. 

His comments came in the days after the Redskins lost the physical battle to the Ravens in the preseason opener. The tenacity of camp was not the problem in that game, Williams said. 

"The excuse of not being able to do some of the things that we haven’t done, we can’t make that excuse as far as the rules are concerned because every team has to play up under the same rules. We just have got to be cognizant of it and train the guys, ‘Hey, this is what has to happen.’ We don’t get a chance to ‘hit hit’ and practice [tackling]. In a game time, your mindset should be, ‘tackle.’"

Could the Redskins hit more in practice? Yes. There is more room for hitting and tackling in the CBA than what the Redskins do. And yes, the 'Skins did miss a lot of tackles last season. Some of the worst offenders of missed tackles are gone now though, guys like Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton. 

By the time players make the NFL, they know how to tackle. Williams used Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger as his example. 

"I watch D.J. Swearinger, who I feel like has brought a lot of swag to this defense. There’s no doubt in my mind you don’t have to tell him that when the game starts that you have got to tackle, that this is tackle football. And I think once he gets out there, you’re going to get a lot of guys that are probably going to follow D.J. and I think that’s what we need and he’s here hopefully to lead us down that path."

Football practices have changed. That doesn't mean their soft. 

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

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Redskins rookie report card: Who performed well in training camp

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Redskins rookie report card: Who performed well in training camp

Training camp presents an opportunity for a lot of players to make impressions on coaches, but none more so than rookies. For the Redskins first-year players, Richmond gave the opportunity to show they were ready for the NFL, or in some cases, they weren't quite there.

Starting with the drafted guys, and including some of the undrafted, here's a letter grade pertaining to performance through three weeks of training camp practices and the first preseason game. Starting at the top:

  • Jonathan Allen: A- The first round rookie from Alabama came on strong over the last week of practices in Richmond. Once the pads came on, Allen showed his strength and quickness as he slowly started to get time with the first string defense. In the Redskins preseason opening loss to Baltimore, Allen flashed his top-end talent in the second quarter, shedding blockers with force and technique while displaying a high motor that netted him a sack. Allen is the real deal, and any Redskins coach will tell you that.
  • Ryan Anderson: B The second round rookie from Alabama is very good at a few things. The top of that list is playing against the run. Anderson's stout toughness sets the edge with ferocity, and that skill immediately translates to the NFL game. Anderson's pass rush can use work, though his intensity will keep him in plays that others might give up on. Like many of the Redskins outside linebackers, coverage will be a problem, but that should be something coaches know and scheme around. 
  • Fabian Moreau: Incomplete The third rounder out of UCLA only practiced twice in team drills while working back from a torn pectoral muscle. Just not enough to make a judgement. 
  • Samae Perine: C Fans got excited quickly about the potential of the fourth round running back out of Oklahoma, and had this grade been given before the Ravens game, it would have been a letter grade higher. But Perine did not look ready for prime time in Baltimore, logging a fumble and dropping a pass while rushing 6 times for 15 yards. Perine has talent, but learning the intricacies of the NFL offense after spending four years in a spread offense in the Big 12 is a major jump. Perine is willing and able to block, but needs to know where blitzers are coming from. Most importantly, however, Perine needs to hit holes hard. He has the strength to be an excellent short yardage runner, but he cannot hesitate in the backfield.
  • Montae Nicholson: Incomplete Similar to Moreau, Nicholson only had two team practices as he came back from shoulder surgery. Not enough to make a judgement. 
  • Jeremy Sprinkle: C+ A fifth round tight end from Arkansas, Sprinkle came to the Redskins with a reputation as a tough blocker. That didn't seem to show up early in camp, though the second week Sprinkle started to use his big body much more effectively. Even better for Sprinkle, he showed late in Richmond that he can be more than a blocker, as some soft hands got on display. Sprinkle is the player that might force Jay Gruden to keep four tight ends. 
  • Chase Roullier: B It's odd to say, but the sixth round pick out of Wyoming is the most certain of roster locks of all the Redskins third-day draft picks. Gruden has openly talked about his desire to have a backup center he can trust, and in short order, Roullier must be that guy. If the coach wasn't comfortable with the rook, the team would have brought a veteran in to compete to backup Spencer Long. That Roullier can also play the guard spot if the team gets desperate helps. He's been fine in practice, and has gotten a few reps with the first team offense. 
  • Robert Davis: B- Fairly non-existent early in camp, the sixth round rookie WR Davis is raw. He does have serious size and speed, but this grade leans on a strong performance, er, one explosive play in Baltimore. Davis won't be relied on for much from the Redskins this season, if he makes the team, and he needs to make a big impact on special teams. Working as a gunner in drills during camp, Davis showed the fight needed to effectively play on the outside of punt coverage. That will help. This grade would probably be a C+ if not for the catch in Baltimore. 
  • Josh Harvey-Clemons: C A seventh round pick out of Louisville, Harvey-Clemons doesn't seem to have a natural fit on the roster. He's big, and maybe best suited for a dime linebacker role. Hard to imagine a roster spot for Harvey-Clemons with the team's depth at both safety and inside linebacker, but with his size and instincts, the Redskins would probably like the chance to get him to the practice squad. 
  • Josh Holsey: B For a seventh round rookie cornerback, Holsey has been impressive. A capable player in the SEC, health has been Holsey's trouble, not ability. He has a real chance at a roster spot, and the feisty attitude coaches love from small corners. Has to stay healthy, has to produce on specials. 
  • Nico Marley: B Outside of Jonathan Allen, no rookie has garnered more attention than the undrafted Marley. It started out as a bit of a gimmick, Marley is the grandson of music icon Bob Marley. He's also incredibly small for an NFL linebacker at 5-foot-8 and 200 lbs. Despite the size limitations, Marley just keeps making plays. Against the Ravens he registered a sack and was named to the Pro Football Focus Preseason Week 1 Team of the Week. Marley works as hard as anybody on the Redskins, and has earned the respect of his teammates. It's hard to imagine a roster spot for Marley; he's certainly behind Will Compton, Mason Foster, Zach Brown and Martrell Spaight at the inside linebacker spot. Would Washington love to get Marley onto their practice squad? Seems very likely. 
  • Fish Smithson: C+ An undrafted rookie safety out of Kansas, Smithson has made some plays in camp. Another practice squad candidate that needs to prove his ability on specials. 
  • Tevin Homer: C Great size for a corner, but needs to work on his technique. Many rookies have trouble turning their heads in coverave once they get to the NFL, and Homer is no different. 
  • Zach Pascal: C With Kendal Thompson off the Redskins, there is a spot on the practice squad for a wideout. Pascal has size and decent hands. 
  • Kyle Kalis, Tyler Catalina: C- Both of these guys have been getting beat in Richmond, often. I watched Kalis at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and didn't think he had the quickness needed to play guard in the NFL. That opinion hasn't changed. Catalina has the size but needs to stay lower in his stance. 
  • James Quick: C Undrafted wideout from Louisville, Quick's built to be a slot receiver in the NFL. Needs to be quicker and work on route running.

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!