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More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

More talent and new coaches, but Jay Gruden knows challenges remain for Redskins defense

The Redskins defense struggled in 2016, especially on third downs.

The unit ranked dead last in the NFL allowing third down conversions, and that was one of many reasons the organization decided to overhaul their defensive coaching staff.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, secondary coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey are all gone. Players liked Barry but often, mostly privately but at times publicly, disagreed with schematic decisions. Fewell had few fans among the Redskins secondary, and Akey's defensive line just did not perform. 

The moves all made sense, especially looking at defensive statistics from 2016. 

NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT?

The hard part for Redskins fans to remember, however, is that new coaches will not necessarily deliver immediate results.

"It’s going to be a challenge. Anytime you have a new defensive staff, I don’t care how experienced you are, it’s your job to get the team to gel," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said during rookie camp. 

The changes start at the top, as Greg Manusky moves up from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Manusky is expected to deploy a more aggressive approach to the Washington defense, a move many players seem excited about. Players that worked under Manusky last season like Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy spoke highly of their position coach, which likely helped his candidacy for the coordinator spot. 

Replacing Fewell as secondary coach will be Torrian Gray, formerly of Virginia Tech. Gray has hands-on experience with second-year pro Kendall Fuller and knows DeAngelo Hall through Hokie connections. A fresh start will help in the secondary, where the unit often looked confused in 2016. More than one player would remarked last year that communicating with Fewell was never easy. That should be a first step for Gray.

On the defensive line, Gruden and 'Skins team president Bruce Allen think they got a star in coach Jim Tomsula. A powerful voice, Tomsula is known for developing strong players in the trenches, and he will be tasked with getting the most out of rookie Jonathan Allen as well as free agent additions Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. 

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

"I think from a talent standpoint, we feel like we’ve done a good job in the offseason addressing some of our needs with the draft and free agency," Gruden said. "We lost a couple of good players, but we feel like we replaced them and upgraded our team with depth, which is very good."

Beyond McGee and McClain, the Redskins also added Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger. In the draft, they added Alabama outside linebacker Ryan Anderson and UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau in the second and third rounds respectively.

One year after the Redskins spent nearly half of their salary cap allocation on defense as they did on offense, the team is trying to balance the ledger, particularly via the draft. It was the first time in 20 years the team used their first three draft picks exclusively on defense. 

Gruden believes in the players the team has acquired, and his defensive coaches now need to make it all work.

"I think we have a lot of depth on our defense right now as opposed to previous years, so it’s going to be their job and it’s a great challenge, that’s the challenge of all coaches is to get your team to gel defensively and play together. I feel like the talent is there for them to work with."

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!

 

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Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

Oddsmakers give Kirk Cousins favorable shot at 2017 NFL MVP

There continues to be a (ridiculous) debate on whether or not Kirk Cousins can continue to be a successful starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

In the betting industry, there is not much debate with Cousins being listed with 50/1 odds to win the NFL MVP award this upcoming season from Bovada. Among all the other players listed, he is in a tie for 14th. 

He is coming off back-to-back seasons with seven 300 yard passing games, a team record, and has an abundance of fresh, young wide receivers to compliment his passing style. Last year he was third in the league in passing yards with 4,917, trailing only Drew Brees (5,208) and Matt Ryan (4,944). 

The team may not be poised for a Super Bowl run in 2017-18, but if the team makes a post-season run, who will it be on the back of? Jordan Reed? Rob Kelley? Ryan Kerrigan?

No, it will be Kirk Cousins. 

RELATED: Ex-GM outlines staggering contract for Kirk Cousins

Entering this season at 40-years-old, and defending Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady is the overall favorite at 4/1. He is closely followed by Aaron Rodgers, and young quarterbacks Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. 

BOVADA 2017-18 NFL MVP ODDS:

Tom Brady, NE — 4/1
Aaron Rodgers, GB — 7/1
Derek Carr, OAK — 9/1
Dak Prescott, DAL — 12/1
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT — 12/1
Russell Wilson, SEA — 12/1
Matt Ryan, ATL — 16/1
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL — 20/1
Drew Brees, NO — 25/1
Andrew Luck, IND — 25/1
Cam Newton, CAR — 25/1
David Johnson, ARI — 33/1
Marcus Mariota, TEN — 33/1
Sam Bradford, MIN — 50/1
Antonio Brown, PIT — 50/1
Kirk Cousins, WAS — 50/1
Julio Jones, ATL — 50/1
Eli Manning, NYG — 50/1
Carson Palmer, ARI — 50/1
Adrian Peterson, NO — 50/1
Philip Rivers, LAC — 50/1
Matt Stafford, DET — 50/1
Odell Beckham Jr., NYG — 66/1
Rob Gronkowski, NE — 66/1
Alex Smith, KC — 66/1
Ryan Tannehill, MIA — 66/1
J.J. Watt, HOU — 66/1
Jameis Winston, TB — 66/1
Blake Bortles, JAX — 100/1
Andy Dalton, CIN — 100/1
Joe Flacco, BAL — 100/1
T.Y. Hilton, IND — 100/1
Marshawn Lynch, OAK — 100/1
LeSean McCoy, BUF — 100/1
Von Miller, DEN — 100/1
DeMarco Murray, TEN — 100/1
Carson Wentz, PHL — 100/1

RELATED: After Derek Carr deal, Cousins' best option may be short-term

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True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

True or False: Rob Kelley will be Redskins leading rusher

Robert Kelley emerged as the Redskins top running back in 2016, an incredible story of an undrafted guy working his way to the top. Of course, Matt Jones' problems with fumbling helped push Kelley to the top. 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden speaks highly of Kelley, particularly his fluidity and vision, but the team drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round this year to provide additional competition in the backfield.

Here's the crucial statement: Rob Kelley will lead the Redskins in rushing yards in 2017.

Finlay: True.

Kelley averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry last season and the Redskins ground game is very much centered on a "4 or more" philosophy. Washington running backs coach Randy Jordan joined the #RedskinsTalk podcast and explained that the team wants a runner it can count on for positive yards more than creating big plays. The Redskins offense, as designed by Gruden, sets up for big plays in the pass game, and the run should allow for proper use of play action. 

In just nine starts last year, Kelley gained more than 700 yards. Project that out over 16 games, and he would be over 1,000 yards rushing. Perine has much to learn about the NFL, and understanding pass protections will take time for the rookie out of Oklahoma. Chris Thompson will be a key part of the offense, but much of his yardage will come via the pass game. 

Kelley will lead this team in rush yards. He's looked great in OTAs and minicamp while the coaching staff believes Kelley is in much better shape this year than he was as a rookie. Write it down in pen. 

RELATED: How will Kelley and Perine share the carries?

Tandler: True.

After the draft and during rookie camp I was saying that there was a chance that Perine could lead the team is rushing this year. But after seeing Perine playing with the big boys in OTAs and minicamp it’s apparent that he has a long way to go to become a consistently productive running back.

One thing Kelley seems to have going in his favor is that he has a very sensible outlook on the NFL. As JP noted, Kelley showed up to Redskins Park in better shape than he did as a rookie. This indicates to me that he understands that being an NFL players is a year-round job. Staying in great shape is important in the league but at running back it’s vital. Kelley gets that and because he does, his chances of being available for 16 games are much higher.

In turn, that improves his chance of being the team’s leading rusher. I’m not sure if he’ll get 1,000 yards—Perine will get things figured out enough to take some carries before the season gets too old—but Gruden will make sure that he gets fed plenty as long as he is available. 

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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!

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