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Need for speed? Jay Gruden confident in Redskins options at safety

Need for speed? Jay Gruden confident in Redskins options at safety

The Redskins struggled at the safety positions in 2016, dealing with position changes and injuries, and the front office moved early in free agency to address the back end of the secondary.

Washington signed D.J. Swearinger away from the Cardinals in the opening days of the 2017 league year.

Swearinger will likely join second-year Redskins player Su'a Cravens in the back of Greg Manusky's defense. Cravens played linebacker as a rookie, but word came out late last season he would play safety in 2017.

Both Swearinger and Cravens are playmakers and big hitters, but the question has emerged if either player contains the speed neccessary to keep up with some of the elite receivers that play in the NFC East. At his USC Pro Day in 2016, Cravens ran a 4.69 40-yard dash. At the NFL Combine in 2013, Swearinger ran a 4.67 40-yard dash.

For Redskins coach Jay Gruden, there isn't much reason to worry.

"Knowing Su’a, I don’t think there’s a lot of things he can’t do so I’m excited to see him back there," Gruden told to reporters during the NFL League Meetings. "I think he’s going to have a lot more range than people give him credit for right now. He didn’t run the greatest 40 time, but he plays fast on the football field and that’s more important."

Gruden allowed that the team has some questions with Cravens simply because he hasn't played safety yet in the NFL. Other Redskins players have voiced plenty of confidence in Cravens' ability in the back end, and much of his work from college would suggest he should be capable.

Swearinger has a stronger track record at safety, though he's also on his fifth NFL team since being drafted in the second round in 2013 by the Texans.

"D.J., when you watch him in his career, he maybe disappointed a little bit early, but last year I think he played as good as any safety in the NFL," Gruden said. "He’s done it in different spots, wasn’t just a box safety, he played in the hole, he played half the field, he played corners, he played everything. Very productive, brings a great energy."

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Beyond Swearinger and Cravens, the 'Skins have options on the roster in Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett and DeAngelo Hall. 

"That’s the one thing with D-Hall, when you watch him play safety he sticks his face in there. He’s a very physical guy so we have to get him right," Gruden said. "We have Will Blackmon who came a long way last year too and Deshazor. I really liked what he did when he came in the game. We matched him up against tight ends and he had a big interception against Philadelphia. He did some good things. He’s a factor on special teams so he won’t be going anywhere."

Hall's offseason will be interesting to watch. The former Pro Bowl cornerback has dealt with injuries in each of the last three seasons and is still working on his conversion to safety. In the NFL since 2004, Hall acknowledged he might have to re-work his contract to stay with the team, but most signs point to that happening. 

Improved safety play, and just improved tackling from the safety position, could lead to an improved Redskins defense this fall. 

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Redskins 2017 position outlook: Wide receiver

Redskins 2017 position outlook: Wide receiver

With the season opener fast approaching, it’s time to put the Redskins’ depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming days we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Wide receivers

Starters: Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder (slot)
Other roster locks: Ryan Grant, Maurice Harris.
On the bubble: Robert Davis, Brian Quick

How the wide receivers compare:

To the rest of the NFL: This is an unproven group, with Pryor in his second year playing the position and Doctson coming off a lost rookie season. You don’t have to look far to find receiving groups with more proven production. The Giants have added Brandon Marshall to Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard to form one of the top groups in the NFL. It’s arguable that the Cowboys have a better corps. But Pryor has produced a 1000-yard season, Crowder improved from his rookie year to last year and Doctson is a recognized talent. They’re outside of the top 10 but not too far down the list, somewhere in the teens.

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To the 2016 Redskins: The Redskins became the first team to lose two 1000-yard receivers in a single offseason when both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon left in free agency. They managed to recover about as well as could be expected by signing Pryor and having Doctson in the wings. And maybe the backups could be better than they were last year. Ryan Grant has been catching everything thrown near him in practice and Maurice Harris will have his rookie year out of the way. But the harsh reality is that you don’t easily replace receivers like Garçon and, especially, the speedy Jackson easily. This group must be considered a downgrade until we see production on the field that indicates otherwise.

2017 outlook:

Biggest upside: Doctson was off to a great start in training camp before he suffered a hamstring injury. His talent for high-pointing the ball could make him a favorite red zone and third down target.

Most to prove: Ryan Grant has been a favorite of the coaches since he was a fifth-round pick in 2014. But he had only nine receptions in 16 games last year. If he wants an NFL future here or elsewhere, he needs to catch passes.

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Rookie watch: Sixth-round pick Davis has been targeted 11 times in two preseason games and he has 20- and 31-yard receptions. He is going to have to fight off Quick to remain on the roster but he appears to be ahead in that battle. Davis is helping his case by working as a gunner on the punt team.

Bottom line: There is no doubt that the team will miss the ability of Jackson to go deep, opening things up underneath. But it also is clear that the bigger, more physical receivers will help move the chains and increase red zone productivity. The size does not necessarily compensate for the loss of speed but Kirk Cousins still should find quality targets.

Quote-unquote

Jay Gruden on Ryan Grant:

He’s really strong, he’s in great shape, and he’s Mr. Consistent. Everything we ask him to do he does, and he does it right. No matter where he lines up, no matter what we ask him to do – he can come in the core and block the safety, whatever we want him to do, he can run whatever route from whatever positon and he runs at the right depth, perfect angles coming out of them. He’s just ‘Steady Eddie,’ and that’s why I like him. I like consistent, smart players and that’s what Ryan is.

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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Report: Despite off-field turmoil, NFL close to extension with commissioner Roger Goodell

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USA Today Sports

Report: Despite off-field turmoil, NFL close to extension with commissioner Roger Goodell

Despite off-field turmoil and a seemingly endless list of controversies, the NFL plans to extend the tenure of commissioner Roger Goodell, per a report from the NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. 

Goodell took over the top NFL job in 2006, replacing the long-tenured Paul Tagliabue. The extension reportedly will extend his era as commissioner through 2024, though Garafolo said the league and Goodell have a few "minor issues" to work through.

In 2016, Goodell reportedly made $34 million as commissioner. 

Under Goodell, the league has seen a windfall of cash, but also numerous off-field controversies.

The commissioner's role with player punishments has dramatically increased, and seems to grow more litigious year after year.

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Things seemed to hit their peak when the NFL suspended New England Patriots QB Tom Brady four games for possibly deflating footballs, though the evidence was far from concrete.

There have been plenty of other major controversies during Goodell's leadership: the ongoing concussion lawsuits and settlements, Ray Rice's domestic violence incident, Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring, Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault allegations, and more. 

This year — right now — Goodell is in the middle of dealing with an announced six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and the ongoing controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick's inability to land a job in the NFL. 

Ultimately, it appears cash matters most for the league and its commissioner. 

It's also worth adding that the NFL has not lost any games due to labor stoppage under Goodell's leadership. That could change, however, when the next collective bargaining agreement comes up after the 2020 season. NFL Player's Association leader DeMaurice Smith has talked of a possible strike or lockout, and some vocal critics of Goodell and the NFL, like Richard Sherman, have said that the players need to be prepared to strike to elicit actual change. 

There was some speculation that NFL owners, particularly Robert Kraft in New England and Jerry Jones in Dallas, might push for a change at the top as Goodell's autocratic disciplinary style found league stars suspended. Assuming a contract gets done, that speculation appears to be false. 

Goodell was commissioner in 2012 when the NFL penalized the Redskins $36 million against the salary cap for overspending during the uncapped 2010 season.

Redskins officials adamantly denied any wrongdoing, and the penalties had a significant impact on the team's ability to compete for free agents and roster depth. 

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