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Need to Know: 5 reasons for the Redskins to be optimistic about the 2014 season

Need to Know: 5 reasons for the Redskins to be optimistic about the 2014 season

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 22, 32 days before the Redskins start training camp.

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After their 3-13 debacle in 2013 the Redskins got a new coach and some new key players, giving them some reasons to be optimistic about their prospects for 2014. Here are five reasons for them to be optimistic.

Improved pass rush—Between the addition of Jason Hatcher and a more aggressive scheme on defense, the Redskins should be able to get more heat on the quarterback this year. That should not only improve their sack total (36 in 2013, tied for 21st in the NFL), it should lead to quarterbacks throwing the ball up for grabs.

Improved special teams—New special teams coach Ben Kotwica is smart and experienced and it appears that teams will be more of an emphasis this year. But the main reason to think that the kicking units will get better is that they have nowhere to go but up.

Strong rushing game—The Redskins were fifth in the NFL in rushing yards last year and with Alfred Morris returning, they should be able to move the ball on the ground. Will Jay Gruden get too pass happy? That seems unlikely, as the Bengals were in the top 10 in rushing attempts two out of the three years he was calling plays as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

A healthy and prepared Robert Griffin III—The 2012 rookie of the year did not really have a shot at repeating his debut season performance. The knee injury he suffered in the playoffs robbed him of preparation time on the field in the spring and summer and the bulky brace he had to wear hampered his mobility on the field in the fall. With full preparation time and full speed, Griffin will be much better this year than last.

A deep receiving threat—The addition of DeSean Jackson adds a dimension that the receiving corps hasn’t had in years. If things work out on the field as they do on paper (not always a given), Jackson should make big plays for the offense while helping create some wide open spaces for other pass catchers on other plays.

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Timeline

—It’s been 175 days since the Redskins played a game; it will be 77 days until they play the Texans in their 2014 season opener.

Days until: Training camp 32; Preseason opener vs. Patriots 46; Home opener Jaguars @ Redskins 84

In case you missed it

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Robert Kelley, Su'a Cravens, Colt McCoy among Redskins who'll have new numbers in 2017

Robert Kelley, Su'a Cravens, Colt McCoy among Redskins who'll have new numbers in 2017

The next time Robert Kelley plows over a helpless linebacker, he'll do it with a new number on his uniform.

The second-year running back is switching from No. 32 to No. 20, according to Redskins.com. And he's not the only returning player who'll take the field in 2017 with a new pair of digits.

Su'a Cravens will no longer be No. 36 for Washington. Instead, he'll change to No. 30. DJ Swearinger will be taking over No. 36 after coming over from the Cardinals, a number that he reportedly purchased from Cravens for $75,000

Then there's Colt McCoy. McCoy has donned No. 16 for the past three seasons, but he's throwing it back to his college days and will now rock No. 12.

MORE REDSKINS: THE ULTIMATE REDSKINS DRAFT PREVIEW

Finally, second-year corner Kendall Fuller only spent one year with No. 38. As he hopes to improve in his sophomore campaign, he'll be doing so with No. 29.

As for the free agents, Terrelle Pryor will be replacing DeSean Jackson in more ways than one when kickoff rolls around. Not only will the ex-Brown have to shine as a top receiver for Kirk Cousins like Jackson did, but he'll also be sporting Jackson's No. 11.

New linebacker Zach Brown, meanwhile, is now No. 56, linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain are Nos. 92 and 97 respectively and Brian Quick will keep No. 83 from his Rams days.

For a complete list of all the changes, click here.

RELATED: IS REUBEN FOSTER WORTH THE RISK?

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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