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Need to Know: 5 Redskins who could have breakout 2014 seasons

Need to Know: 5 Redskins who could have breakout 2014 seasons

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 2, 15 days before the start of minicamp.

Nickel coverage

Breakout players can either be relative unkowns who all of a sudden have a standout year or they can be solid performers who blossom to play at a Pro Bowl level. Here are five 2014 breakout candidates for the Redskins, some from both categories.

LB Ryan Kerrigan—He’s been an eight-sack per year player with a total of two pick sixes and 10 forced fumbles in his three seasons. If Jim Haslett’s scheme does turn out to be more aggressive than it was under Mike Shanahan it’s not hard to see Kerrigan posting double digit sacks with half a dozen forced fumbles and a few touchdowns. Last year only Tamba Hali of the Chiefs had 10 or more sacks, an interception and scored two or more touchdowns (he had three). That would be some pretty good company for Kerrigan.

TE Jordan Reed—This is not a difficult pick. Last year he was on pace to catch over 70 passes for 800 yards before his season ended early with a concussion. With a year under his belt, a likely improved QB pulling the trigger in a healthy and prepared Robert Griffin III, and a head coach who knows how to utilize the tight end position Reed could well surpass last year’s “on pace” numbers in 2014.

DL Chris Baker—It’s hard for a 3-4 defensive lineman to break out since if they’re doing their jobs you don’t hear much about them. But with his size and athletic ability, Baker could rack up some sacks and make his presence felt on the field.

CB David Amerson—If Baker and Kerrigan are having breakout seasons and getting to the quarterback, a lot of opponents’ passes could end up in the arms of Amerson. It’s unlikely that he’ll become a shutdown corner but his ballhawking ability could get him more than his share of interceptions. If he can get over half a dozen he could lead the league, an accomplishment that usually earns Pro Bowl consideration.

OT Trent Williams—He’s already pretty well regarded with Pro Bowl selections in each of the past two years. His reputation could grow this year if Jay Gruden’s offense employs a hybrid of power running and zone blocking. This will give Williams a chance to show off his versatility and possibly advance from Pro Bowl to All-Pro.

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Timeline

—It’s been 155 days since the Redskins played a game; it will be 97 days until they play the Texans in their 2014 season opener.

Days until: Minicamp starts 15; Training camp 52; Redskins @ Eagles 111

In case you missed it

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Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Kirk Cousins played better in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, but the quarterback still didn't play as well as he's proved capable in previous seasons. He finished the 27-20 win over the Rams by going 18 of 27 for 179 yards with a touchdown. Important for Cousins, after three turnovers in a Week 1 loss, he did not fumble or throw an interception in Los Angeles. 

RELATED: WEEK 2 NFL POWER RANKINGS

Digging deeper into the numbers, one trend has emerged: Cousins and the Redskins are not having much luck in the downfield passing game. Stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

  • This season, Cousins has not completed a pass longer than 20 yards in the air. Against the Eagles in Week 1, Cousins missed on five deep attempts. Against the Rams, Cousins didn't have a deep attempt. 
  • Not surprisingly, Cousins does much better when he's not under pressure. On the season, the Redskins passer is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes without pressure, and that number drops to just below 43 percent under pressure. 
  • Cousins took four sacks against the Eagles, but that number dropped in half against the Rams.
  • Against the Rams, Cousins found his greatest success throwing to his left. On attempts to his left side, he completed all five attempts. Throwing over the middle or to the right, he threw 19 passes and completed 13. Week 1 Cousins also found his best success throwing to his left. 

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Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

The end of Preston Smith’s 2015 rookie season set high expectations for his future. The outside linebacker racked up six sacks in the final four games including three in the Redskins’ division-clinching win in Philadelphia and one that got Aaron Rodgers for a safety in their wild-card playoff game. His eight sacks led all NFL rookies

But he wasn’t the player the team hoped he would be in 2016, at least not consistently. Smith got 4.5 sacks on the year. He had some dominant games like the one against the Vikings when he got two sacks and his first career interception. But he also disappeared for weeks at a time.

This past offseason the Redskins drafted outside linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round and they re-signed Junior Galette. You always want to have good depth at the edge rushing position but it also appeared that the organization wanted to ensure that it would have alternatives if Smith’s sophomore slump extended into his third season.

RELATED: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS' WIN IN LA

But so far, we have seen a Preston Smith who looks more like the one who finished up his rookie season than the often invisible 2016 version. He has two sacks in two games plus two quarterback hits and two hurries. While it’s very early, Smith is starting to live up to the potential he showed as a rookie.

His versatility has impressed Jay Gruden.

“I think he’s doing good against the run, number one,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. He’s got to set the point. You’ve got to set the point of attack, and he’s done a good job of that.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has played 86 snaps. He has rushed the passer in most his plays, 46. But he also has defended the run 28 snaps and has dropped back into coverage 12 times. He has allowed one reception for six yards in those coverage snaps.

MORE REDSKINS: FIRST LOOK AT REDSKINS VS RAIDERS

The rest of Gruden’s answer to the question about Smith’s play was interesting.

And then when he’s asked to rush some, he’s done fine. I think he and Junior [Galette] had some good rushes. Junior got that critical holding call that pushed them back out of the red zone and forcing them into a field goal and obviously [Ryan] Kerrigan is doing his thing, so all three of those guys are doing a great job as far as giving a chance of pace. Preston is doing a good job. He can go inside, he can use his bull [rush] and he’s working on his get off. So I think he’s getting better and better.

Note that Gruden is nowhere near over the top in his praise of Smith. He brings in Galette and Kerrigan to turn the topic to the pass rush in general and uses words like “fine” and “good” to describe Smith’s play. Smith has been a source of frustration for the coaches as he often has relied on his natural ability rather than working to master the finer points of the job. The willingness to work on the details is often the difference between a talented player who just gets by and one who racks up 15-sack seasons, goes to Pro Bowls, and gets paid with large contracts.

Smith’s start is encouraging for the Redskins but Gruden and company are going to want to see a lot more before they dish out big compliments for him.

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.