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Need to Know: Can Morris thrive behind Redskins' power blocking?

Need to Know: Can Morris thrive behind Redskins' power blocking?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, July 17, 13 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Nickel coverage

Here are five thoughts on the state of the Redskins with less than two weeks to go until training camp starts.

—I mentioned DeAngelo Hall’s situation in a post yesterday but I though I’d bring up again here to expand on it a bit. Chris Culliver is the top cornerback. Bashaud Breeland is somewhere in the top three and it’s likely that David Amerson is as well. So that leaves Hall as the fourth cornerback. The problem with that is that he is slated to collect a $4 million salary this year. That’s a crazy amount to pay your fourth CB; it doesn’t even make much sense if he’s the third. Add to that the fact that he’s coming off of a double Achilles tear. If he steps on the practice field with that contract and gets reinjured, the Redskins are on the hook for the entire $4 million. We may not see him on the field in Richmond with that same contract still in place.

—The season can’t start soon enough. Why is a conversation that took place two and a half years ago between a fired coach and the current quarterback even remotely interesting to anybody at this point? Yes, I realize that the topic came up in a Robert Griffin III Q&A on the team produced Redskins Nation show. Regardless, the fact that Griffin and Mike Shanahan had very different versions of the same meeting is not exactly surprising. It’s a dynamic that is duplicated in workplaces thousands of times a day. There’s a disagreement and the two principals tell others vastly different versions of how it went down. One person’s contentious argument is the other’s frank and open discussion. Yawn. All that matters is what Griffin does starting in two weeks.

—One of the more under discussed storylines going into the year is how Alfred Morris will perform running behind power blocking. I’ve been reading some evaluations of him that say he’s by far at his best running behind zone blocking. The one-cut style suits him best. Morris didn’t run very well when the Redskins did use power blocking last year, but it’s not like the line gave him any gaping holes that he missed. Now you have a line that is being retooled to an emphasis on the power scheme. How will Morris do quickly hitting the hole? I tend to think he’ll be OK but I can’t dismiss the skeptics until I see it.

—Yesterday morning I saw the wall-to-wall coverage that the NFL Network and ESPN were giving to the Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas contract situations and I was close to tweeting that it was a massive waste of time. I saw very little chance that either would sign a long-term deal. Glad I didn’t hit send on that tweet. Both got deals done within just a couple of hours of the deadline. It was a perfect illustration of the saying that deadlines drive deals.

—I get asked about extensions for Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams all the time. One of the problems in getting these deals done is that there is no deadline; neither player becomes a free agent until March 15, 2016. Until there’s a deadline, the team can focus on what might happen if the player signs a big extension and gets injured or if his level of play declines. The player’s side can worry about signing a deal and then immediately becoming underpaid by having a big season right after signing. As the deadline approaches, those thoughts go away and the consequences of not getting a deal done move come into focus. That pushes the deal to completion. Some deals do get done without a dealing but they tend to be few and far between.

Timeline

—It’s been 201 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 58 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 13; Preseason opener @ Browns 27; final cuts 50

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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