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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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True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on the roster

True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on the roster

True or false: The Redskins will carry four tight ends on their roster this year.

Rich Tandler: True

The Redskins added a tight end to a roster that had four experienced players at the position already on it. But, make no mistake, fifth-round selection Jeremy Sprinkle was not a “luxury” pick.

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are both stone cold locks to make the roster. They are the pass catchers who are expected to combine for perhaps 1,500 yards and at least a dozen touchdowns.

The third tight end could be Niles Paul, a veteran who has battled injuries the last two years. He appears to be healthy and if he stays that way he can play tight end, be the fullback on the six or eight snaps per game the Redskins use one, and be a strong contributor on special teams.

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Sprinkle can fill a role that those three can’t—blocking tight end. Jay Gruden had to put tackle Ty Nsekhe on the field when they needed a three-tight end set. That made the job of the defense easier with essentially four eligible receivers to deal with.

With a well-defined role for each player, it would make perfect sense for the Redskins to carry four tight ends on the 53-man roster rather than the customary three. Of course, if they carry four at tight end they have to go with one fewer player elsewhere. They will find a spot.

Running back seems to be the logical place to go for that spot. If they keep, say, Mack Brown as the fourth running back, you then have a player without a defined role. He’s the backup to the backup to the backup. Sure, he can do special teams, but not as well as Paul.

Perhaps if you want to keep Brown you let go of Paul with his recent injury history and his $2.2 million cap number in mind. Or you can let Sprinkle get some seasoning on the practice squad.

But I think that the Redskins drafted Sprinkle with the plan to keep four tight ends. If they are going to go with their best, most versatile 53 that is what they will do.

JP Finlay: False

Man, this is tough. If you asked me this in May, I thought Niles Paul would be caught in a roster crunch. After watching the guys on the field through OTAs and minicamp, this decision becomes much harder. 

Paul played well in those sessions, showed no rust from the injuries and impressed regardless what quarterback he was paired up with. Sprinkle looked like a rookie with a lot to learn, and while he's really big, he still seemed like his upper body could fill out in the NFL. 

In a vacuum it's easy to say the Redskins should keep four tight ends. Like Tandler laid out above, Reed and Davis are roster locks. Paul can help in a ton of spots, and Sprinkle should evolve into the blocking tight end for the jumbo set. 

But NFL rosters aren't made in vacuums. To keep a fourth tight end, the Redskins will have to make a cut, and Tandler suggested Mack Brown could be the guy. I don't see that happening. Jay Gruden and Randy Jordan speak glowingly about Brown. 

This will be a fun roster spot to watch, but in June, before any injuries or the competition of training camp, I think the Redskins keep Reed, Davis and Paul. Then they really, really hope they can sneak the rookie Sprinkle to their practice squad.

Washington has not kept three healthy tight ends on their roster in the last few seasons, and if that trend continues, Sprinkle would make the NFL roster before the end of the year. Keeping four tight ends just isn't a luxury the Redskins have, especially keeping three quarterbacks like they're expected to do. 

Tandler-Finlay True or False series: Leading rusher | Leading receiver

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Standouts and scrubs: Looking at Bruce Allen's track record with quarterbacks

Standouts and scrubs: Looking at Bruce Allen's track record with quarterbacks

Much can be learned looking to the past, at least that's what thousands of college students hear every fall when they sit down for History 101. Assuming the premise is true, perhaps something can be learned from looking back at Bruce Allen's tenure across the NFL and the quarterbacks that started for those teams. 

A refresher: Allen worked with the Raiders and Bucs before coming to the Redskins. Allen started with the Raiders in 1995, and worked his way up through the front office, earning the NFL's Executive of the Year award in 2002. He left the Raiders to work with Jon Gruden in Tampa in 2004, after the pair experienced much success together with the Raiders. Tampa fired Allen in 2008, and he came to work with the Redskins in 2010. 

His tenure with the Raiders showcased the best QB find in his file: Rich Gannon. Before coming to Oakland, Gannon earned the journeyman title, starting 58 games over 11 seasons for the Chiefs, Vikings and, yes, the Redskins.

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

Once Gannon and Gruden worked together, everything clicked. The Raiders started winning games and Gannon started to pile up impressive offensive stats. He was the quarterback when Oakland lost the infamous 'Tuck Rule' playoff game against New England, and won an NFL MVP award in 2002 while guiding the Raiders to the Super Bowl (which they lost to a Jon Gruden coached Tampa team). 

Gannon was a find, undoubtedly. Beyond that, Allen's resume on quarterbacks gets pretty ugly.

In fact, Kirk Cousins would probably rank as the second best QB of all Bruce Allen teams. In Tampa, the quarterback position was a revolving door, and included luminaries (sarcasm font) like Chris Simms, Brian Griese and Bruce Gradkowski. The Bucs added Jeff Garcia in 2007, and he had some success, but was 37 years old at that point. 

Once he got to Washington, the Redskins trotted out a collection of subpar passers like a past-his-prime Donovan McNabb, a-never-actually-good John Beck and Rex Grossman. Rex needs no introduction. 

In 2012, the Redskins quarterback fortunes changed. The team made a very aggressive trade to draft Robert Griffin III. RG3 was supposed to be the franchise savior, and for much of his rookie season, that plan seemed to be working. 

Injuries and infighting ruined Griffin's time with the Redskins, and opened the door for 2012 fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins to emerge. 

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Now, in 2017, Cousins has twice broken the Redskins single season passing yards record and cemented himself as a quality NFL starter. His long-term future with the organization remains uncertain, as Cousins will play this season on a one-year contract and the prospect of a multi-year contract seems slim. 

It's hard to draw too many conclusions looking the quarterbacks throughout Allen's tenure. Before Gannon in Oakland, the Raiders tried a variety of other journeyman QBs (Jeff Hostetler, Jeff George). One could argue they got lucky with Gannon, or that the organization brought out his best tools. Either way it's a positive grade.

In Tampa, the results look much worse. On paper, it seemed the Bucs tried to get cheap, available quarterbacks and make them work, believing strongly in their offensive system. It didn't work. 

In Washington, particularly during the Grossman/Beck season, it seemed the Redskins tried a similar approach. That ended in 2012 with the trade for RG3. The Redskins paid up big time, in the form of draft picks. 

Now it's arguable that a deal with Cousins can even be reached, but if that does happen, it will be because the Redskins pay up. Recent history doesn't suggest it, but this situation has never presented itself either. Cousins is a fourth-round pick that emerged after a few volatile seasons to establish himself as a Top 15 NFL starter.

There's no lesson for that in the history books. 

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