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Need to Know: Could the Redskins be better than we think?

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Need to Know: Could the Redskins be better than we think?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 22, 38 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Will the Redskins be better than we think?

The Redskins are coming off of back to back seasons with a total of seven wins. They have an unproven head coach, an uncertain quarterback situation, and lines on both sides of the ball that have undergone major changes.

Many in the media look at this situation and place the team somewhere in the lower twenties in their power rankings and figure that an improvement of a game or two is the likely outcome for the 2015 season

I was in that group before minicamp started. After seeing the practices at Redskins Park and assessing the new pieces to the puzzle the Redskins obtained over the offseason I’m starting to think that they might be better than I thought they were. Not a whole lot better. Not deep in the playoffs better. But maybe 8-8 better, or something like that.

What did I see that I liked? For one thing, offensive line coach Bill Callahan. While I disagree with those who say that the Redskins’ O-line was awful last year, there is no question that it wasn’t particularly strong, either. Seeing Callahan keeping his players out well after the end of practice to work on details makes me think that the line could grow into one of the stronger units on the team. And the addition of Brandon Scherff obviously will help as well. There will be a learning curve for him but he will get it figured out sooner rather than later.

I also liked what I saw out of Terrance Knighton. He’s not just another fat guy nicknamed Pot Roast. He is amazingly quick for his size and he will be that disruptive force that is needed in the middle of the defense. Cornerback Chris Culliver also is a major upgrade.

This team should rank higher than 19th in rushing yards gained this year. Alfred Morris is going into his contract year and while he said that he doesn’t think about it you know it has to be motivating him to some extent. And even if money doesn’t give Morris an extra kick, the presence of Matt Jones will. The rookie will get some snaps and carries. But if the team runs more, which is likely if the defense takes a step or two up, Jones won’t take much away from Morris, if anything.

While I don’t see Robert Griffin III getting back to his 2012 form, I like his prospects for this year a bit better after minicamp. He has a lot more to prove but I’ve gone from seeing the odds being against him having a successful 2015 season to it being a coin toss. That’s far from ideal and not necessarily encouraging but improvement is still improvement.

I look at Jay Gruden the same way. At times last year he appeared to be in over his head. With his rookie season behind him, it looks like Gruden has a better handle on things. The addition of a quarterbacks coach in Matt Cavanaugh is one tangible move that will help him out considerably this year. As with Griffin, I’m not sure that Gruden can succeed but after seeing him the past few weeks the chances that he can seem brighter.

What is holding me back from believing that the Redskins can be considerably better this year is how bad they were last year. They were outscored by an average of 8.6 points per game in 2014, the 29th worst scoring margin in the NFL. The team has a long way to go to get to break even. Washington could be a lot better and still not have a much better record.

There is plenty of time to revise my prediction before the season starts. And while I think things are looking up I’ll hold off for right now.

Timeline

—It’s been 176 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 83 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 38; Preseason opener @ Browns 52; final cuts 75

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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

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.”

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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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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