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Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Need to Know: Five players who must step up for the Redskins to beat the Steelers

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, September 11, one day before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Walkthrough at Redskins Park, no media availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 245 days ago. It will be one day until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 7; Browns @ Redskins 21; Redskins @ Ravens 28

Five Redskins who will need to step up to beat the Steelers

QB Kirk Cousins—The quick scouting report on the Steelers is that they have a shaky secondary but a fierce pass rush (third in the NFL in sacks in 2015). Last year Cousins was very good when he was not under pressure but his efficiency dropped when the pass rush started to get to him (35th among 37 QBs with at least 200 pass plays per Football Outsiders). He will need to continue to be efficient when he has time to throw but he inevitably will find himself with defenders in his face from time to time. Cousins will need to step up and make some plays while dealing with the rush.

RB Matt Jones—He has been groomed to be the lead dog at running back all offseason. But his injury opened the door for undrafted rookie Robert Kelley to make a case that he is a viable alternative. If Jones wants to establish himself as starting NFL running back it starts on Monday with him perhaps grinding through some pain to deliver a solid performance.

G Brandon Scherff—If the Redskins are going to run the ball at all—and they likely will have to do it some if they are going to win—they will have to control Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. He can be a one-man wrecking crew on either outside or inside runs. The favored alignment for him is in a three technique on the left side, which puts him over the outside shoulder of Scherff. The No. 5 pick in last year’s draft will need to take another step towards showing he was worth that selection by keeping Tuitt under control.

CB Bashaud Breeland—Breeland likely will spend some of the night on Antonio Brown as the coaches have said that Josh Norman will not trail the NFL’s best receiver wherever he lines up. But the real pressure on Breeland will come when he is guarding the Steelers’ “other” receiver. With Markus Wheat declared out that will be Sammie Coates with Darrius Heyward-Bey stepping in on occasion. There would be few worse scenarios than the Redskins keeping Brown under control but losing because  Coates has a big day.

S DeAngelo Hall—He played some safety towards the end of last year but the coaches didn’t put too much on him because of his mid-season conversion. At this point safety has been his position all through the offseason program and training camp so he gets the full package. If he is going to prolong his career at safety he needs to get off to a good start tonight. Hall needs to be assignment perfect and serve as a last line of defense to prevent Big Ben from racking up quick scores to Brown, Coates, or the speedy Hayward-Bey.

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A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

This week in Indianapolis the NFL world will converge at the Scouting Combine to watch college football players work out, sprint and lift weights in anticipation of the upcoming draft. For the Redskins front office, this draft needs to be a win.

The 2016 Draft could still yield strong results for Washington, but overall the class did not play particularly well as rookies. This year, Scot McCloughan has nine picks at his disposal, with the extra picks late in the draft in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

It's no secret that the 'Skins need help along the defensive line, a lot of help. That should be a major area of focus for the Redskins scouts and coaches, and that will make next Sunday arguably the most important of the week in Indianapolis. 

The combine divides players into 11 position groups, but Groups 7, 8 and 9 will matter most. Groups 7 and 8 represent defensive linemen and 9 are the linebackers. That group officially arrives on Thursday but won't work out on the field until Sunday. The days in between include interviews, psychological testing and the bench press.

Obviously the Redskins won't spend all nine picks on only defensive linemen. The team will likely invest in the offensive line as well, and that group will arrive earlier in the week and work out on Friday. Cornerbacks and safeties are the last to work out on Monday, March 6. 

With the likely departure of at least one of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garçon, and the possible departure of both, it would make sense for the 'Skins to bring in another receiver via the draft. They work out on Saturday, and should the Redskins decide to take a quarterback in the draft, the passers will work out that day too. 

Running back could be another spot the 'Skins invest. Jay Gruden said that Robert Kelley is locked into the RB1 role, but still the team might want increased competition at the position. The backs will work out Friday.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

The NFL has released the official schedule of when NFL coaches and executives will take the podium and address the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. You can find it right here but I’ll save you a click—nobody from the Redskins is scheduled to talk.

NFL teams are not required to have a representative speak at the combine but most do. This year only the Saints and Patriots are joining the Redskins in avoiding the media.

Bill Belichick never talks at the combine and I believe that the Saints have bypassed the opportunity to do so in the past. However, the Redskins head coach traditionally has gone to the podium in the past. Joe Gibbs spoke when he was in his second stint as the head coach. Mike Shanahan, as tight lipped as anyone, met with the press in Indy each of his four years as head coach. Jay Gruden has spoken during each of the three years that he has been head coach.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

And last year Scot McCloughan held a small media gaggle with local reporters in his hotel in Indianapolis.

This year the Redskins are going somewhat dark. McCloughan did not speak to reporters at the Senior Bowl (Gruden held a brief availability in Mobile), a departure from his first two years with the team. And now no Redskins representatives at the combine.

One of the problems with changing what has been a longstanding practice and going into radio silence is that it leaves people speculating. If the team doesn’t want to put any information out there that is the organization’s option. But if you choose not to fill in the blanks, the fans and media will.

So why aren’t they talking? The best bet is that they are in a delicate stage when it comes to dealing with the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is a pending free agent who is likely to be hit with the franchise tag on Wednesday, the day before the combine starts. At that point, the clock will be ticking on Cousins either signing a long-term contract or getting traded to a team that is willing to meet his asking price. It’s my guess that Jay Gruden does not want to face questions about Cousins’ future.

More Redskins: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice for his own good?

Gruden is not a very good liar; his poker face needs a lot of work. Perhaps that is a good quality for a human being but not a very good attribute for someone who would need to go out and talk about Cousins as the long-term quarterback for the team, or at least the QB for the coming season, when his status may be very much in doubt.

This is not to say that there is definitely going to be a trade of Cousins worked out at the combine. But it is very possible that a deal will be discussed with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers and any number of other quarterback-needy teams. And perhaps there is concern that Gruden will let something slip or, more likely, say a lot on the subject of Cousins by not saying anything.

Again, this is just reading the tea leaves on my part. But by going silent the Redskins are sending an invitation for people to fill in the blanks. I am just taking them up on it.

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.