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Need to Know: Five Redskins thoughts including special teams improvement

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Need to Know: Five Redskins thoughts including special teams improvement

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, March 19, 19 days before the Redskins start their offseason workouts.

Nickel coverage

Here are five thoughts on the state of the Redskins after a week of free agency.

1. A lot of special teams improvement will have to come from within. They signed Adam Hayward and Darryl Sharpton and they both should help and they will bring in a few others who have gotten it done on special teams. But if the kicking units are going to be significantly better this year players like Brandon Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo, who found themselves on the inactive list frequently because they didn’t have much enthusiasm for special teams, will have to step up. You can only bring in so many special teams hired guns.

2. The draft is a factor in Donald Penn negotiations. The Redskins have three other options besides Penn to play right tackle for them this year. They could stick with Tyler Polumbus, they could insert Tom Compton as their starter, or they could use their second- or third-round pick to draft a likely starter. It’s just not worth it for the Redskins to pay Penn at the higher left tackle rate with other, less costly options available.

3. The “deadline” to have a starting 22 together is April 7. That is the day that offseason workouts and if, say, Penn or Ryan Clark is going to come aboard it would be good to have him there for the start of workouts. Jay Gruden and company will begin to teach the new offense and defense and it will help to have all of the key players around by then.

4. The draft is shaping up, sort of. It’s still too early to say where the Redskins will go with their second-round pick, No. 34 overall. It’s likely to be a best-available strategy. But it’s important to keep in mind that needs shape each team’s assessment of who the best available is. It’s hard to see them drafting a quarterback, running back, or tight end, but all other positions are possibilities. However some, like offensive tackle and safety, seem to be more likely than others.

5. The Redskins have a pass rushing coach this year. I didn’t mention this in my post on the team emphasizing the pass rush in their defensive strategy but they hired a coach specifically to improve the pass rush. I talked with Brian Baker a few weeks ago and that’s basically his job description as the outside linebackers coach. He’ll be working mostly with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan but you can be assured that the former defensive line coach will be handing out some coaching points to Jason Hatcher as well.

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Timeline

—It’s been 80 days since the Redskins played a game; it will be about 172 days until they play another one.

—Days until: Offseason workouts start 19; NFL Draft 50; Training camp starts 126

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Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Alabama dominates college football in a way few teams ever have. In the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide has lost just two games, winning one national title and narrowly missing a second.

The strength of 'Bama, year after year, is their defense. Nick Saban coaches it, Nick Saban knows it, and Nick Saban demands the best from his players. 

Oddly, however, a few recent Alabama defenders drafted to the NFL have not produced. Or at least their production did not match their draft status. 

It's not too hard to pick names that fit that perception. Rolando McClain. Terrance Cody. Dre Kirkpatrick. And at running back, Trent Richardson didn't help.

Still, the Redskins invested heavily in the Tide during the 2017 draft. Their top two picks played for Saban's defense last year, and Washington coach Jay Gruden does not buy any part of the perception that 'Bama products regress in the NFL.

"I don’t see any negative whatsoever with them going to Alabama," Gruden said late Friday night.

The 'Skins selected Jonathan Allen in the first round and Ryan Anderson in the second. Both guys started on the Tide's front seven, and both players dominated.

"They come there and they are well coached. Anytime you watch college football, and you watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different," Gruden said. "The speed is different. They are well-coached, they are in their gaps, they play hard, they play physical, and that’s from Week 1 until the end. That has to appeal to you as a coach. They are using their hands, they are physical, they are chasing the ball, they are running to the ball."

The perception, right or wrong, has two main positions. The first is that the Alabama defense looks so good because it is full of five-star recruits. When everyone is good, or great, on the college level, it's hard to truly judge any singular player's game tape. The second is that Saban is so exhausting, so demanding of his players, they arrive to the NFL with too many reps.

For those around the NFL, both theories are laughable. Pro scouts know game tape. How else can they judge a future first rounder when he matches up against a walk-on? And for every alleged 'Bama bust, think about Haha Clinton-Dox or Landon Collins or C.J. Mosley or Dont'a Hightower. 

Might some Tide players get overdrafted because of their success and high profile? That's a different conversation. What's certain is the Redskins are quite confident in both of their Alabama draft picks.

"We know they are both highly intelligent guys. They understand football, understand X’s and O’s and they both play very hard with a high motor and they are well-coached."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Redskins focus on defense through three rounds in the NFL Draft

Redskins focus on defense through three rounds in the NFL Draft

Coming into the offseason, there was plenty of talk coming from the Redskins organization that the team needed to upgrade the defense. Those who have been following the team for a while have heard this for many years now. However, usually the talk is just that, with more draft capital and free agency money going to the offense year in and year out.

But this year things are different.

The lion’s share of free agent spending went to the defense. They added linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee, linebacker Zach Brown, and safety D.J. Swearinger. Now they have started off their draft with a laser focus in the defensive side of the ball.

RELATED: Redskins add cornerback with first round talent, but injuries pushed him to the third round

In the first round, they were delighted to take Jonathan Allen, the top-rated defensive lineman on their board. In the second round they went with outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, a teammate of Allen’s at Alabama. Then in the third round the pick was cornerback Fabian Moreau out of UCLA.

It’s been 20 years since the Redskins have gone so heavy with defensive picks at the top of the draft. Not since 1997 have they taken defensive players in the first three rounds of the draft. That year they took DE Kenard Lang, LB Greg Jones, and LB Derek Smith in rounds one, two, and three, respectively.

We will see how much impact the three draft picks have on the defense and, as Redskins fans have learned over the years, an influx of free agents on defense doesn’t guarantee improvement on that side of the ball.

But at least the Redskins organization is putting its money, and its draft picks, where its mouth is and that has be considered a positive development.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins make it two Alabama defenders in the 2017 draft class so far

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.