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Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

ATLANTA—Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, August 11, the day the Washington Redskins open their preseason in Atlanta against the Falcons.

Timeline
Today's schedule: Redskins @ Falcons 7 p.m., Georgia Dome, telecast on CSN Mid Atlantic

—The Redskins last played a game 214 days ago. It will be 32 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason vs. Jets @FedEx Field 8; Final roster cut 23; Cowboys @ Redskins 38
Focus on running backs in Atlanta

For the first time this decade, the focus of the Redskins’ preseason will be not on the quarterback but the player to whom he will be handing the ball off.

To refresh your memories on the quarterback circuses situations:

—In 2010 there was the arrival of Donovan McNabb.

—The next year we had the John Beck-Rex Grossman competition with Mike Shanahan staking his reputation on the success of the duo.

—Then in 2012 there was RG3 mania and every move of the second overall draft pick was under the microscope.

—The drama of Griffin’s recovery from a knee injury consumed the next year.

—Then in 2014 it was the arrival of Jay Gruden and questions over weather Griffin could be the answer in a West Coast offense.

—Finally, last year we had an unannounced QB competition, Griffin’s ugly performance against the Lions and Kirk Cousins getting elevated into the top spot.

This year, it’s the steady Cousins as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. His $20 million contract is enough to guarantee that nothing he does during the preseason will cause him to lose that job.

But there is plenty of mystery at the running back position:

—Second-year player Matt Jones is the starter and he probably won’t lose that job in August. But he needs to protect the football and improve on the 3.4-yard per carry average he had last year if he is going to sell Gruden and the fan base on his ability to hold the job the while season.

Chris Thompson is No. 2 on the depth chart but he is more the third down back than he is an alternative should Jones get injured or falter. It will be interesting to see what happens if they feed him the ball several times in a row to see if he can take some pounding.

Keith Marshall is where we get to the real mystery. He is a rare combination of size and speed but he lasted until the seventh round of the draft because he was unable to stay healthy at Georgia. He should see considerable action against the Falcons tonight and we’ll see about his ability and his durability. They want to know if he can be the No. 2 running back.

—Mack Brown should also get some carries. He seems to be a long shot after spending some of last year on the practice squad.

—The mystery man is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie. He looks good in no pads in the spring. But he has struggled in pads in Richmond. Kelley at least has to present a case to be able to make the practice squad. But it’s clear that his star, such as it was, has faded and he need to have a good game in order to become relevant in the running back conversation.

So there you have it. Five players, probably three jobs a stake and another one or two on the practice squad. It starts tonight in Atlanta.

Tandler on Twitter

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Need to Know: Redskins' Cousins called a 'mercenary' and that's a good thing

Need to Know: Redskins' Cousins called a 'mercenary' and that's a good thing

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, February 24, 13 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.  

Timeline

Days until:

—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 5
—NFL Combine (3/2) 6
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 52
—NFL Draft (4/27) 62
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 198

Friday quick hitters

What about Baker? I’m not sure what the Redskins’ thinking is regarding Chris Baker. As with all their other free agents the Redskins haven’t been in communication with Baker’s camp, waiting for the chance to scope out the market at the combine next week. I think that Baker’s fate will depend on cost. If they can get in for around $7 million or less, he stays. If the bidding pushes his deal up much higher than that I think he’s gone.

McCloughan’s status: It’s not exactly news that Scot McCloughan doesn’t have the full powers that many NFL GMs have. He has always been more of a super scout, in charge of stocking the roster. He is not frozen out when it comes to contracts and financial matters but they never have been his strong suit and they are best left to Bruce Allen and, particularly, Eric Schaffer.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

Anything new? So, was there much new in Jerry Brewer’s column in the Post yesterday? Given that the power structure has been in place for over two years now, it doesn’t appear that there was. Brewer essentially said it himself: “McCloughan isn’t necessarily losing power as much as he is having his lack of power revealed.” So during this past two years, while the team improved from 4-12 to playoff contention, things have been how they are now. Let me be clear, there were some disturbing insights in Brewer’s article such as the team’s lack of a response to a request for comment on Chris Cooley’s on-air musing about McCloughan’s alcohol consumption. But on how things work on the organizational chart at Redskins Park it’s been the same.

Who wants Kirk? We are at a point where the popular perception among the fans and media is that Allen is the one who will run Kirk Cousins out of town, either this year or next, while McCloughan and Jay Gruden are begging for him to stay. The narrative is that Allen is the bad buy and McCloughan is the good guy because that’s the way fans and some in the media perceive it. But I would pump the brakes on the notion that McCloughan is willing to pay whatever it takes to keep Cousins around. We haven’t heard from him this year but last year he said on multiple occasions that while he was interested in keeping Cousins around for the long haul the team needs to be careful not to give up too much of the salary cap to one player. That doesn’t sound like he’s all in on giving Cousins a blank check.

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

Cousins is right to go for the money: Some fans in my Twitter timeline are calling for Cousins to take less money from the Redskins to help Allen and McCloughan pay other players. That’s not happening, nor should it. Jim Trotter of ESPN referred to Cousins as a “mercenary” and he meant it in a positive way. What he is doing is using the NFL system to maximize his earnings potential. Look around at what has been happening around the NFL over the last few weeks, with players getting dumped when they are no longer of use to their teams—and instances of players getting cut will increase exponentially soon—and you should understand why there’s not anything wrong with a player getting as much money as he can while he can. If you add in the short careers they have and the risk that they might spend the last 40-plus years of your life having trouble getting out of bed every morning or sufferig from worse problems and you still don't get it, I can't help you. Cousins should get as much money as he can and it's the job of the team that voluntarily pays him that to figure out how to make it work around him. 

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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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Bucs QB Jameis Winston wants DeSean Jackson in Tampa

Bucs QB Jameis Winston wants DeSean Jackson in Tampa

Plenty of teams will line up for the services of soon to be free agent DeSean Jackson, but Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston made clear he wants D-Jax with the Bucs. 

"You better believe we want DeSean here," Winston told the the Tampa Bay Times. "I think he would be a great asset to our team. Me growing up an Eagles fan, seeing what he did for the Eagles and back in his Cal days and even with the Redskins, I would love to have DeSean."

Jackson has been clear he looks forward to the free agent process. He's only hit the open market once, and that was under inauspicious terms. The Eagles released Jackson well past the start of free agency in 2014, and the Redskins moved quickly to sign the speedster. 

In three seasons with the 'Skins, Jackson has been a solid teammate and strong player. In 37 starts for the Burgundy and Gold, Jackson has more than 2,700 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. 

RELATED: DeSean Jackson wants to play for an elite QB

With elite speed and arguably the NFL's best ball tracker, Jackson makes sense for a lot of teams. Tampa, in particular, could use a deep threat to play alongside Mike Evans. Teamed with Winston, who has a strong arm and loves to go deep, the Bucs offense would be formidable. 

That does not mean Tampa is a sure thing.

While ESPN's Josina Anderson reported the Bucs could be a  "possible destination" for Jackson, Philadelphia has long been rumored to want him back. His old coach Andy Reid is in Kansas City. Former 'Skins offensive coordinator Sean McVay is now running the show in LA. For a player like Jackson, just about any potential destination could make sense. 

Like it almost always is in NFL free agency, guaranteed money will be a major factor in DeSean's decision. At 30 year's old and with a game reliant on speed and quickness, this could be the last big contract of Jackson's career. Odds are he will land a big deal, and the team with the biggest bag of cash may prove the most tempting. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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