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Need to Know: How significant is Redskins rookie camp?

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Need to Know: How significant is Redskins rookie camp?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 15, nine days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 126 days ago. It will be 120 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: OTAs start 9; Redskins training camp starts 74; Preseason opener @ Falcons 89

Hot topics

—I enjoyed having a discussion with JP and Tarik about the Redskins the other day. One of the things we hit on was the popular perception that Kirk Cousins was bad in the first half of the season. I say it was more like six and a half games, up until halftime of the Bucs game in Week 7. And even during his “bad” stretch he completed 85 percent of his passes against the Rams and led a late drive for a comeback win over the Eagles. He’s far from elite but 75% of the QBs in the league would love to have the numbers Cousins put up in, say, the Jets game as their worst performance of the year.

—Cousins’ passer rating in that game was 57.9, his lowest of the season. In the 2015 regular and post season quarterbacks threw at least 20 passes in a game and had a passer rating of lower than 57.9 a total of 41 times. Among them were Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Joe Flacco. Passer rating is not the end all of rating quarterbacks' performances but it is at least an indicator.

—I enjoy watching rookie minicamp but it’s hard to determine a whole lot from practices like these. It’s not so much that they are rookies, although the presence of the tryout players can muddle what things look like. It more that they are practicing in helmets and shorts. In case you’re wondering, that’s not football. It’s particularly hard to figure out what the capabilities of linemen are on both sides of the ball. And, really, how much can you tell about a running back if you can’t see how he reacts to contact? You get the idea. I was there, I observed and passed along some of my observations but don’t look for any sort of lasting significance.

—So you get down to stuff like this at rookie minicamp. I’m not taking a shot at my CSN Philly colleague John Clark here because four years ago I was there along with the rest of the DC media, hyperventilating over virtually every move made by the new rookie QB, also the second overall pick in the draft. But there is really nothing remarkable about Carson Wentz dodging “pressure” from one assistant coach and throwing to another assistant coach who is standing still.

Again, I'm not taking a shot here. I could well post a video of Josh Doctson making a nice catch against a defender who has zero chance of making the roster even for training camp. It's fun, it's harmless, but don't read too much into it.

—How good can Morgan Moses be? Perhaps he can be a test case for the importance of the offseason program. Last year he didn’t participate at all after suffering a Lisfranc injury near the end of his rookie 2014 season. A week into camp he was inserted into the starting job when they moved Brandon Scherff to guard. Moses was solid in run blocking, although like everyone on that unit he needs to get better. Per Pro Football Focus nobody on the team gave up more than the five sacks Moses was charged with. He did improve as the year went on, however, giving up four in the first 10 games and only one in the last six. Will he be better in 2016 after a full, healthy offseason? We will find out.

 

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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. 

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