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Need to Know: Numbers game on Redskins O-line is taking shape

Need to Know: Numbers game on Redskins O-line is taking shape

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, August 25, 10 days before the Washington Redskins cut their roster to 53 players.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 11:55; Player availability and Jay Gruden and Sean McVay press conferences after practice, approx. 1:30

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 227 days ago. It will be 19 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 25; Browns @ Redskins 39; Redskins @ Ravens 46

Numbers game on O-line taking shape

Along the with the rest of the NFL, the Redskins have about a week and a half to get their roster cut down to 53 players. One of the areas where the number of players can vary greatly is on the offensive line.

In recent years the Redskins have carried as few as eight offensive linemen on the final 53 and as many as 10. How many will they carry this year? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

There are seven locks to make it. Four starters are set with LT Trent Williams, C Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Brandon Scherff, and RT Morgan Moses. Two players, Spencer Long and Shawn Lauvao, are competing for the starting left guard spot. One will start, the other will be on the roster as a reserve. Ty Nsekhe is the top reserve tackle.

Beyond that group it gets tricky. They could keep 10 on the roster and choose three from the following group:

—T Takoby Cofield, who has been promising at times in the preseason but who also has had his share of struggles. Jay Gruden said that he has played every line position except center and that could mean he’s being groomed for a utility role.

G Arie Kouandjio was a fourth-round pick last year. He was kept on the 53 as a rookie even though he didn’t play. Although the coaches like his tough mindset he doesn’t seem to have progressed much in the last year.

C/G Josh LeRibeus played center last year when Lichtensteiger was out with an injury. He still has problems with shotgun snaps.

C Austin Reiter is a dark horse to make it. He was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and he has rarely worked with any group above the third team.

The factor that could put a crimp in the hopes of LeRibeus and/or Reiter to make the 53 is the fact that Long has been working at the center position ever since OTAs. Should Lichtensteiger go out it looks like Long would be the first choice to replace him. If Long wins the left guard position then he would move over and Lauvao would slide in at left guard.

There usually are one or two spots reserved for developmental players like Kouandjio last year and Long and Moses the year before. But by the second year the team was comfortable starting the latter pair of players. Would they be good with Kouandjio starting a game this year if needed? If not, how long will they give him to develop?

Cofield was an undrafted free agent and he spent his rookie 2015 season on the practice squad. Will they be OK with having Nsekhe as the only backup tackle on the roster? Perhaps in an emergency Scherff could move out to tackle but that is not something they would want to do in the long term or even for more than a game or two.

Of course the offensive line numbers are not created in a vacuum. Other needs on offense will affect how many linemen they keep. They may want to keep four running backs, four tight ends, and three quarterbacks. That would make it hard to carry 10 on the line.

The way things are shaping up now it looks like they will keep Cofield or Kouandjio as the eighth lineman and keep the other one if they go with nine. Since keeping 10 seems very unlikely LeRibeus and Reiter are probably on the outside looking in.

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

MORE REDSKINS: FIVE UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

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In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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