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Need to Know: Preston Smith could be the key to Redskins' defense

Need to Know: Preston Smith could be the key to Redskins' defense

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, September 3, nine days before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Off day, no availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 237 days ago. It will be nine days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 15; Browns @ Redskins 29; Redskins @ Ravens 36

Stock up/stock down vs. the Bucs

—The key to the Redskins’ defense could be Preston Smith. He has been playing well ever since the start of OTAs. The second-year player gets it in terms of what it takes to prepare to be successful. If that translates onto the field he will be a player opposing offenses will have to account for on every snap. That will make the whole unit better. I’m not sure how good he will be, but I’ll predict that he gets at least one interception, a rarity for a Redskins OLB. That’s because he takes pride in working on coverage and studies it, unlike others who have viewed it as a chore.

—Last year the offensive line was pretty good in pass blocking (4.6 percent sack rate, 5th in NFL) and not very good in run blocking (3.7 yards/carry, 30th in NFL). Given a choice in 2016 I’d rather have a line that can pass block well but, of course, you want a group that can be competent in both. Rushing in the preseason is a hodgepodge of different backs and linemen with no game planning so at this point it’s hard to tell how much progress the Redskins O-line has made in the run blocking department. They should be better but time will tell.

—I’m more bullish on Matt Jones’ chances of becoming a solid running back than most. I get the knocks on him, with his NFL-low average of 3.4 yards per carry. But that stat requires some context. Alfred Morris, who ran behind the same line last year, had an average of 3.7 yards per carry. That is by far the worst of his career. His worst before that was 4.1 per carry in 2014. It’s probably not a coincidence that both backs struggled behind that offensive line (and the tight ends might as well be thrown under the same bus here). If the line gets its act together in run blocking Jones can produce. If they don’t Adrian Peterson couldn’t produce behind them.

—As the O-line struggled last year, Bill Callahan, that unit’s position coach, didn’t come under much criticism. He also is the run game coordinator and the Redskins didn’t run the ball well. There were some good reasons for giving him a pass, primarily that it was his first year on the job and it wasn’t reasonable to expect an instant turnaround. And Callahan does have a good track record. But he did inherit a Pro Bowl performer at the most important position on the line and the No. 5 overall pick in the draft went to his unit. If things don’t start to turn around at some point this season Callahan should get more scrutiny than he has.

—Things haven’t been this quiet around the quarterback position in years. Kirk Cousins came in, played his 54 snaps, and went about his business. No controversy, no noise, no injuries, just some pretty good quarterback play. That doesn’t mean that he’s Pro Bowl bound or anything but it will be an interesting experiment to see if tranquility at the position contributes to competence and winning.

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In case you missed it 

 

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

After a poor first preseason showing and some questions about the physicality of Redskins training camp, JP Finlay talks with Patriots Insider Phil Perry from CSN New England to discuss the differences between Washington's camp and how they run things in New England.

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

Few Redskins players draw more heated fan reaction than Ryan Grant. In three seasons with Washington, Grant has never missed a game, but he also hasn't produced much. His career stats: 39 catches for 412 yards and two touchdowns. 

Regardless, Jay Gruden and the Redskins coaching staff appreciates Grant in a way few fans understand. Grant is able to back up both the slot and outside receivers, and knows the roles of all the players.

"He’s really strong, he’s in great shape, and he’s Mr. Consistent," Gruden said of Grant. "Everything we ask him to do he does, and he does it right."

When Jamison Crowder missed time in Richmond with a hamstring strain, Grant stepped into Crowder's slot role. When Josh Doctson hurt his hamstring and missed time, Grant stepped into his role on the outside of the offense.

Throughout camp, Grant has displayed good hands and an adept knowledge of the offense. 

"No matter where he lines up, no matter what we ask him to do, he can come in the core and block the safety, whatever we want him to do, he can run whatever route from whatever positon and he runs at the right depth, perfect angles coming out of them," Gruden said. "He’s just ‘Steady Eddie,’ and that’s why I like him. I like consistent, smart players and that’s what Ryan is."

Against the Ravens in the Redskins first preseason game, Grant hung on to a tough catch over the middle to give the team one of very few offensive sparks. The problem for fans as it relates to Grant has not been preseason play. It's been inconsistent play in regular season games. 

Gruden believes that could change this year.

"I think people may be surprised with how many balls Ryan Grant might catch. Either way, could happen, I don’t know. I can’t foresee the future there, but I would be just fine with Ryan Grant being the target of a lot of balls."

To state the obvious: Grant is definitely making the roster. Behind Terrelle Pyror, Crowder and Doctson, Grant is the Redskins fourth wideout and one of the few players on the roster that is interchangeable among the Washington receiver positions. 

Grant's career best season came in 2015 when he caught 23 balls for 268 yards and two TDs. Based on his preseason, it seems Grant could surpass those totals in 2017. Much of his early season work has been a result of injuries to Doctson and Crowder, but make no mistake, Grant has been impressive in practice. 

Will it translate to the real games? The opprotunity seems only likely to arise if the Redskins deal with injuries at the receiver spot. 

Last year, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 yards, but DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon accounted for more than 2,000 of those yards. Doctson, Crowder and certainly Pryor are likely to be the major recepients of Cousins' aerial prowess. Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Chris Thompson accounted for another 1,618 yards last year.

Keep in mind, this is the last year of Grant's rookie contract. If there was ever a time to show in games what coaches have long seen and loved in practice, this would be the year. It seems only an injury would give him a major opportunity. If the situation came to pass, Gruden would have faith in Grant. 

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!