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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' game plan at running back?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' game plan at running back?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, January 28, 27 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Question of the day

We’ve flipped into offseason mode with Need to Know. At least a few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today's question comes from Twitter:

After four years of relative stability at the running back position it feels like the Redskins are about to undergo some upheaval there. Alfred Morris, the starter for those four years, is set to be a free agent. The player many thought would replace him, Matt Jones, flashed some potential but inconsistency, fumbles, and injuries raised some doubts about him.

Will Morris return?

I don’t think that Morris will be back but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. I think the Redskins like a lot about him—his dependability, his work ethic, the fact that he’s a solid citizen and that he is a good example for younger players. But the organization wants a prime back who is more dynamic, who can make something happen when catching a pass out of the backfield, who is a threat to break off a long run at any time, who can take a play that is blocked for three yards and make five or six. Morris used to be able to do the latter but he hasn’t done it consistently the last two years.

I don’t think the Redskins are going to offer him a contract before free agency starts or at least not anything that he would accept. If he looks around for a while and can’t find anything and is willing to return for a fairly inexpensive contract he could end up back in Ashburn. But I don’t expect that to happen; I think a team that emphasizes zone blocking will give him a reasonable deal and his time in Washington will be over.

Won't hand it to Jones

But if he goes, they won’t hand the position to Jones. From what I have heard they like Jones but they are not sure that he will be able to fix everything he needs to fix between now and September. He’s a part of the team’s future but he’s not necessarily the 2016 workhorse running back.

If Morris ends up leaving, then, who will be either ahead of or right behind Jones on the depth chart? I’m sure that McCloughan would rather find one in the draft. But the problem is you can’t count on finding one there who is a decent value when your pick comes up. McCloughan doesn’t want to draft for need.

What about Thomas?

Might Pierre Thomas re-sign? There is some mutual interest. But Thomas would have been playing for the Redskins all season but he chose to sit out rather than play for what the Redskins were offering. I don’t see the Redskins upping their offer substantially with Thomas being a year older (he turned 32 last month). So it may be up to him to lower his demands if he wants to play in Washington again.

I know someone will ask about Silas Redd, so let me address that situation. He will get a shot at making the team as he should be recovered from last year’s knee injury. But he is less proven that Jones is; I can’t see the team figuring that he can be the Plan B if Jones struggles.

A possible scenario

There are a lot of things that could happen here but let me lay out a scenario. Morris leaves as a free agent, signing with the Falcons. The draft comes and goes and the only back who is the best available player is a seventh-rounder who is destined for a practice squad. The Redskins look at the secondary free agent market, which will have some good players who are starting to get desperate for a job. Maybe they sign Thomas, maybe they get someone like Ahmad Bradshaw. You can fill in the blank with your favorite name, there will be some experienced backs looking for work.

One more thing about the draft—no matter what round, if McCloughan sees a running back as the best available player, he’ll take him. That could be Ezekiel Elliott in the first round or Derrick Henry in the second or Jonathan Williams of Arkansas in the third or fourth. That is the wild card in all of this.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 18 days ago. It will be about 227 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 27; NFL free agency starts 41; 2016 NFL draft 91

In case you missed it

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Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

The Redskins interviewed current outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky for their defensive coordinator opening, the team announced yesterday.  

Manusky has a long history with the Redskins organization. He served as outside linebackers coach this past season, and was also linebackers coach back in the 2001 season. In his playing days, Manusky was a Redskins linebacker from 1988 to 1990. 

He has held three separate defensive coordinator positions in his coaching career, including with the San Francisco 49ers (2007-2010), San Diego Chargers (2011) and Indianapolis Colts (2012-2015).

For more on his defensive philosophy and background, check out Rich Tandler's profile of Manusky

The Redskins have confirmed four interviews for the defensive coordinator position: Manusky, Rob Ryan, Gus Bradley and Mike Pettine

MORE REDSKINS: Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

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Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

The Redskins are looking at potential free agents and continuing with the draft process as they try to move team from residing in the middle of the pack in the NFL to becoming annual contenders to go deep into the playoffs. The process is all about trying to build a solid 53-man depth chart. Let’s get out the crystal ball and see what that depth chart might look like.

Earlier this week we looked at the offense; today the defense is up. Although there could be a change to a 4-3 base defense in the making depending on who the coordinator is, we’ll line them up in a 3-4 until there is word to the contrary.

*Pending unrestricted free agent

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker*, draft pick/free agent X 2
Backups: Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier

It seems that Baker wants to stay and give that the Redskins would be starting their D-line virtually from scratch without him the chances of coming up with a deal seem strong. I will spend the entire 99 days between now and the draft saying that it’s not a given that they will take a defensive lineman, or any defensive player, with their top draft pick. But someone like Malik McDowell of Michigan State sure would fit in well here along with a free agent like Bennie Logan of the Eagles. The organization will be looking for leaps forward from Ioannidis and Lanier.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Outside linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Backups: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Although nothing is certain until pen is put to paper, the chances of Galette giving it another go after two torn Achilles in two years are strong. Trail and Houston Bates will battle for a fifth spot, if there is one. Given Smith’s inconsistency and the uncertainty of Galette’s health it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft an edge rusher.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Will Compton, free agent
Backups: Martrell Spaight, Mason Foster, draft pick

I’m putting Compton there in dry erase marker, not in Sharpie. They love his leadership and work ethic but he must make more plays. I have a free agent starting beside him because it’s a tough position for a rookie to learn. But if they spend a high draft pick that player could jump into a starting job quickly.  Foster moves into the nickel role that he performed well after Su’a Cravens went out with an injury. Steven Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, could push Spaight for a job.

Cornerback

Starters: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar
Backups: Kendall Fuller (nickel), Tharold Simon, free agent/draft pick

This could go in a lot of different directions. The only spot set in stone is Norman’s. I have Bashaud Breeland moving to safety, which is something of a speculative hot take. If they make that move, they could spend a high draft pick or substantial free agent money on a corner or they could stay in-house with Dunbar or Fuller. Simon could make the team and contribute or he could be cut.

More Redskins: An early look at first-round draft possibilities

Safety

Starters: Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, draft pick

Safeties are hard to find. In college, potentially good safeties gravitate towards cornerback, where the NFL money is better. If a good one hits the free agent market, the laws of supply and demand push the price up beyond the value of the position. For those reasons, the Redskins might try Breeland at safety. Some in the organization have believed for a couple of years that safety is his best position. Cravens announced that he would be moving to safety so that change is firm. Duke Ihenacho, who is a free agent, could be back but I think he moves along. Blackmon is a good veteran reserve who can play nickel also. Even though he made a key interception when forced into duty against the Eagles, it still seems that they don’t trust Everett at safety and perhaps a mid-round pick will replace him.

Specialists: LS Nick Sundberg*, P Tress Way, PK Dustin Hopkins

I predict that Sundberg will be the first of the team’s pending free agents to agree to a contract. Hopkins may get some camp competition but it is unlikely to be of more than the token variety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.