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Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 20, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

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.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today’s question comes from Twitter:

I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason looking at various aspects of the running game but Raj’s question here gives me a good opportunity to step back and look at the big picture, how I expect the various parts to fit together. So here we go:

After saying shortly before the start of the 2014 seasons that running the ball was what the Redskins did best, Jay Gruden didn’t call a whole lot of runs. The Redskins were 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 401. To put that in context, the Seahawks led the league 525 rushing attempts, ahead of the Cowboys (508) and Jets (507).

I think that Gruden perhaps intended to call more than 25 runs per game but between his natural inclination to pass first and a defense that was giving up points at a pace of almost a touchdown per quarter (27.4 points/game), it just didn’t happen. The defense should be improved and the presence of Bill Callahan on the sideline will nudge Gruden towards keeping the ball on the ground a bit more. If they add four or five runs per game that will get them up in the area of 450-475 rushing attempts.

Who will carry the ball? Gruden has assured us on multiple occasions that Alfred Morris is still the workhorse running back so until I see something different I’ll believe him. Morris carried 265 times last year so let’s say stays right around in that area. Rookie Matt Jones should get the 40 carries that the departed Roy Helu had last year and then some, perhaps 100 total.

The wild card is quarterback rushing attempts. We’re not going to see a return to 2012 when Robert Griffin III ran the ball 120 times. But if Griffin starts at least a dozen games or so he should get more than the 61 rushing attempts the three quarterbacks combined for in 2014. I’d say something around the 86 he had in 13 games in 2013.

So what will it add up to? Last year they averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, 15th in the NFL. The Redskins averaged 105.7 yards per game, 19th in the league. How much better can they be? Adding a half a yard to their average per rush is a fairly ambitious goal but between the addition of Callahan, a new right side of the line, and more power running, it’s possible. We’ll use 4.7 yards per carry to figure things here while recognizing that 4.5 would represent a solid improvement.

Some quick math tells us that if the Redskins run the ball 475 times and average 4.7 yards a pop over 16 games they will average 140 yards on the ground per game. Last year that would have been fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle (173 per game), Dallas (147), and the Jets (142).

How about if they run 450 times and average 4.5? That would still represent a good improvement up to 126 yards per game, which would have been eighth in the NFL in 2014.

Somewhere between 125 and 140 yards per game is the upside prediction and I think their performance will trend that way. But some things must go right—the defense has to be improved and not just different to keep the team in running situations, Griffin or whoever the quarterback is needs to play well enough to keep teams from stacking the box, and the right side of the line needs to gel in a hurry both in run blocking and in pass protection. Things not going according to the preseason plan has been the norm for this franchise. We will see how it all shakes out but it does seem that the intention is to run more often and run better.

Timeline

—It’s been 204 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 55 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 10; Preseason opener @ Browns 24; final cuts 47

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: JP & Tandler break down Redskins draft targets, and players to avoid

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: JP & Tandler break down Redskins draft targets, and players to avoid

How plausible is a draft day trade? Could the Redskins move up? And what to do about all those 'diluted samples'? JP Finlay and Rich Tandler break it all down.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins roster by the numbers: Defense

Redskins roster by the numbers: Defense

The Redskins currently have 75 players on their roster. They are about to add some more in the draft and as undrafted free agents. They can have up to 90 players on their offseason roster. Year after year the distribution of those players to positions are consistent. We can look at what they have and see what they need to sign to get through OTAs, minicamp, and training camp.

Let’s break down the numbers by position and see where they will need to add players to get to where they want to be going into training camp. Last week we looked at the offense; today we’ll look at the numbers on defense.

End

Have: 6
Need: 8

Just like in a game, you want plenty of players to rotate through the line in the heat of training camp. They could carry one or two additional players here since they are legitimately in search of players who can have an impact beyond starters Terrelle McClain and Stacy McGee and pass rushing project Anthony Lanier.  

Nose Tackle

Have: 2
Need: 4

Like with the ends, you want to have a few big guys to rotate in when it gets hot in Richmond. It would be surprising if the Redskins didn’t add a nose tackle to the mix in the draft, probably on Saturday.

Inside linebacker

Have: 9
Need: 8

If the Redskins take an inside linebacker in the draft, as many expect that will, this position would get very crowded. They could keep as many as six on the final 53-man roster if there are a couple of key special teams players in the group.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 10.0

Outside linebacker

Have: 7
Need: 7

They could keep an extra one or two if they find some in the draft. You can’t have too many pass rushers, although they have kept just four on the final roster recently.  

Cornerback

Have: 7
Need: 8

It has always seemed to be a little odd to me that they’ll bring in a dozen wide receivers and only seven or eight corners.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often

Safety

Have: 7
Need: 7

The depth chart here is unusual in that all seven players have significant NFL playing time; there is no “training camp fodder” here. If the draft one, an experienced player might be let go.  

Total defensive players under contract: 38
Total needed for camp: 41

There are 34 offensive players and three specialists on the roster, making the total 75. If they don’t make deals and use all 10 of their draft picks that will leave just five spots to sign undrafted free agents. They likely will want to sign more than that meaning that some of the players currently on the roster will end up getting cut, particularly those on the defensive side.

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.