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Need to Know: What will Ziggy Hood's role with the Redskins be?

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Need to Know: What will Ziggy Hood's role with the Redskins be?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, February 3, 21 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

What role will Ziggy Hood play on the Redskins’ defense?

The Redskins signed DE Ziggy Hood, a 2009 first-round draft pick of the Steelers, to a one-year contract. What role will Hood, who will turn 29 later this month and has played in 98 NFL games with 46 starts, play on the Redskins’ defensive line.

On the base level, Hood provides the line with another body. They could lose as many as four defensive linemen from last year’s 53-man roster. NT Terrance Knighton is a free agent and the buzz that he may not be re-signed is growing louder. Jason Hatcher and Kedric Golston well on the far side of 30 and the Redskins may look to go younger and, in Hatcher’s case, cheaper. Frank Kearse is under contract but the team could look to upgrade his spot.

Hood was signed now because he was available, eligible to sign with a team because he wasn’t on a team’s roster when the season ended. His acquisition is only the beginning of the Redskins’ defensive line rebuilding project. If things work out as they should, Hood should be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.

What is “things working out as they should”? Stephen Paea comes back fully healthy after a disappointing 2015 season that ended with him on the shelf with a toe injury. Scot McCloughan needs to invest two draft picks in the position, at least one of them in the first or second rounds (assuming a player fits the best-available requirement, of course). Assuming Knighton is gone, if one of those draft picks is not a nose tackle who is ready to contribute immediately that position needs to be addressed in free agency.

Nose tackle is important because it keeps Chris Baker at end, where he had his best season in 2015. He could play nose if necessary but McCloughan needs to try to make sure that it’s not.

That would leave Paea or Ricky Jean Francois and Baker as the starting ends and the draft pick or free agent pickup at nose. Hood, another draft pick, Kearse, 2015 practice squad player Cory Crawford and perhaps another low-priced free agent pickup or two would be fighting for the last few jobs and position on the depth chart.

It’s good that Hood has starting experience because you never know what will happen during a 16-game season. But if he is penciled in to be the Week 1 starter that is a sign that things did not go well along the line during the offseason when it comes to bolstering the defensive line. And the best case will be if Hood gets let go at the final roster cut because McCloughan has found enough younger talent to effectively fill out the depth chart.

The likely scenario is somewhere in between. Hood probably makes the roster and plays 20 or so snaps per game as part of the defensive line rotation.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 24 days ago. It will be about 221 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 21; NFL free agency starts 35; 2016 NFL draft 85

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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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