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Need to Know: Who will make the biggest difference on the Redskins' defense?

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Need to Know: Who will make the biggest difference on the Redskins' defense?

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 20, 40 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Nickel coverage

Here are a five more thoughts on the state of the Redskins after they wrapped up their offseason program. Look here and here to see what I’ve written the last couple of days.

—The biggest single difference—both literally and figuratively—between the Redskins’ defense of 2014 and the one we’ll see this year is Terrance Knighton. Barry Cofield played well at nose tackle at times over the past few years but it’s hard to make up for a lack of sheer size. When Cofield was out injured for a good chunk of last year, Chris Baker was just OK filling in. Knighton brings the size and athletic ability the position needs.

—Baker didn’t play much nose tackle during the offseason practices that were open to the media. I think he might stay on the outside for the most part and that’s probably better for him. He should play about 30-35 snaps per game at end. The new, attacking scheme plays to his strengths much more than the two-gap setup that they played last year. Baker could well play fewer snaps but make more big plays.

—It appears that Chris Thompson and Silas Redd will be competing for one job barring some sort of unexpected injury situation. Keeping four running backs plus fullback Darrel Young would create a numbers crunch that would force another position to be cut short. They both will make it only if they both make a compelling case to stay. I think Thompson might have the edge going in due to his speed but the coaches and other players really like the way Redd goes about his business. If both stay healthy (not a given with Thompson's history) it could come down to the final hours on cutdown day on Sept. 5.

—The most underrated move of the offseason may have been adding strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark. He has some different ways of doing things but just looking at the players in the pre-pads segment of the offseason you have to like the results. Players who needed to get bigger (Trent Murphy, Niles Paul) are bigger and others who needed to get smaller (Trent Williams) lost some noticeable pounds. Jay Gruden said during minicamp that the players are in great shape.

—I think that when all is said and done Jeron Johnson will end up starting at strong safety in Week 1 against the Dolphins. Duke Ihenacho has been getting plenty of snaps there with the first team but it’s probably Johnson’s job to lose. But Ihenacho isn’t going anywhere. I had him on the roster bubble for much of the spring but it looks like he’s locked into a spot. Even if Johnson does start against Miami, Ihenacho could push him all season long.

Timeline

—It’s been 174 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 85 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 40; Preseason opener @ Browns 54; final cuts 78

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

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Don't count out a third straight franchise tag for Kirk Cousins, and here's why

Don't count out a third straight franchise tag for Kirk Cousins, and here's why

For the second straight season the Redskins placed the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins. While the two sides are speaking amicably about a long-term deal, the July 15 deadline for those negotiations continues to inch closer without much expectation that contract will get signed. 

A second year on the tag is unprecedented for a quarterback. In 2016, Cousins made nearly $20 million playing on the tag. In 2017, that figure goes up to $24.

If the Redskins don't get a deal done with Cousins, many think the organization would not again go with the franchise tag because the price tag jumps to an exorbitant $34 million. 

Think again. 

Asked on Monday if another franchise tag would be an option for Cousins in 2018, Redskins team president Bruce Allen was clear.

"Yes," he said. "In the collective bargaining agreement, we really have one year and an option that we can do at the end of next season if we don’t get a contract."

Those options include the exclusive franchise tag, the non-exclusive franchise tag and the transition tag. Both franchise tags carry the same cost, but the non-exclusive allows Cousins' representatives to shop his services around the NFL. If a deal gets struck, and the Redskins don't match the contract, Washington is due two first-round draft picks as compensation for losing their franchise player. 

The transition tag carries a $28 million price tag, and the Redskins can match another contract but risk only receiving a possible 2019 third-round compensatory pick if Cousins walks.

Considering those options, another year on the non-exclusive tag might make sense. The NFL salary cap will be at least $168 million, which means Cousins at $34 million would account for about 20 percent of the Redskins' salary cap.

That's a crazy allotment for one player. Crazy. The Redskins do have about $54 million in cap space for 2018, so technically, another franchise tag could work. 

But the entire manner of the contract dealings with Cousins and the Redskins has been quite unconventional. The Redskins have already made history by franchising Cousins a second-straight year. 

"I think even Kirk said it, there’s a lot of players round the league who are on a one-year deal. It’s the nature of it, we’d like to get him a long-term deal and I think he should want to get one," Allen said. "Kirk’s played well on a one-year contract the last two seasons."

At this point, it doesn't require a degree in advanced mathematics to understand that the Redskins and Cousins have a different picture of the quarterback's long-term value. That could change by July 15th, it could, but it doesn't seem likely. The Cousins camp has little incentive to bend, as $24 million fully guaranteed for 2017 represents a great payday.

And maybe the Redskins don't plan on bending because the option of a third-straight franchise tag doesn't worry them. Or at least the option of letting Cousins shop his services on a non-exclusive tag, and then making a decision to match a deal or receive compensation seems a worthwhile endevaor. 

For Cousins, he's not counting out any possibility. 

"People, I’ve heard say, ‘There’s no chance they franchise tag him or even transition tag him the following season,’ and I chuckle because if the team has franchise tagged me for two years in a row," Cousins said to an ESPN podcast in March. 

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Redskins' offseason program ramps up with start of OTAs today

Redskins' offseason program ramps up with start of OTAs today

The Redskins’ offseason starts to move into high gear today as organized team activities, better known as OTAs, get underway at Redskins Park.

Players have been participating in workouts at Redskins Park since April 17. The first phase of those session consisted of strength and conditioning. In the second phase, they were permitted to run plays but not with the offense lined up against the defense. Finally, in OTAs, they will go offense vs. defense.

RELATED: Who are the Redskins' roster locks?

The practices, however, will not resemble an August scrimmage in Richmond. The players wear helmets but no pads and contact is not permitted. While players do block other players and there are collisions between players going after passes, the action is more like pushing and shoving that it is hitting.  

The part about no contact should be taken seriously. Seattle ran afoul of the no-contact rule last year and it cost them. The Seahawks were fined $400,000, lost their fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and they will not be permitted to hold their first week of OTAs this year. The Redskins will be very careful to keep within the rules.

MORE REDSKINS: Allen says new stadium ahead of schedule 

OTAs will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in each of the next three weeks. The sessions will be open to the media on Wednesday of each week. While player attendance is strongly encouraged the practices are voluntary.

The week after OTAs end the team will hold its minicamp on June 13-14. Minicamp is essentially a continuation of OTAs but player attendance is mandatory.

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.