RICHMOND—During Sunday’s practice session the Redskins first-team offense was running a play from around the 10 yard line of the defense. On the right side, DeSean Jackson got about a step clear of Josh Norman in the corner of the end zone. Kirk Cousins threw the pass perfectly, just over Norman and the other defenders and into the hands of Jackson.
The receiver dropped the pass.
Before I get started here, the point here is not to rip Jackson, who has had a very good camp and who did not drop a single pass last year. Nor is it to talk about Jackson (again) beating Norman, this time in conditions that are game-like.
No, the point here is to note that the Redskins can’t afford to make such mistakes. They don’t have to be perfect but if they can’t lose many easy opportunities for scores. While they could be improved they face what looks now to be a tougher schedule. Their margin for error will be slim.
They could well have finished out of the playoffs last year. Three of their nine wins were by six points or fewer. A mistake like the one Jackson made, when the play call and execution were right on point, may have been very costly. A loss in any of those games might have had them back to being spectators during the playoffs.
An ill-timed fumble could have the same effect. So far in training camp the running backs have been very good at holding on to the ball despite the defense emphasizing pawing at the ball whenever they are anywhere near it.
To be sure, the Redskins did survive some notable gaffes last year. In their most important game of the season in Week 16 in Philadelphia Cousins took a knee at the Eagles six right before halftime to cost the Redskins an easy three or a possible six points. They won the game anyway although what should have been a 23-10 laugher at the half remained close through the third quarter.
They got away with that one but the Redskins are probably a year or two away from possibly being good enough to drop touchdown passes and not have it put them in jeopardy of losing. Again, I don’t expect to see Jackson drop an important touchdown pass when the games count. But someone could and it could be very costly.
New Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor has been working out with Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown this offseason.
The pair documented their receiving drills, ladder drills and even yoga on social media. But what you didn't see, according to ESPN's John Keim, is Pryor practicing with special glasses that Brown recommended.
Based on Brown’s advice, Pryor has also worn special sunglasses during offseason workouts, designed to prevent him from seeing an object – in this case the ball – until it is almost upon him. Sometimes he takes his gloves off, just to get a feel for the ball with his hands.
The glasses Keim describes sound more like blinders, or even tunnel vision, but the idea is to help Pryor get an instinctive feel for running routes.
Despite putting up 1,007 receiving yards with the Browns last year, Pryor has only played the position since 2015. His first four seasons in the NFL were spent trying to make a roster playing quarterback.
Now penciled into a starting receiver role for the Redskins, he knows he has a lot of catching up to do.
"The good ones, they ask questions and never think they’ve got it. They always want to learn," Pryor said, "I’m not calling myself a great one, but I think I can get there."
MORE REDSKINS: Redskins Playbook: Some good news for Kirk Cousins
The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.
Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.
The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10.
After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.
Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too.
The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list.
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