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Redskins OTAs to-do list: Offensive line looks to improve run blocking

Redskins OTAs to-do list: Offensive line looks to improve run blocking

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin next Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Offensive line to-do list

Tandler: While the coaches love to talk about competition at every position there isn’t much here. Perhaps Arie Kouandjio will push Shawn Lauvao for the starting job at left guard but Lauvao is still a strong favorite to start Week 1.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty for Bill Callahan’s group to do over the next month. For one thing, they need to improve their run blocking. While over the course of the season they were adequate as the running backs gained an average of 4.5 yards per carry, ninth in the NFL, but they didn’t get it done down the stretch. They averaged under three yards per carry in three of the last six games. The Redskins went 0-3 in those games when a win in any of them would have gained them a playoff spot.

They are limited in what they can do because of the no-contact rules during OTAs and minicamp. But they can work on gelling as a unit. Callahan will undoubtedly have his group staying out late after practice is over (he even held an overtime session in rookie camp) and get them to refine their footwork, hand use, and other techniques they need to perform at peak efficiency when they put the pads on.

Finlay: Looking at data provided by Pro Football Focus, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses ranked as the top three run blockers on the Redskins in 2016. No surprises there: Williams and Scherff earned Pro Bowl honors last season and Moses found himself getting a five-year contract extension. Elsewhere on the line, the data doesn't look as good. Lauvao and Spencer Long both rated as a negative in the run game. Long is still learning his center spot, but Lauvao simply must be better.

One overlooked area that could help the Redskins run game: better blocking from the tight end position. Rookie Jeremy Sprinkle could immediately provide a boost. At 6-foot-5 and 252 lbs., Sprinkle will be the biggest tight end on the roster and he's coming from the University of Arkansas that focused very much on the run game. Sprinkle should come in for the Redskins jumbo package, when the team deploys three tight ends, and could spell Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis in other run situations. 

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN 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!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Rookie camps are in the books as teams now move to organized team activities. Does that mean it's too early for fantasy football rankings? 

Probably, but seeing as the rookies are new to the scene, we might as well start projecting where and how they fit. 

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas were among the rookies who produced and then some in 2016.

Based on the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, there’s hope for even more first-year standouts.  

Starting with the Bears selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall, 19 skill players were drafted in the first and second round.

That includes fellow first-round quarterback selections Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Several sleeper candidates followed. 

Here’s my look at the Elite Eight quarterbacks with the 2017 fantasy football season -- and beyond -- in mind.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings:

Running Backs - No. 1, Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

* Wide receivers - No. 1, Corey Davis, Titans

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Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Nose tackle

Finlay: There's a lot to do on the Redskins defensive line, and it starts in the middle. Expect free agent addition Stacy McGee to have a big opportunity to take over the nose tackle job. McGee ranked as a +5.5 run defender last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and at 6-foot-3 and 308 lbs., he has the size to man the middle. McGee has plenty of talent, health has been his hiccup. He has only played all 16 games in one of his four seasons, and in 2016, he played only nine games.

Beyond McGee, the Redskins have some lottery tickets. Practice squad players A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu both have the size to play nose, but neither have the experience. Could Francis or Mbu emerge for significant snaps with the Washington defense? Sure, but it would be unexpected. 

A bigger lottery ticket remains. Phil Taylor, a former first-round pick in 2012, has shown serious talent at the nose tackle position. At 6-foot-3 and 337 lbs., Taylor certainly has the size for the spot. At the same time, Taylor hasn't played an NFL game since 2014, losing both 2015 and 2016 to injury. Counting on Taylor would be short-sighted, but if he can remain healthy, there could be big value.

According to Jay Gruden, the most important piece of the nose tackle puzzle will come from new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Gruden said he expects Tomsula to "make" a nose tackle and improve the Redskins D-line. It's a tall order, but Tomsula has an impressive track record working in the trenches. 

Tandler: The organization’s refusal to get a legitimate nose tackle either in free agency or in the draft will lead to them again spend the spring and summer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

That’s what they did last year with Ziggy Hood. He took a lot of snaps at nose tackle and he simply wasn’t a fit for the job. It wasn’t his fault that the Redskins allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per rushing attempt on first down; he’s an end and he was much more effective there.

Matt Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, also took some snaps at nose, with similar results. At 6-3, 308, he just doesn’t have the size to be effective.

The worst part of it here is that they really can’t get too far in identifying the 2017 nose tackle. In the spring with no pads and no contact allowed they really can’t do much besides work on technique and learn assignments. Tomsula’s effort to “make” a nose tackle won’t really get going until they get to Richmond in late August.

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN 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!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back