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Redskins practice report, Day 9: Scrambling at cornerback

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Redskins practice report, Day 9: Scrambling at cornerback

RICHMOND—Rain was a constant threat as the Texans returned for the second of three practice sessions against the Redskins. Here are my observations from the practice:

—There were officials present again today, the crew led by referee Walt Coleman. I’m not sure why teams don’t bring in refs for every day of training camp, at least a small crew and even college refs could help call offside, catch/no catch, etc.

—The teams started off with a long session of special teams work. Although it’s boring to watch since they only go about 70 percent to practice the kicking game, the Redskins certainly need the work.

—Matt Jones is a north-south runner. He’ll go at an angle to get to the hole and once he does it’s straight towards the goal line. The rookie went around left end on one play and as soon as he got in the clear he immediately headed straight up the field.

—Brandon Scherff had some tough moments going up against J.J. Watt. But on one play Scherff got proper position on the defender and cleared him out of the hole. That is how you have to try to control a player like Watt. You aren’t going to out muscle him.

—Rookie wide receiver Quinton Dunbar changed from a white jersey to a burgundy jersey, indicating a switch from offense to defense. He lined up there all day and did a credible job. At 6-2, he has the length they like at the position but at 201 pounds he look a bit fragile out there. But they needed the help and Dunbar stepped up and provided it. He’s still a long shot to make the team but the more he can do, the better his chances will be of eventually hanging on.

—The Redskins’ top four cornerbacks were out so Dunbar and others had to try to hang on against the Texans passing attack. On one play Houston wide receiver E. Z. Nwachukwu easily beat Deshazor Everett deep but quarterback Ryan Mallett overthrew him.

—Among others working at cornerback were Tajh Hasson, Dunbar, Trey Wolfe, Justin Rogers, and DreQuan Hoskey.

—With the Redskins’ weakened secondary, the Houston offense looked pretty good. It resembles the scheme used by the Patriots, where Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator. It’s about quick, accurate passing. The pass rush is going to be the strength of the Redskins’ pass defense and the quick throws help to negate that. Of course, when it’s Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett executing the offense and not Tom Brady, it doesn’t work with quite the same devastating precision.

—Mallett and Hoyer are splitting first-team snaps and competing for the starting quarterback job. Based on the limited snaps I’ve seen, I think Hoyer would be the better choice. But unlike some in the New England media did last year, I’m not going to declare who the starter should be based on a very limited sample size of what they have done during the offseason.

—Working off to the side at the beginning of practice were Logan Paulsen (toe), Preston Smith (groin), Trevardo Williams (hamstring) and David Amerson (shoulder). During the course of practice, Stephen Paea (groin) and Frank Kearse (knee) joined them on the sideline.

—Robert Griffin III was up and down during the course of the day. He had a rough time on one particular series when nearly every snap he either was pressure or didn’t have anyone open. The good thing was that he didn’t panic and try to force the ball into too small a space. He threw it away when he had issues.

—Hoyer went back to pass and quickly was swarmed by the defense. The defense didn’t hit him, of course, and he managed to flip a pass to a back. He turned and looked at O’Brien, seemingly pleading with the coach to count the completion. O’Brien was having none of it. “There’s no [expletive] way you got that off,” he said.

—Safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith was playing deep middle when third-string quarterback Tom Savage either severely overthrew a pass or threw it into a deep area thinking a receiver was going to be there. Cromartie-Smith ran up and made a diving interception.

—The second team offensive line was, from left to right, Willie Smith, Arie Kouandjio, Josh LeRibeus, Spencer Long, and Tom Compton.

—Kirk Cousins started off a series with a fumbled snap and then had a pass batted away.

—The play of the day from the Redskins standpoint came when rookie running back Matt Jones took a handoff and headed down the left sideline. Texans rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson tried to get in his way. But Jones is about three inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Johnson. Jones easily won the collision and mowed over the cornerback. That drew hoots and hollers from the players on the sideline, both offensive and defensive.

—In goal to go sets just before the end of practice, both the Redskins’ first- and second-team offenses scored touchdowns. Griffin threw a nice fade to Pierre Garçon in the corner and the official on the spot signaled a completion and a touchdown. Then Colt McCoy mishandled a shotgun snap but recovered, scrambled, and threw to Evan Spencer just over the goal line.

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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.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

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. 

More Redskins: When the talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags before

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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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