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Redskins, rest of NFL putting up plenty of smokescreens in Arizona

Redskins, rest of NFL putting up plenty of smokescreens in Arizona

It’s getting very smoky in Phoenix this week as NFL teams try to send out sometimes-conflicting signals about their intentions in the draft, which starts five weeks from tomorrow.

Among the teams throwing out the most smokescreens is Washington. A few weeks ago we had John Clayton of ESPN reporting that the Redskins would draft the Heisman Trophy winner out of Oregon if he is there at No. 5. Then yesterday Tarik El-Bashir talked to Scot McCloughan, who did nothing to knock down Clayton’s report.

"It's a definite consideration, no doubt about it," McCloughan said when asked if the Redskins would draft Mariota. "It's the most important position on the field."

McCloughan’s statement has to be viewed in the context of what else we know about him, the draft, and the Redskins’ quarterback situation.

As far as the latter topic, we have Jay Gruden’s less than ringing endorsement of Robert Griffin III as the team’s quarterback.

“He’s got the starting job right now,” Gruden said on Monday. “Hopefully he takes it and runs with it.”

Gruden’s qualifiers like “right now” and “hopefully” along with the bumpy ride the coach and quarterback had in 2014 don’t exactly convey a lot of confidence in Griffin as the long-term solution at quarterback.

But Mariota might not be the answer either. The Oregon offense is similar to the one Griffin ran at Baylor. Gruden and McCloughan may not be interested in going through the same growing pains with uncertain results.

The popular consensus is that the Redskins are circulating the Mariota talk in order to drum up some trade interest in that No. 5 pick. McCloughan left the door wide open for that possibility as well.

“If it’s a win for us, and it’s going to make us stronger, no doubt about it,” McCloughan told El-Bashir yesterday. “I’ll take any phone calls.”

McCloughan may want to trade the pick but he could have to try to find a market for it if Mariota is off of the board. Ken Whisenhunt is the head coach of the Titans, who hold the second overall pick and he gave a very strong indication that he is interested in Mariota.

“If he comes to us at No. 2, he's definitely going to be the day 1 starter,” he said. “I'm very impressed by Marcus.”

Of course, Whisenhunt’s endorsement may be a smokescreen, a signal that a team that wants to move up to draft Mariota will need to place a call to Nashville, not Ashburn.

It’s lying season in the NFL and it is best to take whatever any NFL coach or general manager says over the next five weeks with a healthy amount of skepticism. We won’t really know what a team’s intentions with its pick are until Roger Goodell steps to the microphone on April 30.

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

MORE REDSKINS: FIVE UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

RELATED: FIVE REDSKINS UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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