Tim Hightower, the running back the Redskins re-signed over the weekend, is not exactly a dynamic runner. His career average is a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. But that is not the number the Redskins were concerned with when they decided to bring him back. The number they were looking at was 140.That is the number of 2011 sacks posted by the Eagles (50, tied for first in NFL), Giants (48, tied for third), and Cowboys (42, tied for seventh). According to the research of Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com, the 140 combined sacks were the most posted by any trio of NFL teams in the same division last year.That comes to about three sacks per game by the Redskins NFC East rivals. Washington actually fared a little bit better than the league as a whole controlling the pass rush in its division games. In their six division games the Redskins quarterbacks were sacked 14 times, an average of 2.3 per contest.Still, Robert Griffin III cant have a successful season if he has to deal with Jason Pierre Paul, Trent Cole, and DeMarcus Ware bearing down on him play after play. In his article, Kirwan outlines some ways that the Redskins can counter the heat they will face in the NFC East including developing an effective running game and having RG3 develop a good relationship with tight end Fred Davis.But while schemes and strategies are important, pass protection boils down to the blocker staying in between the defender and the quarterback. Hightower is good at that and when he is healthy and on the field, Trent Williams, who lines up against Ware, Cole, and Justin Tuck in those division games, is too. Those two players will be critical if Griffin is going to lead the Redskins out of their longtime spot in the basement of the NFC East.
Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, March 23, 35 days before the April 27 NFL draft.
—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 25
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 50
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 62
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/15) 114
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 171
The Redskins’ five most valuable backups
QB Colt McCoy—The one time that McCoy came into a game for Kirk Cousins was in 2014, when he took over for the struggling starter at halftime and led the Redskins to a comeback win over the Titans. The way things stand now the only way that McCoy plays this year is if Cousins gets injured. And the fact that Cousins has never missed an NFL snap due to injury doesn’t guarantee that he won’t.
OT Ty Nsekhe—In his seven seasons in the NFL Trent Williams has played in 16 games just twice. That makes the backup player who must protect the quarterback’s blindside very important. It would take just one hit for that Cousins streak to come to an abrupt end. The Redskins had shaky solutions for a backup tackle until they found Nsekhe in 2015.
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DB Will Blackmon—Versatility is the key with Blackmon. With only 46 active players on game day it helps to have someone who can play either side as a corner, cover the slot, and play free safety. He might be a jack of all trades and master of none but the ability to fill in when the need calls for it is important.
DL Ziggy Hood—I’m assuming here that Hood is indeed a backup. That’s what everyone thought he would be last year but due to injuries and free agent flameouts he ended up 14 games and playing 60 percent of the defensive snaps. Hood could be much more effective as a reserve. And consider the injury histories of projected starters Stacy McGee (7 games missed last year) and Terrell McClain (missed most of 2015) and the teams likely reliance on some rookies (durability unknown), a good rotational lineman who can step up and start could be critical.
TE Vernon Davis—The Redskins moved quickly to ensure that Davis will return in 2017, signing him to a three-year deal early in free agency. Jordan Reed proved that he is as tough as they come by playing through his shoulder injury in Dallas but it still cost him a couple of games. Reed has missed between two and seven games in each of his four NFL seasons so a good backup for him is critical.
Tandler on Twitter
@MrDavidB21 There are always surprise picks. Much more likely to trade down than trade up.— Rich Tandler (@Rich_TandlerCSN) March 22, 2017
In case you missed it
The Redskins will host Tim Hightower for a visit on Wednesday, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported. Bringing Hightower in at this point represents an impressive story far beyond a mundane free agent visit.
If his career ended today, Tim Hightower's story would already be remarkable. Hightower - a DMV native that played his college ball at the University of Richmond - played for the Redskins in the 2011 season. That season, he tore his ACL, and was limited to five games.
While torn ACL's happen frequently in the NFL, what happened next for Hightower was anything but ordinary. He missed the next three seasons with an undiagnosed infection, before incredibly returning to the NFL in 2015 with the Saints.
His last two years in New Orleans, Hightower has been a solid contributor behind starting RB Mark Ingram. He's rushed for more than 900 yards, gained another 330 yards through the air and hit the end zone nine times in 24 games for the Saints.
In Washington, Hightower would join a backfield of Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. It will be interesting to see if Washington adds any other backs through the draft in April as well.
Born in Waldorf, Hightower went to high school in Alexandria before playing college ball at Richmond. Playing with the 'Skins in 2011, Hightower quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his local ties.
The Redskins run game has not been particularly strong for a few seasons, and questions remain if the current stable of runners will be enough to improve. Hightower doesn't necesarily equal a significant talent boost, but perhaps coaches and front office staff are looking at the group.
Be aware, however, this could be nothing more than a visit. Triplett reported it remains possible Hightower returns to the Saints. He also visited the 49ers last week, and new San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was running the 'Skins offense in 2011 when the team originally acquired Hightower.
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