Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan insists he hasnt decided how hes going to handle the teams trio of running backs.Evan Royster hopes to make the decision for him.To win the starting job, though, the second-year Fairfax, Va., native must outperform Roy Helu Jr. and Tim Hightower in the coming weeks.Were all trying to do that, Royster said. So its going to be tough.Indeed, the battle figures to be intense.Helu has a better burst than the others and has stood out through three days of training camp. Hightower is the most experienced, as well as the best pass catcher and blocker, but hes still easing his way back into playing shape after a knee injury cut his 2011 season short.Roysters strengths? Well, singling out what he does well is as difficult as taking him down.Story of my life, he said with a smile. Ive been told my whole life that I wasnt fast enough. But I made it work to this point, so Im just going to keep doing what Ive done the past 15 years.Royster gained 328 yards on 56 attempts as a rookie and averaged a team-best 5.9 yards per carry. He started the final two games of the season, racking up 132 yards, against Minnesota, and 113 against Philadelphia.Asked what he likes about Royster, Shanahan didnt hesitate.You cant tackle him, the coach said. He makes people miss. He knows how to cut and and he knows when to cut.Royster said his familiarity with Shanahans offense has, at times, proven to be an advantage as he adapts to the pro game.I guess Im comfortable with the inside zone, he said. I ran a very similar offense with Coach Tom Verbanic at Westfield High in Chantilly and again at Penn State. Ive just been doing it so long, I feel comfortable.If theres one thing Royster wants to improve upon this season, he said, its his conditioning.The big thing for me at the end of last season was being in game shape, said the 24-year-old, who was used sparingly until mid-December, when he took over for an ailing Helu. I wasnt used to getting out there and taking all those reps, especially in the Philly game when I came out and I was cramping through my whole body. I wasnt prepared for what I needed to do.So thats my focus this year: doing what I need to do be ready for games, he added.And, of course, winning the starting job.
The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.
That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
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Can the Redskins trust Dustin Hopkins at kicker?
Finlay: Nick Novak. Graham Gano. Shaun Suisham. That's just a recent list of kickers the Redskins gave up on too early.
Dustin Hopkins missed a couple of important kicks in 2016, especially after a very strong start to the year, but with a powerful leg and a sharp mindset he should absolutely be the 'Skins kicker in 2017. In two seasons with Washington, Hopkins has made 84 percent of his field goals and 95 percent of his extra points. Don't forget he routinely puts kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks too.
Yes, Hopkins missed a game winner against the Bengals and other important kicks later in the year. That happened. Missed kicks are a part of life in the NFL. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point in the Super Bowl.
At 6-foot-2 and just 26 years old, Hopkins is young and athletic. Of 70 career field goal attempts, Hopkins has missed 11 times. Of the misses, six of them came from 50+ yards. In 31 games, Jay Gruden has proven he trusts Hopkins to attempt long kicks. The 'Skins would be well served to stick with the young kicker.
Finding a quarterback may be the most difficult, least scientific task that NFL organizations must undertake. Deciding when to let go of a struggling kicker is second.
There are plenty of strong legs out there spending hours every day kicking on high school fields in hopes of getting an NFL tryout. But being successful as a kicker is as much about what is above the shoulders as it is what’s below the waist. It appears Hopkins had a mental slump last year but he came back to finish strong.
Hopkins started the year making 14 of his first 15 field goal attempts, with the miss coming in the wind in Baltimore. But then in the dome in Detroit he just missed a 45-yard try and that set off a slump where he missed five of 15 field goal tries. He pulled it back together and missed just two of his final nine kicks, one of them a “why not” 57-yard try at the end of the first half against the Giants.
So, it was more of a slump than a bad year for Hopkins. He continued to pound the ball into the end zone, finishing tied for fourth in touchback percentage. I would understand if they brought in some competition for him during training camp but it will be a major upset if he is not the Week 1 kicker.
More offseason questions:
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!
Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 19, 18 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.
—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 10
—NFL Combine (3/2) 11
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 57
—NFL Draft (4/27) 67
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 203
Sunday morning quick hitters
How many spots up for grabs? A quick mid-February look down the final 2016 53-man roster shows about 20 players who may not be on the roster for Week 1 this year. This includes players who may depart as free agents and others who just won’t make the team. They probably won’t turn over that many spots but it does show that a lot of jobs are up for grabs.
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How many draft picks? The Redskins have nine draft picks, their own in rounds 1-6 and extra picks in rounds 4, 5, and 6. It’s easy to say that Scot McCloughan may turn that into as many as a dozen picks, especially with all the roster spots that may be open. But remember that last year the Redskins wound up with just seven picks with no pick in the fourth and two in the seventh. McCloughan may intend to stockpile more picks but it depends on how the draft unfolds.
1st-round RB a bad idea: Yesterday JP and I posted on the topic of Rob Kelley as the Redskins’ prime running back this season and it drew quite a bit of discussion on Twitter and on Facebook. I think that they should try to get an upgrade over Kelley but I don’t think they should use their first-round pick to do it. There are just too many other, higher priority needs.
More Redskins: NFL Mock Draft 3.0
A turnaround for Matt Jones? Last year Trent Murphy broke out after two mediocre seasons to register nine sacks. Can Jones do the something similar in this, his third season? The rough equivalent of Murphy’s performance would be Jones rushing for 800 yards. It’s as much a matter of him holding on to the ball as anything. Jones was on pace to rush for over 1,100 yards before losing his grip on the starting job, literally and figuratively.
Tandler on Twitter
In case you missed it
- Would a Cousins contract be a cap killer for the Redskins?
- Will Kelley remain the Redskins' lead running back?
- The Redskins week that was—How many DL, players to step up
- 2017 NFL Mock Draft 3.0