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The Shape of Things to Come?

The Shape of Things to Come?


If the Redskins 16-10 win over the New Orleans Saints is a look at the shape of things to come, there is a lot to like. In no particular order:

  • Jason Campbell wasn’t perfect, but he was more than good enough. In front of a charged-up hostile crowd in a dome, he made no apparent mental mistakes. He did misfire on a few passes but none came close to winding up in the hands of a New Orleans defender. You just can’t throw a pass any better than the touchdown he threw to Santana Moss. Campbell rolled right and he launched the ball from about the 42. It traveled 50 yards right into the hands of Moss, who has split the two defenders.
  • The offensive line played extremely well, especially considering that one of its starters was missing. Todd Wade filled in for Jon Jansen and the unit didn’t miss a beat. While the Saints rushing defense is not very strong, they do have a good pass rush. The Redskins blocked well enough for Ladell Betts to go over the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight week and well enough to keep Campbell upright almost the whole day. Casey Rabach finally is living up to his contract, Randy Thomas just might be the team’s best player, Derrick Dockery seems to play smarter and more refined every week and Chris Samuels likely will be the team’s Pro Bowl representative if they have one.
  • The defense tackled. You’re not going to shut down opposing receivers all day long, especially with a quarterback like Drew Brees throwing to them. But you can make a solid tackle as soon as they catch the ball and minimize the gain. That’s what the Redskins did all day long. New Orleans’ yards after catch was negligible. The first man almost always brought Deuce McAllister down. And while the first defender there didn’t always bring Reggie Bush down, he was always knocked hard enough at first contact to allow the rest of the defense to swarm to him. The tackling ability turned around all of a sudden against the Panthers and it’s kept up.
  • Specifically on defense, Carlos Rogers is getting his game together. Many of the long plays he was giving up earlier in the year did not come as a result of him being clearly beaten by the receiver. He often was close enough but for whatever reason he wouldn’t make a play on the ball. In the past few weeks he has been making the plays instead of being a spectator. While he’s not quite playing up to the level one would like to see from the ninth overall pick in the draft, he’s heading that that direction.
  • And nobody’s calling Andre Carter a bust any more, either. Again, he isn’t quite living up to his contract but his picture no longer belongs on the side of a milk carton. On the third down play on the Saints’ final series he came from the other side of the line to make a stop on Bush for a loss. There hasn’t been any question about his motor; now, the effort is beginning to show some results.
  • Shaun Suisham has made seven straight field goals. That’s not a Moseley-like streak by any means, but it is possible that the Redskins have a young leg that can stick around for a few years. Nobody will be completely sold until he makes a game-winner in December, but the early signs are good.

It all bodes well for 2007. Of course, we all thought that the way the team finished off 2005 was a sign of things to come this year, so we will have to wait and see.

Going for it

One other piece of business from the Saints game needs to be discussed. There is a chorus of criticism out there coming from the message boards and call-in shows about Joe Gibbs’ decision to kick a field goal on fourth and three with his team holding a three-point lead. They wanted Gibbs to go for it and make it a two score game. This complaining is coming despite the fact that the strategy worked and the Redskins won the game. They agree with Fox talking head Brian Baldinger, who said that Gibbs should go for it.

That is ridiculous. It was not only the right call to make, it was the only call to make. First of all, it was fourth and three, not fourth and two. The graphic on Fox said fourth and two but the line for the first down was at exactly the one and the ball was spotted at the four. The cameras were on Gibbs during the whole time in between plays so you couldn’t get a good view of where it was, but you can clearly see that the ball is being snapped from the four when they go to the shot of them lining up for the field goal attempt.

But whether it was two or three to go, or even if it was two feet, you have to take the points in that situation. You are on the road in a noisy dome. You have already experienced some problems with crowd noise. If you don’t make it the Saints need to get only a field goal to send it into overtime. It’s always easier to play defense when you know that the other team absolutely has to cross the goal line. Your defense has been playing well all day.

Given the same situation, an NFL coach will kick the field goal 99 times out of 100. It’s a no-brainer. On top of that, it worked. I’ve said that I would like to see Gibbs be a little more aggressive and go for it on occasion, but not on this occasion.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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