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With Jackson out, Redskins will need to rely on Garçon

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With Jackson out, Redskins will need to rely on Garçon

One of the questions floating around Redskins Park this week is how the Redskins are going to move the ball with DeSean Jackson sidelined with a hamstring injury. Who will replace Jackson? How will they get any offense going without a receiver who can stretch the field?

The short answers are that nobody can take Jackson’s place and the offense will have to figure out how to move the chains the same way the vast majority of the teams in the league do. Very few NFL teams have a receiver with Jackson’s sheer speed and ability to run under almost anything a quarterback throws up there.

The Redskins didn’t have one in 2013. Jackson was an Eagle that year. The Redskins relied on Pierre Garçon to move the football through the air. Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins targeted Garçon a league leading 181 times. They attempted a combined 611 passes so nearly one in every three throws was in Garçon’s direction.

And the receiver came through with 113 receptions, a total that both led the league and set a team record for catches in a single season. The Redskins did not have a top-notch offense doing things this way but they did rank ninth in total yards and the Garçon-centric passing attack kept defenses honest enough to for the team to rank fifth in rushing yards. It was a miserable 3-13 seasons but a shaky defense, awful special teams, and general team dysfunction contributed more to the mess than the offense did.

There is no reason why this plan can’t work again during Jackson’s temporary absence. With Jackson missing all but a few snaps of the Dolphins game, Garçon was targeted eight times, catching six. Four catches were good for first downs and a fifth reception that should have resulted in a first down was nullified by a highly questionable offensive pass interference penalty.

During the offseason Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden talked a lot about wanting to transform the Redskins into a team known for its toughness. You can check that box next to Garçon’s name.

“You preach tough football players and when your wide receiver is one of the toughest players on your football team, it sends a good signal to everybody,” said Gruden. “He’s a guy that’ll block. He’s a guy that’ll go over-the-middle, be fearless and run after the catch. Every part of Pierre’s game is what you’re looking for in a wide receiver — his toughness, his willingness to do the little things to make the team better.”

The Redskins will send Jamison Crowder and perhaps Rashad Ross on some deep patterns against the Rams tomorrow and for as long as Jackson is sidelined. But it is doubtful that many big plays will happen as a result. If the Redskins are going to move the ball against St. Louis they will do it running the ball (Seattle rushed for 125 yards against them) with Garçon providing blocking on the edge and by targeting Garçon at least a dozen times passing.

Gruden is on board with such a plan.

“I’m all about trying to get him involved in this offense, no question about it,” he said. “You’d love to run the ball, run the ball, but it’s also important to get him involved because he is a game changer if we can get him the quality touches like we did last year.”

Certainly a game plan like this would work better with someone like Jackson in the mix. The ability to score from long distance rather than needing to put together an extended drive certainly helps. But the Redskins will have to play with the hand they were dealt and there is no reason why it can’t be effective given that it has worked in the past.

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Need to Know: Which Redskins will surprise in 2017?

Need to Know: Which Redskins will surprise in 2017?

 

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 22, one day before the Washington Redskins start OTAs on May 23.

Timeline

It’s been 141 days since the Redskins played a game. Their season opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field is in 111 days.

Days until:

—Redskins minicamp (6/13) 22
—Training camp starts (7/27) 66
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 80

Who will surprise in 2017?

Here are four Redskins who I think will surprise in 2017; two who will exceed expectations and two I think will fall short of expectations.

Two up

OLB Preston Smith—If you have been reading this space for a while you know that I have predicted that Smith is on the verge of a breakout multiple time. Here is one more time. We have seen the good-to-great version of Smith on multiple occasions—the last four games of the 2015 season including the playoff game, when he terrorized Sam Bradford and saved that Vikings game with an interception, and against the Bears when he blocked a field goal. I think that competition from rookie Ryan Anderson will give him the jolt he needs to become a consistent defensive force.

CB Bashaud Breeland—Breeland never quite seemed to find his groove last year. When he started off the year he was guarding the likes of Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant as teams took advantage of Joe Barry’s reluctance to have Josh Norman follow the opposition’s top receiver. Later in the year he reportedly had disputes with former secondary coach Perry Fewell over how he was being utilized. This year he should be more comfortable defending mostly No. 2 receivers. That, and the fact that he is entering the final year of his rookie contract should propel him to a solid year.

Two down

TE Vernon Davis—I don’t think that Davis will fall off terribly at age 33, even though Father Time is undefeated. But he isn’t going to sneak up on anybody this year and the added attention from defenses could depress his production. His numbers (receptions, yards per catch, catch percentage) all fell off in the second half of 2016 compare to the first half. The stats could take another dip in 2017.

DE Jonathan Allen—No, Allen is not going to be a draft bust. He will be just fine. But some are expecting him to be the second coming of J.J. Watt right off the bat. Watt was good as a rookie, recording 5.5 sacks, but not great. It wasn’t until his second season that he started to rack up double-digit sacks and became a perennial All-Pro. So, don’t be surprised if Allen doesn’t wow you right off the bat. There is a big adjustment when going from college to the NFL, even after playing in the SEC. Allen will put in the work it takes to develop into a very good player. But the work may not bear fruit until towards the end of this season or many not until 2018.

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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Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: Plenty for running backs to work on

Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: Plenty for running backs to work on

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Running backs to-do list

Tandler: A year ago the main concern going into OTAs was identifying a backup to Matt Jones, who was the unquestioned starter. Now the Redskins appear to have some depth with two potential starters, neither of whom is Jones.

Undrafted rookie Rob Kelley started the last nine games after a bout of fumble-itis landed Jones on the bench. The Redskins drafted Samaje Perine, who rushed for 4,122 yards in three seasons at Oklahoma, including an NCAA record (since broken) 427 yards in one game, in the fourth round.

One thing that both Kelley and Perine must work on is catching passes out of the backfield. Perine caught just 40 passes in 33 games with the Sooners. Passing to Kelley was something of an adventure. He was targeted 17 times and he was charged with four drops.

Jay Gruden isn’t necessarily looking for another Giovani Bernard, who caught 56 passes for the Bengals in 2013, Gruden’s last year as offensive coordinator there. But a back who can catch passes will either draw some defensive attention or give the offense an occasional easy first and 10 if the back is ignored on a swing pattern.

Finlay:  The competition between Perine and Kelley should be a fun one for fans to trach this summer. Gruden has been effusive in his praise of "Fat Rob" since the midway point of the 2016 season, and it's not just bluster. Kelley has quick feet and good vision that allows him to escape tackles in the backfield at a succesful rate.

The Redskins struggled to run the ball in 2016, and Kelley's emergence had as much to do with avoiding negative runs as it did Jones' fumbles. Jones repeatedly got taken down in the backfield. With Kelley, it happened much less often. The challenge for Perine will be getting acclimated to the speed of NFL defensive lines. In college at Oklahoma, Perine played in a wide open spread offense, and in a conference where defense seemed optional. Perine is not accustomed to defenders in the backfield, and it could take some getting used to. Kelley, who played collegiately at Tulane, was quite accustomed to defenders in the backfield. 

It's also important to point out Chris Thompson. He carved out a solid role in 2016 and the same, if not more, will be expected this fall. He accounted for more than 700 total yards and five touchdowns, and was vital on a number of third downs. 

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