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Posted at 07:01 AM ET, 08/28/2014

Meriweather’s suspension could shuffle Redskins’ defensive backfield


Bacarri Rambo will see more playing time Thursday night. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Given the two-game suspension of strong safety Brandon Meriweather, second-year player Baccari Rambo is expected to get plenty of work in Thursday’s preseason finale against Tampa Bay.

Rambo is Coach Jon Gruden’s first option to fill in for Meriweather for the two regular-season games he’ll miss, the Sept. 7 season-opener at Houston and Sept. 14 at FedEx Field, assuming the suspension isn’t overturned or reduced.

But according to veteran Ryan Clark, it’s an open question which safety role Rambo will fill on an interim basis when the regular season kicks off: Meriweather’s slot at strong safety or Clark’s role at free.

“It’ll be just figured out [based on] what he is most comfortable doing,” Clark said this week. “I’ve played this defense for 10 years now so, for me, it doesn’t really matter whether I move and play the strong. He’ll just do what he’s more comfortable doing.”

Meriweather was suspended by the NFL for the first two games of the regular season after a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Torrey Smith in Saturday’s preseason loss at Baltimore—the sixth such infraction of Meriweather’s career.

Rambo, a sixth-round draft pick from Georgia, was handed the Redskins starting free safety job during training camp of his rookie season. But after tackling poorly in the first two regular season games, he lost the job and was relegated to special teams.

Under defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, Rambo has worked hard this offseason to gain coaches’ confidence. And he has gotten better during the preseason, forcing a fumble, registering one solo tackle and assisting on three others against Cleveland.

He says he’d be comfortable in either role.

“I really could play both,” Rambo said. “If they need me to play strong, I’ll play strong. If they need me to play free, I’ll play free.”

Clark voiced confidence in Rambo’s readiness.

“He’s had an extremely good camp,” Clark said. “He has really worked on some of the things coaches focus on with your tackling—being more aggressive. He has done a good job at that.”

The free safety, who has the better view of the full field, typically makes the calls for the defensive backfield. It’s a role that Clark, 34, is well suited to given his experience playing for the Steelers and the Redskins, who have similar defensive schemes, for 10 of his 12 NFL seasons to date.

Said Rambo: “I’m excited about playing. I love the game, so I’m just going to go out there and handle business.”

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Mailbag: Roster projections and QB ‘controversy’

A Tampa Bay homecoming for Gruden

Gordon loses appeal | Bog: Vincent explains Meriweather suspension

Maske: NFL teams putting hold on start to rookie QBs’ careers

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  07:01 AM ET, 08/28/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:55 PM ET, 08/27/2014

Redskins vs. Bucs: Five story lines to monitor in Thursday’s preseason finale


Robert Griffin III won’t be handing off to him on Thursday night, but Chris Thompson needs to do something positive when he gets the ball. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins on Thursday play their final game of the preseason, and for many players, it’s crunch time. Team officials and coaches will use Thursday’s performances to help solidify their opinions of players in advance of the final roster cuts that will take place Friday and Saturday.

Coach Jay Gruden has opted not to play his starters, to spare them from risk of injury. He had considered playing his offensive starters after their unit struggled so mightily last week against Baltimore.

But Gruden decided instead that one series or two against Tampa Bay wouldn’t make much of a difference, and that the risk of a season-ending injury to key players was too great. He also believed the need to further evaluate players battling for roster spots carried greater importance.

“Let the backups play so, we can solidify those roles, very important,” Gruden said explaining his decision. “I think we have our starters. In general, we feel pretty good about who they are and now we need to find the key backups and who they are and make sure they get the ample reps to make the football team and show what they can do on the field.”

Indeed, Washington does have uncertainty hovering over a number of impending decisions on key reserve/rotational players. Gruden hopes things sort themselves out Thursday night.

Here’s a look at five story lines to follow against the Bucs.

1.) Thompson’s last shot? — Coaches don’t hide their excitement about the potential second-year running back Chris Thompson boasts. He’s fast and elusive, he would provide a game-changing element to the backfield behind Pro Bowl workhorse Alfred Morris. But Gruden also hasn’t hid the fact that there are serious concerns about Thompson’s durability. Seriously injured as a junior and senior in college, and as a rookie in the NFL, Thompson again had a bout with injury bug this preseason, missing the past two preseason games with a low-ankle sprain. Finally healthy again, Gruden and his assistants want to see what Thompson can do in games, and they want to see that he can emerge from this contest uninjured. Thompson understands the urgency of the moment. “Practice wasn’t good enough. I did good enough at practices, but I’ve got to go out there and show it on Thursday, that I can translate into a game. … It’s very important for me. … I’ve just got to show them I can make it through some games, and I will show them that.” Thompson has Evan Royster, Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd all vying for the same roster spot. All have had their bright spots while he’s been sidelined. Now he needs a big night.

2.) Strong safety candidates — Brandon Meriweather’s suspension now sends coaches scrambling to find the player most capable of filling in at strong safety for the first two weeks of the regular season. Bacarri Rambo gets the first crack. Coaches see him as much improved as a tackler. The second-year pro, who as a rookie was quickly benched because of tackling woes, actually ranks among the team leaders this preseason. He also has a forced fumble to his credit. Phillip Thomas would contend for this job, but instead, he’s sidelined with injury again. Meanwhile, third-year pro Trenton Robinson and undrafted rookie Akeem Davis aim to make strong cases for themselves when their numbers are called at this position.

3.) Kicking battle — Kai Forbath and rookie Zack Hocker get one last faceoff after two even performances in preseason outings 2 and 3. Hocker has shown great poise, which is uncommon at this position for a rookie, as well as leg strength. Forbath has displayed improved leg strength on kickoffs. But has he done enough to make coaches forget about his misses (one nullified because of a penalty) in the preseason opener?

4.) Special-teams contributors — As they look to round out the roster with the final dozen or so players, Redskins brass will ensure that all of those players excel on special teams. Gruden said he has “made it clear that if it’s close in a position battle, we’re keeping the better special team player, and that’s just a fact.” Already, we saw Washington cut longtime backup outside linebacker Rob Jackson in favor of new additions Everette Brown and Gabe Miller because both do better on special teams. Similar decisions will follow. Crowded wide receiver and defensive back positions will come down to performances on this level. Guys like Akeem Davis, Royster, Redd and Seastrunk, wide receivers Nick Williams and Lee Doss, and linebackers Akeem Jordan are well aware of this fact.

5.) Moses on the right — Redskins coaches last week hoped to see what third-round pick Morgan Moses had to offer at the right tackle position (the position they drafted him to play long-term) after easing him into the pro game at his natural position at left tackle. But Moses got hurt early, and didn’t return. Thursday they’ll be watching closely. They want him to prove he can play at that spot at a high level. It’s hard to say if they would keep two backup tackles (Moses and second-year pro Tom Compton). So versatility is key.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Mailbag: Roster projections and QB ‘controversy’

A Tampa Bay homecoming for Gruden

Gordon loses appealBog: Vincent explains Meriweather suspension

Maske: NFL teams putting hold on start to rookie QBs’ careers

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  01:55 PM ET, 08/27/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  akeem davis, Bacarri Rambo, Brandon Meriweather, Chris Thompson, Morgan Moses, Phillip Thomas, Trenton Robinson

Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 08/27/2014

Redskins mailbag: Roster projections, QB controversy and more

We’re back with a Wednesday edition of the mailbag since today is an off day leading up to Thursday’s preseason finale.

Next week, we’ll return to the Tuesday run date as the team settles back into a regular season schedule of the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday work week.

Lots to cover in today’s mailbag. We take a look at everything from roster projections, position battles, coaching responsibilities, and of course, the supposed quarterback controversy that has followed the struggles of Robert Griffin III.

Thanks as always for taking part, and keep the questions coming. E-mail them to me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line of “Mailbag question.”

Here we go!

I’d like to revisit these questions … Who would be a surprise roster cut and who will surprisingly make the final 53? Also, what rookie has surprised you in how they have looked so far (good or bad)?

— Jay Rotell,  Cheshire, Conn.

I do remember you asking this back in May, and at the time, it was too tough to call. Now, this is definitely a good time to revisit it. It’s hard to say who would be a surprise at this point because this picture is starting to gain clarity. But based on two or three weeks ago, you wouldn’t have expected that Chris Thompson would be in trouble based on the way coaches and Robert Griffin III raved about his skill set. But now, given his inability to stay healthy, he could wind up being a surprise cut. That’s not to say he will get cut. If he balls out Thursday night, then things would change. But, I’ll make him the surprise, although, it’s not entirely unimaginable now. And, as far as a surprise 53-man inclusion, I’ll say Everette Brown. The outside linebacker joined the team a few days into camp, and appeared unlikely to make the team. But on Saturday, he received Rob Jackson’s special teams snaps, and joined the first team for a couple nickel packages. Sunday, Jackson got his walking papers. So, I’d pick Brown as the guy that came out of nowhere to make this team. I think the rookie that has surprised everyone the most is wide receiver Ryan Grant, who has impressed all camp, looking like a very polished route-runner rather than a rookie project.

What’s the likelihood that on the late afternoon of August 30th, the Redskins can identify a quality OL backup (or developmental) player and sign him to the 53-man roster (or, if eligible, to the practice squad)? Just like the Redskins have a strong receiving and running back corps, don’t some teams have an [excess] number of quality offensive line, or at least better options than the Redskins currently have?

— Tim Foisie

The chances of finding a decent practice squad member are probably better than finding a young backup with enough upside that they could eventually groom him into a starting player. Good teams don’t often cut talented offensive line prospects with great potential. You never can say never, however. The Redskins originally signed Chris Baker to their practice squad in September of 2011, two months after the Dolphins cut him. And Baker has gone on to become a starter at defensive end, probably exceeding even the expectations that the Redskins had for him when they acquired him. So, although the chances are slim, this is indeed possible.

Mike, is there any truth behind the claims that RGIII is alienating players and treating them poorly in the locker room? And that the lack of understanding of the offense is becoming a problem in the locker room and with the coaches? And that he’s worried about Cousins closing the gap in the QB competition? I’ve been reading articles all offseason, and I’ve never heard anything like what has recently been reported by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. 

— Marcus Reed

No, that is not true. That was one of the most unfounded, attention-grab “reports” I’ve seen surrounding this team in some time. I talk to players, agents and coaches on and off the record, and never once gotten a sense that Griffin was alienating teammates and treating them poorly. The same goes for any other beat writer out there. To suggest that he is mistreating teammates because he can’t learn the offense is ludicrous. You didn’t hear anything along those lines from any credible local or national reporter because the report was pure fiction. The reported also stated that the locker room went crazy when the report out of Boston stated that Cousins looked better than Griffin. False again. Players were looking at people that followed up on this like they had three heads.

Even after Saturday’s woeful performance, players have not started to turn on Griffin, and he hasn’t started alienating teammates or isolating himself from them. All of this is not to say that there aren’t people within the organization holding their breath over whether or not he can get things together. And it’s not to say that every player in the locker room is leaving love notes in Griffin’s locker. Former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said it best, that Griffin is one of the more popular guys in the locker room, both publicly and behind closed doors. But, are they all fond of his Twitter game, or his sock game and all that stuff? Not all of them. Some would rather him just keep a low profile and play football. But they don’t dislike him, or want him benched. But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!

I’ve read a lot of Keim’s stuff, a lot of Chris Russell’s stuff, and a lot of your stuff. And I always read about how Jay Gruden did this, Brian Baker, Raheem Morris, Randy Jordan did that. And I never see anything about Sean McVay. From what you’ve seen in camp and even in the first preseason game, what is his role? How much of a game-planning role does he have? Why isn’t he at press conferences as often?

— Kelechi Nwanevu

Some of this is because Gruden is so hands-on with the offense that he’s essentially the offensive coordinator, and McVay is his assistant. Mike Shanahan would stand back and watch while Kyle Shanahan ran the offense. Gruden and McVay are working hand in hand, coaching the offense, with Gruden serving as play-caller the majority of the time. But McVay does have special, unique responsibilities in the planning and coaching of the offense. McVay also works very closely with the quarterbacks on their techniques. And we do talk to him for insight rather frequently. But the main reason why you don’t see him at press conferences is because it’s the preseason and coordinators aren’t required to do them weekly. Once the regular season starts, you’ll see McVay do a weekly press conference just as Jim Haslett will.

Nick Williams? I spotted him last year fighting his way to extra yards on a runback. This year he seems to be doing well as a receiver, but doesn’t seem to get ink. Does he have a chance to be one of 53?

— Joel Chaseman

Williams has had a solid camp, but he hasn’t stood out as much as fellow backups Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Ryan Grant. In the preseason, he has four catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns. It’s going to be hard for him to make the 53 unless they take seven receivers. He does have practice squad eligibility, however.

With all the doubts that are beginning to surface with our QB, do we run into a possibility of a QB controversy in Washington AGAIN? Redskins great Joe Theismann gave the debate a boost by suggesting Kirk Cousins could start in place of RGIII if this were a competition. Does that stance hold water? What’s your take?

— Olufemi Adepoju

There’s no controversy within the organization, although the fan base is rather divided on the position. You’re right, Joe Theismann definitely stirred the pot with his comments. But he has since backtracked, saying that Griffin does indeed give the franchise the best chance to win long-term. Here’s what he had to say during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show (Thanks to Dan Steinberg for the transcription):

“When you look at the preseason, Robert is adjusting and learning how to be a pocket passer, you can see that. Kirk came out of college as one and has always been one. But the element we haven’t seen in preseason, and the element that Robert brings, is like Colin Kaepernick, is like Cam Newton. They have incredible ability — and Russell Wilson — to make plays with their legs that nobody else has. If you look at the 20 throws that Robert has made, most of them have been out of the pocket, which is a learning process for him. I’m sure that — and Jay has said this — he’s never had an athlete like Robert. So what’s gonna have to happen — and will happen, I’m sure — is this offense will morph into something that complements his skill set, as far as being able to break the pocket and get outside.

So, that’s Theismann’s modified stance. And there is no question that Cousins is more decisive. But sometimes, he gets himself into trouble because he comes to the line with his mind already made up as to where he’s going with the ball, and then winds up throwing an interception.

Griffin does need to do better, but he is still learning. Last year he played from the pocket much more, but he was basically asked to only read half the field and throwing to receivers that ran less sophisticated pass routes. But you can’t have sustained success in a limited operation like that. And so, Jay Gruden is teaching him, and placing all of the responsibilities of an NFL quarterback on his shoulders. All that takes a lot of time to master, and because of that, you have to live through the ugly stage. That’s what Redskins officials understand. They’ve invested far too much in this kid to pull the plug this early.

Is the offensive line strong enough to allow RGIII enough time to make decisions? How do you rate the offensive line compared to other teams in the division? Has the team improved in this area? The QB needs time to reach out for DeSean Jackson.

— Marvin Serota

The offensive line is probably slightly better than it was in 2012 when the Redskins won 10 games and the NFC East. The thing about that year is that Griffin  with his athleticism and the threat to run in the read-option schemes  was able to help mask deficiencies along the line. He’s not able to do that as well when he’s sitting in the pocket and struggling to make up his mind on where to go with the ball. It doesn’t matter how good your line is, if the quarterback won’t pull the trigger, eventually the protection is going to break down. If Griffin can play with confidence and decisiveness, this line can get the job done. On Saturday against a good Ravens defensive front, we saw moments where the line did its job, but Griffin remained tentative, and eventually came under duress. Or times when the linemen had the pocket sealed off for him, but Griffin hesitated, then pulled the ball and ran because he didn’t trust what he was seeing. Does this line have deficiencies? Absolutely. But can Griffin and this offense still have success? You bet. Early on, however, it will require some quick-hitter passes to catch the defense off guard, a strong rushing attack from Morris, or even a few designed runs from Griffin to prevent the defense from constantly pinning its ears back and coming after the quarterback.

Why does the team appear to be so resistant to keeping Evan Royster? While Helu is clearly the best third-down back and underrated goal line rusher, his injury record is worrying if something happens to Alfred Morris.

— Steve


Redskins running back Evan Royster runs the ball during first preseason game against the Patriots. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

I don’t think they’re resistant. He’s getting his opportunities, and making the most of them, here in the preseason. Royster isn’t as solid in pass protection as Helu, but he does bring a nice element to the running back unit. He’s a smooth runner with great field vision, and he’s able to find openings and pick up yards. He’s showing us that he’s a better receiver than the previous coaching staff gave him credit for. He’s not the fastest, but he compensates for this in other areas. Now, if Chris Thompson was fully healthy, it’s hard to say whether Royster would still have a chance to make this team, because Thompson boasts a unique home run threat with his speed, pass-catching ability and elusiveness. Helu, Royster and Thompson (as well as Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk) could all play roles and help this team. But the problem is, there are only so many roster spots and snaps to go around.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday — usually — in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

A Tampa Bay homecoming for Gruden

Bog: Troy Vincent explains Meriweather’s suspension

Redskins have concerns at safety | Robinson aims for role

Maske: NFL teams putting hold on start to rookie QBs’ careers

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

By  |  11:50 AM ET, 08/27/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Chris Thompson, Evan Royster, everette brown, Ryan Grant

Posted at 09:59 AM ET, 08/27/2014

Preseason finale at Tampa Bay a homecoming for Gruden, much of staff

Thursday’s preseason game at Tampa Bay will be familiar to Washington’s veterans; it’s the fourth time in as many years that the Redskins (2-1) have squared off against the Buccaneers (1-2) in their final regular-season tune-up.

But Raymond James Stadium will have a ring of familiarity to first-year Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and much of his staff.

Gruden, 47, was a member of his brother Jon’s Tampa Bay coaching staff for seven seasons, from 2002 to 2008. He coached the 2002 Super Bowl-winning squad that was led by former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson.


Jay Gruden. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The younger Gruden served as an offensive assistant while trying to keep his own playing career alive. A former Louisville quarterback who was overlooked in the NFL draft, he played quarterback for the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators during Tampa Bay’s offseason, in 2002-03. He returned to coach the AFL team from 2004 to 2008, while working for the Bucs, as well. It was his second stint as the squad’s coach, having served in the role from 1998 to 2001. In his nine seasons coaching the team, he led the Predators to four AFL championship games and two titles.

But Gruden has never worn the Super Bowl ring he got as a member of Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, he told The Post’s Dave Sheinin earlier this summer, but stores it in a safe instead because he feels he didn’t do enough as a first-year assistant to earn the right to wear it.

Gruden is hardly Washington’s only link to the NFL’s Tampa Bay franchise. Redskins president and general manager Bruce Allen served as the Buccaneers’ general manager from 2004 to 2008. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was Tampa Bay’s head coach from 2009 to 2011 and coached its DBs prior to that. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay started his NFL coaching career in Tampa as an assistant in 2008. Wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard played for the Buccaneers, as did Redskins personnel executive and former quarterback Doug Williams, who later returned to Tampa to run its pro personnel department.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Redskins have concerns at safety | Robinson aims for role

Maske: NFL teams putting hold on start to rookie QBs’ careers

Wise: No place for Meriweather in new NFL

Snider: Griffin needs a confidence boost

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @lizclarketweet | @JReidPost | @Insider

 

By  |  09:59 AM ET, 08/27/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Doug Williams, Ike Hilliard

Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 08/27/2014

Trenton Robinson aims to capitalize with Redskins’ safety ranks thin


(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Brandon Meriweather’s impending two-game suspension has created the opportunity for second-year pro Bacarri Rambo to further prove himself to coaches. But he’s not the only player that could benefit from the situation.

Third-year safety Trenton Robinson enters the fourth preseason game seeking to capitalize on increased playing time as he fights to remain in the mix.

Robinson signed with Washington five games into the 2013 season and contributed almost exclusively on special teams. Robinson, this preseason, has seen most of his playing time on special teams again, while also receiving snaps at free safety with the third unit behind Ryan Clark and Rambo.

However, Meriweather’s punishment thins the ranks a bit for Washington. Another injury for Phillip Thomas also leaves the Redskins shorthanded.

Robinson expects to see time at both safety positions in the preseason finale. He already would have played more because the starters will receive the night off. But now Robinson will try to showcase greater versatility as coaches try to evaluate him, along with Rambo, undrafted rookie Akeem Davis and first-year pro Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith.

“We’re going to go into this fourth preseason game, play it out and just keep working,” Robinson said.

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Robinson, who racked up six tackles in the preseason opener against New England and ranked among last year’s leading tacklers on special teams, said he doesn’t anticipate struggles at strong safety.

“Coach Rah coaches us up to play both positions,” he said referring to defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. “So everybody on the back end can play both. It’s interchangeable the way he coaches it. It’s beneficial because if motion happens, the free safety could instantly become the strong safety. I just hope to continue to keep playing the way I have this preseason, just fast and hard and make some plays.”

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 08/27/2014 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)
Tags:  Trenton Robinson

 

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