The Mailbag: Redskins’ regular season games, Orakpo’s impact, the offense and more

Can the Redskins contend for the NFC East title a second straight season?(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Can the Redskins contend for the NFC East title a second straight season? (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins enter their final round of offseason practices this week with  their mandatory minicamp. Players were scheduled to report to Redskins Park for physicals on Monday, and then practices are slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

This week, all practices are open to reporters, so we’ll hear from a number of Redskins, including Robert Griffin III at the podium on Tuesday and Mike Shanahan’s assistant coaches on Wednesday.

Then, the players get just more than a month off before training camp kicks off in Richmond on July 25.

But first, we tackle some more Redskins questions sent in over the past week from readers like you. Here they are:

 If you could go to any regular season Redskins game this year which game would you go to and why?

– Tim McGibben

I’d say the Nov. 25 “Monday Night Football” game against the visiting San Francisco 49ers. There’s a lot to like about the matchups in this nationally televised game. Griffin and his cast of receivers and Colin Kaepernick and his, Alfred Morris and Frank Gore, two aggressive defenses going after those young, dual-threat quarterbacks. Every game matters, but there could be quite a lot riding on that late-season game, and it could possibly be a playoff preview. Yeah, that has to be the one, if you could only pick one to go to. But there are a number of good games this season including the regular season opener (also on “Monday Night Football”) against Philadelphia, the road trip to Green Bay.  And those final two games of the year: at home vs. Dallas and at the Giants very well could decide the NFC East and settle the playoff picture. (Editor’s note: Here’s the schedule, so you can play along too)

What separates the good from the great as pass-rushers is the ability to generate stats like sacks while also doing everything else well. Orakpo only had more than 10 sacks his first year. That year Haynesworth was actually playing, and he always drew 2-3 defenders. I don’t need to see a huge sack count. What I need to see is a combined huge total of sacks/hurries/knock-downs/tips/etc, along with good tackle numbers. Until then, you can’t talk about him and DeMarcus Ware.

  – Drew Johnson

 Although tired of talking about whether or not he is elite, Brian Orakpo understands that he can’t be considered a top pass-rusher until he actually goes out and dominates on a consistent basis. He has made two Pro Bowls, but I’ll agree that for now, he is a good – but not great – pass-rusher. Going from the 4-3 defense his rookie season to the 3-4 his second probably stunted his growth some. But Orakpo believed that last season – thanks to continuity and further development – that he was ready to take the league by storm, but then he got hurt early in Game2, and was left waiting for next year. Now healthy, Orakpo has to deliver. Double-digit sacks, a couple interceptions (he has none in his career), forced fumbles (1.5 per season) and key stops in the run game this season should rank among the priority items on his to-do list for 2013. The Redskins need him so they can take that next step forward, and he needs a big year himself because this is the final year of his contract.

What’s the deal with the league’s defenses “figuring out” the read-option during the offseason, thereby assuring the doom of our 2013 Redskins? What does an opposing defense have to do to “figure out” the read-option anyways? Oh, and wait, wasn’t our 2012 offense more predicated on (surprise ahead) the zone blocking run game and short-to-mid play action passes? If opposing defenses spend all their energy trying to shut down the read-option, what doors might that open for the real foundation of our offense?

– Adam Gendell

Although defensive coordinators have been spending time working to find ways to contain the read-option plays, I don’t think you can assume that Washington’s offense will be doomed. Although familiarity with the concepts will have increased, it’s hard to come up with the speed on the edges needed to match what the Redskins, and teams like the Seahawks and 49ers and Panthers, have to offer. You’re right, though, that the Redskins have more than just an option offense. The good thing about their system is that although they may give some zone-read looks, many times they ran the same plays Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan have been calling for years. Integrating the option along with the base offense helps keep defenses off-balance. A defense can’t key on any one thing. That is a reason why Washington won’t scrap it. They could scale back some, or modify what they ask Griffin to do, but they won’t get rid of it entirely. In addition to posing that threat, Shanahan wants a defense to have to spend a lot of time preparing for the option plays so they also have less time to spend on defending the traditional schemes.

What is a “zone read” that is talked about so much?

– Kevin Fitzpatrick

The zone-read, or read-option, refers to a kind of offensive scheme that the Redskins and some other teams – like Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco – have integrated into their base offenses. There are a lot of different variations, but just for example, you might see the quarterback line up in the shotgun and take the snap. He’ll then read the defensive end or outside linebacker to see where he is lined up, and what he will be keying on. From there, the quarterback will make the decision whether to run the ball or begin to run — drawing the defender to him — and then pitch the ball to the trailing running back or receiver.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I read an article where Robert Griffin III said he would rather be called Robert or Griff instead of RGIII. Can you tell me if my thinking is correct?

 – Jim McDonald

When asked about it last year, he said he didn’t really care. He said most of his teammates and friends had called him Robert, Rob or Griff, and that one former coach had called him Bob. He said anything other than Bob basically was fine, though. Most Redskins players call Griffin “Robert” or “Rob,” when talking to him. They sometimes reference him as RGIII in interviews, though.

Can you review a not-so-glamorous position like the nose tackle? I really like Barry Cofield and Big Chris Baker. Where does that leave Neild and the new guy we picked up (Ron Brace)?  I am thinking we will keep no more than two, or can they play end?

 – Walter Blair

Barry Cofield definitely is your top guy at this spot, and he really became more comfortable in that role last year – his second season at nose tackle after playing defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense all of his career – and should become a more disruptive force. Chris Baker had bounced around the league and battled injury in 2011 and then developed into a solid backup to Cofield last season. He became a restricted free agent this past offseason, and the Redskins re-signed him to a one-year, $1.32 million contract. Meanwhile, Chris Neild – a late-round pick in 2011 – missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in training camp, but he is now back to full strength and practicing. And, the Redskins are kicking the tires on former New England Patriot Ron Brace, but he hasn’t practiced yet, as he is rehabbing from offseason hernia surgery. Based on how things went for Brace in New England, the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder seems better suited for defensive end in the 3-4. Baker played primarily at nose tackle, spelling Cofield, and Neild was strictly a nose his rookie year. It’ll be interesting to see how the position battle between Baker and Neild goes. Baker would seem to have the edge, but Neild said last week that he has taken the bulk of the second-team snaps, although in last Thursday’s open practice, Baker got a fair amount of run as well.

I liked how Alfred Morris stepped up, but I felt Roy Helu and Tim Hightower were going to do great things for us before getting hurt. So my question is, I know Hightower may not be back but is there any chance Helu can somehow challenge for the starting job?

 – Marvin Furbush

 With Morris coming off of a 1,600-yard season, he is the unquestioned starting running back. Helu has a chance to fit into this offense as a change-of-pace back and receiver out of the backfield. The knock on him, in addition to his struggles to stay healthy, is that he doesn’t really seem to have the ability to make something out of nothing. Morris, meanwhile, is a punishing back capable of picking up chunks of yardage after contact. Helu as a rookie recorded 49 catches for 379 yards. That pass-catching ability can help Washington, particularly on third downs.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim (starting July 1) | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

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