Mailbag: Illegal formation, tackling techniques and Roy Helu Jr.’s opportunities


Robert Griffin III, Niles Paul and the Redskins enter the bye with a 1-3 record. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins have reached the bye, and after a practice Tuesday will scatter to offseason homes or vacation destinations. They’ll clear their heads, let bumps, bruises, aches and pains heal up, and then they’ll return to work next Monday and try to start a 12-game stretch on a positive note – by beating the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 13.

But for now, it’s time once again to dig into the mailbag and tackle your questions about this 1-3 team and whatever else you want.

Let’s go.

In the game against Detroit, one of our penalties the team was called for was illegal formation because too many players were on the line of scrimmage. I got to wondering:  What’s the purpose of that rule? Why does it matter, or how does it negatively affect the game if 8-10 players are on the line?

– Bob Lasher

Bob, you put me to work on this one. I know the rule: That in the NFL, the offense must have seven men lined up on the line of scrimmage to begin each play or else draw a penalty for “illegal formation.” But the origin, or reasoning behind the rule? I was stumped. I polled a couple of offensive Redskins to see if they knew the origin of the rule, or the purpose of it. They couldn’t help me. Then I went to elder statesman London Fletcher, who immediately replied, “It’s so the defense can identify all the eligible receivers.” So, of the seven men on the line, five of them are the linemen, the two others are wide receivers, who usually are split out wide. Or, if there’s a tight end lined up on the line, that receiver split out wide outside him must be lined up off the line so he doesn’t cover that other eligible receiver at the end of the line.

I may have missed the answer to my question somewhere in the preseason or early part of this season so bear with me. Why in the world is Haslett up in the box during the game? To me, one of the greatest assets he had last year was being on the sidelines and pumping his defense up, exhorting them to do better and being able to instantly see something awry and make a change. Now, he’s up in the box and too removed from his players, I feel. Was this just an experiment, or is this a long-lasting decision which keeps him alienated from the defensive players in my humble opinion?

  – Jon DeRamus

Jim Haslett made the decision this year to move up to the coaches box so he could get a better overall view of the field and be able to make an assessment of what the opposing offense was or wasn’t able to do more quickly. The view from the sideline is limited. Haslett could see what was going on if the play was on his side, but not on the far side. “He’d have to ask us, ‘What are you seeing? What are they doing over there?” Brian Orakpo said. But now, being up above, Haslett can see for himself, and he and his players say that he has been able to make adjustments more quickly during games. He calls down to the field and gives players instructions on the phone, and then talks with them at halftime. Haslett, Shanahan and the defensive players don’t see the defensive coordinator coaching from the booth as a negative.

This question not only concerns the ‘Skins but the league as a whole. Is there a rule against dropping down low to wrap up the ball carrier’s legs to prevent further yardage after contact?  In old-school football, one of the first things you were about tackling was to wrap up the runner’s legs to prevent his making more yards. Today it is almost never seen. Instead you see four or five would-be tacklers draped around the runner’s neck while [he] struggles out additional yardage before going down. What happened to the art of “driving” a shoulder into the belt line then dropping down and wrapping up the legs. Is there a rule against this type tackling or is it that defensive coaches have forgotten this practice of tackling?

– Rufus Abanathey

Nope. There is no such rule against using the fundamentals to tackle. Hard to believe, since it’s rather uncommon that we see the old ABCs of tackling that we all learned in Pop Warner ball, huh? The fundamentals of wrapping up and driving a ball carrier to the ground aren’t totally dead and gone. You see better tackling techniques closer to the line of scrimmage. But further away from the line, linebackers and defensive backs many times do seem to launch themselves into a ball carrier and try to just knock him down rather than wrap up and contain him. I think some of that has to do with the speed of the game. It’s not always easy to get in the proper position to make a textbook stop, and so, desperate to make any attempt at all, you see some flying-shoulder tackles. In some cases they work, but it seems that more often than not, the would-be tackler bounces off or whiffs, and the back continues to pick up yardage.

I was wondering what are the chances of the Redskins bringing back Tanard Jackson? Also, with Helu’s play-making ability displayed in Redskins’ win, shouldn’t he deserve an increased role in the struggling offense?

 – Jerell Bailey

The league still has not ruled on Jackson’s appeal for reinstatement. Remember, it was an indefinite suspension, and he wasn’t eligible to apply for reinstatement until a year had passed. So, that didn’t necessarily mean he would get the green light in a year. Meanwhile, Helu has actually gotten some playing time in the first few weeks of the season because the Redskins have been in a lot of passing situations, but until this past Sunday, he hadn’t received many targets or carries. I think the biggest part of the problem – at least as far as the carries go – is the Redskins have been behind and have neglected the run. So, there haven’t been the opportunities to sprinkle Helu runs in with Morris runs to keep the defense off balance. I think his touches will increase, especially if the Redskins can compete early in games instead of having to work from behind.

What is the deal with Chase Minnifield? Was he that bad that he did not get a spot on the 53 and now with Rambo not playing up to where he should, why not bring him up? I am sure he is chomping at the bit. Can you shed any light on Chase at all?

 – Benjamin Fry

Minnifield did well in training camp, particularly when playing in press coverage. But he had his limitations, and they were more on display during the preseason. In preseason games, Minnifield was just okay. He got beat on a number of plays, and the physicality he displayed in practices didn’t transfer over into games. Also hurting him was the fact that he doesn’t excel on special teams. Jerome Murphy beat Minnifield out for the final corner spot because he is a little bigger, more physical and a talented special teams player. Minnifield and Rambo don’t play the same position, so Rambo’s struggles really don’t have anything to do with Minnifield.

While I understand the logic behind allowing RGIII to play himself back to form, aren’t team officials also risking him reinjuring himself by having him force things?  When would it be okay to bring Cousins in to try and spot RGIII till he is completely 100 percent healthy? He just isn’t the same player as he was last year and teams don’t fear the Redskins’ offense as they once did.  I mean, why can’t the Redskins’ brains see this and make that bold call? 

  – Olufemi A. Adepoju

Robert Griffin III is completely healthy. That’s why he is out there. He wouldn’t be playing if he wasn’t. Did he have some physical rust in the first couple of weeks? Yes. But in the last two weeks, we’ve seen him make every kind of physical movement, adjustment or reaction that he needs to make. Is he mentally sharp? He’s getting there. Each week he takes another step forward. The mental errors that we saw in the first couple games, and even in the Lions game, were not there on Sunday against the Raiders. There is nothing that Kirk Cousins can come in and do that Griffin cannot. Is Griffin as explosive as he was last year? No. Can he still be a fantastic quarterback? Yes. Look back at the fourth-quarter play where he completed the pass to Helu for the 28-yard gain. That will tell you everything you need to know. The awareness, mobility, arm strength and accuracy are all there. Now, if Griffin can just sharpen his execution on third downs, he’ll be a deadly threat once again.

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 on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● Redskins assistant coaches speak with reporters on Tuesday. The next game is 8:30 p.m. Sun. Oct. 13 at Dallas.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Redskins head into the bye week confident and in a much better mood

Morris says bruised ribs ‘nothing serious’ | Paulsen having MRI exam on knee

The Early Lead: Rolle says Giants can win 12 straight | Peyton’s historic pace | More

Jones’s observations from Redskins-Raiders | Outsider: Review of offense | Defense

D.C. Sports Bog: Washington sports and the shutdown | More Bog

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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Mark Maske · September 30, 2013