Redskins mailbag: Defensive fronts, WR depth, nickname use and more

Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, left, sits out practice as he listens to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett during Day 2 of minicamp. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, right, uses both 3-4 and 4-3 principles in his defense . (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The dog days of summer roll on – perhaps a little faster than we’d like – and we’re now just more than two weeks away from the date on which Redskins players will report for training camp.

In the meantime, we’ve been taking a look at players who will either play key roles this season, or find themselves in some of the key position battles of training camp. And of course, we’ll always have The Mailbag.

Today, we take a look at the defensive scheme selection, wide receiver/tight end depth and pairings, uniforms, the name debate and a little linebacker history.

Thanks, as always for taking part. Here we go!

It seems like the current front seven (led by Brian Orakpo, Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher, etc.) is better suited to play a 4-3 rather than a 3-4. I remember Mike Shanahan saying that he wanted a 3-4 when he got here. But with him gone, and Jim Haslett being a longtime 4-3 guy, and most of the front seven having 4-3 experience, why hasn’t there been any talk of switching back?

– Jeremy Willis, Martinsburg, W.Va.

The Redskins aren’t the purest of all 3-4 defenses, because although they line up in that formation for their base packages, they do indeed use more of a 4-3 look for the bulk of their pass-rushing fronts. Their nickel package generally has Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan coming off the edge more like defensive ends, with Barry Cofield and another player lined up like 4-3 interior linemen. Judging by the sampling of plays they ran during the offseason practices that were open to reporters, I think that you can expect to see Haslett still using a variety of fronts (both 3-4 and 4-3) in an attempt to keep the offenses guessing and create more mismatches.

Related reading: Differences between 1-gap and 2-gap principles on the Redskins’ D-line

Since we have more wide receiver depth that Jay didn’t have with Cincinnati, could you see us using more three-wide receiver/one-tight end formations, or the two-receiver/two-tight end formations he used there?

– Justin Nicely

Gruden had a pretty decent receiving unit to work with in Cincinnati (A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Andre Hawkins), but I don’t think that he was, nor will he be, married to one set formation. He and Sean McVay have concocted a diverse offensive attack that features sets with two, three and four receivers, two receivers and two tight ends, one receiver and two tight ends … The list goes on. There’s a lot of versatility, particularly at tight end, where you will see Jordan Reed do everything from line up at the end of the line, or line up in the backfield and go in motion, line up in the slot, or split out wide like a receiver. There will likely continue to be plenty of times that you see both Reed and Logan Paulsen used at the same time. Other times, you’ll have Pierre Garcon and fellow receivers Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, with just Reed or Paulsen on the field. The Redskins used a lot of two-tight end sets last year, and with McVay, the former tight ends coach, now the offensive coordinator, you won’t see those plays scrapped. The coaches aim to run an offense that creates mismatches, keeps the defense guessing and attacks in a number of ways.

I am a Redskins season ticket holder since 2005.  At home games I like to wear the color of jersey that matches what the team is wearing for regular season games (I wear polo or t-shirts to pre-season). When Joe Gibbs was the coach it was easy – he always had the players wear white at home. With Mike Shanahan I knew they’d wear the burgundy jerseys at home, since Shanahan always had the Broncos wear the orange or blue jerseys at home.  Jim Zorn kept me guessing, but I eventually learned that he went with white jerseys for the first four home games and burgundy for the last four – unless it was the Cowboys, against whom he had the team wear white regardless. With a new coach I have no idea what to wear. Can you find out for me?  I understand teams have to commit in June to which color jerseys they’ll wear for each home game, so he must have already decided. Is there a website somewhere that fans can access this information? I can’t be the only one who’s curious. 

– Earle Patrick

While there’s no official word on this, it does sound as if the Redskins will stick with the same color scheme – burgundy jerseys, gold pants – for home games. That’s the look some players sported for a few team-conducted photo shoots this offseason. Bruce Allen is in charge of selecting the color schemes, and if you remember, the “gold” pants returned when he took over as general manager. This was the color scheme the Redskins sported during his father’s time as head coach, and as you know, Bruce is all about tradition.

It’s pretty obvious that the editorial stance of the Post is that the current nickname of the Washington pro football team is derogatory and offensive. And I agree with that stance. But only Dan Snyder, not the Post, can change that nickname. What IS in the Post’s purview, however, is to change its stylebook to add the current nickname of the DC team to the list of words the Post finds offensive and refuses to put in print in the newspaper. When will the Post quit being hypocritical and stop using a term it finds offensive and derogatory?

– R. Cline, Winchester, Va.

Well, this is above my pay grade. Paging Redskins/NFL editor Keith McMillan! Keith? Keith? … I can tell you this, though. Just because some of our columnists and/or editorial writers have taken the stance that the name needs to be changed doesn’t mean that the sports staff as a whole does. As a reporter, it’s not my job to have an opinion. I just report on the team and what happens. I think – and maybe Keith can correct me on this, if he chooses to weigh in on this – that the stance of the paper is, although some columnists have decided not to use the name, for reporting purposes, the name is in fact still the Washington Redskins. It’s not on us to change it. Once it’s changed (if it ever changes), then we would follow suit. Now, if someone at the highest of higher-up levels at the paper decided that as a paper, we as a whole should stop using it – as some newspapers across the country have – then, at that time, I’d go with “The Washington football team,” or whatever they decided to tell me I should use.

Editor’s note: Sure, I’ll weigh in, as briefly as possible about such a nuanced issue. Mike’s certainly right in that The Post’s job, editorial page and columnists aside, is to cover the news and not make it. In short, that’s why we haven’t changed the stylebook.

If my limited football IQ serves me well, in the 4-3 defensive alignment the “Will” represents the weak side linebacker, the “Sam” is the strong side linebacker and the “Mike” is the middle linebacker.  If that is correct can you [shed] some light on how those names got generated and for what purposes, if not for the X’s and O’s of the drawing boards?  Plus who was the architect of all that?

– Olufemi Adepoju

You’re correct that Mike, Sam and Will represent middle linebacker, strong-side and weak-side in the 4-3 defense. The 3-4 defense also has a “Jack,” which is the second inside linebacker, and the roots of that name stem from him being a “jack of all trades,” and playing a number of roles on the defense. From the best I can tell from doing some research on this topic, Tom Landry first came up with nicknames for these positions, but he used Sarah, Meg and Wanda to shorten things up instead of saying strong-side, middle and weak-side. And then, somewhere along the way, the names were changed to Sam, Mike and Will as coaches opted for a more masculine dubbing of the positions.

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:

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Will there be a role available for Hankerson?

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