Redskins mailbag: Patriots practice, Ryan Clark’s leadership and more

Zach Moore, Akeem Davis, Chris Jones

Safety Akeem Davis, center, prepares to collide with New England’s Zach Moore, left, and Chris Jones during special teams drills at the joint practices in Richmond. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins are just two days away from their preseason opener against the New England Patriots, and thus far, we’ve learned quite a bit about this team, but a lot of questions remain.

Today in the mailbag, we try to sort through some of those questions, and figure out which direction this team is headed.

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

Here we go.

I’ve read several comments from players trying to justify their poor performance against the Patriots by saying that the coaching staff hadn’t scouted New England. Did New England scout and prepare their team for the Redskins?  If not, wouldn’t that be an indication that we are as far behind as it looked?

– Bob Lasher, Clearwater, Fla.

No, the Patriots hadn’t scouted the Redskins. They were just going off of ability, instinct and the foundation they have laid during their first two weeks of training camp, and from previous seasons. There’s no way to say it other than this: The Patriots are naturally a better team right now. There’s a reason why they won 12 games last year. They have an elite quarterback, who has seen everything and knows the offense inside and out. That’s why Tom Brady is able to execute a no-huddle offense with ease. And because of that, he was able to find holes in the defense, and position his players to make plays.

Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo

New England quarterback Tom Brady, left, fires off a pass as backups Ryan Mallett, center, and Jimmy Garoppolo wait their turn. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

 

You could tell what a difference Brady made by looking at the one-on-one pass-rushing drills and then the 11-on-11 drills. Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Chris Baker and Barry Cofield were winning the majority of their one-on-one battles in that drill. But then in 11-on-11 action, Brady had the ball out of his hands in a flash, and Washington’s pass rushers had hardly gotten more than a few yards off the line. Then, you saw Robert Griffin III do well in the one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills, but then, with all the elements put together, things slowed down. It took Griffin and Washington’s offense took three-fourths of the 11-on-11 practice to start clicking. Why? He’s young, some of his pieces are new, and they’re still getting used to each other, much less an unfamiliar opponent. The defense also took the better part of the practice to start having some success. Inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. said that after playing Washington’s offense since May, and guarding against giving up the downfield shots, it took he and his fellow defenders a while to adjust to the quick-strike offense of the Patriots, who are content to pick up four and five yards at a time. This was — and will continue to be — good for the Redskins. They are seeing where they need to improve.

I’m curious to see how Washington looks on Days 2 and 3, and then in the preseason game. I believe Washington has good pieces in place, but they’re not there yet.

There is a lot of talk about Ryan Clark’s leadership, which this defense needs, but not much on his on field performance. How is his speed, physicality, and overall play during 11-on-11 play looking?

— Logan Misewicz, Minneapolis, Minn.

Raheem Morris just yesterday evening raved about the leadership and mind-set that Clark has brought to the secondary. But some of Clark’s capabilities won’t truly show through until game time. Even in full-pad practices, the defensive backs hold back. They’re not going to lay a guy out and separate him from the ball. Clark does seem to always be in the area. There have been catches where you say to yourself, “Hmmm, not sure that would’ve actually been a catch,” because Clark appeared to have the angle on the pass catcher. I haven’t seen him get torched beyond a couple of times where DeSean Jackson got past a cornerback and Clark. I’m really looking forward to seeing Clark in action Thursday night so we can get a feel for if Clark still has the physical tools to go with his mental tools, and if they are enough to make a difference for Washington.

How does the raising of the goal post crossbar five feet affect the kicking game? More misses with longer attempts, or fewer attempts made or change in kicking technique? How will it improve things? Make Bill Belichick happy?

— Rick Gay, Williamsburg

It’s moreso to help the officials judge whether not an attempt where the ball sails high is successful or not. There have been instances where it’s hard to tell if the ball actually passes through the uprights, or if it passes over one of the goal posts. Raising the posts five feet will help.

Editor’s note: In a semi-related post, Mark Maske recently wrote about the NFL’s preseason experiment with longer extra points.

What do coaches mean when they say that they like a player’s “length?”

— Charles Willis, Easton, Pa.

It’s a combination of height and arm reach. A good example is rookie outside linebacker Trent Murphy. He’s 6 feet 5 and has an 83-inch wingspan. He has great reach, which obviously helps for tackling, and for deflecting passes.

How is Jeremy Kimbrough doing? It seemed that coaches were impressed with him until a shoulder injury sidelined him for the 2013 season. During OTAs, I was hearing some good things about him, but haven’t since training camp begun. What are his chances of making the 53-man roster? Also, it seems that almost every day when I read an observation from camp that someone is blowing by Chris Chester. Observers seem to think Spencer Long may not be quite “there” yet, but talk about Josh LeRibeus having a good camp at both guard positions with the second team offense. … Since Chester struggled last season and is seeming to be off to a bad start in camp wouldn’t it seem wise to give  LeRibeus a try in Chester’s spot with the first team?

— Randy Roland

Jeremy Kimbrough, linebackers

Kimbrough, backed by his fellow linebackers, during a drill. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Kimbrough is in a tough spot. He’s pretty much buried on the depth chart because of the trio of veterans that the Redskins acquired during free agency. Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley Jr. are set to start at the ‘mike’ and ‘jack’ linebacker positions, respectively. And then you have second-year pro Will Compton fighting for a spot behind them. His top competition: Adam Hayward, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. Compton has consistently lined up with the second team, and Hayward, Sharpton and Jordan have all rotated at that spot. Kimbrough has spent all of camp on the third team. He has shown some flashes here, but hasn’t managed to climb the depth chart. Hayward and Sharpton are standout special teams players and seem to have an edge over Jordan because of their athleticism and versatility. Compton has done well while demonstrating an ability to play both inside linebacker positions, and on special teams as well. Kimbrough can help himself with strong play in the preseason. But it’ll be hard to beat out the experience of Hayward and Sharpton, particularly because coaches would prefer to have a veteran behind Robinson, who has all the talent and smarts, but little experience because of injuries.

As far as the offensive line question, Chester has indeed had some struggles, but LeRibeus has as well – and his have come against the backups. Coaches are concerned by his lack of consistency, and definitely don’t feel like he’s ready to start. Long said he’s still looking for a practice that he feels like he can hang his hat on, and he also appears to need to get a little stronger. The preseason will be key for both LeRibeus and Long. Strong play could change coaches’ opinions, but it’s hard to predict whether or not either is a better option over Chester. Coaches would want to see each consistently win their battles on the second unit before considering them for starting action, and so far, they haven’t done that.

Another editor’s note: Liz Clarke checked in on LeRibeus, a.k.a. XBox, a few days ago.

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.

What’s ahead:

The Redskins’ joint practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday is at 1:35 p.m. Here’s our camp guide.

Also from The Post:

D.C. Sports Bog: Snyder says people miss point on ‘Redskins’

Redskins get an up-close look at the Patriots

Training camp observations from Day 12

Hatcher could be activated soon

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

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