Redskins mailbag: Roster projections, QB ‘controversy’ and more

The Post Sports Live crew discusses what could be the source of quarterback Robert Griffin III's on-field struggles. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

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.

“In the preseason, because of the way it’s been constructed, there’s no question, Kirk has played and looked better. Robert continues to work hard.”

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)
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.

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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

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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