Redskins mailbag: Ihenacho’s chance of starting and Jones’s prediction


Bacarri Rambo, here grabbing hold of Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey in the preseason, may be the Week 1 starter at strong safety. Last season he started the opener at free safety, which is less tackling-intensive, and struggled. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Here we are: Week 1. The roster is set. The film study/game-planning meetings have begun, and we’re starting to get an idea of what this team will look like.

In today’s mailbag, we discuss the roster moves made this past weekend as Washington finalized the 53-man roster. We also go over expectations for certain players, and for this team as a whole.

Thanks, as always, for taking part. Keep the questions coming. E-mail me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line of “Mailbag Question.”

Let’s go.

Will Duke Ihenacho start in place for Brandon Meriweather the first two games if he’s ready? But if he’s not ready, who will replace Meriweather?

– Justin Nicely

It’s kind of hard to envision him starting this week, because he just got here on Monday and didn’t know the first thing about the defense. Ihenacho is a confident guy, but not even he sounded like he expected to start on Sunday. He believes he’ll be used on special teams for sure, and he said you never know if he’ll be used on a couple of packages. But sounds like he’s not pressing on that, and it doesn’t sound like the Redskins are either.

Bacarri Rambo was on the field with the first team, lined up at strong safety, during the portion of practice we were allowed to see. Coaches feel good about the progress that he has made. We’ll see how long he can uphold this new standard. But more than anything, I think the move was made with an eye on later this season. Last season, Meriweather drew flags for helmet-to-helmet hits three times. He got fined for the hit in the Packers game, and then drew the suspension for the two he delivered against the Bears. What are the chances this guy can go 14 weeks without another slip up? If something does happen, Washington has Ihenacho they can turn to, if he looks good. I know in Denver he did well against the run, but was inconsistent in pass coverage. So, it’s hard to say if he’s the answer or not. But he’s another guy to evaluate and groom in case of emergency.

What is your prediction for the Redskins’ record this season?

– Richard Eugene

I think this is an improved team. But it’s hard to say exactly how much improved because the offense didn’t answer any questions in the preseason. That unit has a long way to go. But based on what we saw from the other units, I believe that this team will win more games this year than they did last year. I’m thinking 7-9 or 8-8 is a realistic record projection. They were 3-13 last year.

Special teams is much improved over last season. There were weeks where that unit cost Washington games. Everything we have seen from Ben Kotwica’s unit, both in practices and games, suggests significant improvement. I’m going to say special teams improvements lead to around a game-and-a-half improvement.

The defense will improve as well. This unit struggled to get to the quarterback last season. It struggled mightily in the tackling department as well. This year, the more aggressive philosophy, plus the greater emphasis on fundamentals and tackling, as well as the additions of Jason Hatcher, Keenan Robinson and Ryan Clark, will also lead to improvement in both of those departments. Turnovers should increase as well. I’m saying at least a two-game improvement because of the defensive growth.

So that puts you in the six- to seven-win range. Because of the toys Bruce Allen went out and got Robert Griffin III, the offense should become more explosive as well. But we don’t yet know how long it will take for the young quarterback to become comfortable in Jay Gruden’s system. If things start clicking for him, there’s no reason why this team can’t launch itself back into the ranks of the NFC East contenders, and that would certainly mean more than seven to eight wins.

But that’s if. RGIII could go out there on Sunday and flip the switch and start lighting it up again. But, he also could continue to struggle. Because it could take time, and because there could be some ugly offensive outings early on, I’ll stop short of predicting a winning season. Either way, 7-9, or 8-8 is improvement off of 3-13, and that’s all you can ask for with a first-year head coach and a young quarterback still trying to find his way.

The Redskins had a very high waiver claiming priority position this year; are you surprised they didn’t sign some other young players besides Duke Ihenacho? Did the Redskins consider signing any veteran players (like Adam Snyder) to bolster the OL?

– Tim Foisie

I can’t say I’m really surprised that they didn’t pick up another offensive lineman. Normally there’s a reason why these guys get cut. The coaches feel good about the young prospects they have behind their starters, and because of needs in other areas, taking on another offensive lineman would’ve put those kids’ spots in jeopardy. Now, was it the right call? Hard to say. If everyone stays healthy, then the line should be decent (although the right side has shown inconsistencies). But it’s important to have continuity and chemistry, especially in the zone-blocking scheme where five guys have to work and move together as one.

I didn’t hear much about Tevita Stevens or Robert Thomas during the preseason and yet they made the practice squad along with several players who are injured, all of whom beat out the healthy running back with explosive speed and an average of 4.8 yards per carry. I realize that Seastrunk has areas he needs to develop, but isn’t that what players should be doing on the practice squad?  Is there no hope for Seastrunk to improve his blocking, reading lanes and pass catching?

– Tim Foisie

The Redskins’ decision-makers had to take a number of factors into account, not just the flashes that Seastrunk had in preseason games against fellow third- and fourth-string guys. In practices, he had a lot of inconsistencies and mental errors. He continued to get destroyed by linebackers on pass-protection drills. Also, they watch Seastrunk on every snap – on plays away from the ball where he may or may not have done his job. TV cameras just show you play around the ball. Seastrunk’s struggles and Washington’s decision doesn’t mean the running back can’t improve. But there are a limited amount of spots on a practice squad (10 this year). Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden had to consider other needs as well. Seastrunk would’ve made for five running backs on the roster and practice squad combined. But this team has no backup center on the 53-man roster.

Chris Chester would slide over in a game. But it’s good to have Stevens in the fold to take the second- and third-team snaps and to continue working to improve so the Redskins have a center they can turn to if someone got injured. Washington also doesn’t have a true backup nose tackle. Kedric Golston and Chris Baker have both filled in there. But they’re better suited at end. Chris Neild only played 10 percent of Washington’s defensive snaps last season, so not having a backup nose tackle on the 53 isn’t the worst thing. Jason Hatcher can also slide over in a game if need be. But it’s good to have Thomas in the mix to groom in case of emergency.

Also, keep in mind that 31 other teams passed on Seastrunk in the draft, and decided not to claim him on waivers or sign him to their practice squads, either.

Can you tell me how the process works for players on the practice squad? Are these players normally protected from the rest of the league? And what transition, if any, do they go through before being eligible to go from practice squad to the 53-man team? I’m really confused about this process. Do they have to clear waivers before getting signed by their team?  

– Olufemi Adepoju

Teams can sign a player off of an opponent’s practice squad, but that signing has to be to the 53-man roster, not their practice squad. Also, a player doesn’t have to accept an offer from another team. Say Chris Thompson is doing well in practice and showing he’s been able to stay healthy, and Roy Helu Jr. has just been okay in games, and maybe has been a little banged up, and coaches are considering a change. Suppose Thompson got a call from his agent saying the Eagles wanted to sign him to their active rosterpractice squad. If Thompson talks to his coaches and they say, “Hey, we think you’re close,” then he could decide, “Hmmm, maybe it’s best to stay here,” and then turn down the offer from that team. Practice-squad players make $6,300 per week this season, or $107,100 for 17 weeks. The rookie minimum on the 53-man roster is $420,000. There have been times, however, that a team will give a practice squad player a little more money to make it worth their while to stay.

(Editor’s note: For more about practice squads, read Jones’s post from Aug. 19 about expansion from eight to 10, or Article 33 of the 2011 CBA, pages 160-161)

Do you think the offense will look totally different come Week 1 vs Houston?  I understand RG3 has had his struggles, but do you think the offense will make him look much better than this preseason?

– Rob Fox, Lincolnton, N.C.

I don’t know about totally different, but there will be differences. Jay Gruden and Sean McVay kept the offense very vanilla for the preseason, just like teams always do. Now that they have done extensive game planning, we will see Washington’s offense attempt to attack Houston’s defense at the unit’s areas of weakness. They’ll try to set the players up for the most success possible. Also, Griffin will have a whole game to get into a rhythm. The hope is that he doesn’t take an entire first half of the game to find his rhythm, and as a result put his team in a hole before things start clicking. And that’s where Jay Gruden’s duties as a play-caller and game planner come into play. He has to call a game that will help his quarterback get comfortable and settle into a rhythm. If all this happens, then yes. The offense will look better.

I thought Rashad Ross would’ve made the team. Do you think Santana Moss will prove his worth at his age in lieu of developing a player like Ryan Grant or Ross? Was signing Andre Roberts jumping the gun?

– P. Holland, Norfolk, Va.

I don’t think signing Andre Roberts was jumping the gun at all. He’s a talented player, especially when lined up in the slot. Coaches have remarked that he’s actually an even better player than they realized prior to working with him. You can never have too many weapons. With Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Roberts on the field, Griffin will have three explosive receivers to go to. Having Moss in the mix is a good thing. You want good depth, right? He’ll be able to go in at any position and play well. The experience and leadership that Moss brings (both to the receiver room, and the roster as a whole) is extremely valuable as well. Ross did well in late-game preseason action, but he never looked better in practice than did Moss, Aldrick Robinson or Ryan Grant. Ross has signed to Chicago’s practice squad, so he’ll get a chance to continue to pursue his NFL dream.

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:

What national writers predict for Washington this season

Gruden says roster spots were given on merit

Reid: Griffin must refine his skills off field as well as on

Maske: As 2012 QBs approach paydays, Wilson could break bank

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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