Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen have a lot of work left to do. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post(

With the coach and his staff in place, the Redskins’ attention now turns to talent evaluation and the moves needed to upgrade the roster.

The past two weeks featured scouting trips to the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. Evaluations of college and pro talent will continue in the coming weeks and months as the NFL Combine approaches in late February and free agency follows in March.

We turn our attention to those areas as well in this week’s mailbag.

Thanks as always for taking part, and feel free to begin sending questions for next week’s mailbag to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line of “Mailbag question.”

Let’s go.

Who is on top of the Redskins’ free agent list of targets?

 Justin Butts

Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden & Co. are working on finding the answer to that question right now. When I spoke to Allen last week at the Senior Bowl, he said that the first step in the process of determining what they want this team to look like this coming year was completing the hiring of Gruden’s staff. And then, he and those coaches would sit down, discuss what types of players they wanted to work with, which specific players fit the criteria, and then they would proceed from there. Gruden just filled out his staff in the past few days, so those discussions are now taking place. Additionally, this week all of the Redskins scouts were reporting to team headquarters to submit to director of player personnel Scott Campbell their findings from the past college football season, and that group was going to whittle 500 names down to around 300, and submit that list and those rankings to Gruden in the coming weeks. Those findings will also help determine free agent decisions. We know a lot of the problem areas, or holes that this team has. Upgrading the secondary has to top the list. Some of the top defensive backs expected to be available are New England cornerback Aqib Talib, Denver cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd and Cleveland safety T.J. Ward. The Redskins pursued Talib last offseason, but didn’t have the money to lure him. Talib played for Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris while in Tampa, and Redskins coaches remain high on him. The team would like to add another talented cornerback to go with David Amerson, and re-sign DeAngelo Hall as well. Byrd is considered the top free safety available, and Ward the top strong safety. New outside linebackers coach Brian Baker worked with linebackers in Cleveland prior to joining Washington’s staff, but he would have some familiarity with Ward and his game. The Redskins also need help on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Eric Decker, Anquan Boldin, James Jones and Julian Edelman rank among the free agent wide receivers. Josh Cribbs is another interesting prospect because of his D.C. roots and skills both as a wide receiver and return man. And some of the top offensive linemen include Cincinnati tackle Anthony Collins, who played for Gruden, Kansas City’s Branden Albert, Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz, Baltimore tackle Michael Oher, who played for Redskins O-line coach Chris Foerster before Foerster joined Shanahan here, and teammate Eugene Monroe.

Is the Redskins’ estimated $30 million cap space better than similar cap situations of other teams due to their lack of a first-round pick? Last year’s second overall pick, Luke Joeckel, is earning $5.3 million per year. Does not having a 1st-round pick affect the amount of money our other picks will receive, or are they negotiated independently?

 Dave Shockey, Sacramento, Calif.

I don’t know if it’s “better” than other teams with similar amounts of cap money, but the Redskins will indeed have a little extra money because they don’t have a first-round pick. Each year, a sum of money is set aside to sign draft picks. Each of those rookies now have slotted salaries based on their draft position. Because there is no first-round pick, the Redskins’ allotment for rookie salaries will be smaller – unless they trade up into the draft to acquire a pick in the opening round.

Am I the only one that feels the Redskins are ignoring the issues in the secondary?

 Corey King

You could be. The Redskins spent three draft picks on defensive backs last season (David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo), and signed E.J. Biggers as a free agent. They tried to sign Antoine Winfield and Aqib Talib, but didn’t have enough money because of the salary-cap penalty. Other signings haven’t really paid off either. Brandon Meriweather was just okay, and Tanard Jackson never got on the field. O.J. Atogwe had nothing left. Cedric Griffin was decent, when he wasn’t injured or suspended. Phillip Buchanon was decent, but also missed time with a suspension. So, the Redskins have tried to make moves to help their secondary, but the results haven’t come either because financially, they couldn’t go after the top talent and had to settle for second- and third-tier players, or because assessments of players weren’t very good. Injuries hurt as well. I expect the Redskins to devote more resources to fixing the secondary this offseason, both in free agency and the draft.

To me, the Redskins’ biggest weakness the past two years has been poor defensive pass coverage (followed closely by poor offensive pass blocking).  I remember last offseason there was a bit of excitement over the Redskins’ selection of Rambo, Thomas and Amerson. What are their prospects after the first season?  Should we expect to see any of these guys on the field next fall? Or do you think any of them have been written off? Will Haslett be looking for replacements? It looked to me that Amerson seemed to improve some later in the season. Not sure about the other guys.

  J. Shepherd

I think Amerson has promise. He made some plays last year, using his length and athleticism to his advantage. He showed that he still has some learning to do as he at times struggled in press coverage, and got beat on double moves. But overall, he had a decent rookie year. He should compete for a starting job this coming year. You take a guy in the second round, you expect him to start in Year 2. Phillip Thomas remains a mystery because he missed all of last season with the Lisfranc injury and surgery. Coaches were impressed with his aggressiveness and tackling ability in practices. The same couldn’t be said of Bacarri Rambo. He showed that he has the ability to be decent in pass coverage, but he was a very poor tackler, and because of that, guys like Jose Gumbs and Trenton Robinson overtook him for playing time. The Redskins still need to find answers at safety this offseason for sure.

My question regards the Skins’ personnel department and scouting for the draft in particular. As I remember maybe as far back as the 60’s, 70’s and maybe even in the 80’s most teams didn’t have or employ large scouting staffs. Most teams used national scouting services such as BLESTO. … I don’t believe the Redskins belonged to any of the scouting services, and mostly relied on in-house personnel. Since their scouting department and the team itself always seems to be criticized for their choices in the draft, do you know how many active scouts the Redskins employ today across the country and/or whether they subscribe to a scouting service (if there are any still in existence), which provide detailed information to NFL teams and their scouting departments?

 Steve Ferguson, Arizona

The Redskins do subscribe to the national scouting service, BLESTO. They have one BLESTO scout, and five area scouts of their own, in addition to Scott Campbell, who in addition to serving as director of player personnel, also travels around the country evaluating talent throughout the college football season.

Do you think Gruden made all the coaching choices, or did Snyder and Allen influence who he kept and who he hired? 

 Kerry Triplett

Jay Gruden did have say of who remained on the Redskins’ coaching staff, and who he brought in. They didn’t immediately dismiss running backs coach Bobby Turner, assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower or assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan. But after meeting with them, Gruden did dismiss them, as was expected. Meanwhile, the Redskins kept coaches like Jim Haslett, Sean McVay and Raheem Morris, who all had ties to Gruden, in addition to offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Allen said they kept those coaches because he and his fellow team officials thought highly of them and their capabilities. He said that none of those coaches were forced on Gruden, however. Now, did they keep them in hopes that such a move would make this a more attractive destination to Gruden? That’s definitely possible, and wouldn’t be surprising at all. Gruden hired wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who he coached with his brother and McVay in Tampa, and worked with in the UFL. He hired running backs coach Randy Jordan, who played under Bruce Allen with the Raiders. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica and tight ends coach Wes Phillips hadn’t worked with anyone on staff prior to their hirings. Gruden gave Haslett the freedom to fill out his staff with coaches he had a history with, which Shanahan didn’t let him do. Haslett hired Brian Baker (former assistant in St. Louis) to work with outside linebackers and Kirk Olivadotti (who worked with him here in 2010) to work with the inside linebackers.

How smart is it to not hire a quarterbacks coach when RGIII needs a lot of coaching on footwork, reading defenses, etc.? It would seem Gruden and McVay will have enough work, developing the offensive scheme and teaching it to the offense. And how smart is it for Coach Gruden to act as offensive coordinator with assistance from McVay when Gruden has head coaching duties, game management, etc. to keep him busy (it didn’t seem to work that well for Garrett and the Cowboys)? Are there no quality prospects for quarterback coaches who can spend full time developing RGIII and Cousins, both of whom are young and need a lot of work?

 Kevin McCauley

Remember, Gruden himself was a quarterback and will have plenty of experience to draw upon as he works closely with Griffin on his mechanics and his decision making. Gruden had this type of setup with his teams in the UFL, and Marvin Lewis basically allowed him to run the offensive side of the ball on his own with the Bengals. Gruden will let Haslett run the defense. Jay Gruden’s approach is similar to that of his brother, who worked heavily with the quarterback and offense in Tampa. Jon Gruden served as play-caller for the Bucs, although Bill Muir had the title of offensive coordinator-offensive line coach. McVay also will work with Griffin on mechanics and the offense. I don’t think you can base whether or not this will work or not on Jason Garrett’s situation in Dallas.

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 Tuesdays.

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