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Redskins mailbag: Safety battle, running backs and a whole lot of Robert Griffin III

Washington quarterbacks Colt McCoy, left, Robert Griffin III, center, and Kirk Cousins take part in drills during a June practice. John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

It’s minicamp week, and that means that the Washington Redskins over the course of the next three days will hold their final offseason practices. After Thursday, players will scatter to their offseason homes, rest up and prepare themselves for training camp, which kicks off on July 30.

But first, Jay Gruden & Co. will do a bit more chiseling and hammering away at this thing this week.

Meanwhile, we’ve got plenty of questions to tackle in today’s mailbag. We take a look at the safety position, running backs, outside linebackers, and of course, Robert Griffin III.

Thanks as always for taking part, and keep the questions coming. E-mail me your Redskins questions at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line of “Mailbag question,” and we’ll tackle them next Tuesday.

It’s a little early, but how many safeties do you think the Redskins keep when they make final cuts? And which players (safeties) do you see making the final cut?

 – Justin Nicely

I’d expect them to take around four safeties. Dashon Goldson and either Jeron Johnson or Duke Ihenacho seem to lead the way, and then veterans Trenton Robinson, Akeem Davis and Phillip Thomas, and rookie Kyshoen Jarrett (sixth round) will probably battle it out for the final spot or two. It’s way too early to say who comes out on top, but whomever the coaches and general manager Scot McCloughan settle on, that player must have good versatility, and an ability to stand out on special teams. Davis and Robinson both excel on special teams, and Robinson has the most game experience on defense, which could help his chances. Thomas, based on the paltry practice reps he has gotten so far, appears to be the furthest behind.

Given the versatility of both Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, how often might we see both of them lined up in the same backfield on first and second down instead of alternating as a solo back?

– Barry Krakow

I suppose you never can say never, but thus far, there haven’t been any such instances during offseason practices where they both line up in the backfield. If things hold true throughout training camp, then I’d expect to see Morris continue as the workhorse back. Coaches will most likely use Jones to give Morris a breather here in there, or both on short-yardage situations, and on third downs.

In the June 9 Washington Post, there is an article by Liz Clarke [headlined] “Gruden expects Trent Murphy to make biggest strides among second-year Redskins.” If the thrust of that article is correct, shouldn’t the Redskins have used the second-round pick in this year’s draft to pick a player other than Preston Smith who will compete with Trent Murphy for his position on defense?

– Al Ezrin, Murrells Inlet, S.C.

That’s Gruden’s hope, and based on early indications, Murphy does indeed appear to be bigger and stronger, and he has better understanding of the concepts. But even if he does have a very good year, that doesn’t mean all of Washington’s pass-rushing issues are solved. You can never have too many talented pass rushers. At times, Joe Barry will likely put Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy on the field together. And then there’s always the risk of injury. If one of those three pass-rushers gets hurt, you want to have another player to plug into the starting lineup. Lastly, this is the final year of Ryan Kerrigan’s contract. The team hopes to re-sign him, but what if they can’t? At least an improved Murphy and promising Smith would remain on the roster. So, I really don’t have a problem with the selection of Preston Smith.

Even though there’s mistakes here and there in the OTAs, does RGIII look like he knows the whole offense/playbook and knows what he’s doing from your observations?

– Omneya Abbas

Griffin definitely appears to know the offense. That’s never been an issue, even his rookie season, and his first year with Jay Gruden. The problem has been Griffin’s internal clock, in-game recognition when everything’s happening at high speed, and his confidence. Griffin is working to get better at scanning the field at a faster pace, and making up his mind to pull up the trigger without hesitation. He needs see everything while taking his three- and five-step drops, make up his mind and then get rid of the ball right away. If he holds onto the ball, questions himself, worries about making a mistake and in turn paralyzes himself, then he’ll never make it. It’s still early, but he has at times seemed to settle into good rhythms and get the ball out of his hands quickly. But then there have been other times where he hesitates and hurts the offense. We’ll see how things go this week during minicamp, and at training camp. Hopefully, for Griffin and the Redskins’ sake, by the preseason, when opponents are coming after him, Griffin’s timing and decision making will have improved.

If the Redskins hadn’t given up such a ransom to get RGIII, would he realistically still be on the team? Let’s say they had traded two 2s, and swapped a one, would he be given this (presumably, final) chance? Or would they have already decided to go another route? Which direction would they go in the event that he does fail? Look for another young QB with potential that fits what they want to do (Zach Mettenberger, Ryan Mallett, etc.) or draft?

 – Jey Willis

The promise that Griffin showed in 2012 stands out as the biggest reason why team officials haven’t wanted to pull the plug on the Griffin experiment. He had one of the greatest statistical seasons for a rookie quarterback in league history. He struck fear into the hearts of defensive players, and kept defensive coordinators up at night. He took a long-suffering team to first place in the division and to the playoffs. Those accomplishments still burn brightly in the memories of Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen. Yes, they gave up a lot to get Griffin. But he was a bonafide star. They don’t think that season and success happened by accident, and even Mike Shanahan agrees on that point. And so, that’s why they will give him another chance this season. Had Griffin had a rookie season that resembled 2013, and then followed that up with similar campaigns the next two years, the team definitely would have moved on by now. And it’s far too early to predict their direction at quarterback if Griffin doesn’t succeed. Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy could take over and have a good year, prompting the team to ride with one of them for another season. Or, they could keep one of those veterans and draft a quarterback to groom. But they’re not even close to having an idea on the way to go yet.

I think a lot of fans are wondering about the Jay Gruden hire before last season. It seems to be more and more peculiar as time goes by (with the RG3/offensive philosophy noise, etc.). Even Coach Gruden’s demeanor seems to be distant and that he really doesn’t want to be here. Your thoughts on the coaching hire thought process before last season?

– Allen Norris

When they hired Gruden in January of 2014, it seemed like a positive decision from an Xs and Os standpoint. His offensive philosophies and football pedigree are well respected around the league. He had done well working with a young quarterback in Andy Dalton. The one aspect, however, that seemed curious to me was the fact that Gruden had been on record saying he would rather have a pocket passer rather than a dual-threat quarterback. But, because Griffin and Snyder both wanted someone to help him transition to more of traditional style, that part made sense. The questions that also stood out at the time were the concerns people who had worked with him in the past had about whether or not Gruden was organized enough, or enough of a disciplinarian to succeed as an NFL head coach.

However, Gruden is an intelligent coach, and he appears to be learning as he goes. So, even despite the 4-12 rookie campaign, it’s too early to say that it was a bad hire. If Griffin can turn things around and the team begins to compete again, then Gruden deserves a lot of credit. Even if Griffin doesn’t, and Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy blossoms, and the team looks much improved, you have to give Gruden credit. It would be unfortunate that the selection of Griffin, and all the picks sent to St. Louis to obtain him, didn’t pay off. But that wouldn’t mean the Redskins didn’t get it right by hiring Gruden, if he wins with one of the other two quarterbacks.

The Redskins have proven unable to develop first-round QBs over the last handful of years. Assuming the team finishes close to the bottom of the standings again this season, what’s to say guys like Michigan’s Connor Cook or Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg stand a chance in D.C. in 2016?

– Brandon Katz

I think the one big difference now is that for the first time in a long time, Washington has a true team architect, who believes in the importance of building a strong foundation across the board rather than thinking that one home run draft pick or free-agent signing is going to magically transform the team into Super Bowl champions. So, if the Redskins did have to go in a different direction at quarterback, and if they took another high in the draft, then Scot McCloughan would work to ensure that all of the pieces surrounding that quarterback would help him succeed.

Your co-worker Jason Reid says Jay and some staff members don’t believe in Griffin. Assuming that is true, do you think Griffin can succeed without belief from the head coach and other members of the coaching staff? If Jay doesn’t believe in Griffin then isn’t this whole show of support a sham?

– Kofi Shaw-Taylor

First, while J. Reid is still my buddy, he’s not my co-worker anymore. He moved from The Post to ESPN back in March. But, it’s true that Gruden has had his doubts about Griffin’s capabilities.

However, since McCloughan has arrived, and the two have studied film, talked for hours on end about the quarterback position and the roster as a whole, the two are in agreement that they needed to do more to position Griffin for success. That’s why they brought in a quarterbacks coach, hired a new offensive line coach, drafted to improve the offensive line and made moves in free agency to improve the defense, so Griffin and the offense have better support. Now, they’re trying to position Griffin for a rebound year.

Does that mean that Gruden is completely sold on Griffin? Not entirely. Regardless of the quarterback, those areas needed to be addressed. But Griffin does indeed get another chance. How long of a chance? Hard to say. I expect a rather short leash, especially because of the risk of injury, and the fifth-year option becoming fully guaranteed. Can Griffin succeed if Gruden doesn’t really believe in him? It will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Gruden doesn’t have a problem with Griffin to the point where he doesn’t want to see him succeed. He’d like to be proven wrong. But, if his confidence in the quarterback is shaky at best, he’ll be far less inclined to give second or third chances this season.

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered Tuesday in the Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Five story lines to follow during minicamp this week

Outsider: A fresh look at the Redskins’ offense vs. the Titans

Bog: Murphy says Redskins will ‘bully some people’ this season

Two veterans explain why offseason practices matter

More NFL: Home page | Sports Bog | Early Lead | Fancy Stats | OTAs

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