Mike Jones offers his top takeaways from Thursday’s practice and locker room availability at Redskins Park.
1.) Feel for the run game – After seeing improvement in Week 3 of the preseason and now having another two weeks of preparation, Washington’s running backs and offensive linemen feel even better about the rushing game as they enter the season opener.
Center Spencer Long and Morgan Moses both said things feel more in sync now and that they expect to continue to build. Running back Rob Kelley agreed. They’d all love to come out and set the tone with an authoritative run game Sunday against the Eagles. Getting stuffed early is a momentum killer, so Kelley said it’s his goal every first down to put his team in second and five, or better.
An authoritative opening drive would build confidence. And an effective run game will ease pressure on Kirk Cousins and the work-in-progress passing department. But linemen and running backs don’t want to get into riding waves. They just want steady execution from start to finish. The best way to ensure success if focusing on each individual play, Long said: Execute well on first down, achieve success. Execute well on second down … more success. It takes discipline. But at this point, this is a lesson the players need to have mastered.
“You’ve got to be able to flush all circumstances and variables that don’t matter and execute the best that you can and just focus on doing your job,” Long said.
Kelley’s individual job entails following his keys and running lanes, picking up yardage and then fighting for more upon contact. Kelley in 2016 averaged 2.2 yards after contact. That was ninth best in the NFL. But he wants better.
“It’s just a want-to, being determined,” Kelley said. “Not letting yourself go down by one guy. I pride myself on not letting myself get tackled by the first guy.”
2.) Thompson’s new deal – Running back Chris Thompson’s two-year extension serves as a three-year deal worth $9,752,800, with $6,466,000 guaranteed. Both sides agreed to renegotiate Thompson’s 2017 cap number, from $2,746,000 to $2,506,880, as part of the new contract he signed on Tuesday that will keep him in Washington through the 2019 season.
Thompson will receive a $3 million signing bonus, split up as $1 million annually. He has guaranteed base salaries of $1.5 and $1.996 million in 2017 and 2018, with a non-guaranteed base of $2.75 million in 2019.
Thompson, 26, can also receive up to $750,000 in roster bonuses and $1.125 million in incentives — factoring in playing time, total yards (rushing and receiving) and Pro Bowl nominations — in 2018 and 2019.
Another housekeeping matter: The Redskins on Thursday waived tight end E.J. Bibbs and linebackers Ron Thompson Jr. and Lynden Trail with injury settlements. They’re free to sign elsewhere once they recover from their injuries. Rules permit the Redskins to re-sign any of those players after Week 7 now that the injury settlements were reached Thursday. If the sides had failed to reach those settlements by Thursday, the players wouldn’t have been able to sign back with the Redskins at any point this season.
3.) Hood at the nose – Greg Manusky and Jim Tomsula have settled on Ziggy Hood as their starting nose tackle, which seemed like a strong possibility after Phil Taylor’s season ended in injury during the third preseason game. Hood played this at times last season, and he saw action at the nose and end during this training camp and preseason as well.
Hood isn’t as big as Taylor, but at 6 feet 3, 305 pounds, he has enough size to handle the position. And the Redskins don’t plan to use the nose in the traditional space-eater way. They want them penetrating more, getting after the quarterback and running back to make plays rather than set up others to make those plays. Everybody’s in attack mode in the Manusky defense.
Asked about Hood and his non-traditional build for a nose tackle, Manusky said, “He’s a 300-pounder, I think 17 percent body fat. I think he’s an ideal nose for us right now with what we had. I know we lost Phil in the preseason, but we have to move on. With [Hood] doing it, he’s been doing a good job. … That’s why we always cross-breed to get those noses in those situations.”
Meanwhile, the other starting defensive linemen remain unknown, but it seems that Jonathan Allen and Stacy McGee are the likely choices.
Asked about his first-round pick Wednesday, Coach Jay Gruden said, “I’m excited to see Jonathan Allen play. We haven’t had an interior pass rusher like that, or an impact-type player like that in a long time and I feel good about what he can do.”
• Wide receiver Jamison Crowder tweaked his hip flexor and was limited in practice Thursday, Gruden said. It didn’t sound like a huge concern, but we’ll find out more on Friday. The Redskins are counting on Crowder to take over as a starting receiver on the outside and then move to the inside on three-receiver sets. Thus far he has had a couple minor injuries (hamstring and now the hip, and hamstring last preseason), but he has proven durable, playing in all 16 games each of his first two seasons in the league.
• Long was listed as limited in Thursday’s practice as well because of the knee scope he received in Week 2 of the preseason. But he sounds like a guy who expects to play Sunday.
• Rookie linebacker Ryan Anderson remained limited by the stinger in his neck, but Gruden said he is indeed making progress. He practiced and hasn’t had a setback, so that’s a positive. A final determination will be made Friday.
• Meanwhile, wide receiver Josh Doctson (hamstring), linebacker Junior Galette (hamstring) and safety Montae Nicholson (shoulder) all practiced fully despite receiving treatment for injuries.