Unlike some teams which seem to cross paths with the Patriots on a fairly regular basis, the Washington Redskins aren't a team that New England sees too often. And since the Pats and Skins rarely meet during the regular season - once every four years, to be exact - I thought I would reach out to our friends over at Hogs Haven, the Redskins blog on the SBNation network, in order to learn a little more about the team, find out how training camp has been going for them so far, and gauge what their expectations are for the 2014 season. I got in touch with the man known only on the internet as HogHunter, and while he is forever shrouded in mystery and international intrigue, he knows a lot about football and provided some fantastic insight into Redskins camp. I threw a few questions his way, and he gave some great answers.
First thing's first - RGIII was clearly still recovering from his knee injury last season, as he struggled a bit with his mobility and accuracy in 2013. How has he looked so far? What are your expectations for him this year?
Last year was a rough time for Griffin and the entire Redskins team. It's hard for any QB to come into the regular season and be sharp after having only limited amount of practice time and no preseason games. There will always be questions about whether he pushed to come back too soon, whether he was ready to play Week 1, or if he should have been held out until after the Week 5 bye. But it ends up sounding like excuses to the general public. The Shanahans brought him in and crafted a scheme to take advantage of some of Griffin's abilities. They changed some of his throwing mechanics, cut the field in half for him, and worked a lot of short range, high percentage throws into the gameplan. Kyle Shanahan and QB coach Matt LaFleur did Griffin no favors when it came to working on his footwork and throwing mechanics though, and this became very evident last year when his mobility was still affected by the injury/knee brace.
This offseason, Griffin called his previous QB coach Terry Shea to work on his footwork, mechanics, and every other aspect of QB play that will improve his game this season.
"I called Terry because he was the guy that was there with me when I first came out, to get drafted and work on my craft," Griffin said. "So he was a guy that I knew had my best interest at heart. And he knew what I looked like beforehand, before the injury and before some of the mechanical things that I was asked to change."
"Shea focused hard on Griffin's fundamentals, including narrowing his base, getting his feet to turn with his body in the pocket and raising where Griffin held the ball -- at times last year he held it too low, leading to a wind-up throw."
Griffin has been given the weapons he needs this year, but the line in front of him is still a question mark. The other question mark is Griffin knowing when to live to fight another day. He avoided major injury in his return last season but he took a lot of hits inside the pocket and on the run. Gruden has said he won't try to completely take away his legs, but he wants him here for the long-term. That means getting the yards when they are there, and throwing it away or sliding when they're not.
I expect Griffin to have a season somewhere between 2012's amazing rookie campaign and last year's struggle-filled 13 games. Griffin is going into a new offense with Jay Gruden and Sean McVay(formerly the Redskins' TE coach), and has to get in sync with his new weapons. There are a lot of question marks about his ability to play in the pocket, read defenses, etc. Gruden will give RG3 every weapon and opportunity to prove he can be a top QB in the league.
What is your receiver situation after Desean Jackson and Pierre Garçon? Can we expect some more late career magic from Santana Moss, or is he done at this point?
It looks like you'll be getting an extended look at the receiver situation behind Jackson and Garçon tonight with both of them likely out with minor injuries. The Redskins made ex-Cardinals WR Andre Roberts a priority signing early in free agency, and he is someone that I advocated to bring in. His signing got pushed to the backburner when the Jaccpocalypse(BGN's words not mine) hit Philly and we were able to sign a division rival's top receiver. Roberts now shifts to the #3 WR and will see a lot of work in the slot, but also shift outside on some plays. Griffin and Roberts have great chemistry so far, and I think he will surprise some people this year.
The name that you've probably been hearing a lot this week from camp is 5th round draft pick Ryan Grant. Gruden and Griffin have both praised his route running, his hands, and his professionalism on the field. We will see how that translates to the regular season if he is able to get on the field much this year. Aldrick Robinson is a speedster who's had trouble with consistently catching the ball and expanding his route versatility.
Santana Moss is probably on the roster bubble, and I honestly can't tell you if he'll be on the roster this season, but I have a gut feeling that he will be back this year. Leonard Hankerson is on the PUP list, and is still recovering from his ACL tear in November. Moss' role on the team will be as the 5th or 6th WR and unless Hankerson comes back, or one of the undrafted FAs can supplant him, he should make it. As far as how productive he will be, his best days are obviously behind him. Over the last 3 years he's average 535 yards and 4 TDs per season, so he can still be effective in a limited role.
You have some veteran safeties in former Steeler FS Ryan Clark, former Patriot SS Brandon Meriweather, and former 49er FS Trenton Robinson. You've also drafted a couple of safeties in SS Bacarri Rambo (2013 6th round), FS Phillip Thomas (2013 4th round), and picked up SS Akeem Davis (UDFA) and SS Ross Madison (UDFA). How do you see the safety situation playing out this year, and are you tired of Meriweather yet?
The safety situation has been an area of concern since Sean Taylor was murdered. The position just hasn't been filled with a reliable, starter quality player at either of the safety spots for a long time. It doesn't help that the team has been dumpster diving for solutions over the years, bringing in players like Madieu Williams, O.J. Atogwe, and your old friend Brandon Meriweather.
I'm not a fan of Meriwether and was hoping the team wouldn't re-sign him, but they brought him back on a 1 year deal. His original contract voided in February leaving $1.2 million in dead cap, so he is still an expensive option this year. His time in Washington has been a rollercoaster. He got a DUI a little over a month after his signing, missed all but two quarters of play during his first year, managed to injure himself and another player during warmups before a game, and then spent last year knocking himself and others out leading to suspensions and fines. If his play was spectacular a lot of this could be brushed aside, but it's just not.
Right now Ryan Clark and Meriwether are the scheduled starters with Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas backing them up respectively. Akeem Davis looks like the 5th man if they keep 5 safeties, and they may need to with the age and injury questions. Clark has been a great influence on the field and with the 2nd year players, but the test is on the field during games.
Who has been the camp standout for you? Have any of your 2014 draft picks been a pleasant surprise at this early stage in their career?
Ryan Grant is the first name that pops up because he has been getting praise on an almost daily basis from the beat writers, fans, coaches, and his own QBs. Even back in OTAs, Coach Gruden said that he played like a 10 year vet. That is fine for a nice training camp sound bite, when everyone looks good in shorts, but Grant has been very consistent in his play throughout the offseason.
Jordan Reed is another player coming back from an injury shortened rookie year, and has the most potential to breakout this year. Reed has drawn comparisons to Aaron Hernandez on the field and has been a star in camp. He is consistently open and catches almost everything that is thrown at him. Concussions ended his rookie year, but if he stays healthy he will be taking advantage of the attention the other receivers get from defenses.
Some other names that have stood out so far are ILB Keenan Robinson, and RB Chris Thompson. Both of them were injured last season, and are looking to make an impression early. Keenan Robinson has had his last two years cut short due to Papier-mâché Pec Disorder(PPD), but is penciled in as the starting Mike linebacker who will be taking over the role London Fletcher left open when he retired. He brings the athleticism and ability to cover TEs that has been lacking at the ILB position.
Chris Thompson is another player who's been fighting injuries the last few years, but he's having a great camp. Gruden is looking for a pass-catching back to play in his system this year and beyond. Roy Helu Jr, has the backup position locked up, but he's a free agent next year. Lache Seastrunk was drafted this year in the 6th, and Silas Redd was brought in as an undrafted free agent, but both of them are behind Thompson right now.
On the flip side, has anyone been struggling? Care to make a prediction as to a surprise cut?
Well the new coaching staff has already shown that it doesn't have any loyalty to the previous coach's draft picks. They cut 2013 5th round pick(the Haynesworth pick from NE) OLB Brandon Jenkins during the first week of camp after being in the doghouse of new OLB coach Brian Baker all summer. Another 2013 draft pick who has been struggling and could be on the roster bubble is Safety Bacarri Rambo(6th round pick). The problems that plagued him last year are showing up again this year. Rambo needs to improve the angles he takes on his tackling, and well, his tackling in general. Rambo was named the starter before training camp even started last year due to lack of other options(no word on whether his cool name and potential jersey sales played a part). The Patriots will see a lot of Rambo tonight with Ryan Clark out with a hamstring injury.
As for a surprise cut, I can give you three names that I'm hoping are surprise cuts. RG Chris Chester, RT Tyler Polumbus, and DE Stephen Bowen are all names that I wouldn't mind seeing on the final cut list. All three of them are vets from the Shanahan era and carry decent cap hits/savings. Stephen Bowen had microfracture surgery on his knee after being injured last season, and most people expected him to be cut and possibly re-signed when healthy. Polumbus is on the last year of his deal and the Redskins drafted Morgan Moses in the 3rd round as his future replacement. Chris Chester had a down year, and his possible future replacement was also drafted in the 3rdround this year in Spencer Long. I doubt these will happen, but there's always hope that the younger, cheaper replacements are ready sooner than later.
What are you hoping to see in tonight's game? With the starters traditionally getting so little time in Week 1, is there something a little deeper that you'll be looking for?
No injuries is obviously the first thought that comes to mind when you talk about a meaningless preseason game in the first week of August. The Redskins already have a few players dinged up from the first two weeks of training camp, and while the depth has improved from last year, you don't want to test it this early. Last season, 4th round pick Phillip Thomas was lost for the season during the first preseason game. He's out with a hamstring injury(running theme this week) tonight so he should be safe.
I also want to see some of the players that are fighting for the last few spots. Safety Akeem Davis is trying to find a place on the team with his special teams play and he's got the size/speed combo you want to develop. Special teams play in general has been a big focus for the team after last year's disastrous performance. We have a new ST Coordinator(former Jets coach Ben Kotwica), new punter(s), and new competition at kicker with 7th round draft pick Zach Hocker. The hope this year is that improved special teams play, an even slightly improved defense, and a rejuvenated Robert Griffin III will put the Redskins into contention in the NFC East.
Many thanks to Hog Haven for the insight. They also had some questions for me regarding the Patriots and how I think that this year will go, which you can check out here.
Here's to a exciting, injury free game.