Washington Redskins: Most and Least Improved Players
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Not everyone gets better the more time they spend on the field. After a while, what was once promise starts to look like a ceiling. The Washington Redskins are in the same situation as a lot of teams. They are nearing the halfway point of the season with a record that shows both potential and regression.
This list highlights five players who have either flourished or started to fall behind. They are all in at least their second season, as rookies are still all potential, no matter how impressive, and have no previous NFL record with which to compare.
So, as good as Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris have been, they don’t make the cut here.
Most Improved: Logan Paulsen
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Logan Paulsen’s development as a tight end has coincided with Fred Davis tearing his Achilles, which is either fortunate or ironic, depending on your past experience with the Redskins.
Similar to Davis, inconsistency has been Paulsen’s issue. He would look useful on one play and then blow his assignment on the next one. This year he has been more consistent and now looks like a reliable option in the Redskins’ offense.
There was some confusion over Griffin’s interception in the Giants game, where it looked as if Griffin expected Paulsen to be somewhere else on the route. But it also could have been a poor throw. Either way, more playing time together will bring about a better understanding between the two players.
Paulsen continues to improve when blocking and shows good technique in sealing the edge. John Keim reported on Paulsen’s progress for the Washington Examiner following the game against the New York Giants:
On Santana Moss’ 26-yard touchdown catch and run, Paulsen took care of a defensive back downfield, the final piece to the TD puzzle. On Griffin’s 28-yard run around right end Paulsen took care of the corner in space. Also liked the way he blocked Pierre-Paul on occasion, one time driving him about six yards downfield—a good display of technique and strength.
Paulsen isn’t blessed with breakaway speed like Davis—Davis would actually be included here, if not for the injury—but he has progressed to the point where he can be trusted to protect Griffin, as well as providing useful blocks for receivers.
Most Improved: Chris Chester
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Along with Trent Williams—who finally looks to be fulfilling his promise after so many false starts—Chris Chester has been a big reason why the offensive line has been holding up for Griffin, as well as providing holes for Morris to run through.
Both against the Giants and Minnesota Vikings, Chester was consistent with his blocks and looked comfortable with his role in the system. He managed to prolong drives by pushing the ends back and creating space in which Morris and Griffin could find yards.
Chester's improvement may be the result of having a full offseason to work with his teammates, unlike last year when he arrived in Washington. He spoke to Zac Boyer at The Free Lance-Star and confirmed that the extra training time has helped his knowledge of the system:
I think the continuity is probably the biggest factor. Guys had a chance to get an offseason and work together, and you know, for me personally, just even further understanding the whole concept of the scheme—it’s a different scheme that we’re trying to do. Then, obviously, it helps to have Robert back there, with what he can do to keep a defense honest.
It could easily have been Williams making this list over Chester—watching him drive Jason Pierre-Paul back and then pancake him was a particular highlight—but it feels like Williams’ improvement is overdue.
That Williams is now living up to his draft status is encouraging, but even he would admit that his performances up to now haven’t been good enough. Chester has made similar strides in in less time, so gets the nod here.
Least Improved: Brandon Banks
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I have to admit, I don’t understand why Brandon Banks is on the roster. He is a useful player to have in the triple-option schemes the Redskins have been running, sure, but it’s not as if he possesses particular skills unavailable to other fast players like Aldrick Robinson.
Prior to the season, Shanahan maintained that Banks would have to prove himself as a receiver to make the team. He didn’t do that, but made the roster anyway. So it seemed that he was going to be used in a very specific way this year.
We saw that with the emergence of the triple-option, but he has failed to make much impact. Last week against the Giants, Banks was ignored on triple-option schemes and Josh Morgan and Niles Paul took on Banks’ role.
It may have been that Shanahan wanted to keep teams guessing—let’s face it, if Banks is on the field, you can at least take a shot at guessing the play call—but that leaves Banks with no real role except punt and kick returns.
Supporters of Banks maintain that it’s only a matter of time before he peels off a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown. But we’ve been waiting three years now and it’s yet to happen. He had one 96-yard kick return for a touchdown as a rookie. For a player to still be living off that isn’t good enough.
The other issue is the fumbles. Banks has three on offense and three on special teams. For someone who sees the field as little as he does, that’s unacceptable. If he were a Tom Coughlin-coached player, he wouldn’t be on the team anymore.
He’s been lucky so far, with all his fumbles either being recovered by himself or going out of bounds. Shanahan made a joke about Banks when speaking after the Giants game:
Banks usually does a good job of recovering his own fumbles. He has some experience fumbling the ball but he always seems to get it. I told him once the opposition gets it, then he won’t have those opportunities anymore, so he recovers it very quickly. (Via The Washington Post).
It has seemed as if Banks has been one play away from being cut all season—and preseason, for that matter. But even as his production diminished, he continued to stay on the team. A road game this week against the Steelers might not be his ideal environment, but it could be his last chance. Again.
Most Improved: Lorenzo Alexander
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It’s probably unfair to classify Alexander as one of the “most improved” Redskins because he has always given everything. "The One-Man Gang" has been incredibly valuable over the last six years—helping out on offense, defense and special teams—but it feels like he is only now getting the recognition he deserves.
The reason he makes this list is because he seems to have found himself a niche in the rotation after the injury of Brian Orakpo.
Against the Vikings, Alexander lit up the field, despite playing only 27 defensive snaps. He recovered a fumble, had five tackles, four quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks in a performance that earned him his first podium place for the post-game press conference. (Via The Washington Post).
Alexander has learned eight positions since being with the Redskins and gone from being a 315-pound defensive tackle to a 245-pound linebacker, which shows a level of dedication to his craft that isn’t present among many players.
Special teams play is often ignored in favor of more glamorous positions and highlights, but Alexander deserves his time in the spotlight. He is well-respected in the locker room, was the Redskins’ nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year, won the Redskins’ Good Guy award and Mike Shanahan knows he can truly rely on him:
"He's a guy that gives everything," Shanahan said after the Vikings game. "And we're going to have to play him some more, obviously.” (Via The Wall Street Journal).
Least Improved: Tyler Polumbus
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Although the offensive line has been an improvement, when it breaks down it often seems to be as a result of Tyler Polumbus.
At 6’8”, Polumbus is always going to struggle for balance against smaller, faster opponents. They are able to use his height against him and apply pressure from underneath, throwing him off balance and pushing him back.
Polumbus doesn’t have the quick feet needed to adjust and often gets beaten with a stutter or inside move. Sometimes, all it takes is quick hands before Polumbus is off balance and the onrushing defensive end is suddenly in Griffin’s face.
In his weekly film review series, Rich Campbell highlighted ways in which Polumbus’ play was detrimental to the Redskins in their game against the Atlanta Falcons, including the play that brought about a concussion for Griffin:
Abraham beat Polumbus with an inside move. Polumbus kicked out wide and set hard on his right (outside) foot as John Abraham cut inside. Polumbus wasn’t balanced well enough to recover, and he had to reach for Abraham to slow him down. Abraham didn’t hit Griffin, but he collapsed the pocket and prompted Griffin to extend the play by scrambling. (Via The Washington Times).
Campbell went on to say that Josh Morgan was open in the end zone on that play, so Polumbus’ problems with balance actually cost the team a touchdown and a concussion to its quarterback.
It’s not being hyperbolic to say that plays like this can drag down an entire season.
Even when Griffin exited the Falcons game, Polumbus continued to be beaten by John Abraham and Kirk Cousins found himself being taken to the ground. That cannot be allowed to happen across 16 weeks, and Shanahan would be wise to consider alternatives prior to Jammal Brown's return.