Winners, Losers of Washington Redskins Offseason So Far
Two young defensive players are among the winners for the Washington Redskins during OTAs. They have shown they are credible potential starters in this season's back seven.
Meanwhile, a dynamic pass-catcher appears to have done enough to merit an expanded role once the new season begins. If this second-year pro can stay healthy, he'll be a feature of the playbook, as well as a nightmare for defenses.
While it's too early to write players off, one of the primary draft picks has struggled during OTAs. After last season's nightmare on special teams, it's been disappointing to see familiar problems lingering in the kicking game.
Here are Washington's winners and losers from OTAs, beginning with the winners.
Winner: David Amerson, CB
David Amerson experienced mixed fortunes as a rookie in 2013. But last year's second-round pick is already looking like a more refined player headed into Year 2.
He is tasked with effectively partnering with veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall on the edges of the Washington secondary this season. He has appeared more comfortable with the responsibility so far during OTAs, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
Amerson had his share of ups and downs as a rookie as he served as third corner for Washington. He recorded 48 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and a forced fumble. But he also struggled with recognition at times, and that led to blown coverages and big plays yielded. Amerson had inconsistencies in run defense as well.
But with a full season under his belt and an offseason to reflect and study his performances, coaches say Amerson’s grasp and understanding of the game is 'like night and day.'
As Jones also pointed out, the team's decision to shun a high-profile player at this position in free agency put the pressure on Amerson. Nevertheless, the former North Carolina State ace has vital physical qualities to help shore up coverage in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's system.
At 6'1" and 205 pounds, Amerson has the length and frame to adopt more aggressive, press-based techniques. That's something of a must in the NFC East, which is loaded with big, physical receivers like Philadelphia Eagles playmaker Riley Cooper and Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant.
Haslett often likes to isolate his corners in single coverage while unleashing risky and complex blitz packages up front. That demands consistent and sound technique in coverage.
Amerson's improvement so far this offseason is a major win for both the player and the defense.
Winner: Keenan Robinson, LB
Keenan Robinson's potential is obvious. Sadly, the likelihood of him staying healthy is anybody's guess. The 2012 draft pick has barely seen the field for Washington, missing all of last season.
But Washington needs this versatile athlete on the field in 2014. That's why it's been encouraging to see him getting first-team work during OTAs.
A healthy Robinson would be a major boost to an inside linebacker corps that has been overhauled since London Fletcher retired. Brian McNally of The Washington Times detailed Robinson's credentials to win the starting job alongside Perry Riley Jr.:
And so Robinson, drafted out of the University of Texas in the fourth round in 2012, worked with the starting unit during Wednesday’s organized team activities practice. He knows defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s version of the 3-4 defense and has an advantage over free-agent linebackers like Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan who have starting experience with their previous teams and a track record to work with.
Robinson must hold off those players to earn a starting job. But through his recovery process, Haslett made sure that Robinson maintained the faith of the coaching staff, even explaining how he’d be used once he returned to full health. It took a while. Robinson says he’s there now.
Robinson has athletic range that would be a massive boost to Haslett's unit, providing more coverage flexibility out of base looks. This defense has had trouble tracking and staying with receivers out of the backfield. A lack of lateral quickness, one of Robinson's strengths, has been a problem.
Just as important, Robinson's ability to work inside and outside will give Haslett more license to show different looks. The 3-4 is a defense based on moving pieces, and Haslett should be able to shift Robinson around and make use of his blitz skills.
Of course, Robinson's already lengthy injury history makes any potential impact he might have a best-case scenario. But it's still a win for the player to be fresh and working with the starters at this stage of the offseason.
It's also telling that even after adding three free agents to the position, Haslett is still ready to count Robinson as his starter.
Winner: Jordan Reed, TE
Jordan Reed is another ultratalented young player, who is sometimes blighted by injuries, that Washington is counting on for big things in 2014. Thankfully, the early signs are good from the tight end, based on his work during OTAs.
Reed's significance to Griffin's development as a more rounded, pro-style passer could be huge.
Griffin always seems to want to stretch the field. He's often determined to win a game by himself, on one play.
He will keep a play alive as long as he thinks he can to manufacture a vertical shot. That can create problems both for this offensive line and the quarterback, who becomes subjected to more hits.
What he needs to help pacify his gung-ho instincts is a dependable safety valve. With his move skills and excellent hands, Reed is exactly that.
Griffin can trust the tight end to quickly escape his coverage and get open. That can help Griffin speed up his release—another must in his refinement.
As Griffin's comfort level with Reed grows, head coach Jay Gruden can expand the play designs to get Reed further downfield. That's something Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler predicts will happen this season:
It’s a good bet that we’ll see Reed running 20 yards past the line of scrimmage more often in 2013. He certainly has the speed and athletic ability to be effective rolling down the seam. It also looks like going deep to the tight end is something that coach Jay Gruden likes to do.
It seems to have only taken a brief glimpse of Reed for Gruden to decide the "Joker" tight end will be a major part of his offense in the new season.
Loser: Blake Clingan and Robert Malone, Punters
He may have wasted no time making his mind up about Reed, but Gruden will need to give his punters a longer look. Both Robert Malone and Blake Clingan have endured inconsistent performances during OTAs.
Competition is a good thing, but neither has been able to forge ahead as a viable solution at a problem position. Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler has even suggested the team adding a third face to the battle can't be ruled out:
The two punters on the team, Robert Malone and Blake Clingan, have kicked some during the OTAs that have been open to the media but neither has made much an impression. Between the two I’d have to say that Malone, who has some NFL punting experience, is the favorite. But there is a good chance that a player named “none of the above” ends up punting against the Texans in Week 1. If neither is getting the job done in the preseason, a veteran punter could be pulled off of the street.
What has to be concerning are the feeble credentials of the two players Washington is tasking to replace the dismal Sav Rocca. ESPN.com reporter John Keim detailed Malone and Clingan's disappointing respective track records:
But Malone lasted two games and 16 punts last season, done in by inconsistency. While his hang time can be terrific, he's also prone to line-drive kicks. That helps explain why he he was cut despite a 46.3 yard average in 2013. He had just a 37.1 yard net.
Meanwhile, Blake Clingan last punted in a meaningful game in 2010 at Central Florida. Detroit cut him last summer after he averaged 41.5 yards on 13 punts in the preseason. The 25-year-old has zero career NFL punts.
Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen put a lot of work into fixing 2013's horrific special teams. They have significantly bolstered the coverage units with free agents like Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward.
But the kicking game remains an area in serious flux. Rocca endured a terrible campaign last season. His feeble kicks put already shaky coverage units in trouble more than once. They also meant the defense usually faced a losing battle trying to protect short fields.
Keim has noted that Gruden is currently endorsing both would-be starting punters. But his words are likely mere coaching platitudes at this point.
However, it's probably not unreasonable to suppose Malone's connection with new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica gives him the inside track.
But given how much punting was an issue last season, both players have so far wasted an opportunity for an easy run at a starting job.
Loser: Morgan Moses, OT
When general manager Bruce Allen snared Morgan Moses in Round 3 of the 2014 NFL draft, it was widely considered a steal. That was a reasonable view considering Allen had selected a massive and skilled offensive tackle who was expected to replace uninspiring starter Tyler Polumbus on the right side.
But initially at least, the plan hasn't been working out that way. Moses has reportedly found life on the right side tough.
Gruden highlighted some of the rookie's issues getting comfortable with the role, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
He needs to know both tackle spots right now. But we had him at the right [last week]. He’s obviously more comfortable on the left side because that’s what he’s been doing the last few years in college. You could see him struggle a bit on the right side and then he went back to the left side, he appeared a little more natural. But he’s obviously not pencilled in as the starting left tackle.
Moses' discomfort on the right is a worry, even if his pro career is in its infancy, if that. Jones described him as being in competition "for the backup swing tackle duties for now."
The team surely wanted more out of him. Yes, depth is important, but everyone would feel more comfortable about the state of the O-line if Moses was making a positive impact.
The protection was awful last season, allowing 43 sacks, per figures from NFL.com. But aside from adding Shawn Lauvao at left guard and shifting Kory Lichtensteiger to center, the group hasn't been overhauled.
If Moses doesn't make a more immediate impression, this team will open the season with four of last season's five starters still in place. In that scenario, it won't be easy to feel confident about Griffin's chances of staying upright and leading a turnaround.
Loser: Brandon Jenkins, OLB
Brandon Jenkins must have known he was in trouble when the team re-signed Rob Jackson during free agency and then drafted Trent Murphy with its first pick.
Those moves jeopardize Jenkins' chances of being a feature in the outside linebacker rotation. The fifth-round pick in 2013 has further hurt his chances of providing cover behind Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan by performing poorly during OTAs.
He got his clearest indication yet that he might not have a future in Washington when the team recently hosted veteran Quentin Groves. Mike Jones of The Washington Post noted Jenkins' struggles as a possible motivation for exploring new options:
Jackson has proved to be a serviceable backup to Orakpo, and started much of the 2012 season when Orakpo missed all but two games with injury. Jenkins, however, struggled both on special teams and on defense in practices and struggled to get onto the field last season, dressing for only five games and recording just one tackle.
Jenkins needed to make a positive impression during OTAs. His failure to do so seems to have all but doomed his chances of staying in D.C.
Generally, OTAs have been positive for a rebuilding Washington roster that is getting used to a new coaching staff. What issues there are, specifically Moses' early struggles, can be worked on during minicamp, before being refined during training camp and preseason.
Meanwhile, the visible improvement of second-year pros such as Amerson and Reed bodes well for a team that needs new leaders and playmakers to emerge.