Washington Redskins' Rookie Progress Reports for Preseason Week 1
Both fifth-round wide receiver Ryan Grant and sixth-round running back Lache Seastrunk won admirers during the organized scrimmages and preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
Third-rounder Spencer Long has also merited some positive recent buzz. The interior offensive lineman already looks as though he can make an immediate impact at a position of some concern.
Elsewhere, first-year defenders Trent Murphy and Bashaud Breeland are continuing to refine their technique as they seek roles in the sub-package defenses.
Here's a closer look at the progress of Washington's prominent rookies.
All statistics via NFL.com.
Trent Murphy, OLB
The Redskins drafted Trent Murphy to provide greater depth behind outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. But the former Stanford man was also targeted for the pass-rushing skills he can add on sub-packages.
So far, Murphy has been showing that he can be a very useful situational weapon as a rookie. In his latest camp report, Mike Jones of The Washington Post described a good moment from Murphy: "Rookie Trent Murphy embarrassed Maurice Hurt as he blew right by him for a sack on Colt McCoy."
Murphy's rush talents are going to be a part of coordinator Jim Haslett's defensive schemes this term. But his overall versatility has also received positive reviews from outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, per Todd Dybas of The Washington Times:
Murphy will line up with his hand on the ground on rare occasion. He’ll blitz, fall into coverage on a tight end or running back leaking out of the backfield and be expected to stop the run. Baker said the Redskins’ focus for outside linebackers is rushing the passer. Stopping the run is next. Coverage concern is last. Baker said Murphy is already “proficient” in coverage.
Murphy's pro readiness is a major boost to a defense that needs to apply more pressure this term. The Redskins tallied a mere 36 sacks in 2013.
More aggressive schemes will help, but so will the presence of another skilled edge-rusher alongside Orakpo and Kerrigan. The early indications are revealing Murphy is ready for that key role.
Morgan Moses, OT
Morgan Moses was supposed to be the answer to the team's issues at right tackle. Landing the ex-Virginia behemoth at the top of Round 3 initially seemed like a draft coup.
However, all such perceptions and assumptions have since been reversed after a very difficult offseason for the rookie tackle. NBC Sports reporter Dianna Marie Russini is the latest to have noted how Moses has been struggling.
Instead of looking ready to supplant Tyler Polumbus for a starting berth on the right edge, Moses has found himself spending a lot of practice minutes as a backup left tackle.
That's hardly a thrilling start to life as a pro for a player expected to add greater size along a lightweight front. Moses will obviously be given every chance to keep learning and hopefully improving.
However, it's disappointing that one of the key figures from this year's draft class isn't generating some positive reviews.
Spencer Long, G
Progress regarding Washington's other third-round O-lineman is a little more positive. Guard Spencer Long has been getting steady work with the second-team units.
He's also shown he can play either guard spot, according to Liz Clarke of The Washington Post:
Until this week, Long had been lining up at right guard with the second-team offense, behind nine-year veteran Chris Chester, who hasn’t missed a start in three seasons. But as promised, offensive line coach Chris Foerster flipped the second-team assignments following the team’s preseason opener to evaluate who could function best as a swing guard.
Demonstrating the flexibility to competently play on either side is a vital characteristic for a backup lineman. It's especially important for those along the interior. Teams will often rely on two players to cover three spots to allow for keeping extra wide receivers for pass-heavy schemes.
Long's versatility could push a disappointing player such as 2012 third-round pick Josh LeRibeus off the roster.
However, similar to Moses, it's a little underwhelming that Long isn't putting Chester's place as a starter under greater threat. The veteran was an obvious weak link on last season's feeble line, looking particularly vulnerable in pass protection.
It would be nice if the 6'5", 320-pound Long could push 6'3", 303-pounder Chester aside and add some much-needed extra bulk along the interior.
Bashaud Breeland, CB
One of the great things about the decision to draft Bashaud Breeland in Round 4 was that it added a big cornerback to a rotation needing more size, as well as a capable special teams player.
That's exactly how things are currently panning out for the 5'11", 197-pound former Clemson ace. ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim offered this projection for Breeland's rookie season:
Breeland will be a backup corner, no better than No. 4 as a rookie barring injuries. But his physical play is worth developing and will make him an asset on special teams. He'll need a year or two but he has a shot to be a help.
He certainly should be a given a chance to feature in multiple-defensive back packages. He brings a natural physicality and nasty edge this secondary needs.
In the same report, Keim highlighted how Breeland hasn't been shy about roughing up receivers this offseason:
Aggressiveness and physical play. That's what he also showed in college. He also showed that he no longer needs to grab all the time. In the spring Breeland was way too grabby, not just incidental contact but rather he was always grabbing receivers on routes. But he's not doing that anymore. He did get called for one holding penalty Thursday, but that's different than holding or grabbing every play.
Honing Breeland's tenacity into the nuances of a balanced coverage scheme is a coaching challenge. But it's a job worth doing.
Coverage has to include more press techniques this season. That's the best way to prevent big plays and also to protect ageing and vulnerable safeties.
Coaching up young corners, such as Breeland and second-year pro David Amerson, is a necessary step toward a new style of coverage.
Ryan Grant, WR
No rookie on the team has looked as impressive as receiver Ryan Grant. He has wowed coaches and pundits with a knack for running precise routes and locating coverage gaps.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post reported how head coach Jay Gruden has been delighted with Grant's initial progress:
Gruden also has raved about his fifth-round pick, Grant, saying he looks like he’s been playing in the NFL for 10 years. Coaches love his route-running ability, the way he uses his hands, and his smarts.
But Jones hasn't been the only one to take note of the impression Grant is making. Tom Schad of The Washington Times has also endorsed the ex-Tulane star's qualities:
Grant has been one of the most impressive rookies in training camp so far. He has sure hands and runs crisp routes, and he caught three passes for 37 yards in Washington’s 23-6 victory over the New England Patriots in the preseason opener.
Grant's performances give him a very good chance to stick on a roster otherwise loaded at wide receiver. New arrivals DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts join record-breaker Pierre Garcon, young burner Aldrick Robinson and veteran Santana Moss.
However, Grant is showcasing skills that could be a niche in this offense. The passing game has lacked a true underneath, possession type who can work from the slot.
Grant is already looking tailor-made for that role.
Lache Seastrunk, RB
Another quality that has been missing from the offense for too long is genuine speed out of the backfield. That's just what former Baylor standout Lache Seastrunk is expected to provide.
The sixth-round pick made a good start during the team's 23-6 preseason win over the New England Patriots. He rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries, averaging a very creditable 5.2 yards per rush.
Seastrunk demonstrated some great examples of quick, one-cut running from spread looks. That's not only good technique for the team's zone-style ground schemes; it also hints at how he'll be used.
Seastrunk can be a devilish change-of-pace option. But his chances of featuring will be improved if he adds a few more strings to his bow.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post has noted how Seastrunk needs to become more of a receiving threat. Meanwhile, ESPN.com writer John Keim doesn't see a player flexible enough to handle third-down work:
Hasn’t jumped out, though you see flashes of his cutting ability and speed. It’s tough for running backs to truly impress in practice; coaches need to see how well they do at making defenders miss and breaking tackles. Seastrunk is too inconsistent catching the ball and will need work recognizing coverages and blitzes to be a third-down back.
Keim's projection that Seastrunk is destined for the practice squad may be a little harsh when considering fellow speedster Chris Thompson can't stay healthy.
Gruden may not even count on Seastrunk for third-down duties. He could leave that role to Roy Helu Jr., a player who is already a capable receiver.
But neither Helu nor starter Alfred Morris can match Seastrunk's acceleration. That quality ultimately gives him a great chance of sticking around.
Ted Bolser, TE
Tight end Ted Bolser helped himself to a touchdown against New England and generally performed OK. It was good to see him flexed out into the slot so often.
That hints Gruden, offensive coordinator Sean McVay and tight ends coach Wes Phillips believe Bolser can develop into a capable pass-catcher. Although his scoring reception came from an in-line position, Bolser was a useful blocker from bunch looks.
He made a decent block to help spring Seastrunk for a 21-yard gain early in the fourth quarter. Primarily, of course, Bolser was selected for his nous on special teams.
Gruden dubbed him a "war daddy" chasing down kicks, per Brian McNally of The Washington Times. Considering the litany of problems on special teams last season, it's reasonable to expect the first of two seventh-round picks this year to be on the final roster.
However, like Seastrunk, Bolser must work on adding extra elements to his game. ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim has bemoaned the lack of an impression Bolser has made as a receiver as well as his inconsistent blocking.
If he's going to stick as depth at a position with blocker Logan Paulsen and brilliant but brittle Jordan Reed as the primary options, then Bolser must show more competence in both areas.
Zach Hocker, K
Incumbent Kai Forbath knows he's on borrowed time. That's the narrative emerging from the latest reports about the progress of seventh-round pick Zach Hocker.
The rookie got the better of Forbath in the preseason audition against the Patriots. John Keim of ESPN.com broke down how each kicker fared in Week 1:
The seventh-round pick from Arkansas had a good night, making both field goals in Thursday's 23-6 preseason opening win against New England. He also made an extra point and had one touchback. Meanwhile, incumbent Kai Forbath left a 46-yard field goal short and wide after making a 39-yarder earlier in the night. He also sent one kickoff out of bounds.
However, Hocker did himself few favors by struggling to maintain his good form during the 20th day of training camp, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
The kickers had a brief head-to-head portion in practice. Kai Forbath made a 30 and 38-yard attempt. Zach Hocker missed a 33-yard attempt off the right upright. Then he made a 39-yard attempt.
Obviously things remain too close to call between Hocker and Forbath. However, the fact that Gruden and new special teams boss Ben Kotwica are even looking at alternative options says a lot.
Hocker is being a given a long look, something that's proof of a commitment to bolster every area of the special teams. Unless he endures several nightmare outings during the final weeks of the preseason, Hocker should supplant the inconsistent Forbath.
Silas Redd, RB
It's impressive that Silas Redd is still around. In fact, it's amazing Washington opted to sign the undrafted running back in the first place.
After all, Redd has joined a position group already featuring Morris, Helu, Thompson, Seastrunk and Evan Royster. Yet Redd still earned some carries along with Seastrunk in the preseason opener.
He averaged a more than respectable five yards on nine carries. It was a positive effort, although Mike Jones of The Washington Post was quick to add a caveat:
Redd looked good late in the preseason opener, but he was going against third-stringers, and other players who won’t be in the league in a couple of weeks. For these players, pass protection and special teams play is just as important as is the ability to run and catch.
Jones believes Gruden will be hard-pressed to keep four running backs around. That scenario certainly puts a player like Redd in jeopardy of not making the final roster.
However, CSNWashington.com reporter Rich Tandler has offered a different viewpoint. Tandler believes it's possible Gruden could keep as many as five runners on the roster.
The emphasis is added. Gruden has said previously that he is looking forward to what fullback Darrel Young can do in his offense so Young, Morris, Helu are locks. Gruden said that they are looking for two more so it looks like the plan is to carry five total running backs.
That would mean that Royster, rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd, and second-year back Chris Thompson are competing for two roster spots, not just one as some suspect.
Of course, Redd would need three more very positive showings during preseason to be one of the two supporting players Gruden is seeking. Like the others at his position, Redd has good zone-running skills.
He can make quick cuts but does run a little too upright. However, there's a power aspect to his game that neither Thompson nor Seastrunk or even Helu can offer.
The current rookie reports prove that the team didn't acquire any obvious difference-makers among its first-year crop this offseason. Instead, the draft process was all about adding depth to a roster that was reduced to its bare bones during the ill-fated Mike Shanahan era.
That's the best that can be expected from this year's rookies. For some, such as Murphy, a key role as a useful substitute awaits. For many of the rest, bolstering the special teams will be a less glamorous but arguably just as important contribution to a rebuilding team.