5 Biggest Washington Redskins Storylines Entering Preseason Week 3
That's now 2-0 for the 2014 preseason and an 8-0 preseason streak for the Washington Redskins. Obviously, however, that's not the biggest storyline going into the third week.
Head coach Jay Gruden will have seen some good things over the last couple of games, but there are also points that need to be corrected before the season starts for real.
Let's have a look at a few things making the news as the third game on Saturday approaches.
Will Robert Griffin III Ever Learn How to Slide?
It's been a concern from the moment he was drafted. Can Robert Griffin III learn how to protect himself and move on to the next play?
These questions returned once again as Griffin took unnecessary risks against Cleveland. In a meaningless preseason game, no one wants to see him bounce off three defenders before crashing out of bounds.
He made a promise to look after himself better and make smarter decisions when leaving the pocket. However, his natural instinct to make a play often overrides more sensible thoughts, and he takes off into the open field again.
There's obviously a balance to be struck, but only Griffin can do it.
For what it's worth, he ran through his progressions better against Cleveland, looked off defenders before moving onto his next read and checked the ball down when the play didn't develop as planned.
Unfortunately, that stuff gets lost when he puts himself in danger by reverting to old habits.
At the very least, his sliding technique must improve. For the last two seasons it has looked awkward and ungainly. In 2013 it was easy to put that down to the bulky knee brace, but it has not looked better so far this year.
Getting the slide down to a natural, fluid movement will save Griffin a lot of agony later on. And, in the more immediate future, it'll get him out of Haloti Ngata's way much better.
The Offensive Line Must Improve Further
Trent Williams has been untroubled, while new acquisition Shawn Lauvao looked solid against the Browns. Kory Lichtensteiger looks more natural at center and is more effective in his new role.
Chris Chester, meanwhile, struggled when the action came his way. If Chester can't get back to the form he showed in 2012, the Redskins are going to be picking Griffin up off the floor a great deal.
The interior of the line surrendered a lot of pressure last year, which the signing of Lauvao seems to have alleviated a little. Chester will make the team and likely start, but that's mostly because those behind him aren't ready to do so.
Trusting Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis or rookie Spencer Long to step in and bring consistency to the line is a big step, and it's unlikely that Gruden takes it.
The same can be said for Tyler Polumbus at right tackle. While Polumbus is not a long-term answer, rookie Morgan Moses hasn't stepped up to claim the starting spot, and Tom Compton has been unhurried in his development.
Moses actually lined up on the left against Cleveland, which is where he spent the majority of his career at Virginia. It was actually Compton who stepped in on the right as part of the second team.
The most obvious conclusion to draw is that Gruden wished to see them both in action, and this was the best way to do so. However, if Moses is being groomed as the starter at right tackle, it would have made more sense to give him the reps on that side.
As it turned out, Moses had the better night. Compton got too tall too often—which has also been a common complaint about Moses in camp—and also allowed a sack.
There's definitely room for someone to take control of the right side and force himself into contention. Unfortunately, no one has done it yet.
Bashaud Breeland Could Be Just What the Team Needs
Ignoring the marijuana citation, Bashaud Breeland has had a good start to his professional career. With Tracy Porter injuring his hamstring in Monday's win over Cleveland, Breeland now has an opportunity to move further up the depth chart.
If his performance against the Browns is an indication of things to come, the Redskins have found a diamond in the fourth round. Breeland came away from the game with five tackles—the highest on the team—and lit up players with strong hits.
His aggression was one of the things that scouts praised him for coming out of college, but once in Redskins camp he was grabby with his hands and drew a lot of holding penalties.
What has been positive is that he has managed to rein that in while retaining the physicality of his play. He plays faster than his 4.62 40-yard dash would indicate and isn't overawed by the jump to the NFL at all.
Gruden moved Breeland around during camp, which would suggest that he is confident with his ability to pick up the scheme. E.J. Biggers is the nickelback right now, but Gruden's confidence in Breeland could see his job under threat.
This isn't to say that he's ready to be a starter, but continuing his development at this pace would mean that day arrives sooner rather than later.
Keep an Eye on the Defense
Considering the unit failed to generate much pressure last year—of any kind—the Redskins defense has sparked into life in 2014.
Yes, it's just the preseason, but it's encouraging to see how the players have responded.
Per Kent Babb and Mark Maske of The Washington Post, there were rumors last year that Mike Shanahan was calling the defensive plays and not allowing defensive coordinator Jim Haslett the freedom to be aggressive. Regardless of the truth in that, Haslett's scheme has been more aggressive, enabling the line to get penetration and hurry the quarterback.
This was evident in the near shutout of the Patriots in Week 1 and again on Monday. Both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel failed to get into a rhythm and find open receivers, with Ryan Kerrigan registering a sack of each quarterback.
The addition of Trent Murphy has meant Haslett can get creative with his rushing and force the opposition to plan for three outside linebackers. With Jason Hatcher yet to enter the fray, the Redskins have all the pieces in place to put real pressure on quarterbacks in 2014.
The secondary, too, is showing signs of life. Breeland has been impressive, while Chase Minnifield has also made some plays. Ryan Clark's leadership and poise appear to be rubbing off on second-year pro Bacarri Rambo, who has put in two solid outings and showed development in his tackling.
Let's not go overboard, though. Nothing has been proved, and conventional wisdom still says that there will be some defensive agony this year.
However, improvement is what we need to see this year, and it's already starting to show.
Inevitably, Penalties Are a Concern
The NFL's decision to clamp down on illegal contact is going to bring about a lot of penalties this year. That much we already knew.
However, it was disconcerting to see so many unnecessary penalties against Cleveland. There were 11 in total, granting the Browns 100 yards and six first downs.
Although this only continues the trend from elsewhere around the league, Washington needs to sharpen up and minimize the free sets of downs given away. If the defense starts to sputter, penalties will only exacerbate things.
Gruden was honest in his post-game presser, which he has been since arriving in D.C. Brian Skinell reported the new head coach's comments for Redskins.com:
We had some key penalties and some stopped drives. I thought we moved the ball effectively, but you have to finish drives and you have to protect the football. It’s something we have to continue to coach and teach our guys the right way to play. We have to understand the rules and continue to preach it because it’ll cost a lot of teams a lot of games if we keep going at this clip.
The 11 penalties on Monday combine with the ones from the New England game to make 21 for the preseason so far. Although that total will likely decrease as the regular season gets underway, it makes much more sense to eliminate those errors now.