Washington Redskins' Biggest Preseason Disappointments So Far
There has been a few surprises in Washington since the start of the preseason.
The defense, so long the thorn in the Redskins' side, has defined the progress of this new team. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has kept things fresh, moved his key men around and retained a level of pressure on the quarterback that was nonexistent last year.
Instead, it's been the offensive side of the ball that has presented most of the problems. Issues with timing, communication and ball possession have combined to derail promising drives, while the murmurings of quarterback controversies have distracted focus from the common goal.
That goal, somewhat obviously, is winning games as a unit. Washington has a good roster now, and a losing season would be ill-fitting for the level of talent on display.
Let's take a look at five disappointments which threaten to bring down Gruden's first season in charge.
An Offense out of Sync
Oh, the controversy. Where would Washington be without one?
Robert Griffin III has gone from Comeback Player of the Year to being outplayed by his backup in a matter of a few weeks. That sort of talk is a distraction, and while Griffin may tweet that it doesn't bother him, choosing to address the situation at all indicates that it does.
As Mike Jones reported for The Washington Post, Gruden's opinion is that Griffin's lack of progress in the pocket is a matter of confidence, which makes sense. Less certain quarterbacks tend to hold the ball too long, looking for wide-open receivers rather than trusting the route and the development of the play.
As Griffin indicated in his press conference, the offense goes where he goes. Right now, he's not going far.
However, to write the offense off based on the preseason would be foolish. There's still so much about Gruden's system that we don't know. Griffin has spent most of his time in the pocket because that's what he needs to work on.
The preseason is the place to do that.
When the regular season rolls around, we can expect to see an offense that leans more towards Griffin's natural abilities. Bootlegs, rollouts, short passes, shotgun and pistol snaps—everything that he did well in 2012.
Keeping these familiar concepts in the offense will raise Grffin's confidence, leading him to trust his instincts and make better decisions when in the pocket. His knowledge of the offense will increase with repetition, again leading to better decision-making.
Of course, it would help if the offensive line played at a higher level. Trent Williams is solid as a rock, and new arrival Shawn Lauvao has looked like an improvement at guard. However, if Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus don't improve, Griffin is going to tuck and run more than his coach wants.
Josh LeRibeus has looked improved this year and could be relied upon to step in to relive Chester. With Adam Gettis now cut, LeRibeus has to repay the faith shown in him by the new coaches.
It's true that the new additions at receiver have raised expectations of the Redskins quarterback. It's also true that he hasn't delivered on those yet, leading to the disappointment of zero touchdowns for the first-team offense.
We'll find out against Houston, but there's no need to panic just yet.
Phillip Thomas' Injury Woes
Washington kept Keenan Robinson around through his injury woes, but Phillip Thomas might not be so lucky.
Thomas is returning from a Lisfranc injury that robbed him of playing time last year, but he has already racked up two more injuries in camp and preseason games.
First, a hamstring strain kept him sidelined for two weeks of training camp, but he returned to play in the second and third preseason games. He was solid, if unspectacular.
However, in the third game he appeared to re-injure his surgically-repaired foot, and ESPN's John Keim reported that Thomas will now visit Dr. James Anderson to get it assessed further.
It's frustrating for both Thomas and the team, especially with Brandon Meriweather currently suspended for the first two games of the season.
Thomas was supposed to be the answer at strong safety, but Lisfranc injuries are awkward. In fact, the latest Redskins depth chart now lists Thomas as the third-string free safety, with free-agent pickup Trenton Robinson behind Meriweather at the strong spot.
If he cannot recover fully, and if Robinson breaks out against Tampa Bay, Thomas may find himself on the outside of the bubble when final roster cuts are made.
Kai Forbath Cracking Under Pressure
There's still a lot to play for in the Redskins' kicking competition. If Kai Forbath outplays rookie Zach Hocker in the final preseason game, he could make it through by virtue of having real NFL experience.
Right now, however, Hocker is the one looking like the incumbent.
Forbath has been given six kickoffs—only one of which went through the end zone for a touchback. Four were returned and one went out of bounds for an illegal procedure penalty. He has also missed one of his four field-goal attempts.
Hocker has made both his field-goal attempts, while two of his nine kickoffs have been touchbacks.
Hocker also has registered two tackles—he played safety in high school—and has the luxury of being selected in this year's draft by the current coaching staff. His record of touchbacks in college (68 percent) was impressive, and that's why he was brought to Washington.
Forbath set records in his rookie year, but if he can't demonstrate improvement in the final game of the preseason, the rookie will triumph.
Keeping a kickoff specialist in addition to a kicker isn't a luxury that Gruden has.
The Unreliability of Chris Thompson
ESPN's John Keim reported a telling quote from Gruden, whose father was an NFL scout, on Tuesday:
One of the top traits a running back has to have—my dad told me a long time ago—is durability. He’s got to prove he can stay healthy. He might have to play through some pain for us to count on him on a Sunday afternoon. This is a big game for Chris.
Throughout his college and professional career, that's the one thing Chris Thompson hasn't been able to do. His ability and promise as a third-down back has seen him stick on the roster thus far, and his strong training camp raised the hopes of Redskins fans for 2014.
Unfortunately, he has been sidelined with a low ankle sprain that has denied him the chance to play in the last two preseason games. Anything but an exceptional performance will deny him a roster spot, too.
Thompson offers a great deal to the team, which makes it incredibly frustrating. He's fast, cuts well and offers a good option as a receiver out of the backfield. His closest comparison on the roster, Lache Seastrunk, is much less developed and doesn't look quite ready for the NFL.
Roy Helu Jr. is going to make the team anyway, so it was down to Thompson, Seastrunk, Evan Royster and rookie Silas Redd to fight it out. Seastrunk and Redd have both seen the sideline with injuries, while Evan Royster sprung back to life against the Cleveland Browns with a TD and a nice 24-yard catch and run.
The odds are now against Thompson making the team, as Redd is a good practice squad candidate. A preseason game against the Bucs suddenly became the biggest game of Thompson's life.
*As a side note, cutting Thomas and Thompson would leave just three picks from Washington's 2013 draft class on the roster a year later—David Amerson, Jordan Reed and Bacarri Rambo. That's not good enough.
The Regression of Tracy Porter
Tracy porter did not have a stellar season for the Oakland Raiders last year, so it was something of a surprise to see the Redskins front office bring him in on a two-year, $6 million contract with $2 million signing bonus and $2 million guaranteed.
He counts for $2.8 million against the cap this year, but even when he hasn't been injured he has been outplayed by rookie Bashaud Breeland and younger developmental players like Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford.
Like Thompson and Thomas, there's a lot resting on this final preseason game. Porter's salary will likely keep him around for this season, but don't be surprised to see Breeland become the nickelback of choice for Gruden before the season's halfway point.
With his best days seemingly behind him and a past littered with injuries, Portrer is a step behind. Washington needs aggression and pace from its third corner.
Haslett's blitz-happy packages often require the nickelback to rush the passer from outside the box, and Breeland is much more suited to do that.
The rookie hits like a safety anyway, so his presence as a rushing threat is immediately an upgrade. His performance on the field in preseason has been impressive anyway, so Porter could find himself adrift and on the bench.