The Washington Redskins have already suffered much criticism (I am among the many who have stated my feelings on the moves) over their final roster cuts released on Saturday. None of the cuts made were truly material to the actual team the Redskins will put on the field throughout the regular season save for one, punter Derrick Frost.
Each of the other players being debated were not just going to be backups, but fourth, fifth and in some cases, sixth in line to get on the field. So why the fury from fans? And how did the Redskins front office and head coach Jim Zorn settle on each one?
There are arguments to be made for several players, notably running back Marcus Mason, wide receiver Billy McMullen, punter Derrick Frost, and corner back Matteral Richardson.
Let's start with one of the most hotly debated cuts first: Marcus Mason.
Mason had a very strong preseason, rushing for a league high 317 yards with a 4.8 yard average per carry, showing he has potential. A local product, playing his high school ball at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, (and a very popular player among Redskins fans) ran hard, broke tackles, and just made plays. Mason's downsides were his inability to make plays on special teams, and his inability to grasp the blocking responsibilities that come with the running back position. With star back Clinton Portis, proven backup Ladelle Betts, and serviceable backup and special teams ace Rock Cartwright already on the roster, there was not room for him on the active roster.
The next most hotly debated cut would have to be wide receiver Billy McMullen. Finishing the preseason leading the league in receiving yards and receptions, McMullen showed marked improvement in his pass catching skills. Regarded by some as a "body catcher" (catching the ball using his arms and body to cradle it rather than using his hands), McMullen made plays in each preseason game, showing improvement in the use of his hands. With the assumption that Zorn and the Redskins would want to keep six wide outs on the roster, McMullen seemed to be a lock, but with injuries and depth at other positions looming as major concerns, McMullen was caught in a numbers game. While only keeping five wide outs, Zorn may have decided that he is more likely to get production out of tight end Fred Davis than we have seen in the preseason. Davis and star pro-bowler Chris Cooley offer much flexibility for Zorn and this dynamic could well have played a major role in this decision.
Punter Derrick Frost, the Redskins' punter the last three seasons, spent the entire preseason in a punting battle with sixth round draft pick and Ray Guy Award winner (the award given to the nation's top college punter) Durant Brooks. Their competition resulted in what most would describe as a dead heat. Their punting averages too close to call, Frost's inconsistency through his career was certainly one of the determining factors. Add to that Brooks' potential, the fact that he was actually drafted by the Redskins, and his lower salary cap figure, and you have yourself a winner.
The other debates are as much about who they kept rather than about who they cut. The most glaring example here is rookie corner back Justin Tryon. The Redskins fourth round pick, Tryon seemed to struggle in coverage the entire preseason. Reportedly showing well in camp practices (I personally thought he looked very good in practice as well), he showed an inablity to make a play on the ball in man coverage during game action. Most Redskins fans only saw him or heard his name and number called after being in coverage on a completed pass. Corner backs aren't supposed to just tackle, a spot where Tryon showed good skills, but they are supposed to prevent the catch. When compared to undrafted rookie free agent Matteral Richardson, it seemed that Richardson would have the upper hand to make the roster.
Richardson on the other hand also showed his blemishes while making several positive plays. On several occasions his lack of speed and raw athletic ability were on display, and the facts that he wasn't drafted, and didn't show as strong in practice likely cost him in the competition between the two.
Also not cut was rookie seventh round pick Rob Jackson. Jackson made a strong case for himself this preseason. Finishing the preseason with 2 sacks and 9 tackles, Jackson could end up being one of the biggest steals of the 2008 draft. But the Redskins had four defensive ends (five if one counts Demetric Evans as a DE as well) ahead of him to start the preseason. Second year player Chris Wilson was perhaps the only defensive end at risk of being cut among the incumbents, but it seemed unlikely the Redskins would choose to carry so many d-ends. The New York Giants' improbable run to Super Bowl Champion may have played a significant role in this decision. Quality pass rushers are more highly valued then ever, and the Redskins are apparently attempting to load up in that category.
Each of the players cut could have been kept on the roster. The make up of the Redskins roster is a bit lopsided in several positions.
There are currently 10 defensive linemen on the roster. Including Evans (whom the Redskins simply list as "Defensive linemen", not end or tackle) who has been used at end most of his time in Washington, the Redskins, have six defensive ends with only four tackles. Even factoring in the injury to star end Jason Taylor, this is more than most teams would ordinarily carry.
In keeping only nine offensive linemen, the Redskins seem to be susceptible to injury with an aging starting group. Zorn had said as little as a week ago that he intended to keep "at least nine" offensive linemen, intimating that he hoped to keep more. Were Tavares Washington or Andrew Crummey worth a roster spot? This writer thinks so. But at who's expense?
The Redskins could enter the regular season opener against the New York Giants with only four wide receivers. There has been speculation that rookie Malcolm Kelly may miss significant time to a slow healing knee injury, could even end up on injured reserve, ending his season before it even starts. Apparently that speculation isn't well founded. The Redskins surely wouldn't take such a chance if it Kelly was likely to miss so much time. Right?
Other points concerning who was kept and who was cut:
- Justin Hamilton making the team, adding up to five safeties. I expect this was as much concern over lack of experience at the position with the other two backups being rookies (sixth round pick Kareem Moore and seventh round pick Chris Horton).
- While I don't disagree with the total number of defensive linemen (ten) the makeup of that group surprises me. I expected one less end (Rob Jackson or Chris Wilson to the practice squad) and one more tackle (likely Ryan Boschetti).
- Only nine offensive linemen. This seems to be a high risk move. While it seems the Redskins have some quality youngsters prepared to move up, tackle Stephon Heyer and rookie guard/tackle Chad Rinehart in particular, the poor play of veteran Jon Jansen, the recent injury history to both Jansen and guard Randy Thomas, may have dictated that more depth was called for.
- Only five wide receivers. With installing the West Coast Offense (I hate using that moniker, it is used inappropriately far too often, but for the lack of a better name, I have little choice) the Redskins and head coach Jim Zorn, it would surely be more ideal carrying six wide outs. Factor in the injury question concerning rookie Malcolm Kelly, and this one is real head scratcher.
As we head into the regular season (THANK GOD FOR FOOTBALL!), Zorn and Vice President of Football Operations, Vinny Cerrato have put their stamp on this team. With a significant youth movement taking place before our eyes, without the much "ballyhooed" sweeping cuts that many have been predicting, all 10 draft picks making the roster was a good start. Only time will tell if these roster decisions were good or bad, but one thing is for sure, the Redskins are undergoing a serious transition.
Now it's time to move on to the real games. New York, a younger, very different Redskins team is coming, are you ready?!