Washington Redskins: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Preseason
The final week of preseason fare is all about learning which of your fringe players are worth keeping around. For the Washington Redskins, two front-seven pass-rushers certainly made strong cases in Week 4.
Both players fit the new style of defense set to be employed by first-year coordinator Joe Barry. It's going to be a philosophy based on playing in the backfield more often this season. For one outside linebacker and defensive tackle, it's a mantra sure to get the best out of them.
Of course, the Redskins will need a particularly strong pass rush if significant improvements in coverage don't come along soon. Washington remade its secondary this offseason, but so far, the changes haven't yielded positive results.
Offensively, one lineman showed not only why he's lost his starting spot. He also showed why the decision to move top draft pick Brandon Scherff inside has more merit than first thought.
Finally, one uber-productive wide receiver certainly left it all on the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4 in his bid to avoid final cuts.
Read on for a breakdown of everything the Redskins learned during the last week of preseason.
Jackson Jeffcoat Is a Keeper
Few players in roster limbo have done more to help themselves this exhibition season than Jackson Jeffcoat. The young and raw edge-rusher, who showed some promise during the final two weeks of last season, has made a bunch of impact plays through four weeks.
As CSNMidAtlantic.com's JP Finlay noted, Jeffcoat has shown a real knack for wrecking offenses. With a sack in every preseason game, not to mention an interception against Baltimore, the second-year linebacker looks destined to escape the roster bubble.
Jeffcoat's streak of splash contributions continued against the Jags. Mike Jones of the Washington Post detailed two of his biggest plays.
Another fine outing from Jeffcoat prompted CBSDC's Brian McNally to predict the 23-year-old will make the final 53-man roster. Fortunately for Jeffcoat, McNally's sentiment seems to be echoed by head coach Jay Gruden, who notes the second-year rush end has "made his mark," according to Jones.
A spot on the full roster for the season would be a fitting reward for a player who has worked hard to refine his game this offseason. This week, Jones described how Jackson has taken the advice of his father, Jim, about improving his "get-off."
Jeffcoat senior was a regular feature in the nightmares of NFL quarterbacks for over a decade. While praising a former member of the Dallas Cowboys is never a comfortable thing, it would be churlish to deny the elder Jeffcoat his status as one of the best situational pass-rushers of his generation.
As for his son, he's shown enough since getting into the lineup late last season to merit a place in Washington's rotation at outside linebacker. A team that registered just 36 sacks in 2014 can't really let a talented quarterback hunter walk.
Frank Kearse Is a Good Fit for This Season's Scheme
After he logged three sacks as a bit-part performer last season, Frank Kearse had already proved himself a pretty useful interior pass-rusher. But an injury this offseason meant the final preseason game would give Kearse the perfect chance to provide a reminder of his skills.
He certainly offered that during extended playing time against the Jags. Kearse lined up at end and showed plenty of push on the pocket, along with being formidable against the run.
Overall, his knack for splitting gaps and creating pressure is still evident, per Jones. That's a trait set to be central to this season's defensive scheme.
Barry is relying on a 3-4 front containing more one-gap principles. All that means is D-linemen will have more license to attack rather than control blockers.
Earlier this offseason, veteran Jason Hatcher confirmed and endorsed the switch in philosophy and technique, per an interview with Redskins Nation host Larry Michael (h/t CSNMidAtlantic.com's Tarik El-Bashir):
I think we’re going to be real aggressive. First of all, we’re going upfield. We ain’t going sideways no more. So we can make a play here and there. I’m excited about that. We’re just not holding a blocker. We’re the attacker now. That will be very good for us.
It's good news for a burly 3-technique like Kearse. Along with Ricky Jean-Francois and Chris Baker, he's going to provide excellent depth at the edges of a tough-looking three-man front.
Pass Defense Still Needs Work
One week after Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and the Baltimore Ravens burned the secondary for some big gains, Jacksonville's reserve offense managed to do the same. Quarterback Stephen Morris connected with wideout Tony Washington on a 40-yard bomb. Fellow receiver Bryan Walters hauled in a 21-yarder.
The plays were further proof that the new-look pass defense still needs work. In some cases, improvements need to be made on a technical level. For others, it's about getting up to speed ahead of the real action.
When it comes to second-year cornerback Bashaud Breeland, he just needs to do both. It was a "rusty" Breeland who was beaten by Washington, per Jones. Obviously, some rust is understandable for a player who has been sidelined with injury.
When Walters reeled in a five-yard scoring pass in the third quarter, Breeland lost him in traffic, according to Jones. He also pointed out some pre-snap "confusion."
These plays aren't meant to single out Breeland. Instead, they merely serve as an illustration of the issues still evident in Washington's revamped defense.
This is a unit clearly capable of the spectacular, but one that also needs to focus on getting the fundamentals right more often. It's a process that has to start with last season's 24th-ranked pass defense.
Spencer Long's Struggles Help Make Sense of Brandon Scherff's Switch
So maybe top draft pick Brandon Scherff moving from right tackle to guard wasn't all about him after all. It's easy to believe it wasn't after watching the way Spencer Long, who had been penciled in to start at guard alongside Scherff, struggled against the Jags.
Long's night of lowlights showed one clear reason why the Redskins moved their top-five pick inside. Yielding pressure from the right guard spot has been a major issue for several seasons while the underwhelming Chris Chester manned that spot.
While Scherff hasn't been free of a few issues, there's just no way Long could be risked based on how he was toyed with by backup Jags D-linemen. Not to put too much of a downer on things, but Long's woes also raise legitimate questions about the quality of depth behind the starters along this season's front five.
Rashad Ross May Be Too Valuable to Cut
OK, so it was only the final preseason game, and against backups no less. But Rashad Ross could hardly have done more to improve his chances of making the final roster.
The young flanker hauled in 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Jags. Better still for Ross, he also showed very useful versatility as a return man on special teams.
Ross "returned four punts for 28 yards," according to Keim. That's a major string to the bow for any receiver looking for a late spot on the depth chart.
Washington still needs solutions in the return game for football's third phase. Ross' clever running and deceptive quickness could offer one solution.
But as Keim notes, it seems unlikely the Redskins "keep six or seven receivers." It's a thought echoed by 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen, who questions whether Ross is really a target who can be rotated into the starting lineup during the season.
If the team does keep six wideouts, rookie Evan Spencer may get the nod, despite currently suffering from a concussion. But the sixth-rounder out of Ohio State has the special teams nous to be a factor for the coverage units.
Yet one thing sure to count in Ross' favor is how his showing against the Jags wasn't an isolated incident this preseason. He's led the team with 25 catches for 266 yards, including snatching a quarter of the touchdowns.
Injured tight end Niles Paul praised the 25-year-old's application and improvement this offseason. Part of those efforts has involved working with DeSean Jackson to improve his route running, according to Jones, writing for the Post.
McNally quotes Gruden stating Ross has been "opening our eyes." There really isn't much more he could have done to earn a spot among the final 53.
The Team Comes First (Finally)
This week was always going to be defined by that not-so-small decision at quarterback. When Gruden benched the younger Robert Griffin III in favor of Kirk Cousins, per ESPN.com, he sent a clear message.
Aside from clarity, it was also a very welcome message. Simply put, ditching Griffin shows decisions are now made in the interests of what is good for the whole team, not just one player.
This is no longer about doing what it takes to make Griffin a better quarterback. The season won't exist for that purpose. The offense won't be designed just to meet that demand.
Instead, Washington's coaches and front office have declared they're ready to see improvement now. No more waiting.
With the preseason wrapped, and the clock ticking on the start of the real stuff, that's the most important development of Washington's offseason.
All statistics and player information via NFL.com.