Rounding Up Washington Redskins Offseason Buzz Post-Minicamps
Free of the Mike Shanahan circus, how are key Redskins like Robert Griffin III and Brian Orakpo looking in camp?
How is Jay Gruden's transition from offensive coordinator to head coach coming along?
Let's take a look at the news coming out of Washington. Here is the offseason buzz surrounding the Redskins following minicamp.
Injuries on Defensive Line
One of the many weaknesses on an already shoddy defense last season, Washington's defensive line is supposed to be a strength in 2014 with the signing of Jason Hatcher.
Stephen Bowen went as far as to declare to ESPN 980's Chris Russell, (h/t ESPN.com's John Keim), that the Redskins could have "the most dominant D-Line in the NFL."
While padless practices aren't the ideal place to gauge such assertions, it would've been nice to see how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett planned on deploying his line.
Unfortunately, health issues arose.
Barry Cofield is recovering from hernia surgery and is eyeing a training camp return, per Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
Then there's Hatcher and Bowen.
Bowen is still recovering from the microfracture knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2013 season. As for Washington's marquee free-agent acquisition, Hatcher will miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
With a recovery timeline that puts his availability at the start of training camp into question, the 32-year-old squelched any concern that this injury would impact his inaugural season in Washington, tweeting:
My knee is ok. It's minor I'll be ready to kill quarterbacks when the season starts. Just a Lil bump in the road. God is good!! #HTTR— Jason Hatcher (@hatcher97) June 17, 2014
Seeing as their defense is reliant on the performance of their front seven, the Redskins can expect a repeat performance on defense in 2013 if such injuries linger through the regular season.
An Improving Brian Orakpo?
As any athlete will tell you, money talks.
After amassing 39.5 sacks in his first five seasons in Washington, Brian Orakpo had to expect a contract that would entrench him as a cornerstone of the team's defense.
Instead, Orakpo received the dreaded franchise tag.
Along with the comments Gruden made at league meetings in late March, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post, this is a move that signals the team's desire for Orakpo to further prove his being worth a long-term deal.
While he relayed to Jones that "he's already proven in this league," Orakpo is gearing up to call Washington's bluff.
Docked by former Redskins pass-rusher Dexter Manley for his lack of pass-rushing moves in an interview with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier (h/t CBS DC), Orakpo has been working with linebackers coach Brian Baker on improving this aspect of his game.
In an interview with USA Today's Jim Corbett, Orakpo highlighted specifically what he's been working on:
I'm working on my hands and footwork coordination — it's brand new for me. It's teaching me how to work my man. ... I love to be so versatile when I rush. I'm still keeping that same aggression, that same speed off the edge with proper hand use — working half the man with proper hand placements on the offensive tackle.
Needing to mask its mediocre secondary with a strong pass rush, Washington is banking on Orakpo's improvement leading to a higher sack total, even if it leads to a substantial hit on owner Dan Snyder's checkbook in 2015.
Meet London Fletcher's Replacement: Keenan Robinson
Although he was originally eyed as the heir apparent to London Fletcher after being selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Keenan Robinson's ascension to the starting lineup is more than surprising in the wake of two injury-plagued seasons.
Robinson missed 21 of 32 games in that time. What little action he did receive was almost exclusively on special teams.
After the signings of Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton, it appeared that this would again be the case in 2014.
Instead, he's been the star on Washington's practice field this offseason. Just look at what Gruden had to say to Joesph White of the Associated Press, (h/t Fredericksburg.com), about Robinson: “Just from a short period of time, he’s one of the guys on the field that stands out: ‘Is that Keenan again?’”
After lacking a linebacker who was viable in coverage last season, Robinson gives Haslett a player who can athletically match up with opposing tight ends.
Set to face the likes of Jason Witten and Brent Celek in the NFC East, Robinson's emergence could pay immediate dividends in the team's pursuit of the division crown.
No Sophomore Slump for Jordan Reed
Despite only playing in nine games, Reed tallied 49 receptions, 499 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season.
Although it was Garcon who had the record-breaking season, it was Reed who had the best rapport with Griffin. According to Sporting Charts, Reed had the highest percentage (75) of targeted passes caught on the team.
While Reed's production may be overlooked in the public eye, it's not lost on his coaches.
After previously utilizing pass-catching tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert during his stint with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gruden has high hopes for Reed.
“He’s a guy that is very much needed," he said.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall went as far to tell Reid that "a lot of [linebackers and defensive backs] just don’t know what to do with a big guy [Reed] like that.”
With teams being occupied on the outside with Jackson and Garcon, expect Reed to cause havoc alongside Andre Roberts in the middle of the field.
Improved Special Teams
The return unit, the kick coverage, you name it: Washington's special teams unit was beyond inadequate last season.
The team surrendered a league-worst 16.8 yards per punt return in 2013. And to cap off this unit's ineptitude, tight end Niles Paul and aged veteran Santana Moss were the leading return men.
Identifying this weakness shortly after his hire, Gruden applauded his players for the improvement they've shown in minicamp in comments he made to Andrew Walker of Redskins.com:
The special team periods have been very beneficial. I think you can see people working and buying in and really excited to go to the drills, actually. They’re really doing a good job. And Ben and [Assistant Special Teams] Coach [Bradford] Banta are doing an excellent job of organizing the drills and of course the other assistant coaches are doing a nice job of taking it very seriously because we know how much of an impact special teams has on a football game.
While it remains to be seen how improved this unit is at covering kicks, the talent level of the team's return men is undeniable.
Even if it's only in spot duty, DeSean Jackson has shown his worth as a return man. In Chris Thompson and rookie Lache Seastrunk, the Redskins have two more explosive talents to utilize.
Although he lacked reps as a returner in college, Seastrunk's effectiveness in the open field makes it plausible that he can hack it as a return man. As for Thompson, he's already demonstrated what he can do.
Last preseason, he had a 69-yard punt-return touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If they're to become the latest worst-to-first story in the NFL, any gains on special teams would bolster the Redskins' chances at contending in 2014.