As the first week closes, a few things I’m thinking:
- I know the popular notion is that Alfred Morris starts at running back. I sort of believe that, but I’m not full-in just yet. If I had to pick I’d lean toward him for the same reasons as everyone else. But I’m also stuck on the notion that he’s a rookie who was uneven in pass protection this summer and needs more experience in that role. Thing is, are the other two that much better than him in this area? There are ways to help and he’s a quick learner so perhaps it’s not an issue. But I won’t be surprised by anything they do with their backs on Sunday.
- I would expect Roy Helu to be the one who gets more consistent touches if only because he offers more speed.
- What sort of impact will Raheem Morris have – not just Sunday but overall? Players have talked about how much different their defense will be this season because 10 of the 11 starters Sunday will have played in the system for at least a year. Five of those players (I’m including safety DeJon Gomes, whom I expect to start Sunday) had no offseason to learn the system in 2011. It makes a huge difference. Now, back to Morris. He not only knows how to defend the Saints (they failed to score more than 27 in either game vs. his Bucs last season), but perhaps he’ll clean up some of the secondary issues. The coverages haven’t always complemented the aggressive play calls.
- Chris Cooley coming back? I’ll believe it when I see it. But there’s no reason for the Redskins to even bring this up two days before the season opener if there’s zero merit. The timing, though, is odd and I wonder why they’d even bring it up at all. I still think a few things have to happen before he returns.
- Robert Griffin III’s arrival is fun even for someone like me who has covered this team for, well, a while. He’ll make the season interesting even if the Redskins stumble to the finish line again. Who doesn’t want to see how he pans out in the NFL? And if he does, the NFL has an unbelievable talent to market. I mean, even more than he already is.
- I’m curious to see how Griffin handles third downs… and red zone passing … and third-and-long situations. Quarterbacks who excel in these areas lead teams to playoffs and play in Pro Bowls.
- I’m curious what they’ll do at left guard Sunday with Kory Lichtensteiger. Coach Mike Shanahan said he’s ready to play; he never told us officially that ‘Steiger was starting. And there’s a chance it could be a rotation with guard Maurice Hurt. Shanahan is so secretive sometimes that it makes you wonder about everything. Lichtensteiger has worked awfully hard to get back to this point.
- What sort of impact will Will Smith have (and how awkward is that sentence)? He’s the Saints best pass rusher, but Smith has just 12 combined sacks the past two seasons (after 13 three years ago). He’s a good player, but Redskins left tackle Trent Williams sees better pass rushers every week in the NFC East. Smith clearly helps because it puts a better player on the field. And the emotional aspect of his presence has to be big. But I don’t think you can say: Now the Redskins’ offense is doomed.
- Josh Morgan should start ahead of Leonard Hankerson. He earned it; plus I like Morgan’s blocking. With Morgan and Pierre Garcon, the Redskins have two excellent blockers on the perimeter. The stretch zone fails without receivers who block.
- You want hope for Sunday? Here it is. The Saints’ defense, which hasn’t been very good the past two years, has a new coordinator. So a team that was built for a Gregg Williams D – they played a lot of man – is now run by a coordinator who uses more zone in Steve Spagnuolo. Transitions take time. And it’s not as if Spagnuolo was a magician in St. Louis with his defenses: The Rams ranked 29th, 19th and 22nd in his tenure. Spags is respected, but he had wonderful talent in New York too. It matters. One longtime NFL coach told me, “I’d be surprised if RG3 doesn’t have a big day.”
- By the way, Fred Davis has to be licking his chops over the matchup with safety Roman Harper. That’s a tough matchup for Harper.
- One thing I like: No chatter about what a different team the Redskins are this season compared to years past. No predictions of division titles. Maybe they’re ready to just go and play? I think some of these players have realized they’ve been burned by saying the same things over and over in the past. Time to prove it.
To subscribe to my weekly email report, click here.