The Washington Examiner’s John Keim (JK) takes questions from fans about the Redskins’ chances of repeating, how they’ll use the tight ends and his future with the Washington Post (starting July 1), the defensive backfield, rookie potential and more in this installment of “Redskins Mailbag.” It’ll be his final mailbag before joining the Washington Post in July. It was rather long so we broke this one up into two parts. Thank you for the questions
Q: Do you think the redskins can repeat as the division champion?
JK: Sure, why not? There are some ifs involved: If Robert Griffin III stays healthy (though the coaches are very confident in Kirk Cousins); if Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis stay healthy; if Brian Orakpo stays healthy. I think you got the point. Health always plays a vital role. But the return of Orakpo (and Adam Carriker if, yes, he’s healthy) will provide sorely-needed pass rush help and that should impact the overall pass defense. I don’t trust Dallas to be that good. Philadelphia has a new coach and I don’t care how smart Chip Kelly is, it’s an adjustment coming to the NFL. Plus his QB is brittle. The Eagles are intriguing though because they do have some weapons. The Giants are the one constancy in the division these days. But it’s not like there are 3 formidable teams here; so if the Redskins have good fortune with health then they should be in contention.
Q: John who has more carries in 2013. RG3 or helu and royster combined?
JK: That question should have made me think for more than a minute, but I didn’t. I’m just not sold that both will be on the roster this year. Helu’s injuries are a concern; Royster is just a guy and much more effective as a full-time back than as a third-down guy. But he won’t be a full-time back unless Alfred Morris is hurt. If Helu does play, he’ll be more of a third-down back. If both are on the roster? It would then depend on Morris’ ability to stay healthy. I still think Griffin will run quite a bit. People forget that many times those runs were his decisions: passing up throws to scramble. And they will keep the zone read. So it’s not inconceivable that he runs around 70 times.
Q: Assuming everyone stays healthy, does the pass defense improve enough to take some pressure off the offense to score 30+ a game?
JK: I don’t know if the offense felt pressure to score that much or not. I think they just were explosive so that was the result. Yes, it was needed (they were 6-1 in games scoring 30 or more and 2-2 when both teams scored at least 30). But they also had that sort of firepower. Offenses like to score. They did so with a balanced attack, too. Having said all that, yes the defense can improve enough to where the team can win more consistently with an off game. Two years ago they ranked 12th in total yards and 13th in pass yards allowed. Last year it was 28th in total yards and 30th in passing yards. Will the return of Brian Orakpo and, possibly, Adam Carriker help that much? Don’t forget about Brandon Meriweather too. They will have an impact and make this unit better – if they all stay healthy. So the long-winded answer is yes.
Q: Who do you think will end up being the starting FS maybe I think Tanard Jackson will eventually will in middle of year.
JK: I really don’t know who will open at season’s start. It’s tough to say without seeing the rookies, but I do know how hard the transition is for rookie safeties, especially players picked in the mid- to lower rounds. They both have flaws and the toughest position to gauge in camp is safety; need to see them in game action. I still lean toward one of the veterans, whether it’s DeJon Gomes or Jordan Pugh or Reed Doughty. I also think they did a good job rotating safeties depending on the situation and would expect that to continue. There’s no way to know about Jackson because he will have been out of football for a year – and no contact with the organization. If he’s reinstated and in shape, he can help. But at what point will all that happen? No idea.
Q: Will Santana moss be on this roster in September?
JK: Don’t see why not. Last year he was in real trouble, but he responded well. I don’t see a legit replacement for him yet; that could change this summer. But Moss is a proven, reliable target who thrived on third downs last year. Robert Griffin III trusted him. Moss does well from the slot. And by reducing his workload it’s allowed him to be more durable (at least last year). That was always a knock on him in the past.
Q: What will our secondary look like in week 1? Reasonable expectations for Biggers, Crawford, Amerson, Rambo and Thomas?
JK: Good question. I think there are four locks at corner (Hall, Wilson, Amerson, Biggers) with Richard Crawford as the fifth player. Chase Minnifield is interesting, but we haven’t seen him in action this spring and he’s coming off two major knee surgeries, so with him you have to keep every finger crossed. At safety, I see Meriweather, Doughty and at least one of the two rookies. Gomes needs to improve, but he’s good on special teams. Bernstine is coming off a very bad knee injury too and that could be an issue. Jordan Pugh did a nice job coming in off the street last season. As for reasonable expectations: Biggers and Amerson should be the Nos. 3 and 4 corners, not necessarily in that order. I’m anxious to see more of Amerson. Rambo and Thomas? One of them should work his way into the rotation. But to expect them to be immediate starters would be unreasonable. It’s rare when that happens for players picked where they were at this position. Could it happen? Of course; anything can. Both have lots to learn/prove before I’d be ready to trust them as the last line of defense. We’ll learn a lot more about them when they must come up and tackle from deep during preseason games.
Q: Let’s talk about the impact of the tight ends this year. Will they be effective in year two of RG3?
JK: As long as Fred Davis is healthy they will be. Davis was not on pace for the same amount of catches he had in 2011 with Rex Grossman and John Beck. But the passing game is designed to get downfield and with Pierre Garcon that still will be the emphasis. But if Jordan Reed can help, and I don’t know how long it will take him to be a threat, then the Redskins will have the ability to create mismatches that will lead to big plays. The way this offense moves defenders around and fools their eyes, it’s easy to lose sight of the tight end at times.
Q: How can Kyle use Reed/Davis to open up the passing game?
JK: Well, it allows you to keep two athletic tight ends in a base package, which means if you have two tight ends and two running backs in the game, the defense is in a bind. That’s a running formation, but with this group it can be an effective passing look, too. In that look it will create mismatches. Reed has the ability to split out wide and be effective because he can run like a receiver. I saw him run routes from the line at Florida, but if you line him up there it’s a giveaway that a pass is likely coming because he can’t block. You could line him up in the backfield a la Aaron Hernandez (they did this at times last year with Niles Paul) and create another mismatch. But I also think if Davis and Reed come through you simply have two more athletic tight ends catching passes than you did at the end of last season. That alone opens anything up.
Q: Is any OL pick from last year cracking the starting line up this year? Also the RT position is up for grabs?
JK: Not initially. Not a good sign for Josh LeRibeus that he’s missed a lot of the OTAs because of a sore hamstring/groin (he said hamstring; Mike Shanahan said groin). I don’t see Adam Gettis making that sort of stride. Tom Compton is intriguing, but it would be asking a lot to go from practice squad to NFL starter in a year. He wasn’t promoted to the active roster until early December. The right tackle job belongs to Tyler Polumbus, but he does not have a firm hold on the position. There’s a reason they signed two veterans (albeit one’s with shaky recent pasts) and nearly let Polumbus go to Jacksonville (Shanahan definitely wanted him back, however). So up for grabs? Not quite. But etched in stone? Don’t think so.
Q: Any chance that one of the Draft picks is not on the 53 or PS come September? If so, who? With losing Special Teams stud Lorenzo Alexander and Banks off the roster, are the Skins more apt to keep 4 TEs with Paul being their Special teams ace along with Doughty? Any chance we see Aldrick Robinson returning kicks with his speed this year? Favorite Preseason player you were shocked to see not make the team? (my personal answer was Marcus mason)
Boone Hosey in Morgantown WV
JK: 1) Sure there’s a chance. If Chris Thompson shows he isn’t healthy or struggles in this area he could end up on injured reserve or just cut. Long way to go before that’s the case and with his speed and explosive ability it would take a lot for them to just release him (same reason they kept Chase Minnifield around). Or maybe the running backs have a healthy summer and Jawan Jamison is picked up by another team. 2) Yes, I think they are. Mike Shanahan already said as much after the draft. They love Niles Paul on special teams. They also want to see how he responds after having a year at tight end and now a good offseason to work on what he’s learned. 3) Doubt it. He’s been a disaster trying to field punts (he worked on it during his rookie year and didn’t look much better last summer) and had little experience doing it in college. 3) Geez, don’t really have any off the top of my head. I’d have to think awfully hard about this one. I liked Marcus, but he had a tough time learning the plays from what I was told.
Q: What is more important for RG3′s health, fewer designed runs or better pass blocking by the right tackle?
JK: The right tackle was not the only one getting beat or allowing pressure, but, yes, better pass protection there would help no doubt. But so, too, would better decision making from Griffin. Or, rather, not relying on his legs. There were a number of times, especially early in the season, where guys were open and in his line of vision yet he failed to throw the ball and ran instead. That includes the play where he suffered a concussion vs. Atlanta (Josh Morgan was open in the back of the end zone; tough throw, but a highly make-able one). The designed runs that looked the most brutal for him were the QB draws, not the zone read option runs. Really, the best way Griffin can protect himself is by evolving as a passer. Part of that includes pulling the trigger more often than he did. And I’m not talking about guys who were open in a narrow window, either.