1. This feels like a make-or-break season for Robert Griffin III, to say the least. Is time starting to run out for him as the starting quarterback of the Redskins unless he drastically turns things around?
You hit the nail on the head. This season is the big one for RGIII. He's had a sensational rookie year followed by two disappointing, injury-riddled ones. Now we're entering year four and people still aren't quite sure what to make of him. The Redskins have decided to extend him the $16 million offer to pick up his fifth-year option for next season. What that means is that he can be cut without receiving that money, he can play next year for $16 million and become a free agent or the two sides can come to terms on a long-term agreement. The caveat is that if RGIII gets seriously injured this season, there's a chance that the team will be on the hook to pay him that $16 million next year, regardless. So what's going to happen? Well, one of three things, most likely:
- RGIII has an outstanding season and shows the world that he's an excellent NFL QB capable of staying healthy and leading a team to victories. In this case, I'd assume the team would try to lock him up long term after the season.
- RGIII could have an okay season in which he plays better than the two seasons prior, but not nearly as good as 2012. In this case, he's probably given another year to see if he continues his growth, basically prolonging the decision on whether he's the QB "for the future."
- Or, he could perform miserably and be cut, in which case the 'Skins would have a new QB in 2016.
So yeah, this year is huge for Robert. It'll be very important for him to stay healthy and then also perform at least adequately.
2. What are your thoughts on the job Jay Gruden has done so far as head coach of the Redskins?
My opinion on Jay Gruden right now is mixed... probably a lot like most Redskins fans. There's simply no questioning that he did a poor job last year. The team went 4-12, he tried to act as the head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in his first season as a head coach, he publicly berated RGIII and some other players, etc. It wasn't good and it seemed Jay was in over his head.
However, it was his first year as a head coach. Plenty of people don't dominate a job they've never done before in their first year doing it but then learn and progress to become good. Jay has that chance this year. We've hired a quarterbacks coach to take some responsibility off of his plate. Bill Callahan (former head coach) was hired to take over the offensive line and presumably have major input in the running game. Scot McCloughan was hired -- the first real general manager the 'Skins have had since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999 -- to actually build a roster and provide some talent for Jay to work with. All of these things should aid Jay in year two and probably should have been done for him in year one.
So we start fresh. Major improvement is expected in year two. No one (okay, no one being realistic with themselves) expects the Redskins to be contenders this year. If the team goes out and wins seven games, no one is going to be super bummed. It's basically expected. But for Jay, it's about more than wins. He needs to show composure. He needs to dedicate himself to running the ball. Too often last year our team completely abandoned the run game and it was a huge mistake. Jay's mistake. He needs to be more in control publicly and in the locker room. If he can do these things while winning a few more games, then he'll probably have shown enough improvement to warrant another year or two. If not...
Well, if not, things could be changing. Jay signed a five-year contract when he was hired for something like $20 million. Sure, he can be fired. Dan Snyder has fired coaches while owing them plenty of money still before. Adding to that is the fact that we have a new general manager and Jay Gruden wasn't his choice for head coach. If he fails again, it'd seem his seat would be very hot with a new general manager who may want his own choice at head coach. After last year, fans aren't giving him a lot of leash, and if we have another disastrous season like last year, people will be calling for his head, and they may get their wish...
3. How is the Washington defense shaping up for the 2015 season?
Everyone is very excited about our defense this year. After way too many seasons of Jim Haslett as our defensive coordinator, he was let go this offseason. People rejoiced. Our defense has been bad for a while now and was bad basically ever since he took over in 2010. Everyone was very excited at the prospect of getting a new defensive coordinator.
Well, we got one, but people are having mixed feelings. The team hired Joe Barry to be the defensive coordinator this year. Joe worked in Tampa Bay with head coach Jay Gruden and team president Bruce Allen. Redskins fans fear cronyism because we're very used to people being hired based on previous connections as opposed to merit. Joe doesn't have a lot of merit. He was a defensive coordinator for only two years prior to joining the Redskins and they were back in 2007 and 2008 with, well, y'all know about Barry. 0-16 was a brutal year for you guys, and anyone associated with that team has a hard time shaking that from their resume. That didn't stop the 'Skins, though. So, we try to tell ourselves that that was in the past, you guys didn't have talent and he's learned and grown since then. We'll see. Everyone is trying to keep an open mind.
Beyond the coaching change, though, we're pumped about the defensive additions on the field. Everyone in D.C. loves new general manager Scot McCloughan. Partially because he's great at the job, but partially because we haven't even had a general manager in so long. Hard to believe, I know. Well Scot basically dedicated his first free agency period to our defense and it was like watching a home run derby. Our defensive line has been significantly bolstered by the addition of nose tackle Terrance Knighton. He's arguably the best NT in the league and we got him on a one-year, $4 million deal. It's crazy. We also went out and got defensive end Stephen Paea, who is just entering his prime, from the Chicago Bears and then added solid depth with guys like DE Ricky Jean-Francois. We're also thrilled that last year's free agency prize, DE Jason Hatcher, is healthy this year.
On the outside of those guys we have the most stacked group of outside linebackers we've probably ever had. OLB Ryan Kerrigan was just re-signed to a long-term deal and is arguably our best player. Opposite of him we just stumbled into the troubled yet extremely talented/productive OLB Junior Galette. Everyone knows about Junior's off-the-field baggage, but on the field he's a dynamo. We also managed to get him for a one-year deal at the veteran's minimum. Great work by our front office on a move that has very low risk and very high potential reward. Behind those guys we have last year's second-round pick, OLB Trent Murphy, who led the NCAA in sacks, and this year's second-round pick, OLB Preston Smith. Our defensive front is looking very stacked on paper and everyone is very excited about it.
The concern lies in the secondary. McCloughan did another excellent job securing cornerback Chris Culliver from the San Francisco 49ers. He's also entering his prime and immediately comes in as our CB1.
The rest of our CB group has been hit hard by injury. CB Bashaud Breeland had an incredible rookie season last year and was primed to be one of our primary play-makers this year. In fact, he still is, but he's been suspended for Week 1 (marijuana) and hurt his knee early in training camp and will miss the entire preseason. We still have CB DeAngelo Hall, but he's 31 now, coming off of two Achilles injuries over the past year, and has missed a lot of time in camp for a variety of injuries. Who knows how he'll hold up, but he hasn't looked great so far. To add insult to injury (literally) we drafted CB Tevin Mitchel in the sixth round, he got injured, out for the season and then when he was waived with the intent of making it through waivers and going to our injured reserve, he was claimed by the Indianapolis Colts.
Safety has been our biggest problem area since the death of Sean Taylor and that was addressed by bringing in free safety Dashon Goldson. He was great a few years ago and bad the past two seasons, so we'll see...
Overall, I'd say our defense should be drastically improved (ranked 20th last year) and will probably be a top 10-15 defense this year. That's the expectation right now, anyway.
4. On Thursday night, what are the main position battles that Redskins fans will be watching?
Somewhat surprisingly, the Redskins don't have a ton of starting position battles going on right now. Basically there are only two question marks and both are on defense. Fans aren't sure whether Trent Murphy or Junior Galette will start at outside linebacker opposite of Ryan Kerrigan. Certainly both will get plenty of playing time, but it's hard to say who will start at this point. Galette isn't playing against the Lions on Thursday and is targeting a return in our third preseason game. So fans will be watching Murphy closely. Also, strong safety is a bit of a question mark. Duke Ihenacho has been the starter throughout camp, but many believed that Jeron Johnson would start over him after coming here in free agency this offseason. Well J.J. has been banged up and missed our first preseason game. Duke's the starter right now, but if J.J. really impresses, it's feasible that he could take the starting job.
There is one very interesting battle going on that isn't for a starting job that will be a lot of fun to watch, though. It's the battle to be the backup quarterback. Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy have been neck-and-neck all offseason and have basically been alternating reps with the twos and threes the entire time. Kirk got to play with the twos for a majority of the game last Thursday against the Cleveland Browns and performed very well. Colt closed out the game and didn't fare as well. This week, they're switching. So expect to see a lot of McCoy with Cousins closing out the game. Kirk got a leg up on the QB2 spot last week, but Colt will get his shot against you guys.
5. Who are some under-the-radar players on the Redskins worth keeping an eye on this preseason?
Keep an eye on our entire tight end situation. Coming into the season, our TE depth chart looked like: TE1 Niles Paul, TE2 Jordan Reed, TE3 Logan Paulsen. Well, Paul and Paulsen are both out for the year already. So Reed is the presumed starter, but he's been hurt all preseason, too. He may or may not make his return Thursday, but we're still waiting to find out for sure. So there are definite openings on the team for TEs and guys like Je'Ron Hamm, Chase Dixon and Devin Mahina will get the opportunity to show what they can do Thursday. We also went out and signed D.J. Williams and Ernst Brun at the position, but neither will be ready to play by Thursday.
I'd also say keep an eye on the right side of our offensive line. Morgan Moses is our new starter at right tackle and No. 5 overall pick Brandon Scherff, who started camp at RT, has been moved to right guard. That's a lot of inexperience and a lot of power on that side of the line. They'll be fun to watch. Another area of interest is our backup running backs. Matt Jones is a third-round rookie and he's been great so far. We also have two little guys in Chris Thompson and Trey Williams who are a lot of fun to watch. Our RBs are very solid and, in my opinion, a little underrated.
Defensively, keep an eye on inside linebacker Martrell Spaight, inside linebacker Terrance Plummer, and safety Kyshoen Jarrett late in the game. Spaight and Jarrett were draft picks (fifth round and sixth round, respectively) and Plummer was an undrafted free agent. All three performed very well against Cleveland last week and are fun to watch. All three are fighting for roster spots, contribute on special teams and were brought in by our new GM... so there's optimism.