By Ken Meringolo, OFN contributor from HogsHaven.com
2016 (8-7-1)…Even though the Washington Redskins failed to qualify for a second consecutive playoff appearance while finishing third in the NFC East, they did post back-to-back winning seasons (9-7 in 2015) for the first time in almost 20 years.
Owner Daniel Snyder…Purchased the franchise as well as their home stadium (FedEx Field) in 1999; serves on six NFL committees including for the Hall of Fame, in which he’s a member of their Board of Trustees.
President Bruce Allen…Arrived with the organization in 2009 as the team’s GM; Allen eventually started running the team following the dismissal of Mike Shanahan in 2013 and then became their team president in 2014; he then relinquished his role as GM the following year when Scot McCloughan was hired for the same position; came to Washington after serving five years as Tampa Bay’s GM; Allen is the son of Hall of Fame Coach George Allen; he was also a record-breaking punter at the University of Richmond.
HC Jay Gruden…4th-year; previously spent three seasons as OC for Cincinnati; originally made a name for himself in the Arena Football League as a Hall of Fame inductee while capturing four championships as a QB and two as a HC; carries the dubious honor of being the first head coach that Dan Snyder has ever signed to an extension; younger brother of SB-winning HC, Jon Gruden; Louisville Grad.
OC Matt Cavanaugh…1st-year as coordinator after spending previous two years as the team’s QB coach; three-time Super Bowl Champion including two as a player (49ers and Giants) and one as the OC with the Ravens in 2001; college starting quarterback for the 1976 National Champion, Pittsburgh Panthers.
DC Greg Manusky…1st-year as coordinator after serving last year as the team’s OLB coach; sixth-year as a player or coach in the Redskins organization; participated in 113 consecutive games during a 12-year NFL playing career that included stops in Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City; Colgate grad.
Senior VP of Player Personnel Doug Williams…This is Williams’ fourth year in D.C. and first in this role; was the HC at his alma mater Grambling State for nine seasons where he compiled a 62-31 record; before becoming a coach or an executive, Williams was an NFL QB who was a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs; following a brief stint in the USFL, Williams returned to the NFL and led the Redskins to a win in Super Bowl XXI and was named the game’s MVP.
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula are both former head coaches who are regarded as among the best at their current respective positions.
RB Samaje Perine
TE Jeremy Sprinkle
WR Terrelle Pryor
DL Jonathan Allen
DL Terrell McClain
DL Stacy McGee
DL Phil Taylor
LB Ryan Anderson
LB Zach Brown
CB Fabian Moreau
S D.J. Swearinger
WR Pierre Garcon
WR DeSean Jackson
DE Chris Baker
DE Ricky Jean-Francois
QB…The Redskins used the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins for a second consecutive year, happily guaranteeing $24 million to the quarterback who, in back-to-back years, has set and reset the franchises single-season passing-yards record. Gruden and Cousins have developed into an efficient coach/signal-caller duo, but will need to duplicate their recent successes this season without previous coordinator Sean McVay, who’s now head coach of the Rams. Colt McCoy serves as the primary backup in a traditional caddie role while Nate Sudfeld was drafted for grooming potential. Sudfeld, the second-year man from Indiana could be on the outside looking in should the team decide to only carry two QBs.
RB…Second-year player Robert Kelley—an undrafted free agent out of Tulane—has climbed the depth chart and enters the season as the starter, but look for this three-man backfield to compete for touches all season unless someone can emerge. Chris Thompson, one of the better third-down backs in the league, will be relied upon as the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. Rookie fourth-round pick Samaje Perine has showed well early in preseason. The all-time leading rusher out of Oklahoma will factor into the Redskins red-zone rushing attack and will likely begin to siphon carries away from Kelley as the season wears on.
TE…It’s no secret that the Redskins offense revolves around Jordan Reed, one of the most athletic tight ends in the league. In some circles he’s mentioned in the same breath as Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, which underscores his importance to Washington’s success. Reed has struggled to stay healthy though while failing to play 16 games in a season over his four years in the league. Even though Vernon Davis is second on the depth chart, he sees the field plenty in double-tight-end sets. Niles Paul, Derek Carrier and rookie Jeremy Sprinkle are all vying for roster spots with Sprinkle having the inside track thanks to his combination of size and athleticism. Sprinkle is also having a great camp, which should make it hard to leave the talented young player off the final roster.
WR…Washington’s top-two receivers last year, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, ended up departing in the offseason. Looking for immediate help the Redskins signed former Ohio State and Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal to handle the No. 1 duties here. Pryor is coming off a career-year in Cleveland where he tallied 1,007-yards on 77-receptions. The Redskins are also hoping that 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson can prove he’s finally healthy and ready to lock down the No. 2 role. Doctson was a record-breaking receiver at TCU who displayed terrific hands and elite ball-skills that eventually warranted his high selection with the Redskins. Now he needs to prove the pick was worthy. Jamison Crowder returns as a key player from the slot after leading the team with seven touchdowns last season. If anything happens to the top three, Ryan Grant is hoping he can fill a role after waiting in the wings the past three seasons. After losing their top two receivers to free agency (Garcon and Jackson), the Redskins want to believe with the help of the talented Cousins they can just plug-and-play with a mostly new core. If Pryor can prove he’s the elite receiver that his size and speed infer, then things should loosen up for Doctson and Crowder, suggesting that this younger group of receivers can help produce for this offense just fine.
OL…Considered one of the top-two left tackles in the game, Trent Williams anchors what’s become an above average unit the past few seasons. Third-year guard Brandon Scherff has lived up to his first-round selection with solid play on the interior and Morgan Moses has developed into a very serviceable right tackle. Shaun Lauvao, who’s looked healthy this summer, should start at the other guard spot while Spencer Long enters his first full season as the team’s starting center after making the switch early in 2016. Considered one of the top swing-tackle backups in the league last season, Ty Nsekhe returned in free agency and provides the unit with a measure of insurance.
DL…Considered the weakness of the Redskins defense last season, this unit has been almost completely rebuilt. The team used its first-round draft pick on last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year from Alabama, Jonathan Allen, and signed free agent’s Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. Former first-round cast-off’s Ziggy Hood and Phil Taylor should add experience and leadership to the unit, while second-year tackle Matt Ioannidis has reportedly benefited greatly from being around the veterans all summer. Keep an eye on Taylor, who briefly retired from the game before storming back to health and becoming what looks like the team’s starting nose tackle. It may not look like it on paper, but there’s plenty of talent here for new line coach Jim Tomsula to mold.
LB…The 3-4 defense relies heavily on its outside rushers and the Redskins have leaned heavily on Ryan Kerrigan to stay productive for them on the weak side (58 ½ sacks in six seasons) since drafting him in the first-round in 2011. Third-year player Preston Smith is trying to prove he’s no bust by trying to rebound from a mediocre campaign on the strong side. Perhaps the most intriguing outside linebacker for the Redskins is Junior Galette, a player who’s missed the last two seasons with separate Achilles injuries. Galette registered 22-sacks during his final two seasons combined in New Orleans before ending up in D.C. with the Skins. Rounding out the outside group is rookie second-round pick, Ryan Anderson, a thumper and one-man wrecking crew out of Alabama who will hopefully excel as a pass rusher here. On the inside, expect holdovers Will Compton and Mason Foster to battle for reps amongst each other as newly acquired Zach Brown, who enjoyed a Pro Bowl season last year with the Bills, takes over a spot. Martrell Spaight has flashed in the preseason and figures to provide solid depth in his fourth-year here.
DB…If everything falls into place, this secondary has a chance to be arguably the team’s best in almost 20 years. Josh Norman leads the way as the team’s true shutdown corner after arriving last offseason from Carolina’s Super Bowl runner-up team. Norman’s dominance put added pressure and targets against the other starting corner, Bashaud Breeland. Breeland needs to take a big step though following a shaky performance last season. But if he falters, the future here appears bright nonetheless thanks to a pair of talented players like Kendall Fuller and rookie Fabian Moreau. Both Fuller and Moreau are former third-round bargains who dropped down draft boards due to injuries. Quinton Dunbar, Dashaun Phillips and rookie 7th-round pick Joshua Holsey will battle it out for the final spot/s. At safety, second-year man Su’a Cravens looks to make a smooth transition from inside linebacker. His speed and athleticism should serve him well as will his quality back-mate and free-agent pick-up, D.J. Swearinger. Swearinger provides the type of legitimacy the Redskins haven’t experienced back here for a decade. Veteran Will Blackmon provides solid depth while aging DeAngelo Hall remains determined to make a contribution. Also keep an eye on another rookie, fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson. With many new parts it will be interesting to see how fast this group can learn and function together at a high level. But with the talent being far superior to many other secondary’s this franchise has seen over the years, there’s a better chance than not that they’ll find a way to make it work.
Tress Way has been locked-in as the Redskins punter the past three seasons and boasts a solid 46.8 career average. Dustin Hopkins is looking to rebound from a disappointing campaign where he only connected on 81% of his field goal attempts. The punt-return game is in good hands thanks to the Pro Bowl performance last season from Jamison Crowder.
The 2017 Washington Redskins will likely go as far as Kirk Cousins can take them. But Cousins can’t do it all which is why other new contributors like Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Junior Galette, Kendall Fuller and Su’a Cravens need to step-up and utilize their high-ceiling abilities for this team to have a chance at success for a third straight season.
There are two major areas – one each from both sides of the ball – to keep an eye on if the Redskins do actually stand a chance of contending. On offense, the new Jay Gruden-led unit needs to make major strides in the red-zone area after ranking 29th in the league last year at 45.9%. And on defense, new coordinator Greg Manusky needs to find a way to get his unit off the field on third down more after they were historically bad in that department last season, ranking dead-last in the league at 46.6%.