- I am generally somewhat judicious when it comes to rolling out the annual, “We made it!” declaration. You start to hear it every year around this time of the summer, even though...we have not made it yet. Training camp does begin this week for the Redskins, but for me, we have not “made it” until sometime in August (late August). These early training camp days constitute the appetizer before the meal that isn’t officially served until the season kicks off. Still, it is amazing how the conversation changes when players actually take the field. To that end, this week marks a very important shift for us all. Though we won’t escape folks framing up every day as a referendum on what our quarterback is worth in a long term deal, meaningful storylines will emerge that will draw our focus...thankfully. To that end, I have credited Kirk Cousins the last couple weeks with providing MASSIVE cover for a handful of players that would otherwise be coming into this season with FAR greater scrutiny. Here are some of those names, and we will spend time on this subject on tomorrow’s episode of The Audible.
- When you are able to pair the Best Player Available strategy with filling your team’s greatest need—something the Redskins achieved in the first round of the 2017 draft—that player is going to stroll into town with a rather heavy burden. Jonathan Allen is a monster athlete that has put the kind of performances on film that make football experts swoon. He joins a defensive unit that struggled MIGHTILY to do a number of essential jobs last year. From a mediocre pass rush to the inability to get off the field on third down, the Redskins defense in 2016 failed regularly to help themselves. (The Skins finished in the top ten in total sacks and middle of the pack in total interceptions, but again, it was the lack of timely plays that allowed drive after drive to continue against them.) If you live in Farmington, NM, you heard me spell out this idea that Allen is coming into camp very much under the radar, which is crazy given he was once thought of as one of the top two picks in the draft (shout to Steve Bortstein at Fox Sports). Perhaps there is no greater beneficiary of the Kirk Cousins drama than Jonathan Allen, a player that in any other year would be our obsession from May through August. Instead, his story has very much been muted, and I am arguing that is a pretty amazing gift.
- When it comes to what fans expect of a particular player coming into camp, Junior Galette knows very well the intensity that accompanies such expectations. As an accomplished pass rusher in the NFL, his initial arrival to Redskins Park was celebrated as the move that would lead our defense into the backfield for sack parties on the regular. Two devastating injuries later, Galette is back for a third straight preseason with aspirations to lead our pass rush. From a money standpoint, he is essentially playing on an incentive-based deal, so there is little upfront risk for fans to get overly concerned over. That said, he just turned 29 years old, after not enduring two seasons of pounding. If he can avoid Achilles injuries—or any form of season-ending injury—it stands to reason he would represent a significant upgrade for the team. Perhaps we have all kind of gotten over the hype that once permeated our Junior Galette conversations, but as we look at how and if the Redskins can make the playoffs, his ability to make an impact can’t be overstated. As our focus has been elsewhere over the last month or two, Galette has been able to attack his preparation for the upcoming season with less pressure. I am arguing this is a gift.
- When it comes to players that are coming off of a perhaps surprisingly subpar season, a chaotic offseason provides amazing cover. Bashaud Breeland struggled in 2016, which I think would be an accurate statement and blends most of the opinions on his play stated here. The cornerback position gets all kinds of attention from all of us because, well, because they are out there on an island most days. It is fair to say that corners often get blamed by fans for things that aren’t their fault. After all, many fans may not understand where a linebacker blew an underneath coverage, or where a safety failed to track to the correct location in the secondary to provide correct support in a specific scheme. That said, Breeland still did not perform as well as was expected. He enters this season on the final year of his rookie contract. Everyone knows that teams are going to find ways to avoid Josh Norman when they can, which means Breeland is going to see PLENTY of targets. At least initially, the success of our pass defense could hinge on Bashaud’s ability to play penalty-free ball while getting physical with receivers who are going to be thrown to regularly. This is kind of a huge topic that has been subordinated by Kirk Cousins and the monsters that are the franchise tag and long-term deals. Yes...a gift. Let’s hope Breeland can use that gift to get his mind right this August, because if he succeeds in upping his game in 2017, that alone is a pretty big deal. It’s a passing league as we all know, and a revival on the outside of the Washington secondary goes a long way to netting the team those crucial incremental wins.
- I don’t mean to get too cute with this theme, since we have obviously spent considerable time on the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but even this area has been aided by the three-ring circus surrounding Kirk Cousins. I mean, the idea that we are entering the season without TWO 1,000-yard receivers and replacing them with one guy who has not yet proven himself in the league and another that is a converted wide receiver from, well, Cleveland, is insanely shocking. We all expect Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed to fuel an incredibly potent passing offense. I am pretty sure I would have been freaking out way more about the composition of this corps had I been in need of things to freak out about. Thankfully, Bruce Allen has successfully illuminated other areas to draw our worries.
- I don’t regret a single second or pixel of coverage in terms of the Kirk Cousins saga. If you don’t have a quarterback, you really don’t have much. All of the ways we have packaged the discussion since the 2016 season ended have been—for the most part—fairly representative of the fanbase and its emotional bent. Because of that, a player like Kendall Fuller (thanks gibbs4potus!) has completely healed from last year’s microfracture surgery and approaches the 2017 season without the brightest light shining on him. Because of that, a player like Rob Kelley doesn’t have to spend five months answering questions about whether or not he is good enough to start in the league. Because of that, a player like Preston Smith can regroup and attack his third professional season without the background noise of fans wondering if he is going to “put it all together.” We have had plenty of ridiculous chaos surrounding this team over the years, and while the Kirk drama has been a little tough to get through, nothing has changed the fact that he is quarterback now, and nothing has changed the fact that the team has moves left to make to ensure that continues. Finally, Kirk himself has seemed to wear the burden like an absolute stallion. In his interview last week, he sounded like a seasoned veteran, putting it all on himself and giving his teammates crazy amounts of cover. It could be the PRIMARY reason for initial and sustained success in 2017, and for that, fans and teammates should be grateful.
The circus surrounding Kirk Cousins has been difficult to stomach at times, but it has really drawn attention—and pressure—away from his teammates.