- In today’s world of pro sports, fans are just as worried when teams get their season preparation underway as they are when the players are far away from that starting line. Injuries that occur during non-contact spring practices notwithstanding, off-the-field incidents are as likely to derail a season as anything these days (is it really that much different than it ever was?). I think of the scene from Armageddon (a movie that is...holy crap...20 years old) when, just before leaving Earth to blow up the asteroid that is about to kill us all, Bruce Willis’ team disperses into all directions. (I typically use The Simpsons softball episode to make this point, but I have been leaning a little too heavily on Ken Griffey, Jr.’s nerve tonic addiction.) Loan sharks, strip clubs and benders put the mission in jeopardy, because...oil drillers like to get after it when left to their own devices I guess?
- I can honestly say I was FAR more worried about non-contact injuries in the spring than I am about foolishness in the early summer that would cause a player to fail to show up for his teammates in the fall. Still...it would be disingenuous for me to constantly point out that the Redskins are younger across the board than we have seen at many stages of Dan Snyder’s tenure, without also recognizing the risks that so often accompany youth in today’s NFL. Here’s hoping that the Redskins have built their veteran leadership properly so that guys have the right priorities until they arrive for the first day of camp.
- Instead of worrying about what could go wrong between now and the start of training camp, I thought we could put a few questions/thoughts out there to keep things positive and optimistic. After all—get ready to be shocked—I am cautiously optimistic about this group. I understand that folks—outside the district—are going to continue to think a certain thing when they see the burgundy and gold. I understand that that “certain thing” is not an overly flattering perspective. I have no doubt that we remain the kind of program you schedule for your homecoming weekend in many cities. It says here that those cities are in for a rough homecoming weekend this upcoming season.
- For the second straight season, Alex Smith takes the reins of an offense that will likely be relying on a rookie running back (last year he had the benefit of Kareem Hunt’s sensational rookie season). I have often made the point that getting production out of first- and second-year running backs is the key to any team’s success because that is typically when running backs are at their best, and salary cap figures tend to be low. The Redskins have chosen to spend mid- to late-round picks to bring in fresh bodies at the running back position for a few years now, with varying degrees of success (Alfred Morris paid off handsomely). In Derrius Guice, the Redskins have invested somewhat heavily, and the expectations surrounding him are even greater than anything we wrote in this space last year about Samaje Perine. We have seen that when Alex Smith has a gifted young athlete with him in the backfield, he is capable of keeping the defense guessing. Jay Gruden’s preferred offensive scheme—going all the way back to Cincinnati—involves the running back in the passing game. Kareem Hunt hauled in 53 receptions last season, and even with Chris Thompson getting his touches, Derrius Guice should be in line to be a steady target in the passing game on early downs. This will do nothing but help keep the defense honest, and will help the rookie at least a little bit from being a protection liability in obvious passing situations on third down. If Guice is able to establish himself as a passing option on first and second down, he could easily generate considerable stats. Hunt has already established himself in the league, so it is not entirely fair to compare Guice to him, although they are very similar in size, and I don’t think any of us is sleeping on Guice’s home run potential. But don’t let me sound like the guy who is just pimping our newest and shiniest toy on offense. I think the grander point here is that Alex Smith should benefit at least initially (again) from the emergence of a running back that nobody has a book on yet. It would be hard for Guice to take over the league the way Kareem Hunt did in the first half of the 2017 season, but I would be shocked if Jay Gruden didn’t give him the touches to have that chance. Not for nothing, but Alex Smith will also be at least a very small unknown in the Redskins offense, though that “new car smell” ought to be worn off by the second quarter of the season opener.
- The Redskins aren’t going to get to the playoffs because nobody figures out how Jay Gruden likes to deploy Derrius Guice, nor should we be expecting Alex Smith to single-handedly beat down opponents all through November and December. I don’t like to talk about it all that much, because it tends to be a sore subject, but Jordan Reed’s availability could very well determine our season. It is my hope that Jay Gruden doesn’t allow our offense to be as reliant on the tight end as Kansas City’s offense appeared to be some weeks last year. Travis Kelce took over drives that led to points for Kansas City last season on the regular, and when defenses took him away or when he was injured, Alex Smith struggled at times to score points. Kirk Cousins was not that dissimilar, and we spent countless hours wondering if it was Kirk’s love of the tight end route or the lack of legit help at the wide receiver position that drove the ball to Reed so often. We know that Jay Gruden lamented Kirk’s refusal at times to let ‘er rip on deep routes to Josh Doctson last season, and we know that Alex Smith throws one of the most accurate deep balls in the league. At a bare minimum, we need Jordan Reed to be healthy and available to draw attention away from those outside routes. Hell, his presence makes Vernon Davis a lot more open, and we know that Alex Smith and Vernon Davis have plenty of experience playing together. It makes no sense to sit here and ask for 16 games from Reed because it has never happened in five years, and the chances of it happening don’t tend to increase over a player’s career. I guess my hope is that we maximize the time Reed is healthy and available. In a 16-game season, September and October wins are as crucial as any, and if that is when we have Reed, that is when we need to collect some big wins. I guess this is just me trying to marry realism and optimism. We can’t blow early season games when we have Reed, because our offense isn’t going to get more dangerous if and after we lose him. I understand this could be filed under things Captain Obvious might say, but perhaps the grander point here is that there is little to no room for Jay and Alex and the offense to experience any “getting to know each other” pains early. We need to be hitting on all cylinders immediately, and further, the season could hang in the balance during that period.
- I have looked into my crystal ball...and I do see Robert Kelley on this team’s final roster. I know that has been a hot topic and so I figured I would lend a new space for some of that debate here. It will be a very closely watched position group in August.
The Redskins are off until training camp starts, but our minds are working overtime envisioning all that could happen before the summer finishes.