By Tarik El-Bashir
When the Redskins open the preseason Thursday in Buffalo, a number of players who are engaged in position battles will get their first chance to make an impression.
Incumbent kicker Graham Gano is one of them.
Through two weeks of training camp, Gano has acquitted himself well as he attempts to fend off Neil Rackers, the veteran signed this offseason to challenge him. Gano and Rackers both are unofficially 16 for 19 in the three head-to-head field goal competitions thus far.
But, as Gano and special teams Coach Danny Smith conceded this week, practice means relatively little when determining which kicker makes the 53-man roster. It really will come down to what transpires during the team’s four preseason contests, beginning with the Bills.
“That’s what separates everybody; it’s execution under pressure,” Smith said Thursday in his first public comments since training camp began. “We’re going put them in those pressure situations and see who executes the best.”
Smith said his biggest challenge as a position coach will be to ensure that both Gano and Rackers get equal opportunity to show what they can do. To accomplish that, Smith said he plans to have the player who kicks a field goal or point after to also take the ensuing kickoff, as to simulate a normal game routine.
On Thursday, Gano will go first if the Redskins kickoff to start the game, Smith said. If not, it will depend on which kicker finished the first half.
By the end of the four exhibitions, Smith said it will be obvious to everyone which kicker has the edge.
“It’s going to be on production, solely,” Smith said.
Gano would seem to have the advantage entering the preseason. At 25 years old, he’s 10 years younger than Rackers. He’s got the stronger leg and is familiar to the coaching staff after spending the previous three seasons in Washington.
That said, Gano connected on 75.6 percent of his field goals, which ranked 29th in the NFL. That number, of course, was negatively impacted by five blocked attempts.
“I met with the coaches and they said there wasn’t anything I could do anything about it personally,” Gano said of the blocks. “You don’t want blocks at all. But last year, that’s the past.”
Smith declined to say what exactly went haywire on so many attempts in 2011. He did, however, concede that there was plenty of blame to be spread around, beginning with him.
“We had a lot of issues, to be honest,” Smith said.
If Gano is going to retain his job, Smith said he wants to see more consistency and focus.
“Day in and day out you got to do it,” Smith said. “Just … because we do it for a couple years doesn’t mean we have it. As a coach in this league, you get new coaches and they get their first contract and they think they arrived. I don’t think they arrived until you get another contract. It’s the same with a kicker.”
As for Gano, he said he’s not feeling any additional pressure because he used to fighting for his job in camp.
But he also said he likes his chances.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Gano said. “I’m starting to hit my stride and I’m looking forward to Thursday.”
On the Redskins depth chart, Anthony Armstrong is listed as a second-team receiver while Dezmon Briscoe is on the seventh team, if there is such a thing.
That could change. Briscoe is likely to get a substantial amount of playing time against the Bills in the Redskins preseason opener on Thursday. The first team will only play a series or two, leaving plenty of snaps for the reserves to play. Mike Shanahan ruled Armstrong out with a shoulder injury that has had him out of practicing fully since Friday.
That should give Briscoe more snaps, something he needs since he was not here for the Redskins’ offseason program. The team claimed him off of waivers just after the start of training camp. He didn’t have a chance to impress the coaches in the spring so he needs as many opportunities as he can to impress the coaches in the summer. It looks like Briscoe will get those opportunities thanks in part to Armstrong’s injury.
Briscoe is not the only player who will benefit from another player’s misfortune. Shanahan indicated that it is likely that Chris Chester’s ankle will keep him out of Thursday’s game. That means that rookie Adam Gettis could well get a chance to show what he can do with the first team. He worked with the first team when Chester went out with an ankle injury during practice on Monday.
Starting fullback Darrel Young has been out of practice with a hamstring strain is unlikely to play and there will be multiple beneficiaries to his absence. Chris Cooley will get some time at fullback to try to bolster his case to stay on the roster. And Dorson Boyce should see a substantial number of snaps. He seems to have little chance of sticking with the Redskins but he can get some good game film up for other coaches to take a look at.
Kory Lichtensteiger will miss all of the preseason after having a procedure done to his knee. That gives Maurice Hurt an opportunity to cement a job as a reserve in the position where he got eight starts last year after Lichtensteiger went out. The situation also helps out rookie Josh LeRibeus, who likely will come in when Hurt and the rest of the first team exit after a dozen snaps or so.
By Tarik El-Bashir
When the Redskins open the preseason Thursday in Buffalo, they’ll do so missing a few key players.
At least two of the five starters along the offensive line – guard Kory Lichensteiger and tackle Jammal Brown – will be sidelined against the Bills, while guard Chris Chester is a long shot to suit up, according to Coach Mike Shanahan. Chester sprained his left ankle Monday and did not participate in Tuesday’s practice.
Shanahan also Tim Hightower, ranked atop the team’s depth chart at running back, has been ruled out, as has fullback Darrel Young. Hightower still is recovering from knee surgery, while young is nursing an ailing hamstring.
“Hopefully he keeps on making progress and will be able to play by the third game,” Shanahan said of Hightower.
Shanahan said Josh Morgan will be available to play, barring a setback. The wide receiver returned Monday from a weeklong layoff due to a hamstring.
Chris Cooley did not practice Tuesday but will play, Shanahan said.
“He’s been going to pretty hard,” Shanahan said of his tight end. “He needed a day of rest.”
Cooley joked that the day off was a privilege of being in the "30+ Club". He turned 30 last month.
A couple of more notes of interest from Shanahan’s practice news conference:
--Shanahan said the dueling kickers – Graham Gano and Neil Rackers – will alternate kicks.
“Whoever kicks off, will have the next field goal or extra point, whatever it is,” Shanahan said. “That’s the way we’ve tentatively talked about it.”
Gano will start first, the coach added.
--With Hightower sidelined, Shanahan said running backs Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. will split time. Royster will get the start.
A week and a half into training camp, three of the Redskins’ five starting linemen are ailing.
For a journeyman such as Tony Moll, that means just one thing: Opportunity.
Moll, who signed with the Redskins on Saturday, said he’s able to play both sides of the line as well as all three interior positions. In his most recent stop – a three-game stint in San Diego last season – he played guard. The season before that, though, Moll said he lined up some as a tackle in Baltimore.
The 28-year-old has not practiced in Ashburn yet due to the three-day acclimation period mandated by the CBA, so it’s unclear where Moll will line up (though Coach Mike Shanahan hinted that he’ll play guard.)
It’s also not known whether the coaching staff will deem him prepared enough to suit up for Thursday’s preaseason opener in Buffalo.
But Moll made his position on that subject abundantly clear Tuesday morning.
“Are you kidding me? Of course I want to play,” he said, smiling. “Even if you barely know the playbook, you can still go a hundred miles an hour.”
When the Redskins face the Bills, it’s possible they’ll be without starting offensive linemen Kory Lichtensteiger (knee surgery), Jammal Brown (hip) and Chris Chester (ankle). That, alone, would seem to increase Moll’s chances of playing.
“You never want to see anyone get injured, but if it opens up a position for me to get into September with this team, that’s definitely the ultimate goal,” Moll said.
Moll said he had options as he and his agent fielded phone calls from interested teams. The Redskins, though, presented him with the best opportunity for two reasons: He played in an offense similar to Coach Mike Shanahan’s during his time at Nevada and, he said, liked the Washington’s potential on paper.
“I think this team definitely is on the upswing,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll fit in here, make the 53 and make a difference.”
“I also ran the zone offense all the way through college,” he said. “So that was definitely a huge [factor] for me.”
The opportunity Moll sought is now inches in front of him. But now comes the hard part.
“I feel like I’ve got a couple more miles in these legs,” he said.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Chris Chester confirmed the ankle sprain he suffered in Monday’s practice is mild in nature. But the Redskins’ right guard couldn’t say when he’ll be able to resume practice or whether he’ll suit up for Thursday’s season opener in Buffalo.
“I’ve had similar things before,” said Chester, who sported a wrap and compression sock on his left leg. “It’s nothing major, really.”
Chester was injured early in 11 on 11 drills during Monday’s practice, when his legs got tangled with a teammate as the two fell to the turf. He did not return to the field. After the practice, Chester was carted from the field to the team’s facilities.
Asked when he thinks he’ll be able to return, Chester said: “We’ll just have to see. I’m not really quite sure. I wouldn’t think it will take very long.”
If that’s indeed the case, it would be encouraging news for the Redskins, who are already without two starters on the offensive line. Kory Lichtensteiger is recovering from a second knee operation, while Jammal Brown remains sidelined indefinitely with a hip injury.
Chester said he hopes to face the Bills, who racked up 10 sacks in the teams’ meeting last October. But if he’s not, Adam Gettis will likely be his replacement on the first team.
Can the Redskins and Robert Griffin III survive and even thrive if Tyler Polumbus ends up playing right tackle instead of the ailing Jammal Brown?
Many Redskins fans and analysts are cringing at the thought of the journeyman lineman taking over a key spot on the offensive line. They fear that Griffin will not get a chance to succeed, as he will spend most of the season running for his life.
But are people saying this because they have really examined what he has done? Or is it because Polumbus was signed off of the street by the Redskins in the middle of last year and they really haven’t heard of him?
Let’s take an objective look at what Polumbus has done on the field the last couple of years and what the offenses of the teams he was playing for were able to do when he was in the lineup at tackle.
Polumbus started three games at right tackle for the Redskins last year and one at left guard. We’re only going to look at his games at tackle here.
He started at right tackle and played every snap against New England at FedEx Field, and at the Giants and Eagles. According to the folks at Pro Football Focus, in those three games he gave up no sacks, three QB hits, and 10 QB hurries. Two of the hits and six of the hurries came against the Eagles, where he was lined up against Jason Babin most of the game.
Earlier in the season, Brown started and played every snap against the Giants and Eagles. He gave up a total of one sack, three hits, and four hurries in those two games, a total of eight pressures. Against those two opponents Polumbus gave up no sacks, three hits and eight hurries, a total of 11 pressures.
How did the Redskins’ offense do when Polumbus played? Let’s take a look, with the caveat that we are dealing with a small sample size of three games.
In the three games with Polumbus at right tackle, the Redskins averaged 141 yards per game rushing; in the other 13 games, they averaged 92. With Polumbus, the Redskins gave up 1.3 sacks per game; without him the averaged was 2.8.
Again, take into account the small sample size, especially the fact that the Patriots’ defensive was one of the worst in the league last year (although they were in the middle of the pack in the two areas we’re looking at, 14th in sacks and 17th in rushing yards allowed). But the Redskins’ offense did not come apart at the seams when Polumbus was playing right tackle.
We have a larger sample size to look at during Polumbus’ 2010 season in Seattle. He played six games at left tackle and one at right tackle. Polumbus also started three games at left guard including two playoff games but, again, we’re going to disregard those games and focus on his play at tackle.
In his seven games at tackle, Polumbus gave up five sacks, four hits, and 11 hurries. Two of the sacks and five of the hurries came in one game, when Seattle visited the Rams and Polumbus was matched up against defensive end Chris Long.
When he was at left tackle, he was filling in for rookie Russell Okung, the sixth overall pick in the draft. In the nine regular season games where Okung played all of the snaps (he started one game but left after being in for nine plays), he gave up four sacks, five hits, and 14 hurries.
We do have a better sample size to work with when it comes to the team’s performance while Polumbus was in the lineup as he started almost half of their regular season games.
Seattle’s rushing performance was virtually the same with our without Polumbus at tackle, with an average of 88 yards per game with him and 89 without him. On average, however, the Seahawks’ pass protection was considerably leaker. They have up an average of 3.4 sacks per game with Polumbus at tackle and that dropped to 1.2 per game without him.
The “with Polumbus” average was pushed up by a bad two-week stretch. They gave up five sacks to the Cardinals in Week 7 and the Raiders sacked Matt Hasselbeck eight times the next game. Individually, Pro Football Focus charged Polumbus with one sack in each of those games.
Can they survive?
Based on this limited look, it appears that an offense can function with Tyler Polumbus at tackle. Given his struggles against top ends like Long and Babin, the coaches should consider giving him some help when he is lined up against the better right-side pass rushers. But the rushing game seems to function reasonably well with Polumbus in the lineup rather than the more heralded Brown and Okung.
Again, this is a small sample size but it seems to be a more systematic way of looking at it than the “Tyler Polumbus is at right tackle, the offense is doomed” level of analysis that we have been getting.
For some reason, word seems to have gotten out that the Redskins-Bills game telecast has been blacked out in the D. C. area. There may be some confusion because the game was blacked out in Buffalo and it's not on NBC 4, as the rest of the preseason games will be, because of the Olympics.
Here is the press release from the Redskins to help you find the game:
REDSKINS PRESEASON DEBUT TO AIR LOCALLY
ON ‘NBC NONSTOP’ AND COMCAST SPORTSNET THIS THURSDAY
LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. – The Washington Redskins’ preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills this Thursday, Aug. 9, will air in the Washington D.C. market on “NBC Nonstop” and Comcast SportsNet. Kickoff from Ralph Wilson Stadium is set for 7 p.m.
Viewers in the region can find the NBC Nonstop broadcast on the following channels for the following carriers:
260 (Verizon FIOS)
4.2 (Over-the-air receivers)
In addition, each game of the Washington Redskins’ 2012 preseason schedule will be presented in high definition on Comcast SportsNet. The final three games of the team’s preseason slate will be simulcast on NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet.