Roy Helu Jr. thinks that the Redskins are going to the Super Bowl and he said so last week.
Along with Evan Royster and Tim Hightower, Helu is in the competition to be the Redskins’ starting running back. Each of them has noticeable strengths and flaws and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be the starter on Sept. 9 when the Redskins open their season in New Orleans.
One reporter asked Helu if he thought the competition would go through the preseason. Helu thought it would go longer than that.
“I think it goes until February,” he replied with a smile. “Yeah, absolutely.”
There is just one game played in February and that is The Big One. So we had Helu predicting that the Redskins will both start and end their season in the Superdome, the site of this year’s Super Bowl.
What do you think? Do you like Helu’s confidence? Or should he think “one game at a time”?
By Tarik El-Bashir
Although Barry Cofield was frequently praised by Redskins coaches last season, the veteran defensive lineman acknowledged Friday that he was disappointed in his 2011 campaign and enters this season expecting more from himself – on the field and in the locker room.
“Honestly, I go back and review myself last year and I’ve played a lot better than that,” Cofield said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I played.”
Cofield finished fifth on the team in sacks with three and 15th in solo tackles with 15. At times, though, he conceded that was not completely comfortable lining up at a new position, in a new scheme he had yet to fully grasp.
“By the time I left New York, everything was second nature. People had to catch up with me,” said Cofield, who signed with the Redskins as a free agent in July 2011. “Last year, I felt like I was playing catch up.”
The lockout and being a free agent contributed to his trepidation. So did the unexpected position switch he had to make; before signing in Washington, Cofield had spent his entire five-season NFL career lining up as a tackle in the Giants’ 4-3 scheme.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett asked him to play nose tackle in his 3-4 base alignment.
“I didn’t know if I was going to go to a team where I was going to be getting up the field, or I was going to be a 3-4 end, a 3-4 nose,” he said. “I had no idea, so I didn’t know how to train. I was just trying to be in shape.”
“But now,” he continued, “knowing what kind of blocking schemes I’m going to see, I was able to take a different approach this offseason.”
That approach involved working his core and leg muscles. The team roster now has him at 318 lb., 12 pounds heavier than last year’s listing.
It also involved studying Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton on film.
“He’s kind of the godfather of the nose tackle position as we play it today,” Cofield said of Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowl selection. “He did some things better than me, and there are some things that I can do with my natural ability, with my athleticism, [things] I can bring to the position that not a lot of other guys do. So it’s just getting better at everything and have everything be second nature.”
Although creating havoc in the backfield isn’t a nose tackle’s primary responsibility in Haslett’s playbook – that would be keeping middle linebacker London Fletcher “clean” – the coaching staff has incorporated some tweaks that should complement Cofield’s athleticism and allow him to “make a few more big plays” this fall.
“We’re doing some things differently up front that are hopefully going to get the nose tackle some one-on-ones, to be able to push the pocket and harass the quarterback and even get some sacks,” he said. “Last year, I had two three sacks, that’s not far off for a nose tackle, but with the skill set I have, I can improve. I want to get a couple more.”
On the field, however, isn’t the only place where Cofield wants to be more assertive this season. He also wants to make a stronger impact in the locker room.
During his time in New York, Cofield was considered among the team’s most respected leaders. Now he’s growing into the role here.
“That changed by the end of last year,” Cofield said. “I actually spoke to the team when we played that second Giants game, and I felt right then, the words I said, the positive response I got from the guys, they wanted to hear more from me. I feel like I am in a position where guys respect me and look up to me at this point.”
It’s Sunday, an off day at Redskins training camp, but we’re still here to tell you what you need to know today:
Can Briscoe help?
It looked like Dezmond Briscoe had a good chance to get a solid NFL career started when he caught six touchdown passes for the Bucs last year, his second in the league. But he apparently had some drama at home this past offseason, events that are apparently best left to TMZ to cover. And the dominos fell. Here is what he told us after yesterday morning’s practice.
I had some personal stuff going on at the house so I missed some voluntary workouts. I missed the test, everyone didn’t pass. I feel like that was a big reason why. It stuck out with me not passing because I wasn’t there in the offseason training so, you know, it made it seem like I was out of condition, which I’m not. I have to take advantage of the opportunity now.
It would be easy to reject him as camp fodder since he jumps into a pool of wide receivers that already had eight legitimate candidates for probably six roster spots. However, at age 22, Briscoe becomes the youngest wide receiver on the Redskins’ roster despite the fact that he has two NFL seasons under his belt. And his six touchdown receptions last year were more than any Redskins receiver had.
On top of that, Briscoe was a wanted man when the Bucs released him. According to Ian Rappaport of NFL.com the Bengals, Eagles, and Cowboys also put in waiver claims on him.
He still is a longshot to make it but his age and demonstrated ability make it hard to write off his chances completely.
Waiting out a diagnosis on Brown
As my colleague Tarik El-Bashir noted yesterday, Mike Shanahan sounded somewhat annoyed when talking about the schedule for the MRI on Jammal Brown’s injured hip. Brown’s doctor was on vacation last week and is conducting surgery on Monday. The player wanted his doctor present for the procedure thus the delay.
Football coaches can deal with almost anything but waiting almost a week (Brown tweaked his hip while running sprints last Wednesday) for information about the injury status of a starting player is not something most coaches would take in stride.
Brown could have just a “little” injury as Shanahan said on Thursday when he announced that the starting right tackle would be starting training camp on the PUP list. Or it could be something more serious, an injury that will cause the team to have to reevaluate the depth chart at the position going into the season. The sooner Shanahan knows this the better and it is hard to blame him for being a bit impatient.
In case you missed it
Speaking of Brown, I took a look at the salary cap implications of various roster scenarios if they were to make a roster move. Tarik had a look at the kicking competition and had an article on why Lorenzo Alexander figures he can fill all of his various roles as the team’s “One Man Gang” at a lighter weight. And my practice report focuses on Brandon Banks making a run at holding on to his job.
The week ahead
The routine sets in as the 10:40 walkthrough in the bubble and the 3:00 full practice in front of the fans will be the schedule Monday through Friday. Our friends at NBC 4 say that the extreme heat is gone for now. It will still be quite toasty with highs ranging from 88 on Tuesday to 93 on Friday.
Days until: Preseason opener @ Bills 11; RG3 vs. Luck @ FedEx Field 27; final cuts 34; Redskins @ Saints 42; home opener vs. Bengals 56
By Tarik El-Bashir
The Redskins suffered the first on-field injury of training camp Saturday when backup linebacker Jonathan Goff aggravated the right knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season.
It’s unclear how Goff was hurt, but he went down during 11-on 11-drills as he dropped back in coverage. He suffered a torn ACL in the same knee before the season opener last season as a member of the Giants.
Goff, 26, is expected to serve as backup to inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley. He started 16 games for New York in 2010.
“We don’t know anything yet,” said Coach Mike Shanahan, who confirmed that it was his right knee. “We’ll do an MRI sometime this evening.”
Goff did not return to practice, but was able to walk from the field to the locker room without assistance or a pronounced limp.
Some other notes from Shanahan’s post-practice news conference:
*Guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who is working his way back from torn ligaments in his right knee, did not participate in the afternoon session. Shanahan said he did not suffer a setback after looking solid Thursday and Friday.
“We just gave him the third day off [and] not overwork him,” the coach said. “He had a couple good days.”
*Asked to assess rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III through three days of camp, Shanahan said, “Good.”
“Every day is a learning experience,” he added. “The more reps you get, the better you feel about the system, the better you feel about NFL defenses, your teammates, what they can do, that they can’t do. …They say it’s the hardest position to play in all of sports. I really believe it is, because there’s so much to learn.”
*Wide receiver Pierre Garçon, who signed a five-year, $42 million contract in March, has impressed the coaching staff with his strength, speed and work ethic. During a cornerback vs. wide receiver drill Saturday, Garçon raced past DeAngelo Hall and hauled in an over-the-shoulder pass from Griffin.
“There’s no question he can be a No. 1 receiver,” Shanahan said. “I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s practiced and handled himself since he’s been here. He’s got a ton of ability. I’ve been very happy.
*Dezmon Briscoe joined the team after getting claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on Friday afternoon. Shanahan said Briscoe impressed him on film, and after getting a “positive recommendation” from defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who was the Buccaneers head coach last season, he decided to give him a look.
Briscoe scored six touchdowns last season, one more than any receiver on the Redskins (Jabar Gaffney, who is no longer with the team).
“I’ve looked at him on film and I liked him,” Shanahan said of Briscoe. “Look at how many touchdown catches he had last year, what he did in college, good size, so we gave him a chance to compete and see what he can do.”
*Shanahan also sounded somewhat annoyed that tackle Jammal Brown has decided to wait until Tuesday to get his hip examined in New York by his personal doctor.
“I just know it’s a little unusual you have to wait a few days to have an MRI,” Shanahan said.
*The Redskins are off Sunday.
My observations from Saturday’s Redskins practice:
—Today was the first practice in full pads with for Mike Shahahan’s teams means helmets, full shoulder pads, and shorts. He never has his players were football pants in camp; he says that the players don’t wear any pads in their pants anyway so they might as well be more comfortable.
—Kory Lichtensteiger was a spectator for this afternoon’s session, on the sideline in a baseball hat. Josh LeRibeus took the snaps at left guard with the first team. (Note: After practice, Shanahan said it was a scheduled day off to rest the guard’s injured knee.)
—Some receivers round off their cuts when running routes. Not Pierre Garçon, he plants his foot and makes a sharp, angular cut.
—In my roster predictions from earlier this month I have Aldrick Robinson making the team as the kick returner/wide receiver and Brandon Banks off. I have to say that if many more practice go like today’s went I might have to chance that. Banks was the one who looked like and NFL receiver out there while Robinson looked like he still needs a lot of work. It’s early, I’m not changing my call yet, but it bears watching.
—In one drill the quarterbacks threw to the wide receivers who were being covered by a cornerback one on one. In the early going, Garçon got past DeAngelo Hall and caught a nice, arching bomb from RG3. During the drill, Garçon beat Hall three times for about 90 yards and a touchdown. Not sure what kind of QB rating that would rack up for RG3.
—The Garçon bomb was not the highlight catch of the session. That distinction belonged to rookie free agent Samuel Kirkland, who went deep, turned around to catch RG3’s underthrown pass, and cradled it in one arm while falling down. That prompted Kirkland to toss the ball to the fans in celebration.
—Alfred Morris hit the hole hard on an inside zone play and the popped into the secondary. I’m not sure they can find a way to keep him but he has impressed.
—Early in 11-on-11 play, Josh Wilson came on a blitz and was in RG3’s face almost immediately. Wilson didn’t go after the quarterback much last year but they would like to figure out ways to get pressure more consistently.
—It just looks odd to see Chris Cooley working with the second team. He was the starter in from 2005-2010 and didn’t practice much at all last year due to his ailing knee. I think he makes it but it’s not a sure thing.
—Brian Orakpo was spending more and more time in the Redskins’ backfield as the 11 on 11 drills went on. This prompted one fan present to look at the quarterbacks’ yellow “not contact” jerseys and yell, “Does Rak have a yellow jersey on, they aren’t touching him, either!”
—Rex Grossman had a nice play, dropping a deep out to Niles Paul in between a group of defenders.
—A few times in the span of several plays, Cooley was able to find a soft spot in the defense, turn around, and catch a pass for about five or seven yards. You get the feeling he could do this all of the time but it that worth a salary of $3.8 million for the year?
—We know that the part of the option that has RG3 running the ball could be pretty exciting but the other part, with him handing the ball off, could produce some big plays as well. Griffin put the ball in Roy Helu Jr.’s belly once and the back burst free for a long gain.
—It’s not always smooth sailing for Helu. A few plays later he gets stuffed at the line by Brandon Meriweather, who pulls off the back’s helmet.
—It’s safe to say that the defensive line is ahead of the offensive line. With backups playing on both lines, Kirk Cousins didn’t even have a chance to cock his arm on a three-step drop. A few plays later with the starters in, RG3 was swarmed before he could think of setting up on a five-step drop.
By Tarik El-Bashir
If special teams standout and backup linebacker Lorenzo Alexander looks faster, well, that’s because he is.
Alexander, who is transitioning from outside linebacker to the inside, said he shed 20-25 pounds in the offseason so he can keep up better in coverage.
“I did it because I [wanted] to be able to run with guys like [tight ends] Fred [Davis] and Niles [Paul] and receivers, I had to be lighter,” said Alexander, who is listed at 244 pounds. “You lose 25 pounds, probably 40-50 over the last two years, and I’m still as strong, so I’m keeping that explosion [while] moving less weight. So of course I’m going to be faster.”
In addition to seeing an increase in his foot speed, Alexander said his body is taking less of a beating from carrying around the excess weight.
At the same time, he added, his new weight hasn’t hampered him on special teams, where he lines up on each unit with the exception of the field block team. He joked that he “dieted” his way off that unit.
“It’s not like back in the say when we played Dallas or the Giant and you [faced] big 330 pound guys trying to hit the wedge,” Alexander said, referring to kickoffs. “I’m just as strong, so I don’t think it will be an issue at all.”
Alexander lost the weight with the help of a dietician – and will power.
“Being disciplined, that was 90 percent of it,” he continued. “I’ve always trained hard but I wasn’t really disciplined as far as pushing back from the potatoes and the fried foods. I cut all that stuff out.”
He does, however, allow himself a “cheat” meal from time to time.
“I’m an IHOP guy,” Alexander said. “I love pancakes. I can just go crazy, so I normally have a stack of pancakes, and I’m in there just going to work on them.”
Before getting started here, it needs to be made clear that the Redskins are long way from releasing Jammal Brown. Mike Shanahan described his hip as being “a little sore” and perhaps the injury is indeed minor even though it is to an area of his body that is of great concern.
However, the possibility that the Redskins will move on from Brown by the time the regular season starts has to be considered. Late last year Shanahan told the media that Brown has to be able to stay healthy if he is going to be on the team. If an MRI reveals that there will be issues with his hip that are likely to last all season long, Brown’s roster spot could be in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, the Redskins did not write any injury protection for themselves into the contract that Brown signed after the lockout ended last year. The deal was for 5 years and $27.5 million with $8.2 million guaranteed. One mechanism that teams, including the Redskins, have used for injury protection is per-game roster bonuses. A portion of the player’s salary will be tied to being on either the 53-man roster (i.e. not on injured reserve) or being on the 46-man game day roster.
Since they don’t have any of those mechanisms in Brown’s contract they will be on the hook for his entire $3.25 million salary if he is on the roster for the first game of the season (salaries become guaranteed for the season at that point). They also are on the hook if they put him on injured reserve before the season.
If they decide to move on without him, the smart move would be to get him to where he could pass a physical and the release him before the season starts. That would knock his salary off of the books for this year, leaving his $1.3 million prorated singing bonus as dead cap.
The Redskins would pay for this move in 2013. They would have the remaining $3.9 million left on his signing bonus charge left on the books that they would have to eat in dead cap. However, they could roll over the $3.25 million savings from this year into next, so it would be about $700,000 short of a wash.
Again, the Redskins have no plans to do anything with Jammal Brown right now and he remains on the roster. But if they do decide to let him go the net cap impact would not be too difficult to manage even with them having to deal with the remaining $18 million of the NFL’s salary cap penalty.
By Tarik El-Bashir
While training camp battles in the secondary and among a trio of running backs figure to receive much of the spotlight in the coming weeks, there’s another competition that promises plenty of intrigue: kicker.
The Redskins signed veteran Neil Rackers in April to compete with incumbent Graham Gano, who was 29th in the NFL in accuracy last season (75.6 percent), a year after ranking 30th (68.6 percent).
On Friday, Coach Mike Shanahan said the job is up for grabs.
“Right from the start, both kickers know they have an opportunity to make this football team,” Shanahan said. “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Gano’s unimpressive numbers in 2011 were no doubt affected by the five attempts that were blocked. Although it could be argued the breakdowns were caused by blocking breakdowns, not the kicker, Shanahan apparently was concerned enough to bring in Rackers, who was not re-signed by the Texans after making 32 of 38 attempts (84.2-percent) last season.
Rackers, 35, said a miscommunication between his former agent and the Texans during contract negotiations contributed to a departure he described as unexpected.
“They threw out a number evidently and my agent threw out an astronomical number so they just decided, ‘Hey, we’re going to go in another direction,” he said. “That’s business.”
Gano is 10 years younger than Rackers and boasts a more powerful leg. But he’s connected on 73.8 percent of his attempts in three seasons with the Redskins, while Rackers has made 80-percent of his kicks in a 12 season career that’s made stops in Cincinnati, Arizona and Houston. Three times, in fact, Rackers has made 90 percent or more of his kicks, including the 2005 season in Arizona, where he made 40 of 42 attempts.
“I liked what they had to say,” Rackers said of his discussions with the Redskins prior to signing a one-year deal. “I like the idea of NFC East football. It’s real football. I think it’s a team that’s got an opportunity to do some special things.”
“I’ve been on two teams that no one assumed would do anything – the Texas and Cardinals,” the St. Louis native added. “The Texans went to the playoffs for the first time and the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. I see a lot of similarities between the Redskins and those teams.”