Redskins.com’s Stephen Czarda answers YOUR questions submitted on Twitter about the Redskins' roster and more as the team had a busy January with coaching moves and the 2017 Senior Bowl.
Andi Zyka asks: @SCzardaRedskins how are we going to improve our much needed defensive pressure #HailMail
An early start to the team’s desire to get more pressure took place last week with the promotion of Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator following a season as the team’s outside linebackers coach.
Manusky told ESPN980 last week that he wants the defensive unit to have more of an attacking style under his guidance.
“Across the board I want guys to understand the biggest thing communication wise on the back end is the most important,” Manusky said. “I think it doesn’t matter the call that is actually given to them. I think they all have to be on the same page and that is big for me because I think as a former player when you’re in those situations everybody has to be on the same page and that is when you have to make plays.
“I want them to compete at a high level, we have to pressure quarterbacks number one in this league. In our division you better stop the run plain and simple, it has been like that since I was playing same as you Doc when you were playing. We have to stop the run and we have to run the ball.”
Also important was the hiring of veteran defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
Tomsula and Manusky worked together with San Francisco 49ers and during their time on the 49ers’ staff, the team got significant production out of the defensive linemen.
Now to the players, starting with the outside linebackers.
First, Ryan Kerrigan is coming of his second career double-digit sack season despite being limited by an elbow injury for a majority of the season. Fellow outside linebacker Trent Murphy is also coming off a career-high nine sacks and the team still has very high hopes for Preston Smith despite his numbers dipping during his second season in Washington.
The team could also benefit from a potential return from Junior Galette, who has been under contract the last two seasons but has yet to appear in game action after two separate torn Achilles.
Head coach Jay Gruden also noted during Senior Bowl practices this week that the team is looking to “upgrade everywhere,” including a defensive line that could use some impact players.
“You’re looking for these guys to set an edge on each side and make sure the inside linebackers know that the edge is going to be set then the inside guys can go strike iron downhill and like I say crack some skulls,” Manusky said.
Marc Shea asks: @Redskins @SCzardaRedskins #HailMail how has @NateSudfeld been progressing?
It’s tough to get a complete gauge on how much Sudfeld progressed throughout his rookie season, as he didn’t dress for any regular season game and got all the third-string reps at quarterback behind Trent Williams and Colt McCoy.
But Sudfeld said after the season that even NFL practices made him a better player from his days at Indiana when he was the Hoosiers’ starter for three seasons.
At the conclusion of each practice he asked himself how he got better that day and how he could improve before the next practice.
“Coach [Matt] Cavanaugh was always really good and telling [me] I did a good job on stuff,” Sudfeld said. “I didn’t really try to go up to them [the coaches] about how am I doing in terms of that just because we were in the middle of the season. They had bigger things to worry about and I was just trying to make sure I was doing everything I could do to get myself ready at the same time.”
Sudfeld also got a first-hand look at how someone like Cousins made mid-game adjustments on the sideline, as he sat with the veteran as Cavanaugh went through the coverages that opponents were calling.
“They’re all very professional in their approach to the game and they were all very instrumental in my development this year, just learning how Kirk and Colt are always working, they know how to do everything the right way,” Sudfeld said. “They interact with guys really well and they prepare for each game in practice. So it was really good to learn that.”
What happens with Cousins over the next few months will likely dictate how much, if any, playing time Sudfeld gets next season, but if called into action the 2016 sixth-round pick will be ready.
“I’ve been able to watch [Cousins and McCoy] throughout the week each week, kind of getting ready for hopefully whenever I get the opportunity to just know how the game is played at this level,” Sudfeld said.
R. White asks: #HailMail what changes will be made to improve play calling in the red zone this year assuming Cousins remains and Kelly progresses etc.
Cavanaugh – the team’s new offensive coordinator – said last week that improving in the red zone is one of the biggest things the Redskins must do during the 2017 season.
Despite the fact the offense was able to move up and down the field with ease a lot of the time, the Redskins only converted 46 percent of their red zone appearances into touchdowns during the 2016 season, 30th in the NFL.
That was a significant drop from their 58 percent conversion rate in 2015.
“We went from being really good in the red zone the year before to the bottom third this year for a lot of different reasons,’ Cavanaugh said. “It’s certainly an emphasis for us to evaluate this offseason. We’ll study other teams, see if there’s some scheme we’re missing, whether it’s run or pass, evaluate the play calls we’ve made down there with the quarterback’s decisions, the route-running, the blocking, it all goes hand in hand, it’s not just one guy. It’s not just the call, there’s a lot that goes into it, and we need to evaluate that hard.”
You mentioned Rob Kelley, who was perhaps the team’s most consistent red zone threat despite not cracking the starting lineup until Week 8.
Five of his six touchdown runs – along with a one-yard receiving touchdown against the Detroit Lions Week 7 – came inside the 10-yard line.
At his end of season press conference earlier this month, Gruden said, for now, that Kelley is the team’s featured running back entering 2017.
With an entire offseason as the No. 1 back (remember, he spent training camp buried on the depth chart), Kelley could get even stronger on the field.
@skins4life97 asks: The #Redskins have hired new coaches in all coach openings except for the DB coaching spot. Anything new on a new DB Coach? #HailMail
Gruden mentioned during his chat with Washington, D.C., beat reporters at the Senior Bowl last week that the team is still in the process of rounding out the staff and the defensive backs coach position is still one that’s not filled yet.
“We’re working on interviews, we’ve got some coaches coming in this week, some interviews for the defensive backs position and assistant defensive back coach, maybe offensive quality control, we’ll see,” Gruden said. “We’ll fill them.”
One potential option is Aubrey Pleasant, who served as the team’s assistant defensive backs coach during the 2016 season after two seasons as a defensive quality control coach.
“We’re looking,” Gruden said. “Aubrey is working on a contract, there’s kind of been a snag hiccup right now so we’ve got to move on.”
Whoever is ultimately tapped with the defensive backs position will take over a group with three young and talented players – Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and Jonathan Allen – and Su’a Cravens among other safeties.