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#HailMail: Who Will Start At Nose Tackle?

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Redskins.com’s Stephen Czarda answers YOUR questions submitted on Twitter about the Redskins' nose tackle situation entering the season and how the team might utilize the tight ends.


@DarthVorpmi asks: How should the offense best utilize our plethora of TE’s this season? Short passing game or massive run-block schemes? #HailMail

How the team uses their tight ends this season (there’s currently six on the offseason roster) will likely depends on the situations they’re in. For example, if it’s a third down passing situation, the Redskins would certainly like to see either Jordan Reed or Vernon Davis on the field.

However, none of the team’s tight ends are on the field for every offensive snap, rotating the three (or even four) active tight ends on gamedays. But they also don’t want to look one-dimensional, either, if Reed or Davis is on the field just to catch passes.

Reed, of course, is best known for his receiving abilities (he was the fastest tight end in NFL history to 200 receptions and has tallied more than 1,600 receiving yards over the last two seasons), but he’s also improved as a blocker, too.

“Jordan’s a better run blocker than people give him credit for,” Redskins tight ends coach Wes Phillips said last year. “Now there’s not a whole lot of guys that are setting franchise records that are doing what he does in the run game.”

Washington also has Niles Paul and Derek Carrier on the roster along with Wes Saxton, who spent the entire 2016 season on the team’s practice squad.

While Paul and Carrier are both converted wide receivers, 2017 fifth-round pick Jeremy Sprinkle enters the fold as someone who played tight end in college in a pro-style offense.

Sure, he holds Arkansas’ school record for touchdown receptions by a tight end (11), but he’s an “effective blocker willing to do the physical work [who] snaps into down blocks and secures,” according to his NFL.com profile.

And with so many strong receiving options at the position on the roster, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden made it a point to find a tight end in the draft who can be a solid blocker. In year’s past, Washington has used Ty Nsekhe at times as an extra blocker. He certainly could still be used there, but the Redskins now have more tight end options to use in some of those bigger blocking schemes.

“He’s a big guy that can do both,” Gruden said of Sprinkle. “That’s very exciting. That’s very rare nowadays in college football. A lot of tight ends are athletic, can run, but when you ask them to put their hand on the ground and block that six-technique, it’s a whole different ballgame. We feel like Jeremy can do a little bit of both. And he’s still got to develop his upper body, but I think we get him in our building, get him in the weight room… He’s got the length, he’s got the size, he’s got the toughness. I think he’s a good pick.”

It will be interesting to see how the Redskins determine utilizing the tight ends who are active on game days, but a potential combination of Reed, Davis and Sprinkle, among others, will create mismatches for opposing defenses, particularly in the red zone.

@RedskinsBrasil asks: #HailMail who is going to start at NT?

This is a question that likely won’t be resolved until just before the start of the season, as Washington has a few in-house candidates to play the role even after only one defensive lineman (Jonathan Allen) was selected in this year’s draft.

While the Redskins only use a true nose tackle in the 3-4 base scheme a certain percentage of game action, Gruden feels good about the potential options to play the spot.

“I think a lot of people don’t know the guys we’ve had here or the guys there were on our practice squad like Joey Mbu, A.J. Francis,” Gruden said. “We feel good about the development of Matt Ioannidis, those three guys. And we added Phil Taylor Sr.. He’s an ex-first-round pick, had a couple of injuries but he’s looking good out here. He looks healthy and [he is] rolling so we feel good about those four guys competing for the nose guard spot. And we added obviously Stacy [McGee] who has played a little bit of nose but he’s more of an end, but we’ve got some multi-dimensional guys.”

Mbu and Francis both spent time on Washington’s practice squad in 2016, and Mbu recently has been working out with Trent Williams at his training facility in Houston.

He appeared in two regular season games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.

“I learned a lot about consistency. A lot about the mental game of football,” Mbu said. “He obviously is from the offensive end and he taught me what the weak points are in the offensive line.  [He taught me] work ethic, in the sense that he is literally there all day just working out, boxing, this and that. That is the work ethic I got from him…he has a really good personality and helps me with learning my surroundings. That’s a big thing, especially the person in his situation being a top guy and everything, learning his surroundings is a very key thing to him.”

Taylor, meanwhile, could be a player to watch in the coming months. He was a first-round pick for the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft and was named to the Pro Football Writers Associations’ All-Rookie Team that year.

But injuries stunted Taylor’s time on the field over the next few years and he hasn’t seen regular season action since the midway point of the 2014 season. He tried out for the Redskins last fall before signing a Reserve/Future contract in January.

He comes to Washington motivated on what could be his last opportunity to stick in the NFL.

“I haven’t played football in two years so I’ve got a lot to prove,” Taylor said. “My name hasn’t been around for a long time, so it’s not about position and where I am playing but is about going out there and doing what I’ve got to do.”

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