The Washington Redskins have been stuck in a cloud of mediocrity, as the team has hovered around .500 during the Jay Gruden Era. Over Gruden’s tenure, the team has complied a record of 35-44-1, earning a playoff appearance once (in 2015) and zero post-season victories.
This has proved to be an area of contention around Ashburn, as coaches and front office officials alike have been looking over their shoulders for the potential grim reaper that may visit as early as mid-season.
Hence, before this season begins, it’s understood that the 2019-2020 season is a crucial one. One in which the team can either agree that there are potential blocks in which to build a foundation, or alternatively a “full reset” may take place. Where will the team stand in December?
This is where the article will take us. In order for the team to make real strides in the fall, four key players must exceed expectations and prove to be reliable components to the Redskins program. Enjoy Four influential Redskins that Will Shape the 2019 Season.
For the sake of this article, I decided to stray away from low-hanging fruit and players that easily shape the future of this franchise (Trent Williams, Dwayne Haskins, etc).
So my first “influential player” is Montae Nicholson. Nicholson, plays a vital role in whether our defense is a contender or a pretender. At 6’2″ and 212 lbs, Nicholson has the measurables that leaves coaches in awe. His 4.42 40-yard dash and 33 3/8 inches arms are nothing to gawk at either. Nicholson has the physical traits to dominate on the football field, but needs to prove that he is someone that can be relied on.
As a rookie, Nicholson showed flashes of speed and an unexpected propensity to “lay the wood” into opponents. He popped as a sideline-to-sideline center fielder and even had a gorgeous interception against the Raiders on Monday Night Football in which the Redskins dominated.
But his sophomore campaign, was riddled with question marks as migraines, missed assignments, and even legal issues left Nicholson as a spectator as opposed to a contributor. Altogether, Nicholson has played in 22 of 36 games over his two-year NFL career.
If the Redskins are expecting to to have an elite-caliber defense–one in which many fans are demanding–Nicholson needs to be a consistent performer and allow for new safety Landon Collins to freelance.
Ideally, Nicholson starts all 16 games and provides a sideline-to-sideline free safety which will allow Collins more of an opportunity to play in-the-box, which is his strength. This will allow both players to play in their most optimal position.
Last year, Nicholson was asked to play more in a Cover-2 base defense, and was more regulated to the left or right side of the field. It was noted that he had difficulty grasping the concepts of former Secondary Coach Torrian Gray, and hence the discontent between the two. Hopefully 2019 provides a fresh start. This will allow for the team’s defensive backfield to solidify, and hopefully create a stout force this season.
Left Guard “X”
As so eloquently noted across all venues, our offensive line is in complete disarray. Most of it is due to the fact one of the best left tackles in the game, Trent Williams, is mounting a standoff with the organization. I’ll note that I truly believe Williams will return to the ‘Skins post week three of the preseason. So that in itself will breed continuity and respectability to the unit.
Taking that into account, someone needs to play next to him. And that someone could be a final link to an otherwise formidable offensive line. As we stand now, the two candidates who are most likely to fill this position is former first-round pick Ereck Flowers, and Wes Martin a fourth-round pick out of Indiana.
Martin is the heavy favorite to take the field week one against Philadelphia, and rightfully so. Over his five years at Indiana (including a red-shirt freshman year) Martin played in 50 games, starting 43 of them.
Noted for his strength (Martin was recorded bench pressing 225 forty-two times on his pro-day), Martin should provide an anchor in the pass-blocking offense. Where things become pivotal is his blocking in the run-game. If Martin can assimilate to the NFL quickly, he can contribute to a Redskins offense that will likely be predicated on the run.
For this exercise, let’s assume he provides adequate to above-adequate starting ability. Our offensive line would consist of two pro-bowlers (Williams and Brandon Scherff), and three reliable starters. A well-rounded offensive line would go a long way to supporting Gruden’s vision of ball-control and timely play-action. Martin is a big key.
Derrius Guice is a fan-favorite and one of the most approachable players on the team. Understood.
Derrius Guice was a standout at LSU and ran for 1400 yards and 15 Touchdowns in a timeshare (!!) in the SEC Conference. Also understood.
But what is unclear is where Guice’s NFL path takes him. It is easy to wax-poetic and peg Guice as the next great Redskins running back, but he has yet to take a snap in a live professional game.
If the Redskins truly want to have an impact this upcoming season (and the foreseeable future), Derrius needs to be the real deal. And that means becoming a three-down back with 10-15 meaningful touches per game.
In an ideal world, Guice (5’11, 224 lbs) would be deployed like All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott (6’0, 225 lbs) and not be confined to runs up the middle. Meaning, Guice should be utilized out in space and part of the passing game.
The Cowboys make a concerted effort to give Elliott a platform to build up speed and “run downhill”, allowing for his bruising size, and ability to break tackles, thrive. This comes in the form of tosses, designed screens, and check-downs as part of the passing game. The Redskins would be wise to do the same with Guice.
Last year in Richmond, it was noted that catching the ball “came easy” to Derrius, which was surprising considering it wasn’t a part of his repertoire in Baton Rouge. If Guice can prove to be a reliable pass catcher in addition to his running ability, it will make the Redskins game-script less predictable and our offense more multiple. It would also alleviate some of the burden for the ageless wonder Adrian Peterson (rushing) and the oft-injured Chris Thompson (receiving).
Thus Guice’s development has serious implications on our season. Making him one of the most influential players on the team.
I know, I know, it’s blasphemous to talk about Trey Quinn. I mean, he does have nine (!!) of the most influential receptions in NFL History.
But Quinn has a lot to prove this season, and in all seriousness, his influence will drastically shape the personality of the Redskins offense.
Quinn is pegged to shoulder the slot-receiver position, a stance affirmed by the Head Coach today.
Gruden said Trey Quinn has the slot spot locked down. Zero surprise considering uncertainty over who would be next. A few guys will get reps there, including UDFA Steven Sims. Cam Sims said he's worked there too; he's learning all 3 spots. Kidzy working inside too.
— John Keim (@john_keim) July 28, 2019
Considering this, Quinn’s development and production is of vital importance to the Redskins success in 2019.
Gone is Jamison Crowder, who by most analysts, had an up-and-down tenure here in Washington. But it is undeniable how much of an influence he had when healthy. Over Crowder’s four-year tenure, he accumulated 329 targets, 221 receptions, 2,628 yards and 14 touchdowns. That includes seven missed games.
Quinn needs to proves that his stint on injured-reserve last year was an aberration. That he can be called upon to play 16 games and provide a steady presence for **whatever** quarterback the team trots out there.
A slot receiver who wins consistently is the hallmark of an effective passing game. It’s also a crutch that any quarterback can use on third down.
And considering rookie Dwayne Haskins has a realistic chance of playing time this season, slot receivers tend to be an easy outlet for QBs considering they run routes across their sight-line.
The Redskins would best be served if Quinn can provide 50+ catches, roughly 700 yards and six touchdowns. If achieved, the Redskins offense may be more prolific than many are projecting. And ideally, this would lead to team success in 2019.