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IRVINE, Calif. — It has been eight years since veteran center John Sullivan joined legendary quarterback Brett Favre on the Minnesota Vikings, the last stop in what became a Hall of Fame career.

But hearing Favre’s name still makes Sullivan’s right buttock sting.

“He used to smack your ass so hard,” Sullivan, now the Los Angeles Rams’ starting center, said after a recent practice. “You’d be standing in a walk-through and you had to keep your head on a swivel because you just knew if Brett came up behind you, you were getting one, and you were going to have a handprint on there for a couple days.”

Sullivan was Favre’s center in 2009, the year he made the Pro Bowl and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game at the age of 40. He still laughs at all the times Favre used to make stuff up as he went along. Like that one two-minute drill in Pittsburgh, when Favre didn’t bother calling plays or protections. At one point he barked instructions to one of his receivers, yelled at Sullivan to snap him the ball and completed a five-yard out. The offense and defense was so flat-footed that the linemen didn’t even make contact with one another.

“He was an amazing player in terms of having a very natural feel for the game; instincts,” said Sullivan, also Favre’s center during his final season in 2010. “You talk about a youthful exuberance about the sport — he was 40 years old and he was playing like he was a 10-year-old kid in the backyard. It was refreshing for everybody. I was a 23-year-old kid fresh out of college, and even for me it was refreshing at that point in time.”

Sullivan, now 32, is surrounded by youth these days. His quarterback, Jared Goff, is 22, the youngest among the 10 players Sullivan has ever snapped the ball to in an NFL game. His boss, Sean McVay, is 31, the youngest head coach in NFL history.

Sullivan played under McVay last year, when McVay was in his last of three years as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator. Back issues began to plague Sullivan after a six-year run of being one of the game’s better centers from 2009 to ’14, a stretch when he started 93 of a possible 96 regular-season games. He spent all of the 2015 season on injured reserve, the product of two back surgeries, then lost the starting job in 2016 and was released at the end of August.
Rams center John Sullivan on Sean McVay: “He’s an incredible motivator, amazing with the X’s and O’s, and so far proving himself as a great head coach in terms of leading this organization and changing the culture …” Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
The Redskins picked him up on Sept. 27, shortly after starter Kory Lichtensteiger injured his calf. It was a Tuesday, heading into Week 4, the day of the Redskins’ walk-through. Sullivan flew into Washington, D.C., that morning, worked out, signed his contract and went straight into an offensive meeting before even having a chance to text his wife.

There, he met McVay.

“You’re going to these offensive install meetings, and he is so on the screws on every single detail,” Sullivan said. “But he’s not micromanaging. It’s just pointing out things that you can be looking for, and really coaching in the classroom in terms of being detail-oriented. He was incredibly impressive. I didn’t know his age at that point. I didn’t know he was 30. And even to this day, it doesn’t make any difference. He’s an incredible motivator, amazing with the X’s and O’s, and so far proving himself as a great head coach in terms of leading this organization and changing the culture, and making sure that everybody buys into our message. That’s just a connected team, with a ‘We Not Me’ slogan.”

Sullivan started only one game during that 2016 season, then re-joined McVay with the Rams, where he will replace former starter Tim Barnes at center. McVay believes Sullivan is fully healthy now. His presence in the room, with the knowledge he has of his offense, “has helped immensely,” McVay said.

“He’s one of the more impressive players I’ve ever been around, just in terms of his above the neck and the way that he’s able to translate things from the meeting room to the grass,” McVay went on about Sullivan. “He truly is one of those linemen — like we talk about with the quarterbacks — that’s an extension of the coaching staff. He’s got a great grasp of what we want to get done. He knows why, so he’s able to help his teammates out. He’s been a breath of fresh air.”

 

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More than the offense, though, Sullivan knows McVay. He knows his thought process on protections, he knows the way his offenses function, and he knows how he likes to attack. McVay is trying to do for the Rams what he did for the Redskins, even though his new personnel is significantly younger and less accomplished. He’s going from Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis to Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, two tight ends who have combined for 11 career catches. He’s going from Kirk Cousins to Goff, who’s coming off a disastrous rookie season. He’s going from DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, two former Bills teammates together again on the Rams.
“We scored a ton of points last year, and that’s the expectation here in Los Angeles now is we’re going to do that exact same thing,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to use all the facets of the game to attack teams, and we’re going to try to put defenses on their heels, make them defend the entire field.”

It’s been a long time since the Rams put opposing defenses on their heels. They have finished outside the top 20 in defense-adjusted value over average after each of the past 10 seasons. The past two years, they were last in the NFL in yards. This past season — a 4-12 season — they were held below 300 total yards in 10 games. Sullivan isn’t willing to set concrete expectations for what McVay can do for this offense, but he is confident in one thing.

“We’re not going to be an easy out for any defense we play,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to come out, we’re going to attack you, and we’re going to execute as well as we possibly can. We’re very process-oriented. We focus on coming out here and working the right way every single day. And the belief is that if you do that, the results will follow. We’ll see.”

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The Washington Redskins must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 2. Here’s a final 53-man roster projection:

Quarterback (2): Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy

That leaves Nate Sudfeld out. Coach Jay Gruden has been OK in the past carrying just two quarterbacks, and they could probably get Sudfeld back on the practice squad to keep him around and develop. If they believe they can’t sign him to the practice squad, he could earn a roster spot. And if they believe he’s worth grooming as an eventual starter, then he won’t be cut. There were definite mixed feelings about that topic. But keeping him means releasing someone who might be able to help now, probably a defensive player.
Nate Sudfield (left) might join Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy on the active roster if they don’t believe he’d get through waivers and onto the practice squad. Steve Helber/AP
Running back (4): Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Mack Brown

That leaves veteran Matt Jones, who opened last season as the starter, finally getting what he wanted: his release. Jones wasn’t going to beat out Kelley or Perine and Brown adds a special-teams element. Brown would be the odd man out if they kept only three backs.

Tight end (4): Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle

The Redskins talked to teams about trading Carrier, but to no avail. He can easily make a case for deserving a roster spot. He’s been one of the top four tight ends in camp. But the Redskins like Sprinkle because they see him as a rarity: a true Y tight end because of his size. More tight ends being drafted are akin to Reed, a receiver-type who can move around. Paul’s versatility matters — he can play fullback and special teams.

Offensive line (8): Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Ty Nsekhe, Chase Roullier, Kyle Kalis

The question will be: Do the Redskins eventually sign another veteran interior backup and bump Kalis (or Tyler Catalina, if he makes it) to the practice squad? Roullier played well all summer, but he and Kalis are rookies. Nsekhe is a tackle. They could use an experienced vet to back up inside. Roullier has been one of the Redskins’ most impressive rookies. The starting lineup is set.

Receiver (6): Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Robert Davis

Quick and Davis receive the final two spots and Maurice Harris does not because they can help on more special-teams units — both Quick and Davis have been used throughout the summer at gunner, for example. Both are big and physical; Harris is tall, but does not play as physically and is mostly limited to being a backup returner. Because of Doctson’s hamstring issues, it’s good for Washington to have an experienced backup such as Quick (who did not look sharp in the spring, but improved this summer). Harris didn’t do much of anything this summer because of a knee injury. They’d be smart to keep Harris on the practice squad and continue developing him.

Defensive line (7): Ziggy Hood, Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Joey Mbu

Phil Taylor Sr. would have been on the roster if not for a season-ending torn quad. That left Mbu and A.J. Francis fighting for the potential last spot (unless they only keep six). The rest of the group was easy to pick. If Mbu doesn’t make it, he could warrant a practice-squad spot. McClain has not had a strong summer, but is too expensive to cut. Ioannidis has been their starting nickel tackle, along with Allen. Lanier is worth developing more and the Redskins believe Hood sets the tone for this group with his approach. If they go with six linemen and no Mbu (nor Francis), then they could use a rotation at nose tackle with Hood and McGee — or claim someone off waivers.

Linebacker (9): Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Junior Galette, Ryan Anderson, Chris Carter, Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Will Compton, Martrell Spaight

This group was relatively easy to pick, as a lot hinged on whether Spaight got through camp healthy. Carter can play inside or outside and helps on special teams. Also, with Anderson still sidelined with a stinger injury, Carter can provide help as a fourth outside linebacker. This means cutting draft pick Josh Harvey-Clemons and undrafted Nico Marley. Harvey-Clemons was making a transition from safety and has more to learn; the practice squad would be a good place for him. Marley’s energy would help there, too.

 

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Secondary (10): Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller, Fabian Moreau, Quinton Dunbar, Josh Holsey, D.J. Swearinger, Su’a Cravens, Deshazor Everett, Montae Nicholson
Expect DeAngelo Hall to remain on the physically unable to perform list when the season begins. Holsey’s play this summer forced the Redskins to keep six corners. But it meant having to cut veteran Will Blackmon, a versatile player who can play safety or corner. It leaves them somewhat inexperienced at safety, with Cravens not having yet played the spot in an NFL game and Nicholson a rookie. Everett’s special-teams play warrants a spot. If they only keep six defensive linemen, then Blackmon could find a spot as a fifth safety.

Specialists (3): Tress Way, Dustin Hopkins, Nick Sundberg

Considering the Redskins didn’t bring in competition for anyone in this group, their spots are safe. However, Hopkins did not have a strong year last season (81-percent rate on field goals) and, despite his youth and strong leg, must be more consistent. With kickers and punters, job security is a week-to-week gig.

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ASHBURN, Virginia — The Washington Redskins’ outlook at safety changed dramatically this weekend with Su’a Cravens’ possible retirement. It’s created a question for the franchise and an opportunity for several players.

Keep in mind with Cravens: He had not yet played a game in the NFL at safety after serving as a nickel/dime linebacker his rookie season. There was uncertainty about how well he’d do in 2017. So it’s hard to say exactly what the Redskins have lost. That said, he had been working with the starters since the spring so they clearly viewed him as their best safety option. He offered energy, size and instincts.

However, he’d also missed valuable time this summer with a knee injury.

But now the Redskins have no choice but to replace him; whether it’s for a month or the season remains to be seen. The Redskins can leave him on the exempt list for up to a month before a decision must be made about his future. It also will be interesting to see how Cravens would be welcomed upon his return. After all, some teammates were upset with his wanting to retire — and with telling them in a group chat Saturday.
Washington’s Su’a Cravens had been working with the starters at safety since the spring. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Here are Washington’s options:

Deshazor Everett: He’ll get the first shot at the starting job; how long he keeps that position will be up to him. Everett has improved since switching to safety in the 2016 offseason. He adds toughness to the defensive backfield and will be a core special teams player if nothing else. In an ideal situation, Everett would be a key backup and special teamer. But he’s been presented a golden opportunity to prove he can be more.

“I’ve got total confidence in Shaze, man,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “Ever since Su’a was hurt, he’s been in there making good plays, making good strides, getting better week to week.”

Montae Nicholson: The rookie fourth-round pick missed a lot of training camp while recovering from a shoulder injury. But he quickly showed in camp that he liked to play physical, coming up hard against the run — something he also did in preseason games, too. Even with Cravens here, Nicholson might have been their future starter at safety anyway (Cravens has more versatility and covers better; but if he slipped Nicholson would be there). He’s considered explosive with good range — the Redskins always liked the speed they saw in college. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Nicholson is built well for the position. He’s the one to watch develop out of this group.

Stefan McClure: He was the summer surprise — there’s always one — and up until the preseason finale, it’s hard to say he would have made the roster. But he played well — and it wasn’t just that he made a couple plays, it was how he looked in doing them and what he was doing right. It also makes sense that with the Cravens situation unfolding on cutdown day, they’d keep someone extra. McClure, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Cal, signed with Washington one week into training camp. The Redskins like how well he moved in the secondary and that he played physical. If nothing else, he could provide young legs on special teams.

DeAngelo Hall: He’s included here because in six weeks he could be an option. The Redskins placed Hall on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. There’s a good deal of respect for him in the building and they wanted his leadership (and wisdom) around, too. Hall has been serving almost as an assistant coach since camp opened. The hard part is that Hall was still transitioning to safety when hurt in Week 3 last season. Where will his game be when he returns? That’s what the Redskins want to see. At the least, he’d give them veteran depth. If he can give them more? They’ll be happy. But a lot will depend on how others have developed during this time.

One (possible) bonus for Washington: Swearinger. Though he’s in his first season with the Redskins, Swearinger took charge of the secondary in a big way. He’s vocal and decisive in his calls. He’s playing with his fourth franchise, but he’s coming off his best season and the talent that helped him become a second-round pick in 2013 remains. His leadership and communication skills will help any newcomer playing alongside him.

It won’t make all the difference — a strong pass rush (and a healthy Junior Galette) would help, too. Ultimately, the other safety will have to make plays or at least prevent them. But the Redskins hope other factors can soften any blow from losing Cravens.

“It’s next-guy-up,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “It’s like that with 31 other teams in the NFL. It’s the way of the world of this business. We move forward. We’ve got those guys behind us that can do it. We’ll put a good product on the field come Sunday. Trust and believe that.”

 

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The Washington Redskins’ offense, which has struggled this summer, received a dose of good news: Tight end Jordan Reed was activated off the physically unable to perform list on Sunday. Reed was placed on the list at the start of training camp thanks to a sprained left big toe. He also had sprained his left ankle, compensating for the toe issue. But all along, Reed maintained optimism that he would return soon and was eyeing this week. On Aug. 13, Reed started wearing a wider cleat and using orthotics to better cushion his toe. After doing so, he said he did not feel the toe when making hard plant-and-cuts. Reed and coach Jay Gruden both have been optimistic from the start of camp that he would be back in time for the Sept. 10 season opener vs. Philadelphia. The offense needs him. In two preseason games, the Redskins’ starting offense has yet to gain a first down in four series against the opposition’s No. 1 defense. It hasn’t helped that Reed couldn’t play and that receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson played for the first time Saturday night in a 21-17 loss to Green Bay. Considering that the Redskins lost receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in the offseason, they know Reed and Crowder in particular are key to their success. Reed has been the top target in the Redskins’ passing offense for most of the past three seasons. In the past two seasons, quarterback Kirk Cousins owns a 121.4 passer rating when targeting Reed. During that time, he has caught a combined 153 passes with 17 touchdowns. He has also missed a combined six games because of injuries in those seasons — and 20 for his four-year career. The Redskins like using two-tight-end sets, knowing that with Reed and Vernon Davis, the defense must honor both the run and the pass.

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Our reporters are split when it comes to the person who most likely is on the hot seat in the division, but quarterback Kirk Cousins gets the most votes.

Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys reporter: I want to say Redskins coach Jay Gruden, considering there always seems to be drama in Washington, but I will go with Cousins. He is once again playing for a contract since Washington opted to use the franchise tag on him for the second straight year. He responded last year with 4,917 yards and 25 touchdown passes after a somewhat slow start to the season — well, slow to me, because he was not very good in the Cowboys’ Week 2 win at FedEx Field. If he does not get the Redskins to the playoffs in 2017, then would they use the franchise tag on him again in 2018? Would another team be willing to fork over a huge free-agent deal for him? If he takes a step back because of the losses of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, there will be questions surrounding him going into next season, wherever he plays.

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Jordan Raanan, New York Giants reporter: Cousins. He’s a quarterback playing for a contract. Every move he makes will be dissected and overanalyzed. Every mistake will be used against him and his case for the next quarterback mega-deal. It doesn’t help that Cousins already has been penciled into the 49ers lineup in many people’s minds for next year. There already were rumors this past offseason that he will join former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. That makes his seat extra hot. The spotlight will be on Cousins again this year.
Tim McManus, Philadelphia Eagles reporter: Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. There were a few factors working against Pederson last season. It was his first year as a head coach in the NFL. He was tasked with implementing a new system and building a new culture, all while breaking in a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who leaped from third-stringer to starter when Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota a week before the start of the regular season. With a year of experience under his (and his quarterback’s) belt and with more offensive weapons at his disposal, it should be easier sledding for Pederson in Year 2. That’s good, because the expectations are up. Owner Jeffrey Lurie believes he has a special quarterback in Wentz, and while he’s publicly preaching patience, he also is itching to return his franchise to prominence. With a potential franchise QB in place, a rare window of opportunity could be opening. Pederson needs to show that he is the right man to take advantage of it. Another 7-9 season just won’t do.

John Keim, Washington Redskins reporter: Giants QB Eli Manning. It’s not as if Manning is in danger of losing his starting job. But considering he’s 36 and coming off a down year — 26 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 6.7 yards per attempt average, his lowest since 2007 — there’s no doubt he has a lot to prove. The Giants added receiver Brandon Marshall and drafted tight end Evan Engram to provide more help. (But the line remains an issue.) The Giants also drafted Davis Webb in the third round, so they can perhaps start the process of grooming Manning’s successor. This season will determine when that handoff might need to occur.