Monthly Archives: July 2017

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The San Francisco 49ers could have as many as 12 new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s an early starting lineup projection as training camp opens:

OFFENSE

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Quarterback (Brian Hoyer): Hoyer is the quarterback whom coach Kyle Shanahan selected to bridge the gap until the Niners can find their long-term franchise solution. Hoyer has played for Shanahan before and knows the system well enough to help guide an offense that has ranked near the bottom of the league in recent years.

Running back (Carlos Hyde): This is an important season for Hyde, who is in the final year of his contract and must prove he can fit in Shanahan’s outside zone running scheme. Hyde must stay healthy for a full season and do enough to hold off talented backups Joe Williams and Tim Hightower in the process.

Fullback (Kyle Juszczyk): The highest-paid fullback in the league, Juszczyk figures to be an integral part of the offense. Shanahan plans for him to play all over the offense, including at tight end, split out wide and in the backfield.

Wide receiver (Pierre Garcon): Signed to offer leadership and productivity, Garcon is the most accomplished wideout on the roster and will start from Day 1.

Wide receiver (Marquise Goodwin): After a disappointing stint in Buffalo marked by injuries, Goodwin gets a fresh start in San Francisco, where the Niners hope his blazing speed will complement the intermediate work of Garcon.

Tight end (Logan Paulsen): There’s not necessarily a tight end on the roster who will be a major target in the passing game, but the ones who make the team will all be involved in some capacity. Paulsen’s knowledge of the offense and blocking ability should earn him plenty of snaps.

Left tackle (Joe Staley): Perhaps the only sure thing on the offensive line, Staley remains the stalwart of this group and a team leader.

Left guard (Zane Beadles): There is competition at both guard spots and Brandon Fusco could win a job, but Beadles is a decent athlete and makes sense as a fit in this scheme.

Center (Jeremy Zuttah): Another spot where competition will be hot as Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore figure to battle it out throughout the preseason. Zuttah was limited by injury in the spring but is a better athlete than Kilgore, which gives him a slight edge.

Right guard (Joshua Garnett): Garnett has trimmed down and gotten leaner in an effort to be quicker so he can get to the second level more consistently in Shanahan’s offense. His run blocking should help him nail down a job.

Right tackle (Trent Brown): Like the guard spots and center, Brown will have competition from Garry Gilliam. Brown’s athleticism at his size impressed offensive line coach John Benton in the spring, and if he comes back a bit lighter he should be able to hold off Gilliam.

DEFENSE

Defensive end (Solomon Thomas): Thomas is behind the curve a bit as camp opens after he was forced to miss the offseason program while Stanford finished classes. Still, it would be a major surprise if the No. 3 overall pick wasn’t on the field on opening day.

Defensive end (Arik Armstead): The Niners signed veteran Elvis Dumervil to bolster the pass rush, and that’s what he’ll do but probably not on base downs. Armstead is a work in progress for this Leo defensive end spot, but he’ll be given every chance to at least handle it on early downs.

Defensive tackle (Earl Mitchell): Defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina said in the spring that he pounded the table to add Mitchell after the Miami Dolphins released him. Mitchell was added to help the 49ers’ abysmal run defense, and he’ll get a chance to do that from the nose tackle position.

Defensive tackle (DeForest Buckner): This spot is new for Buckner as he moves inside to the three-technique, but he showed flashes of ability as an inside pass-rusher last year.

Weakside linebacker (Reuben Foster): If Foster’s shoulder proves healthy, he should win the job. But if it takes a little longer, Malcolm Smith could hold it until Foster is ready.

Middle linebacker (NaVorro Bowman): The Niners have told Bowman he will have to compete for his job, but it seems likely he’ll get another go so long as he is healthy.

Strong side linebacker (Ahmad Brooks): The veteran Brooks will play a key role in this Sam linebacker spot, where he will need to provide more pass-rush punch.

Cornerback (Rashard Robinson): An offseason makeover at corner leaves Robinson as the de facto No. 1. His length and attitude could make him an ideal fit in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense.

Cornerback (Keith Reaser): Another position that’s up for grabs as Reaser battles Dontae Johnson and rookie Ahkello Witherspoon. The Niners would love Witherspoon to win the job, but Reaser looked the best equipped to do it in the spring.
Free safety (Jimmie Ward): Ward is moving from corner to a spot he played well in college. He has the athletic ability to play the position, but staying healthy has been an issue.

Strong safety (Eric Reid): Reid is better suited to this spot than free safety as he’ll be more of an extra linebacker in this scheme. He could use a big year in order to secure a big contract next offseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker (Robbie Gould): Little doubt here after Gould was added in the offseason.

Punter (Bradley Pinion): The steady Pinion is back for another year.

Long-snapper (Kyle Nelson): You don’t hear Nelson’s name often, which is a good thing at his position.

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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.

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ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall said team president Bruce Allen pulled him aside one day last week and then brought over newly-promoted Doug Williams. He told Williams that Hall was “his guy.”

“He always jokes that I’m the assistant GM,” Hall said of Allen.

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Someday, that could actually be the case. And, perhaps, without the assistant part of the title. Hall isn’t yet ready to retire — he accepted a paycut earlier this month and, if he recovers well from last season’s torn ACL, he could end up playing a 14th season. His cap hit went from $5.06 million to $3.1 million (his base salary is now $2.3 million).

But he also has eyes on post-career plans.

“I see myself in a suit doing something,” Hall said. “I don’t see myself on the field coaching. I see myself in the front office….I feel I can see talent.”

Hall could easily slide into some sort of broadcasting role as well; he’s smart, insightful and willing to deliver strong opinions. But those same qualities would transfer to a front office role as well. Williams, now the senior vice president of player personnel, is considered a shrewd person willing to give strong opinions as well. That’s not true of everyone in a front office, but it is a quality that former general managers say is necessary.

For Hall, helping build a team would be appealing.

“I’m not saying I’m a mastermind or Bill Belichick,” Hall said. “But when you play the game, or you’re asked to do other things, like Doug, you have a little more feel than the guy who has been in the office his whole life. I wish it was the NBA where you could stop and go be a head coach or GM like that. I understand it’s a process, but it’s definitely something I want to get involved in.”

As Hall has grown in the game, he’s gone from being a corner nicknamed ‘MeAngelo’ to a captain and now a safety. He’s had to learn the game from another perspective, giving him a wider range of insight. It takes a lot more than that to be a general manager, but it does provide Hall a solid base. Fellow safety Will Blackmon could be placed in the same category, someone who could go either the broadcast or front office route.

“I tell young guys this is my 14th year, and I’ve still got a pen and paper in meetings,” Hall said. “I’m still trying to pick other guys brains and see why they play things a certain way. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop getting better.”

Hall, who tore his ACL in Week 3 last season, said he’s still not sure if he’ll be ready at the start of training camp. Because he’s 33 and has missed 31 of the past 48 games due to injuries, it’s fair to wonder what Hall has left. But the Redskins still like what he adds, assuming he’s healthy.

“He’s kind of been a mainstay here, and he kind of keeps the boat from sinking from time to time,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There’s some volatile people in that defensive back room, and he’s a calming guy, if you can believe that. He’s been great. He’s been a great leader for us. Unfortunately for him, injuries have shortened his season. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him back at a later date, but if we don’t have him back when we want to, at least he’ll be in the room and still have a major influence on the team and the defense.”
The Redskins signed safety D.J. Swearinger and moved Su’a Cravens from linebacker to safety. They also have Blackmon, who moved to safety last offseason and Deshazor Everett, who did the same. They drafted Montae Nicholson in the spring. Typically, the Redskins would keep five safeties.

“If he comes back at full-strength, we’ll see what he can do and where we are at the safety position,” Gruden said.

Hall understands the situation he’s now in, needing to prove he can still play.

“I’ve always been a guy who felt when it was my time to go, it’s my time to go,” he said. “If I can’t make a play, they won’t keep me around for my smile. When I can’t do what they ask me to do, I will be out of here. They still feel I can play; I feel I can play.”

And when those playing days end, Hall knows what he hopes comes next.

 

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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, and organized team activities and minicamps in full swing, here’s a starting-lineup projection for the Washington Redskins:

OFFENSE

QB: Kirk Cousins: In the past two seasons combined, Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

RB: Samaji Perine: Rob Kelley ended last season as the starter, but he’ll be a complementary piece to Perine, a fourth-round power back who averaged 6.0 yards per carry at Oklahoma.

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TE: Jordan Reed: In the past two years, Cousins has posted a 121.4 passer rating when targeting Reed.

LT: Trent Williams: He has made five straight Pro Bowls and remains in the discussion for the game’s best tackle.

LG: Shawn Lauvao: He’s entering the final year of his contract and struggled at times last season.

C: Spencer Long: He switched to center last offseason and ended up starting 12 games.

RG: Brandon Scherff: The fifth overall pick in 2015 reached the Pro Bowl in his second season.

RT: Morgan Moses: The Redskins recently signed the third-year starter to a five-year extension.

TE: Vernon Davis: He was a valuable part last season, with 44 catches and solid blocking.

WR: Jamison Crowder: Without DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Crowder will be in position to top his 2016 receptions total of 67.

WR: Terrelle Pryor: He surpassed 1,000 yards in his first season as a receiver and now is paired with a better quarterback.
Jonathan Allen should provide help against the run and an interior push on pass plays. Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire
DEFENSE

DE: Jonathan Allen: The rookie can provide needed help against the run and an interior push on pass plays.

NT: Terrell McClain: He’s best as an end and tackle in a 3-4, but the Redskins haven’t yet settled on a true nose.

DE: Stacy McGee: He played well for Oakland last season but was limited to nine games because of an ankle injury.

OLB: Ryan Kerrigan: The steady Kerrigan has recorded a combined 34 sacks the past three seasons.

ILB: Mason Foster: This could go either way between Foster and Zach Brown, signed as a free agent, so this is far from a guarantee.

ILB: Will Compton: He’s their best linebacker handling the signals, giving him an edge to start, though Foster could play here, too.

OLB: Ryan Anderson: The rookie must beat out Preston Smith and Junior Galette, but the coaches want Anderson’s attitude on the field.

CB: Josh Norman: Played well in 2016, but the Redskins need more game-changing plays.

FS: D.J. Swearinger: He has played mostly in the box but showed last season in Arizona he could handle the deep middle.

SS: Su’a Cravens: He played nickel/dime linebacker last season but has moved to his more natural position.

CB: Bashaud Breeland: He’s entering a contract year and must improve on his 2016 performance.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Dustin Hopkins: Excellent on kickoffs, but his FG percentage went from 89.3 two years ago to 81.0 last season.

P: Tress Way: Has a 46.4 yards per punt career average, but his net of 38.9 last season was a career low.

KR: Chris Thompson: Rookie corner Fabian Moreau could help here, too; Thompson averaged 21.2 per return in ’16.

PR: Jamison Crowder: He was a dynamic returner last season, averaging 12.1 yards per return with one touchdown.