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The Washington Redskins’ offense wasn’t exactly a juggernaut under the direction of Alex Smith in 2018, but it was efficient enough for the team to start 6-3 before the quarterback went down with a career-threatening broken leg. The team addressed uncertainty at the position by trading for veteran Case Keenum and drafting Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins with the 15th pick.

The quarterback competition will continue to be a focal point of the offense during training camp, as will the status of tackle Trent Williams, who skipped mandatory minicamp over frustration with the team’s medical staff. But those are far from the only story lines affecting the offense before camp opens in Richmond in late July. Let’s take a look at four big questions for a unit that ranked 29th out of 32 teams in scoring offense last season.

Will Josh Doctson finally have a big year?
Doctson has something to prove, even if the wide receiver doesn’t want to look at it that way. The team declined to pick up his option, and the 2016 first-round pick is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Doctson needs to show the Redskins, and the league, that he deserves a significant deal after this season, and there’s no question the Washington offense would benefit from a breakout year from at least one member of its receiving corps.

The problem is Doctson may not get the opportunity to put up big numbers in an offense Coach Jay Gruden hopes is balanced and heavily reliant on the running game. Gruden wants to give plenty of opportunities to running backs Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson while spreading the ball around through the air to Paul Richardson Jr., Jordan Reed, Trey Quinn, Vernon Davis and rookie Terry McLaurin, in addition to Doctson.

“I can’t promise he’s going to get a ton of opportunities with the group of guys that we have,” Gruden said. “The whole intent of this offense is to spread the ball around … and everybody taking advantage when their number is called.”
[The Redskins’ deep backfield could force coaches into some tough decisions]

Will Brandon Scherff’s contract extension get done?

Right guard Brandon Scherff has yet to agree to a contract extension as he enters the final season of his rookie deal. He’ll make $12.5 million this season after making two Pro Bowls and the all-rookie team in his first four years. Scherff had been durable — he played 46 of 48 games in his first three seasons — before a torn pectoral muscle landed him on injured reserve after eight games last season. Pro Football Focus ranked Scherff as the ninth-best guard in 2017 and No. 14 during his injury-shortened 2018.

Team president Bruce Allen has said that extending Scherff is a priority, and he is likely to command a top-five salary at the position. The Dallas Cowboys’ Zack Martin is the highest-paid guard in the league; he has a six-year, $84 million contract.
Scherff could gamble and wait to sign a multiyear extension until after the new collective bargaining agreement is signed. Former Redskins salary cap analyst J.I. Halsell said Scherff could decline a long-term deal, force the team to use the franchise tag on him for the 2020 season and negotiate a multiyear contract worth more money under the new CBA.

[The Redskins view Ereck Flowers as potential starter at left guard]

Will Samaje Perine see any playing time?

Gruden continues to praise the running back, insisting the 2017 fourth-round pick deserves more chances. But how? Running backs coach Randy Jordan has said he envisions a 50-50 or 60-40 split between Peterson and Guice, with Thompson getting snaps in passing situations. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of opportunity for Perine.

“Samaje really has been the guy that has been most impressive,” Gruden said during minicamp. “He’s been out here taking all the reps. He’s really improved in not only the running game but also in the passing game. . . . He’s a powerful running back and he has not had the opportunities that he probably deserves or needs.”
The Redskins made something of a surprise move last fall when they kept five running backs. The numbers could be interesting again with fourth-round pick Bryce Love joining the fold once he recovers from a torn ACL.

[Dwayne Haskins could start Week 1, and more Redskins offseason takeaways]

Will Trey Quinn excel as the slot receiver?

Expectations were low for Quinn when he was the last pick of the 2018 draft, but he quickly impressed with good hands and precise route running during workouts and training camp. Ankle injuries landed him on injured reserve twice, but he is poised to replace Jamison Crowder as the starting slot receiver.

“Trey’s done an excellent job,” Gruden said. “He’s come in here and stepped to the head of the class as far as his position is concerned and done a great job. He understands raw concepts, he’s physical, he’s got strong hands, he can separate, and he can block. He’s also a punt returner for us, so he’s a valuable member of our team right now. . . . That slot position is critical for us.”

That’s a lot of praise for a seventh-round pick with three games of NFL experience and nine career receptions, but Quinn continues to make believers of those around him.

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders have signed offensive lineman Denzelle Good to a one-year extension.

He was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this month before signing Saturday.
Good was claimed off waivers by Oakland from Indianapolis late last year. He played four games for the Raiders, starting the final three at right guard in place of the injured Gabe Jackson.

Good was a seventh-round pick by the Colts in 2015. He has experience at tackle and guard, with 20 starts in his career.
ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Redskins have hired longtime NFL defensive guru Rob Ryan as inside linebackers coach.

The team announced the move Wednesday, a day after promoting Kevin O’Connell to offensive co-ordinator on coach Jay Gruden’s staff. Ryan most recently served as the Buffalo Bills’ assistant head coach for defence in 2016.
Before Buffalo, Ryan served as defensive co-ordinator for the New Orleans Saints from 2013-2015, Dallas Cowboys in 2011 and 2012, Cleveland Browns in 2009 and 2010 and Oakland Raiders from 2004-2008. His 2013 Saints’ defence ranked second in passing defence and fourth in points allowed.

The 56-year-old takes over a role on a defence that ranked 17th in the league last season. Defensive co-ordinator Greg Manusky will return for a third season after the Redskins spoke with several potential candidates for the job but never hired a replacement.

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LANDOVER, Md. — On a first-quarter run up the middle, Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson spotted Denver Broncos linebacker Todd Davis in the hole. So Peterson did what he once did so often: He turned trouble into a long gain. Peterson used a jump cut to bounce outside, then cut once more for a 13-yard gain.

In an otherwise bad half for Washington, its new running back — trying to revive his career at age 33 — stood out.

Peterson finished with 11 carries for 56 yards in one half of action, showing Washington a lot of what it wanted to see in an otherwise ugly 29-17 preseason loss. He displayed some explosion and showed an ability to carry the ball on consecutive drives. He even converted a fourth-and-inches down with a 15-yard dash around the left end, getting a key block from someone even older — 34-year-old Vernon Davis.
Adrian Peterson finished with 11 carries for 56 yards in one half of action for Washington on Friday night. Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Peterson also might have shown that he’s the best first- and second-down running back on the roster.

For the Redskins, it was about seeing what sort of load Peterson can handle. For Peterson, it was just a chance to get some work.

“My body feels good right now,” he said. “We’ll see how I feel when I wake up in the morning. But I felt like I responded well. My legs felt good, I didn’t get tired, so the cardio is where it needs to be. And right now I just look at it as knocking a little rust off.”

Peterson carried more times Friday than he had in his previous six preseasons combined.

“So many years I’ve begged to play in the preseason and I’ve been shut down. They didn’t have to beg me at all to play this week,” he said.

“It was very critical, especially this third preseason game, to get out there and get a feel. Not only just for me, but to get something on film so we can go back. I was communicating with the offensive line and they were like, ‘Hey, we gotta be a little faster on this play; it’s a different speed.’ So I think we’ll learn a lot from it.”

The Redskins signed Peterson on Monday, wanting to see if he could unseat either Rob Kelley or Samaje Perine for the starting job. It’s not as if the rest of the offense was humming Friday night. The Redskins’ passing game struggled as starting quarterback Alex Smith completed just 3 of 8 passes for 33 yards.

Instead, the first half was about seeing what Peterson could do. The Redskins wanted to see his explosion, how he handled consecutive carries and his vision.

He started the game in the I formation, gaining 7 yards running up the middle. But that series ended in a three-and-out, so it wasn’t until the Redskins’ next drive that Peterson showed more.

It wasn’t always big gains. He gained nothing on his first carry of the Redskins’ second drive before a 13-yarder. However, that was followed by consecutive gains of 1 yard. On that drive, Peterson carried the ball seven straight times for a total of 28 yards. There was one flashy run and six workmanlike carries.

“I saw a big guy running pretty hard,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The thing I liked about some of his runs is, he looked like he had a gains of 1 yard and fell forward for 3. I thought [the first run] was a 3-yard gain, and all of a sudden it’s second-and-3. I was impressed with Adrian the way he ran.”

Peterson saved one of his best runs for last. The Redskins went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 40-yard line. Peterson, running to his left, was going to try to slam the ball just outside the left tackle, but a defender closed that gap, so Peterson bounced wide left where Davis was blocking his man. Peterson cut back to the inside to finish for another 10 yards.

Peterson had been hoping for some sort of lead play through the middle, but the Redskins called for a run that he could take wide, perhaps anticipating a stacked front.
“When Alex called the play, I’m like, ‘Dang,'” Peterson said. “I just kind of got in my mind that I was gonna be patient and just watch and see how the play developed. I actually had a two-way go; I could have taken it into the gap [outside the tackle] and I almost did. The outside was wide open so I just turned on the speed a little bit, got around and tried to make a big play out of it.”

Peterson did not play another snap, but he had made his point.

After the play, left tackle Trent Williams — his good friend — embraced him.

“I got on the sideline and I was like, ‘Man, I should have crossed field,'” Peterson said. “He’s like, ‘Nah, you did good, you did good.’ But I’m always thinking that way.”

The Redskins are thinking they might have found more help at running back.

“The guy just got here, got up to speed fast, and all of a sudden he’s getting a bunch of touches in a game,” Smith said. “Still looks pretty strong and explosive. It was good to get him in a rhythm and see what he can do.”

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“Never won a Super Bowl.”
“That’s what we’re all chasing.”
Alex Smith must be thinking of the end.
How can it not claw at the mind? The thought of the endless pursuit ceasing to exist. All the work. All the hidden hours. Devolved into a meaningless, empty resolution. How could all of it lead to nothing? The reality hits quickly. With a jolt. Like lightning.
The lights came faster now as Alex Smith walked into a room, eyes watching him, cameras flashing, hands clapping. He casually made his way up the ramp and settled to the right of a polished wooden podium with a black canvas splayed out behind him, donning a navy suit and a navy tie. The colors of dusk.
Doug Williams had just eased up the crowd of reporters a bit. He made Smith’s job, at that moment, a bit easier. Walk up, give the man a firm handshake, flash the frugal, yet confident smile, and face the media. Take a few pictures. All the usual customary measures. But Smith knew his real job in D.C. wouldn’t be so easy. After all, they’d given him four years to do it.
He didn’t mind. Alex Smith exuded confidence entering his introductory press conference with the Washington Redskins. That’s one thing he’s never lacked in his twelve year career. Confidence. Even when Colin Kaepernick took his job in San Francisco, the former No. 1 overall pick was confident he’d get an opportunity elsewhere. And even when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to draft his immediate successor, Patrick Mahomes, in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Smith knew he wasn’t done yet. He knew he’d get another chance somewhere else. He earned it.
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“Somewhere else” became Washington. The nation’s capital. His next opportunity revealed itself a bit sooner than expected, on the night of January 30, 2018. The Washington Redskins, whose contract conversation with Kirk Cousins had officially lost its pulse, knew they needed a succession plan. And with a young, ascending roster nearly ready for a playoff run, they didn’t need just any quarterback. They needed a quarterback who was ready.
That quarterback became Alex Smith. The game manager turned gunslinger. The No. 1 overall pick itching to prove that, yes, he could amass a resume worthy of his draft slot. A resume that rivaled quarterbacks of his era. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers. Ben Roethlisberger. Eli Manning. He wanted to go to a place where he was wanted. Where he could win, and keep on the chase. He needed a team that was ready.
He held his smile, standing next to Doug Williams, and the reporters snapped away, flashes of light peppering the canvas behind him, a Washington Redskins helmet fitting comfortably into his hands. After a few seconds, Doug Williams patted him on the shoulder and turned the other way.
It was Smith’s time to speak now.
He adjusted his suit jacket and walked back to the podium, giving his thanks twice before turning to address the men and women with the cameras. He smiled again, took a deep breath, and gave a nod. There was that confidence again.
“Fire away,” he said. As if he had five rings on five fingers.
Smith clung to the confidence that had buoyed him his entire NFL career. But as he looked around the room, and as he saw the faces of D.C., he had to feel something else. Something different. Fast forward to a fan gathering at which Smith spoke, where eleven-year old fans wore burgundy and gold Alex Smith jerseys before he even had a chance to. Where older fans looked up to him with some kind of hope that only began to hint at the lingering hopelessness they’d felt before his arrival.
You have to wonder if, somewhere along the line, the thought crossed his mind.
What am I supposed to tell these people?
Indeed, what was he supposed to tell them? These people, famished for the fulfilling taste of glory? Alex Smith has never won a Super Bowl. He’s only been to one. He was a backup when it happened. His one Super Bowl appearance in the twentieth century still bests the Washington Redskins as a team by one, but the ring yet eludes the finger.
Worse quarterbacks have won the game he hasn’t. And more proven quarterbacks have won enough to share. Alex Smith is somewhere in the middle. His journey isn’t over, but time is only generous for so long. Recently turned 34 years of age, Smith has to know that the Washington Redskins are his last chance.
While time is a precious asset for Smith, it’s one thing that his new city, Washington D.C., can afford to waste, albeit for a steep price. This city hasn’t been wholly deprived of Super Bowl glory. Ask any older fan of their fondest football memory, and they’ll gladly point you to the Washington Redskins’ seventeen-point streak in the second half of Super Bowl XVII, led by the Diesel, John Riggins, with the Hogs grading the road ahead of him. Or Doug Williams’ blowout of John Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Or Super Bowl XXVI, when the Washington Redskins’ “Capital Punishment” defense made Jim Kelly’s K-Gun, no-huddle offense look closer to “K-Done”.
The Washington Redskins have the history. But an entire generation sits between that illustrious past and the present day. The Washington Redskins haven’t been to the Super Bowl, or even the NFC Championship game, since that Super Bowl championship at the tail end of the 1991 season. 27 years and counting. And every year, that Super Bowl grows more distant.
It is that experience that only makes D.C. hungrier.
The city, the team isn’t going anywhere. But every stagnant year is a step closer to starting over. That’s hardly a way to win in the NFL. Droughts of this magnitude bear heavy weight on a fan base, and perhaps no fan base has suffered over the years more than that of D.C. Too often teased with only subtle hints at contention, D.C. sports fans must be growing tired. The last generation, those who witnessed the Super Bowls of old, will not be here forever. The Washington Redskins hunger for a new Super Bowl era, and they have a fleeting chance to carry on the tradition. With knuckles white from tension, they refuse to let it slip through their grasp.
It is rare in any offseason that we witness the perfect confluence of man, city, and purpose. But that is what we have with the pairing of Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins. Smith has amassed a fine list of achievements, but without a ring to punctuate them, he will be one of many quarterbacks who could, but ultimately didn’t. There is a certain notoriety in the possession of that ring, and a subliminal, but lasting blow to legacy without it. Smith wants this ring. He needs this ring. And he needs Washington to get it.
Likewise, the Washington Redskins are gearing up to compete. As it stands, they possess the perfect mix of veteran talent and young, ascending star power. And after a strong offseason, their roster is in exceptional shape. Even in a strong NFC East, the team can compete this year, and they can shock the nation. They have a window. The unpredictability of the present day mirrors that of the inclemency that was prevalent in the first Joe Gibbs era. It’s an unpredictability that the Washington Redskins can take advantage of. Anyone can win, any year.
Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall. If the Washington Redskins fail to meet expectations this year, then Jay Gruden, the most competent Washington Redskins’ coach in the last two decades, could very well be gone, and the team could very well be forced to start from square one again. With veterans like Trent Williams, Josh Norman, and Ryan Kerrigan aging, starting over comes at the cost of precious time; Time which cannot be redeemed.
Entering the offseason, the Washington Redskins had continuity. And they had the talent. They just needed a quarterback. But not any quarterback; A quarterback to take them to the playoffs they’ve hardly seen. The Washington Redskins needed Alex Smith.
If nothing else, the Washington Redskins have this on their side; Their quarterback, their city, and their purpose are all in unity, in one purpose. Alex Smith needs the Washington Redskins to cement his legacy while he still has time. And the Washington Redskins, starved of past success, need Alex Smith to maximize this window while it’s still here.
Alex Smith needs a Super Bowl. And the Washington Redskins hunger for it.
Perhaps, this crossed Smith’s mind as he stood up at the podium. As he looked around, and as he saw that hunger, perhaps he felt that unity. That this city would be behind him. Because they need him. And they know he needs them as well.
And perhaps, Smith found the answer to his question.
What am I supposed to tell these people?
As if on cue, another question is directed at Smith.
“After thirteen years in the league, what keeps you excited, and fired up about September?”
Smith met the inquiry with a quick shrug, never being one to make a moment bigger than it is. But the question struck him. It took him a moment to find his words. You can tell he’s been thinking about it.
“I’ve never won a championship.”
A brief pause.
“Never won a Super Bowl.”
“That’s what we’re all chasing.”
And in that moment, Smith told Washington D.C. what it needed to hear. In that moment, Smith proved that they were chasing the same thing. One, for its honor. Another, for his legacy. And to be remembered. From Alex Smith, it was a way of saying, to a franchise starved of relevance, and to a city confused by decades of false hopes and disappointments…
Next:
Alex Smith ushers in new era at Redskins park
“I’m hungry, too.”