The Redskins released five players today, trimming their roster to 75 guys a few days ahead of the September 1 deadline. Released were CB Michael Grant, LB Alfred Fincher, DT Michael Marquardt, WR Marques Hagans, and T Devin Clark.
Whether the releases provided a spark or not is up for discussion, but there’s no doubt that today’s practice was spirited and lively, with plenty of pushing and jawing despite it only being a shorts-and-shells deal. Kareem Moore and Marcus Mason were on the side doing rehab work. Carlos Rogers did not practice again, nor did Clinton Portis. And Albert Haynesworth missed the practice with stomach issues.
Afterward, though, a lot of the talk surrounded the cuts.
“I made kind of a statement [to the team] out there that it’s not all about ‘just the business,'” Coach Jim Zorn said. “You know, if you think that it’s only the business, then you’re not gonna give yourself a chance, because you’re just looking at numbers as a player and saying, ‘Well, I don’t really have a chance because of this.’ And that’s not really the truth. The truth is that everybody has an opportunity to make this football team, and we’re evaluating every day at practice, we’re evaluating every one of these games.
“The significance of that is that you can’t play this game half the time,” Zorn continued. “You can’t make plays only half the time. You know, fifty percent passers don’t make the squad normally. You’ve gotta be better than that. So these guys have to better than doing it right half the time. They’ve gotta do it right all the time, or almost all the time. We’re shooting for that for these players.”
The biggest surprise to some was linebacker Fincher — best known on this blog for his Mr. T-esque mohawk — who cemented his spot last year with, ironically enough, a sterling performance against Jacksonville in the final preseason game. But, with two young linebackers drafted (three if you count Brian Orakpo), another undrafted rookie, and an addition via free agency, competition was tight. Zorn was asked who was better than Fincher, and looked slightly surprised by the question.
“The guys that we kept,” he said. “I don’t wanna take anything away from Fincher, because he’s worked really hard and he has improved, but to us there was kind of a ceiling there on him compared to some of the other guys that are coming on.”
It’s easy to say that Hagans was released because of the ball that bounced off his hands in the Baltimore game, but Zorn maintained that it was more complex than that.
“It wasn’t just that one play,” he said. “I think that as the preseason starts, the guys that don’t continue to rise up and really make a difference are the guys that you have to question and make a decision on. Now, we’re forced as head coaches to make some decisions. We’d love to work with these guys longer. That’s not available to us. That part of it is [business], because there is a time factor involved, and eventually we have to make a move. We have to make a decision.”
One other subject that saw a bit of discussion was running back Marcus Mason, who has also been the subject of lively debate in the comments section here. “I think for him,” Zorn said, “we can see that he’s a pretty good runner. I think that his blocking, that’s what I’m looking for: how he pass blocks. And then how he can contribute on special teams. Because Clinton’s gonna be our workhorse, and we also have Ladell Betts, who’s a very good back as well. And then we’ve got Rock Cartwright, who’s an excellent special teams player. So that’s what we need to see from Marcus.”
Which made special teams coordinator Danny Smith’s comments on Mason at least slightly worrisome for the (fairly large) contingent of fans rooting for Mason to make the roster this time around. “I love Marcus Mason,” Smith said, by way of introduction.
Good start, but Smith continued, “Marcus Mason has never played in an NFL football game, and he’s been on three teams. Let’s not name him MVP today. Okay? He’s never played in an NFL football game. He’s been on three teams! It ain’t all about does he gotta make a tackle on special teams. And the kid has never played special teams, and he’s never played in a real game.”
This is not to say that Smith had no compliments for Mason; those came later. “He has improved from when we had him before,” Smith explained, “on special teams, he really has. He’s done a good job there. Now he’s gotta start making plays. He’s in position to make plays, and that’s the first step. Now he’s gotta start making those plays. And when he starts making those plays, we’ll consider him for one of those core positions. And I think he has a chance to do that.”
So a word to Mason Nation: rushing yards are fantastic, but it sounds like the thing to keep an eye on in Jacksonville is what your guy does on special teams.
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