November 26, 2014

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VI: Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?

Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Dave: I think eventually Kuznetsov will be the most impactful player of the trio, but I think all three have solid futures as NHL players. Kuznetsov has an intrinsic, dynamic element to his play that you can’t teach and once he develops some of the secondary attributes that Barry Trotz wants out of all his players, he’ll thrive at this level.

That’s not to take anything away from Burakovsky or Wilson. In fact, I can envision the three of them playing together as a second line in the not-too-distant future. It’s not hard to look at Kuzy and Bura and not envision them developing chemistry like another Swedish center and Russian winger on the team. Wilson could be the prefect complement to the duo with his size and skill level.

Katie: At the end of last season, when Kuznetsov finally arrived in Washington, he had all the hopes of an impact player placed upon him. Now that Burakovsky has made the team, is playing second line minutes, and is clearly extremely skilled, I think Burakovsky will outscore Kuznetsov. I’m not so sure about Wilson’s role this season, once he returns from injury, but I think it would be fair to predict he won’t be doing fourth line time. Ideally, it would be nice to see all three young players in the top-6 at some point this season, and there’s certainly room for that.

Eric:  I think it’ll be Kuznetsov, barely. He looked good in the games he played toward the end of last year and has gotten some valuable advice from Ovechkin.

J.J. : Burakovsky. He is getting his shot at second line center and he has responded well. Kuznetsov will move up from the fourth line sooner rather than later, but he will likely be moved around as a wing as he continues to adjust to the North American game. As for Wilson, I would not be surprised if he spent some time in Hershey this year. The Caps want to see him develop into a top six forward, but given the number of players the Caps have on offense right now, he might be better served to get top line minutes in the AHL before taking a more significant role with the Caps.

Abram: Burakovsky. The kid has a magical touch with the puck, and will singlehandedly carry the fourth’s line offensive output, assuming he stays there. If he develops the way the team hopes, he’ll drastically improve the offense. From what we’ve seen early on, the skill is there, he just needs to not be tied down on a line with some combination of Beagle, Latta, O’Brien, or Volpatti.

Harry: I think Evgeny Kuznetsov will have the biggest impact on this team. As good as Burakovsky has looked, he will almost certainly slow down a little bit and is still learning a new position. Wilson, even when healthy, won’t see a lot of ice time with the players he deserves to play with because of how many highly-payed veterans the Caps have down the right side. Ultimately, Kuznetsov has the most polish, is probabaly the most talented, and is likely to see the most opportunities. A top-four finish among Caps forwards in scoring is not out of the question.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part III: Projections for Ovi

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?

Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season? [Read more…]

Will 2014 bring renewed competition from the Washington Redskins?

The Washington Redskins organization — and its legion of passionate fans — hopes that the 2014 season, which starts today against the Houston Texans, brings a renewed sense of competition for the division title, which boasts no real front-runner, and the postseason. There are still a lot of questions no one knows the answers to, but we’ll start to see those questions answered today.

The biggest question in everyone’s minds is whether or not new head coach Jay Gruden can revitalize Robert Griffin III’s career, returning him to the promise and production he exhibited by taking the team to the playoffs after the 2012 season, only to see it end with him — and the team’s playoff chances — crumpled on the ground after his left knee imploded on the soft FedEx Field turf against the Seattle Seahawks.

What followed was a nightmare of epic proportions. That offseason was chock-full of controversy; between Griffin, former head coach Mike Shanahan, team doctors, and the team’s public relations machine. To complicate matters, Adidas decided to turn Griffin’s rehab into an offseason-long commercial, thus rushing him to be ready for the 2013 opener.

He was not ready, and it showed. All season long.

Griffin was half the player he was before injury, unable to run away from linebackers and jumpy in the pocket. And who wouldn’t be, playing behind a vastly overmatched offensive line. All the while, the head coach and his son (the offense coordinator) tried in vain to save their jobs.

They were unsuccessful.

Griffin was eventually shut down before the end of the season, mired in more bad blood and negative public relations.

The offseason brought plenty of changes — to the coaching staff and to the roster. The team added personnel to the receiving corps, defensive backfield and special teams, all areas of need. But there wasn’t much reconstruction of the offensive line, the cornerstone of all good offenses.

It’ll be hard for Griffin to prove anything if he’s flat on his back.

The secondary was probably the next weakest part of last season’s roster, full of players that were past their prime, not ready yet, or too-often suspended. They infused that area with several players, but we’ve already seen injury and another suspension already weaken one of the weakest spots on the team.

It’s rough when the biggest addition to a unit over the offseason could be a cut-down day waiver-wire claim.

But here we are, opening day, where anything can happen.

There are a lot of questions yet to be answered. Hopefully fans will be able to enjoy the process, rather than dwell on results.


District Sports Page will be covering the Washington Redskins this season with a renewed vigor of our own. We’ve added several new staff members dedicated to covering the team. You can find the bios of all of our writers on our staff page. They are all devout fans of the Burgundy and Gold and will report, analyze and opine in a comprehensive manner.

And if you missed it, we had a multi-part series of position previews to get ready for the new season.

We hope that you will add us to your reading list for information, news, analysis and opinion this season.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VIII: Outside Linebackers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.
In Part VII, Joe Miller previewed the inside linebackers.

Here is our preview of the outside linebackers.


Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

In this day and age, NFL teams must employ an elite pass rush.  The reasons are numerous, but the most important one is that it is becoming more and more difficult for a secondary to defend in this league.  Rules designed to protect receivers and running backs, the essential cash cows of the NFL, are limiting defensive backfields from being physical with receivers and throwing off their timing with the quarterback.  This is where the pass rush comes in, and Jim Haslett’ 3-4 attacking defense could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Washington Redskins defensive theme this offseason was to un-cuff and unleash the pass rush.  This will mostly begin and end with Washington’s Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.  The sixth year Texas product is playing under the franchise tag this season and will be looking to put up impressive numbers to secure a huge contract that he thinks he deserves.  Last year, Orakpo amassed 10 sacks and combined for 60 tackles, and even added an interception return for a touchdown to his resume.

However, these numbers do not put him into the upper echelon of elite pass rushers in the game and Orakpo needs to improve upon his sack total in 2014 if he wants Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen to invest in a new contract for him.  He has expressed sincere interest to remain a Redskin for life and did not seem to perturbed when the franchise tag was placed on him.  The feeling should be mutual between Orakpo and the front office if he posts another Pro Bowl-type season.

On the other side, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will be focusing on one thing: being a consistent really, really good pass rusher.  Kerrigan has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his brief career, but he is now a veteran in the league and will also be looking to improve upon his 8.5 sacks a year ago.  Kerrigan does a great job of instinctively knowing what the quarterback is going to do; you will see him get his hands in the air to either tip, spike, or intercept a pass that a quarterback usually tries to throw a quick screen with.  Kerrigan can make him pay and has often done so.

Many Redskins fans scratched their heads when the team traded back in the second round and then selected a player who occupied what was once perceived a position of strength.  However, through mini camps, OTA’s, and training camp and the preseason, fans began to see just what Bruce Allen saw in young Trent Murphy out of Stanford.  He is an opposing presence at 6’6″ and looks explosive, two traits you love to have at a pass rushing position.

The All-American led all of college football with 15 sacks in 2013 and was first team All-Pac 12 two years in a row (’12 and ’13).  Though he is listed as a backup on the depth chart, Murphy will almost certainly get mixed in for different blitz packages throughout the regular season.

The final outside linebacker for Jim Haslett’s defense is third year LB Gabe Miller of Oregon State.  Miller unseated 2012 NFC East division title hero Rob Jackson for the final OLB spot after an impressive performance in the final two preseason games.  Also, and probably most importantly for this coaching staff, he seemed to impress special teams coach Ben Kotwica enough to warrant a roster spot.  Miller doesn’t figure to see much defensive playing time but he is a solid option if Orakpo or Kerrigan go down.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VII: Inside Linebackers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.

Here is our preview of the inside linebackers.


Perry Riley comes up with the ball in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Perry Riley comes up with the ball in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Washington Redskins Inside Linebackers

SUBTRACTIONS: London Fletcher (retired), Nick Barnett (free agency), Bryan Kehl (free agency), Josh Hull (released)

ADDITIONS: Adam Hayward (free agency), Akeem Jordan (free agency), Darryl Sharpton** (free agency, placed on IR)

STARTERS: Perry Riley (“Jack” Linebacker), Keenan Robinson (“Mike” Linebacker)

BACKUPS: Will Compton, Adam Hayward, Akeem Jordan

Replacing London Fletcher is the biggest storyline for the inside linebackers in 2014 (Photo by Brian Murphy)

Replacing London Fletcher is the biggest storyline for the inside linebackers in 2014 (Photo by Brian Murphy)

Perry Riley: The team’s “jack” linebacker returns after signing a three-year/$13 million contract in the offseason. Riley had an up-and-down year in the final season of his rookie contract in 2013, leading to debate as to whether or not the team would even bring back the 2010 fourth-rounder.

But with many holes, including inside linebacker due to Fletcher’s retirement, the team decided to re-sign Riley just before the start of free agency. He had a strong year in 2012 and looked to be on the rise. But although he led the team in tackles for the first time in his career last season, he seemed to regress a bit as he often struggled in coverage and, like many others, had too many missed tackles.

Riley is still young, only 26, so there’s certainly still time for him to improve and he’ll look to rebound in 2014 with improved tackling and coverage.

Keenan Robinson: When Fletcher announced his plans to retire towards the end of last season, it was immediately clear the Redskins would have a huge hole to fill in the offseason. While the 16-year veteran struggled last year, he was still the heart and soul of the defense and was truly a coach on the field with his knowledge and leadership. With the offseason acquisitions of Hayward, Jordan, and Sharpton, it was not clear initially who would fill the void on the starting defense.

As it turned out, the team decided to go with an in-house option, giving Robinson the first team reps in OTA’s and mini-camp. The third-year player has minimal experience, missing significant time due to pectoral injuries in each of his first two seasons, but when Washington drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, it appeared the team had a long, athletic linebacker that could perhaps take Fletcher’s place eventually.

While injuries may have stunted his development, it appears Robinson is up for the task in year three as he’s looked very good in training camp and preseason with the first-team defense. He will take over Fletcher’s “mike” role and will be responsible for making the calls in the defensive huddle. If he can stay healthy, he could be in line for a major breakout year.

Adam Hayward: After their extremely poor performance last season, improving the special teams units was a huge priority for Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden this offseason. The team went about this by bringing in hard-nosed players who have excelled on special teams in the past.

Enter Hayward who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and served as the special teams captain for them each of the past three seasons. The Redskins announced the signing of the eight-year veteran to a three-year deal on only the second day of free agency, indicating bringing him in to improve the special teams was a top priority. While he can fill in at inside linebacker, and has done so in the past with the Bucs, his primary duty will be to lead the revamped special teams unit.

Will Compton:  An undrafted rookie last season, Compton spent the majority of the year on the practice squad until getting promoted to the active roster in late December after Barnett was placed on IR. The Redskins did well to develop him and it appears he’s ready to contribute in his second season. Throughout training camp and the preseason, Compton consistently got reps with the second-team defense and can play either linebacker spot.

While he’s not a tremendous athlete, the 25-year-old linebacker appears to make sound tackles and knows the defense. Barring injury to one of the starters, he figures to primarily contribute on special teams in 2014.

Akeem Jordan: A free agent who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last year, Washington brought in Jordan on a one-year deal to provide depth at inside linebacker and further bolster the revamped special teams.

The 28-year-old had spent the first six seasons of his career under Andy Reid (first with the Philadelphia Eagles then Chiefs) before signing with Washington. Jordan is more of just a two-down linebacker because of deficiencies in coverage but he still figures to be a contributor on special teams.

Darryl Sharpton: A 26-year-old free agent coming from the Houston Texans, Sharpton was another one-year signing to provide depth and help on special teams. Unfortunately, the hard-hitting linebacker suffered a serious high-ankle sprain in the preseason and was placed on IR.


Joe Miller is Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins. A southern Maryland native, Joe is an alumnus of the University of Maryland with a degree in communication. He’s been a passionate follower of D.C. sports and especially the Redskins his entire life, even watching a Redskins’ Super Bowl victory from his dad’s arms as a baby in 1992. When not watching sports, Joe works at the Bowie Baysox, a minor league baseball team in Prince George’s County, MD and also contributes content for Son of Washington. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeCoolMiller.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part V: Tight Ends

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.

Here now is Part V, a review of the tight ends.


Jordan Reed at training camp in 2013 (photo by Brian Murphy)

Jordan Reed at training camp in 2013 (photo by Brian Murphy)

The National Football League is an ever-evolving animal.

This has not been more evident than over the past few seasons thanks to the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, and Jimmy Graham, all of whom have redefined what a tight end in the NFL is and should be.

Sure, athletic tight ends are nothing new, with Kellen Winslow Sr., John Mackey, and Ozzie Newsome paving the way for Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzales, and Shannon Sharpe, but a new breed of tight end are changing the way the position is played.

And defended.

Riding the wake created by Gonzales, Gates, and others that include Dallas Clark and Jason Witten, the tight end position has become amongst the most important on the field, and hardest for a defense to contain.

In 2011, one-third of players finishing in the top 15 in receptions were tight ends. Witten hauled in 110 catches in 2012, while Graham posted 86 receptions and a mindboggling 16 touchdowns in 2013.

Drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, it didn’t take long for Jordan Reed to prove he belongs, posting 45 receptions for 499 yards and three TDs in an injury-shortened rookie campaign.

Reed, who suffered a sprained thumb late in preseason but is expected to play when Washington opens the season in Houston on Sunday, set a franchise record by a rookie TE with a nine-catch, 134-yard, one-TD game against the Bears on his way to being named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team.

Reed’s size and speed make him almost uncoverable — too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers — and if that’s not scary enough for opposing defensive coordinators, the addition of speed demons DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts will spread the field, creating pockets for the talented Reed to run free.

Although he won’t put up the same monster numbers as Graham in New Orleans, it is hard to imagine Reed catching anything less than 70, with six to 10 TDs. As long as he stays healthy, he will lead the team in touchdown receptions.

Considered more of a blocker than a pass-catching threat, Logan Paulsen filled in for the injured Reed in 2013, finishing with a career-high in receptions (28) and TDs (3).

Although not gifted with speed, Paulsen has become proficient in using his 6’5” 260 lbs frame to create mismatches on smaller defenders. He has sound hands and can make the tough catch.

Saying that receiver-turned-tight end Niles Paul has been a failed experiment would be putting it lightly.

A standout on special teams, the swift-footed Paul managed a career-high eight catches for 152 yards in 2012, but managed only four behind Reed and Paulsen in 2013.

The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser out of Indiana in the seventh-round of the 2014 Draft.

The preseason was anything but nice to the big-bodied Hoosier, who finished as his school’s all-time leader in catches, yards, and touchdowns by a tight end, but he was signed to the practice squad.

With Reed deserving of being mentioned as among the league’s top-five tight ends, it goes without saying that the Skins will have to deal with a dramatic drop off in talent if he were to go down with injury in 2014.


Joe Mercer is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A communications specialist with a municipal government north of the border, Joe is an aspiring author with close to 20 years experience in the newspaper business, including covering the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts for a small daily newspaper in Barrie, Ontario. A Redskins fanatic since the early 80s, Joe has often made the 12-hour journey from his hometown north of Toronto to Washington for both training camp and regular season games. You can follow Joe on Twitter @stylesmcfresh.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part IV: Offensive Line

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.

Here now is Part IV, a look at the men responsible for protecting Robert Griffin III, the offensive line. [Read more…]

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part III: Wide Receivers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

Monday, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
Tuesday, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.

This is the preview of the wide receiver corps.


[Read more…]

Washington Redskins Season Preview Part II: Running Backs

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

Monday, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.

Tuesday, we examine the situation at running back. Who will be the third down back, who didn’t make the team and just how deep are the Redskins in the backfield.


[Read more…]

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