As the 2018 season inches closer, the Washington Redskins continue to be a team that's making noise about a potential return to the postseason.
The arrival of three-time Pro Bowler Alex Smith puts the Redskins in the playoff conversation because of his experience in the postseason. Smith has reached the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, both with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
It's not just Smith's strong resume that puts the Redskins in a great position to make a run in the postseason.
His ability to stretch the defense vertically and protect the football coincides well with head coach Jay Gruden's gameplan. Smith threw 26 touchdowns and five interceptions last year, a career best in touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. In addition, the Utah product threw for a career best 4,042 yards, 540 yards more than his previous career high despite not playing in the regular season finale. Smith has been recognized as one of the few quarterbacks in the league to play better as he gets older, and his transition in Washington should not slow down his stellar play.
"I don't know about anybody else," Smith said. "I can't speak for anybody else, but for me, ball is ball. It's fluid, right? I'm focused on football when I'm out on the football field, there's your release. Ball is ball. I'm going out there and trying to play, trying to execute, and that hasn't changed at all. Certainly there are some moving parts off the field, but I think any good pro can compartmentalize that stuff. It's certainly our job. That's what we're getting paid to do."
On the defensive side of the football, the Redskins have addressed the holes that have plagued their defense over the last few seasons. With first-round draft choice Daron Payne joining Jonathan Allen on the defensive line, the Alabama products will give the Redskins an opportunity to slow down the backfields of their NFC East division opponents. If the defensive line is able to keep opposing rushing attacks to a minimum, Washington's defense has a great opportunity to establish itself as one of most balanced in the league.
An improved run defense, continued support from Ryan Kerrigan in getting to the quarterback and an experienced secondary that brought in veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick all add up to a defense that could be one of the deepest in the NFC. A strong defense from top-to-bottom translates to success in both the regular season and playoffs, as three of the past five Super Bowl champions finished in the top five of overall defense.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky just wants everyone to keep pushing to their maximum potential as the offseason progresses.
"We're in the process," Manusky said. "You know, just over time, last year was the first year coming together as a group with the calls and stuff like that, and I think this year, with everybody kind of having their mesh together, I think that's what we're trying to do out there right now. It looks good now, but hopefully in the future it'll pay off its dividends."
Here's photos from the Washington Redskins OTAs practice that took place Monday, June 4, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
The final piece that gives the Redskins a great opportunity to return to the playoffs lies in the hands of wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr.
The former Seattle Seahawk signed with Washington in March, and was added due to his big play ability.
Richardson gives the Redskins' offense the player that can change the course of a game in one play. This type of player is something Washington missed some last season after the departure of DeSean Jackson to Tampa Bay. Alex Smith will appreciate Richardson's ability to create big plays after having to part ways with Tyreek Hill from Kansas City. As he enters his fifth season in the NFL, Richardson is looking to expand his explosive play further with his new quarterback.
"I think it helps any offense to be able to have somebody to go to," Richardson said. "When somebody is on them stride for stride and they may not look open, but they can attack the ball and make the play. I think with these quarterbacks, Colt [McCoy] has been here with the guys for a few years and I think with Alex [Smith] coming in, they keep tossing the ball up and we keep coming down with it. I think we're doing a really good job of developing that option to where the play is not dead. I don't have to scramble and I don't have to throw the ball away. I can give this guy an opportunity on the outside downfield. 'Docts' [Josh Doctson] has been going up and making plays. I've been making plays. Brian Quick. We've all been making plays and attacking the ball. We need that."