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#HailMail: 2016 Steelers Week

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Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda answers YOUR questions submitted on Twitter about the Redskins' roster and more prior to their Week 1 matchup with the Steelers.


@BaileyFink asks: @Redskins did anyone emerge as a solid kick/punt returner, different from last year? #hailmail

At least for now, the Redskins will continue to use Rashad Ross as the kickoff returner and Jamison Crowder as the punt returner for the regular season.

Even though both players have shown potential, the team understands that they need greater production in the return game, particularly on punts.

Despite showing no hiccups in his transition with the wide receiver position as a rookie, Crowder struggled as a punt returner. He averaged just 5.3 yards per punt return last season with a long of 16 yards on 30 returns.

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said during training camp that Crowder is "too good of a punt returner" to not give the offense better field position.

Will Blackmon – the No. 2 punt return on the depth chart – added that the return unit needs to be all in to help Crowder, who fumbled a punt return during the preseason that would ultimately be recovered by Quinton Dunbar.

"You need a full commitment from the entire punt return unit for that to happen, for him to break one loose and I think we have guys who will help him do that," Blackmon said. "Especially when we hear about his average [yards per return last year], so we want to do what we can to get him sprung loose."

Ross, meanwhile, averaged more than 24 yards per return last season. But an added layer to kickoffs this season will be the new touchback rule that places the ball on the 25-yard line. That means some teams and kickers may experiment with just how deep they go on kicks.

"If they want to kick it to us at the 5-yard line and pooch it, we feel good about our return team getting a shot at it," Gruden said. "On the flip side of that, do we want to pooch it or do we want to kick it deep? So I think there is going to be a lot of conversation here. We've already had a lot of conversation on it but we will have to wait and see. With Ross back there, we welcome the returns anytime."


@RObbie8 asks: @Redskins How's Jay Gruden preparing for Pittsburgh? #HailMail

The Redskins' preparations for the Steelers actually began prior to the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game that was moved up a day due to an incoming hurricane.

Unlike the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants – the Redskins' Week 2 and 3 opponents – the Redskins and Steelers rarely face off. They're last matchup at FedExField was eight years ago now and the last time they played a regular season game against each other was in 2012. Both teams are much different now.

However, Pittsburgh still has two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger under center. Entering his 13th NFL season, the University of Miami (Ohio) product dropped 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to remain healthy for an entire season.

"He makes them all look good. He'd probably make me look good if I ran a route," Gruden said with a smile, referring to Pittsburgh's wide receivers. "He's excellent. But they do a great job in-house scouting and developing their guys and bringing guys into that building. They've been good for a long time for a reason. They have a great scouting staff, a great coaching staff, and they're very dangerous all across the board – receiver, if a running back goes down, they've got another one coming up. They just keep refueling and they're a good football team."

Washington will also have to cope with a very effective no-huddle offense, no easy task for the defensive starters that didn't see a ton of action during the preseason.

"We just have got to continue to work on our communication," Gruden said. "They can do it out of a lot of different personnel groupings. We're not sure which one they're going to feature, but they can get you a lot of different ways. They'd use three tight ends last year, one back; they've used three receivers, one tight end. They can do it a lot of different ways. We have to definitely make sure that we get lined up and get our communication out there. …We worked a lot of no-huddle situations, so communication shouldn't be an issue."


@bradsounders asks: @Redskins will the Redskins look for outside linebacker help? #hailmail

Check out the top images of Ryan Kerrigan from the 2015 season.

The coaching staff seems content with the four outside linebackers they have right now.

Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan will certainly carry the pass rush for Washington's defense, and Trent Murphy hopes that he can continue his steady growth in his third season.

"I think all three of those guys… We moved Trent back to outside linebacker, but I think those three guys had great camps, they had great offseasons, they had great camps," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said in August. "I think Ryan, compared to last year, is healthy and feeling good. We've obviously been smart with him in the games, but out here on the practice field every day, he's rolling, so that's good to see. Again, Preston, I think from year one to year two, even though I think it's scary to think how good he's going to get and continue to get, but he's made huge strides from year one to year two. So I'm excited about those guys."

Houston Bates, meanwhile, enters 2016 as mostly a special teams player and a solid one at that.

But if the team were to look for outside help down the road (remember that Lynden Trail is on the practice squad, too), after the season opener, there's a few options.

Among the free agent veterans that are still out there at outside linebacker include Mike Neal (six-year veteran, 19 career sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (nine-year veteran, 58 sacks).


@lifendeath79 asks: why 3 QBs given health of our starting 2 backs? #HailMail #httr

There's two reasons why the Redskins decided to go with three quarterbacks and three running backs to start the season.

First, rookie quarterback Nate Sudfeld finished the preseason with 238 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in three games, a relatively solid performance that could have piqued enough interest out of another team to claim him off waivers.

"We thought that Nate showed enough in the preseason where somebody might give him a chance," Gruden said. "I think he's in a good spot, man. He's going to develop here on this roster and learn from Kirk [Cousins] and learn from Colt [McCoy] how to be a pro and just continue to develop. Having three is important nowadays."

But Matt Jones is also progressing, as he practiced on Monday for the first time since suffering an AC sprain on Aug. 19.

"I haven't felt any pain today, which is a great thing for me," Jones said after practice. "It kind of helps your mind out, too, that you can take a hit and you can get back up and make the next play, so I mean, I feel great about it, just keep rehabbing and keep getting better."

Chris Thompson also will be ready to for the opener with the fasting rising Robert Kelley hoping to play some sort of roll, too.

Now if Jones suffers some sort of setback or it becomes clearly he simply needs a little more time to recover, then the Redskins could make a move to either bring up Mack Brown from the practice squad or sign a free agent like Pierre Thomas.

Then the question would become whether four running backs would be carried throughout the regular season. Stay tuned. 

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