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In Fairness to Coach Wilks

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

* The limited contact in practice rules and elimination of 2 a day practices in training camp made it more challenging for Steve Wilks to assess the players---as we know some players look fabulous in shorts and helmets.

* Wilks likely has regrets about how he used the pre-season games---but that is always a tricky roll of the dice.

* It didn’t help that Deone Bucannon, who was supposed to be the leader of the defense, was out for much of the pre-season. There is no way Wilks could have known that Bucannon would play as poorly as he did against the Redskins and beyond.

* To make matters worse, Jeremy Cash was injured in the 1st pre-season game after balling big-time at Bucannon’s position.

* The first 4 games, therefore, became like extended pre-season games in terms of player assessments.

* To Wilks’ credit, he is making changes and not settling for sub standard play.

* His and Al Holcomb’s defense, while vulnerable trying to defend the run and screens from the nickel, has been making strides. They are getting commendable play from Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, Benson Mayowa, Josh Bynes, Patrick Peterson, Bene Benwikere, Budda Baker, Antoine Bethea and Tre’ Boston. And getting flashes of explosion from Robert Nkemdiche and Haason Reddick.

* The special teams have improved, save for Dawson. Lee has been fantastic and Kirk has shown promise as the punt returner, while rookies Zeke Turner and Dennis Gardeck are making aggressive plays in kick coverage.

* If Wilks had gotten at least some average play from the offense and Dawson, the team might be 3-2 right now instead of 1-4.

* The irony is that the offensive line has been better in pass protection this year than the last couple of years---and while their grades suffer because of the lack of a running game, it’s hard to grade well when you are consistently out-numbered in the running game and when the play calling per down and distance has been so predictable. Even Steve Keim this week implied that some of the issues in the running game are scheme related.

* Lastly, it appears that Wilks is standing firm on his player assessments and not trying to placate the FO or SK. Yes, the hope was and is for player development---but to Wilks’ credit he is trying to play the best and most deserving players---which is upsetting to the veterans who now understand that nothing is going to be handed to them—-and that the patience and blind faith BA and his staff had with veterans is no longer a rule of thumb.

  • In some emails from A.Q. Shipley he asserted that Matt McCrane “came in arrogant and left arrogant” and that McCrane asked Phil Dawson what Dawson was going to do when he (McCrane) beat him out. Now—-this seems entirely out of character for Matt McCrane—-McCrane denies it, as does his agent—-and it directly contradicts the raves about character that McCrane receives from his college and high school coaches .
  • But, if what Shipley is saying was true, Shipley’s sharp reaction to this situation is a good example of why veterans get upset. Whenever a coach declares that the best players play, the veterans are put on alert. The last thing a veteran wants to hear is some smack talk from a rookie.
  • Not only does open competition threaten jobs and starting roles, but it threatens the continuation of day to day friendships. This is the toughest part of the business—-and let’s be real—-the way the system works via contracts and free agency as it relates to compensatory draft picks, it is extremely unfriendly (and, imo, unfair) to veterans.
  • On the flip side, what if McCrane did come across as arrogant? Should it have ruled him out of contention for the kicking job? McCrane clearly was the better kicker in the games. But, Keim and Wilks decided to stick with the veteran (apparently regardless of what happened in the pre-season games) and showcase the rookie. One might wonder if that would still have been true today now that Wilks seems more in command of personnel decisions.
  • Even though Steve Wilks has shown full support thus far for Mike McCoy, do you get the sense that Wilks could start weeding out his staff the way he is weeding out the players? I do. What we are learning from Wilks’ personnel decisions is that he is not just going sit idly by in the midst of shortcomings and failures.
  • Steve Wilks wants a sense of urgency from his players—-and in fairness to him, after a rough start, he is applying a very clear sense of urgency right now to every aspect of his job.