The Washington Times - August 9, 2013, 03:49AM

ANALYSIS/OPINION

NASHVILLE—Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 22-21 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Thursday’s preseason opener:

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I’m trying to remember another example of an established player who wore full pads and uniform to sit out a preseason game with an injury. Tumbleweeds are drifting through my brain.

QB Robert Griffin III made a statement by doing that Thursday. What he was trying to say exactly, we’ll ask him on Monday. I’ve got a couple guesses, and none of them would indicate Operation Patience is thriving. After Griffin on Monday declared himself ready for team drills, his ensemble Thursday night amounts to a full-court press against coach Mike Shanahan’s plan to ease Griffin back into team drills.

Shanahan downplayed any discord when he was asked if Griffin dressing in full uniform was part of the plan.

“He worked out beforehand about a half hour, 40 minutes,” Shanahan said. “I said if you’d like to go through pre-game warm-ups you’re welcome to, as I said to a number of players. A number of our players got a full workout earlier today, and every guy had the right to go out there and get a little bit more of a workout, and Robert wanted to get some more work done. So it was good to see him out there.”

At the very least, Griffin’s press conference Monday is appointment viewing. The date for his return to full 11-on-11 drills has not been determined, Shanahan said, and that can’t sit well with the star quarterback who boldly declared himself ready last week.

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QB Kirk Cousins did nothing to hasten Griffin’s return. Against the Titans’ starters, he commanded the offense, threw on time, threw in rhythm and protected the ball. He took easy passes Tennessee’s coverage gave him, and he took advantage of how play-action opened the defense.

“He does a great job reading defenses and did a good job spreading them out,” Shanahan said.

Cousins is a good player who has earned the coaching staff’s confidence. Griffin will play if he’s healthy, but the Redskins left town feeling even better about their Plan B.

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The three rookie defensive backs played like rookies.

FS Bacarri Rambo acknowledged he took a poor angle on RB Shonn Greene’s 19-yard touchdown in the first half. Rambo approached the line of scrimmage when he read run, and he had to take a hard right turn as Greene ran outside. He was too shallow to get to Greene before it was too late. “I’ve just got to work on just my technique a little bit better, take better angles,” Rambo said.

Rambo will end up on highlight reels because of how RB Chris Johnson turned him inside-out on the 58-yard touchdown, but he never should have had to tackle Johnson in space to begin with. The Redskins’ front 7 did not take care of their gaps: 

OLB Brian Orakpo admitted he overran the play because he was too concerned with getting upfield to rush the passer. That enabled the tight end to block SS Phillip Thomas, who came inside before Johnson cut his run back. RDE Stephen Bowen was blocked completely out of the play by LT Michael Roos, which is uncommon for Bowen. NT Chris Neild was cut down at the line of scrimmage. 

No one in the NFL, rookie or Pro Bowler, is a good matchup against Chris Johnson in space. But defensive backs coach Raheem Morris wanted to be sure Rambo learned from the play. “He said, ‘That’s Chris Johnson. Just take a shot. Don’t break down on him. Just go in there and try to take a shot and try to put some part of your body on him to try to trip him up or something.’ He kept building my confidence and keeping me motivated. He didn’t tear me down or anything.”

Thomas’ injuries were disappointing because they occurred while he was trying to stop the run. Greene sort of ran him over, and Thomas wasn’t in position to absorb the hit well. Thomas wore a left walking boot in the locker room after the game.

Second-round cornerback David Amerson played the best of the three, at first glance. He broke up QB Jake Locker’s first pass of the game, which was intended for WR Kenny Britt. Amerson, who was in zone coverage, recognized Britt cutting into an open space from the left, so he chased after him. His awareness resulted in an incompletion. 

“I just knew the ball was going there because he was kind of wide open,” Amerson said. “I was kind of trailing the play. If I was probably, like, two steps closer, I probably could have picked it, but it barely touched my fingers.”

Another encouraging sign: Amerson tackled well: “That was one of the things I really wanted to showcase,” he said.

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The first-string defense surrendered touchdown runs of 58 and 19 yards. OLB Brian Orakpo suggested Washington’s problems stopping the run resulted from not tackling during training camp practices. He wasn’t suggesting the Redskins should tackle during practice—only that it will take more live game experience to shore that up.

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Speaking of Orakpo, he sacked QB Jake Locker after a successful edge rush. He planted his outside foot in order to turn the corner. Even though the left tackle hooked Orakpo’s left side, he felt no effects of the torn left pectoral muscle that cost him 14 games last season.

“You really don’t know until you go full speed and everything is live contact to know where you’re really at,” he said. “From my standpoint it felt great. I had more anxiety before the game. I didn’t know how my body would hold up. I played reckless out there.”

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The Redskins debuted a defensive package that features Orakpo and rookie Brandon Jenkins as outside linebackers and Ryan Kerrigan in a down position on the interior of the defensive line. It resulted in a sack for Kerrigan. Getting those pass rush specialists on the field together in third-and-long would help give DL Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen a rest in the nickel package.

Jenkins, a converted defensive end, said he didn’t play much pass coverage, which partly was by design.

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RB Roy Helu Jr. had one of the Redskins’ brightest performances. He reminded us why he fits this zone running scheme. He noticed on film how Tennessee’s defense tried to string outside zone runs wide, so he knew to expect certain cutback lanes. He had 57 yards on 13 carries.

Helu wasn’t always patient with his reads and cuts, but he improved as the game progressed. “There was a couple times I wasn’t patient, and I predetermined some stuff, and it ended up not going good,” he said.

“It definitely takes practice. I try to make it a point to really use my eyes and let it direct me wherever I go. I’m trying to improve on that a lot more.”

Helu also did well recognizing rushers and blocking.

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Tight end Fred Davis showed what the Redskins missed last season while he was sidelined with a torn left Achilles’ tendon. He looks totally healthy. Because Davis can block and run good routes, safeties and linebackers always must account for the possibility he might release on a pass play. That can slow a defense down.

Davis ran well and caught the ball when it was thrown to him. Now, about that touchdown celebration…

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LT Tom Compton didn’t allow a sack, so there’s that. He surrendered some pressure, though. Overall, he relished the experience of playing with and against starters.

“My pass sets, going against Brian Orakpo [in practice] every day, you’ve got to be able to adjust,” Compton said. “I felt like it went pretty well, though, going against the Titans. Just everything you can work on with a pass set, I’m trying to improve.”

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QB Pat White’s athleticism shined in the second half as coaches let him run the zone read. White extended several pass plays with his legs, including the decisive 2-point conversion. White also made sure to run out of bounds to avoid being hit. Considering how uneven he has been during practices, Thursday night was significant progress for him. I still don’t expect him to make the team.

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The list of those who didn’t play: QB Robert Griffin III (right knee), CB DeAngelo Hall (right ankle), S Brandon Meriweather (right knee), LT Trent Williams (left wrist), RB Alfred Morris (rest), WR Pierre Garcon (rest), NT Barry Cofield (rest), CB Josh Wilson (shoulder), S Reed Doughty, FB Eric Kettani, ILB Nick Barnett and TE Jordan Reed (foot).